The letter to the Church that met in Rome was written approximately A.D. 58, from Corinth. In it, Paul very distinctly asserts that he is now the minister to the Gentiles.
Romans 15:14-16 NASB And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another. (15) But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, (16) to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
We only know of one letter to the Church in Rome, and yet, Paul makes a point of saying “to remind you again.” It would seem then that something is missing from our equation; that is unless he is merely reminding them of an earlier discussion within the same letter, and it would appear that Romans 1:5 is that reference.
Through him, God gave me the privilege of being an apostle for the sake of Christ, in order to lead people of all nations to believe and obey. (Romans 1:5 GNB)
As you have read through my posts on Romans, you noticed how I emphasized that Romans was primarily a Jewish letter. It is passages like this that prove my point.
Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, (Romans 2:4-5 NASB)
The terminology used above is a well-known language when God speaks of Israel – the Jews. However, when you read language like this, “people of all nations,” then surely Paul is talking about the Gentiles.
In the Acts of the Apostles, written between A.D. 33 or A.D. 29, we see Peter’s invitation to minister to the Gentiles in Acts 10:9-48. The events that we find in Acts 10 help to persuade Peter to enter the home of a Roman Centurion, a Gentile, and therefore promotes the idea that Peter was to be the missionary to the Gentiles. Invited into their home, Peter takes a position in the center of the floor and begins to preach. In the middle of Peter’s best sermon, this Gentile family received the infilling of the Holy Spirit and spoke in other tongues. Peter was a bit taken back at this, as he and the other Jewish apostles thought that salvation and the Holy Spirit were an entirely Jewish matter. You would think that the events, on the Day of Pentecost, where Peter stepped out of character, under the power of the Holy Spirit and spoke boldly to the crowds there in the street, (That day over 3000 came to a knowledge of Jesus.) that this would have been more than enough to convince Peter that the Holy Spirit and the gospel message were not exclusive to the Jews.
If I had merely said that the 3000+ that day received Jesus as the Messiah, this would be so much easier to receive, because that phrase, Jesus as the Messiah, would put an appropriate Jewish spin on the scene. You see, the malady we Gentile (non-Jewish) believers have, is that we create scenarios that fit our understanding, regardless of whether they are what God wanted us to see. So, in this case, most Bible teachers will try to convince you that Paul, for at least 25 years, was an apostle to the Gentiles, and that was not the case.
Obviously, Paul, by the time he wrote this letter (to a church body that had Gentile believers in it,) was already coming to understand the greater calling – something that Peter never did figure out. To prove my statement about Peter, you need to ask why Peter withdrew from the Gentiles when the Jews came down to see what God was doing?
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James (the Jerusalem council,) he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? (Galatians 2:11-14 NASB)
Ask yourselves a question, where do we first meet Paul?
Our first interaction with the man is in Acts 7:58, where he is holding the cloaks of those righteous Jews, who were busy stoning Stephen. Saul, (who will shortly come to be known as Paul,) immediately turns his religious passion toward an elimination of these new followers of the way, which, by the way, were Jewish believers.
Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. (Acts 8:1 NASB)
This dispersion caused the gospel message to spread, and here is where we learn that the Gentiles were being told about the good news of Jesus Christ.
So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. (Acts 11:19-21 NASB)
But it doesn’t say one thing about Peter, or Saul/Paul.
Now we bring Saul/Paul into the picture.
The news about them (the Gentile converts) reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year, they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. (Acts 11:22-26 NASB)
There is nothing in the passage above, that tells us Barnabas and Saul/Paul spoke exclusively to Jews, or, that they were now teaching the Gentile converts. However, in Acts 11:19-21, it clearly states that in Antioch Gentiles were coming to the Lord.
Verses 22-30 describe how the word got back to Jerusalem and the Apostles. A prophet among the Jerusalem council, named Agabus, got excited and went to Antioch; there he prophesied of a great famine, which we are told, happened during the reign of Claudius.
Acts 11:28 NASB, One of them named Agabus, stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius.
Why is Claudius Caesar significant?
