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1.5 Synoptics -- Teachings and Works of Jesus

We will consider only those teachings that apply to the Gentiles, or "the nations." This includes topical teaching (such as the end of the world), sayings, and parables. It also includes healing miracles.


Was Jesus Pro- or Anti-Gentile? The central problem that we will investigate in our study of the Gospels is the dual attitude of Jesus himself to the Gentiles. The man who told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37) is the same man who told the Canaanite woman,

         "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs" (Mat 15:26).

This statement is one of the most racially derogatory remarks in the Bible. It is found in both Matthew and Mark, but not in Luke or John. Paul, writing much later (i.e. later than Jesus’ words, not later than the writing of Matthew), could obliterate the line between Jew and Gentile:

         For he [Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility (Eph 2:14-16).

         But this was most emphatically not the case in the lifetime of Jesus himself. He was not only aware of the "dividing wall of hostility," he perpetuated it, yet with surprising and inconsistent exceptions, as we will look at in detail.


One of the proofs of his own Jewishness is the attitude of the disciples after his Ascension. Why did Peter require a 3-fold vision at the house of Simon the tanner before he would go speak to the Gentiles? (Acts 10:9-16). He was not being stupid, he was acting consistently with his upbringing to shun Gentiles, and nothing in his apprenticeship with Jesus had altered that lifelong taboo. And we know from his later arguments with Paul that not only Peter but many of the other "pillars" of the Jerusalem church felt that the "wall" was still definitely in place. If Jesus’ ministry had been one of universal brotherhood, as modern liberalism confidently asserts, why did the leaders of the disciples maintain the traditional distinctions of Judaism? It is obvious that they were acting in accordance with their manner of life during the three years they spent living with Jesus. Though Jesus was constantly offending the guardians of orthodoxy, who accused him of impiety and breaking the Law, he was very selective in the laws he broke. While he bulldozed the division between the Jewish elite (scribes and Pharisees) and the "tax-collectors and sinners," he left the wall between Jew and Gentile (partially) intact.


The "answer" to this apparent contradiction in the treatment of Gentiles between Peter and Paul, and between Gospels and Acts, lies in the specific focus of divine activity and the progressive nature of revelation. The problem during Jesus lifetime was not the Gentiles, it was the question of the nature of Jesus' fulfillment of the messianic expectations of the Jews. Other matters, such as the status of Gentiles, the place of women, the End of the World, were peripheral at that time. With the end of Jesus’ life, the Messianic role reached its climax, though not in the way anyone then alive expected: the Cross, the Tomb, the Ascension. But at Pentecost, the focus shifted dramatically. The agenda of the Holy Spirit was no longer on proving the Messiahship of Jesus, but rather on proclamation. Only then did the question come to the fore – “what do we do about the Gentiles? Are they ‘in’ or ‘out’, and if ‘in’, what do we do with them?” These questions were irrelevant three months earlier, but became crucial for the life of the church going forward. In grappling with them, the apostles did not have the easy out of bumping them upstairs (“The Master says….”). No, they had to listen to the voice of the Spirit individually and then come to some consensus as to what the mind of the Lord was. This too was brand new to them. Not only did they have to deal with new issues of great urgency and importance, but they had an entirely new mode of decision-making to learn. And no sweat – whatever they decided would set the Standard for the next 2000 years and apply to hundreds of millions of people.


Our procedure will be to cite the Scriptures which refer to Gentiles either implicitly or explicitly. We will follow Matthew, and compare similar passages from Mark and Luke. There is some unique material in Luke.

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