Friday, January 02, 2015

How did James view Gentile believers?

... So how would James or Peter have conceptualized these Gentile believers? Surely they did not consider them now to be Jews. They were not converts in the strictest sense of the word for they did not become circumcised, and they were only keeping the most basic purity considerations so that they might join Christian Jews in table fellowship. Paul's converts kept even less of the holiness codes--mostly those elements relating to sexual purity. For James they must have remained God-fearers, more or less, only now to those Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. [1]

Surely James and Peter would have applauded these individuals for their faith in God and their acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah of Israel. Assuming that the earliest church was a deeply apocalyptic community, these Gentiles would presumably escape the coming wrath of God. We can easily imagine that James thought of them much like the strangers in the land in Deuteronomy 10:17-19. They remained outsiders to Israel. They were not "in," but they stood somewhat under the favor and protection of Yahweh. When God delivered Israel from its enemies, those aliens would benefit from his protection. They were, in a sense, separate and unequal, yet in a far better eschatological situation than those who served other gods...

[1] One suspects that even the notion of a God-fearer was relatively new to James. In the Diaspora, we can imagine that many synagogues had God-fearers who associated with them. In Galilee and Jerusalem, however, fewer Gentiles were around and any God-fearers who existed would have likely associated with Hellenistic synagogues.


scott f said...

How does this fit with Paul's account of Peter in Antioch?

Ken Schenck said...

It is perhaps my main source for this conception.