“This was probably the famine which took place in the fourth year of Claudius, which continued for several years,” and in which, says Josephus (Antiquities. Book. 20. chapter. 2), “many died for want of food.” The Ultimate Cross-Reference Treasury, Copyright © 2016 by Jerome H. Smith.
Perhaps this has some significance because, during the reign of Claudius Caesar over Rome, Helena, the queen of Adiabene, and her son Izates, changed their course of life, and embraced the Jewish customs. Her son eventually became the King of Jerusalem, which entails Judea, where the famine was severe. Izates’ mother Helena made sure that many in Judea received assistance. It is possible that Helena and her son, the king, knew of Claudius’ hatred for the Jews and were, therefore, taking their life in their hands to bring the Jews assistance. Rome was under the governance of both Claudius and Nero from (37-68AD), but one of the most disturbing leaders was Claudius, the adoptive father of Nero. Nero became the emperor in 54AD.
Acts 18:2 NASB And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them,
“In Corinth, Paul met Aquila and his wife, Priscilla. Aquila was a Jew, originally from Pontus, a province in northeast Asia Minor south of the Black Sea. Displaced from Rome because of an edict in a.d. 49 or 50 from Claudius for all the Jews to leave Rome.” THE BIBLE KNOWLEDGE COMMENTARY, An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty, Based on the New International Version, by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck
Before I move on, I want to say a few more things about Romans 15:16.
Again, the Jewishness of this letter shows up, as Paul says,
Romans 15:16 CJB to be a servant of the Messiah Yeshua for the Gentiles, with the priestly duty of presenting the Good News of God, so that the Gentiles may be an acceptable offering, made holy by the Ruach HaKodesh.
This is an extremely Jewish line of thinking as the terminology would mean nothing to most Gentiles. Priestly, expressly speaks of the Jewish priests and the temple service.
Paul adds, “so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (NASB)
This is not like Abraham and the offering of Isaac as a sacrifice. The word for offering is prosphora and can also mean presentation. Having brought them into the kingdom, Paul, in a sense, presents them to God.
Note how it says that the Gentiles may become acceptable. Just this morning, my men’s group was reading C.S. Lewis’ book, Mere Christianity. In book four, chapter 10, entitled Nice People or New Men, he makes the comment that the transition to being perfect will not be completed in this life. In other words, something immense has to change, and we either die, or a change will take place. We followers know that this change will happen in the twinkling of an eye, at the rapture of the church. (1Corinthians 15:2) So, we should understand that we are always in transition until that day comes.
Romans 15:17 NASB Therefore, in Christ Jesus, I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God.
Boasting is the Greek word kauchēsis which also means confidence, or reason for boasting.
How does Paul put it? “in Christ Jesus, I have found reason for boasting in the things pertaining to God.” How do I perceive this statement? There is no boasting in anything else. Paul had a much to say along this line as well, as he had every reason to boast.
Again I say, let no one think me foolish; but if you do, receive me even as foolish, so that I also may boast a little. What I am saying, I am not saying as the Lord would, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of boasting. Since many boast according to the flesh, I will boast also. For you, being so wise, tolerate the foolish gladly. For you tolerate it if anyone enslaves you, anyone devours you, anyone takes advantage of you, anyone exalts himself, anyone hits you in the face. To my shame, I must say that we have been weak by comparison. But in whatever respect anyone else is bold–I speak in foolishness–I am just as bold myself. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ?–I speak as if insane–I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern? If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. (2 Corinthians 11:16-30 NASB)
Continuing Paul’s train of thought.
Romans 15:18 NLT Yet I dare not boast about anything except what Christ has done through me, bringing the Gentiles to God by my message and by the way I worked among them.
Verse 18 is where this idea of the Gentiles being offered to God comes into play, when he says, “what Christ has done through me, bringing the Gentiles to God by my message and by the way I worked among them.” It is hard to deny that Paul had a work among the Gentiles based upon what he says, but it is difficult to see, as his story, as related in the book of Acts, puts Paul in the synagogues at every turn, with the possible exception of Acts 17. However, this small piece of evidence pertaining to Paul’s stop in Athens has holes in it, and I will show you why.
