3.14 Acts -- Paul's First Journeys, cont.
Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch and reported that God had "opened the door of faith to the Gentiles" (Acts 14:27). This journey was the first real intentional outreach to Gentiles. And it had been a great gamble: how could Jewish religious concepts be conveyed to pagans? How could Jewish ideas of sin and salvation, and of the nature of the one God, be made comprehensible to Greeks? And the fact of Jesus' death and resurrection had to be presented as something other than a Greek myth. It was one thing for the Holy Spirit to permit the Gospel to be preached to the Gentiles, and even to command it -- but it was quite another matter to translate truth into the local vernacular. The old apologetics did not work: the age of the God-fearing Gentile, who went through a long apprenticeship in Jewish doctrine, history and practice, was over. Paul and Barnabas, like John, had to invent an entirely new vocabulary to get the message across. There were two major components of their style:
a. the use of signs and miracles to prove the message. People who might laugh at the story of Jesus' Resurrection would look in astonishment at the healing of a cripple, and then pay attention to the teaching. There are three accounts of signs or miracles in these two chapters, and numerous other examples throughout Acts, all of which had the effect of amazing the audience.
b. at the center of this new approach was meeting the heart needs of the Gentiles. It was not enough to translate Jewish theology into Greek terminology. Paul's challenge was to present the message of Jesus in such a way that the forgiveness of sins, the offer of eternal life, and the gift of the Holy Spirit broke through the spiritual darkness that bound the Gentiles. This has been a continuing problem in missions ever since. When Christian evangelists and missionaries have not understood the local culture well enough to contextualize the Gospel, Christianity has been considered a "foreign" religion.