So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. And also, some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”–because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. (Acts 17:17-18 NASB)
Note how the paragraph starts; now, ask yourself, where is Paul doing this reasoning?
It starts in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles. Where is Paul at? He is in Athens Greece, where there is obviously a Jewish population, but try to imagine a Jewish congregation allowing Gentiles into their synagogue. I cannot picture that happening. Now, mind you, the world has changed a bit, and I suspect that I might today be allowed into the synagogue, but I am quite sure that I would be directed to a seat out of harm’s way. This train of thought tends to tell me that these God-fearing Gentiles were converted to Judaism. None-the-less, the crowd in this synagogue is fairly versed in Grecian gods and mythology, as Paul was.
And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? Acts 17:19 NASB
No longer in the synagogue, his primary audience may well have been Gentiles, but mind you, it was the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles that brought him to this place.
So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. (Acts 17:22 NASB)
One more piece of perception.
If the Jews and “God-fearing Gentiles” brought him to the Areopagus, doesn’t that tell you that they were worshiping a mixed bag of gods? I will leave you to sort that out. We tend to create an image that God, through Paul, did a great work in their lives, but that does not seem to be the case.
because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.” (Acts 17:31-32 NASB)
A mixed response, but nothing solid.
Romans 15:18-19 NASB For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, (19) in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
A bold statement from Paul.
- “ I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me.”
Look at the way Eugene Peterson’s Message plays this out.
I have no interest in giving you a chatty account of my adventures, only the wondrously powerful and transformationally present words and deeds of Christ in me that triggered a believing response among the outsiders. (Romans 15:18 MSG)
[I replaced the word transformingly, which Peterson used, with what you see in italics. It just made more sense and did not seem made up.]
Romans 15:20 CJB I have always made it my ambition to proclaim the Good News where the Messiah was not yet known so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation,
I will tell you what I think hurts our understanding of Paul’s mission; it is a sad lacking of what God told him, that day on the road to Damascus. For all we know, the Father may have laid out his plan and purpose.
Think about this statement on Paul’s part, “I have always made it my ambition to proclaim the Good News where the Messiah was not yet known.” This raises some questions, one of which Paul himself answers when he says, “so I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.”
Why would someone else’s foundation be a problem as long as you are preaching the same thing?
As long as you were preaching the same message, there would be no problem. But they were not building the same foundation.
What kind of foundations would Paul be dealing with?
When we, as believers, think of a foundation, we see it in religious terms, and we typically envision a decent foundation, one in which there is an understanding of Christ crucified, risen, and coming again to gather His church to Himself. One might expect that Peter and the Jerusalem council would have had this concept deeply ingrained, but that does not seem to be the case.
Some, that Paul ran into along the way, tried to hold the converts to strict Jewish standards, which included circumcision. In trying to find some common ground, the Apostles conferred upon a foundation by instructing that the Gentiles should NOT eat things strangled, nor animals with the blood still in them. I realize that is rather gross, but this was an aspect of the Mosaic law, and therefore foundational to the Jews. Paul had Timothy circumcised to keep the Jewish believers off his back.
Think about the fact that a major influencer, we see in the book of Acts, was Peter, and we already heard the written testimony of Paul, how that Peter, who had been eating and enjoying fellowship with the Gentiles, withdrew quickly from those believers when the representatives from the Jerusalem council came to see what God had been doing.
But ask yourself, did Paul go strictly to Holy Spirit empowered gatherings?
The answer is NO; he went to synagogues. While many of these synagogues may have Gentile converts, they would not have been converting to Christianity; they went there to embrace the God of the Jews.
Romans 15:21 AMP, …They shall see who have never been told of Him, and they shall understand who have never heard [of Him]. [Isa. 52:15.]
John Gill’s commentary says, “for the Messiah was not spoken of to the Gentiles.” And yet, what did we learn earlier? That the promise to Abraham was to his descendants as well, and we have been adopted in and therefore, are descendants.