Wednesday, March 14, 2007

God Fearers in Acts.

Within Acts we see the most explicit reference to God-fearers (Acts 10; 13:16; 13:26; 13:43; 13:50; 16:14; 17:4; 17:17; 18:6-7). Some say this is Luke writing as a theologian who needed God-fearers for his narrative. I believe the reason we have the most references to God-fearers within Acts is because it gives us historical details not necessary in the rest of the New-Testament narratives.

God Fearers in Acts depends much on the geography and situation in question (The references to God-fearers cover a large area, including Caesarea, Pisidian Antioch, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens and Corinth). God-fearers are mentioned several times in Acts, sometimes they heartily welcome the gospel, whereas at otehr times they begin the persecution.

Acts 10

Cornelius is a ‘model God-fearer,’ with almsgiving, prayer (v.2) and a good reputation among Jews (v.22). Therefore, ‘he had some preparation for the Gospel he was soon to hear.’ He was not a Jew/proselyte (shown by the Jewish Christians who came with Peter who were amazed by the fact he had received the Holy Spirit). Furthermore, he was a Roman Centurion who would be expected to participate in the imperial-cult. ‘Because of his official duties and despite his beliefs in one God, has to demonstrate publicly his polytheism.’ Cornelius was not the first Gentile convert (See Acts 8), however from him the mission to the Gentiles began (Acts. 11:1), his household also becomes a Christian base as all his household were filled with the Spirit and baptised.

Acts 13:16-50

Here Paul is in Pisidian Antioch, and as was his custom he goes first to the synagogue where Jews and God-fearers responded. This ‘is the first time the mission to the Gentiles is proclaimed as a recognized aim.’ This is also the first step of persecution. Prominent women drove Paul and Barnabas out from their borders. These women are unlikely to be Jewish as it is unlikely that they possessed a higher status than the males or that they initiated the persecution before the males. They are very likely God-fearers, which makes sense when cross-referenced later in Luke’s narrative (Acts 17:4, 17).
From these passages we see the beginnings of the Gentile mission, which posed a serious problem for the Jews as their status quo was suddenly challenged. The Jews generally had better success because of the long relationship they had enjoyed with God-fearers, owing to the hostility to the Gospel in Ch13. This is an important development in the spread of the Gospel and the accompanying persecution, which as we see here and throughout Acts, God-fearers play an important role in this.

Acts 16:14
This passage is crucial in understanding the success of the Gospel. Paul goes to a ‘place of prayer,’ presumably the area didn’t have a synagogue and meets Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. This makes Lydia an extremely wealthy member of the community, and she is at the meeting; a God-fearer (v.14). This makes a base for Christians to meet in Philippi, the household of a God-fearer provides a huge resource for the spread of the Gospel.

Acts 17:4,17

Again Paul’s begins in the synagogue and God-fearers who are there respond. Here they are called ‘worshipping (σεβομενων) Greeks’ with prominent women. And again this leads to an uproar from the Jews and Paul and Silas are accused of ‘turning the world upside-down,’ which, for the Jews, by evangelising God-fearers, that is exactly what they are doing. This happens again after God-fearers respond in v12 and again in v17 the same way.

Acts 18:6-7

Much the same way as Lydia, prominent God-fearer; Titus Justus is converted with his whole household next door to the synagogue providing a base for the Gospel and a back door into the synagogue, as we see Crispus, the leader of the synagogue is converted.

These passages teach us not only of the persecution that follows the mission to the God-fearers but also of the God-fearers necessity to the Gospel’s spread, particularly the resources of Lydia and Titus. This gives us much insight into the nature of Paul’s missionary techniques in reaching the Gentiles, via Judaism and the sovereign plan of God.
• The Gentile mission was began and was made public through God-fearers
• The mission to the God-fearers was drenched with Jewish Persecution
• This persecution was sometimes started by the Jewish-faithful God-fearers
• The spread of the Gentile mission was made possible by the resources of God-fearers

L.H. Feldman The Omnipresence of the God-Fearers (Biblical Archeological Review 12, no.5, 1986)
E. M. Smallwood The Jews Under Roman Rule (Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1981)
Robert S. MacLennan and A. Thomas Kraabel, The God-Fearers – A Literary and Theological Invention,(BAR 12, no.5, September – October 1986)
**I. Levinskaya, The Book of Acts in its First Century Setting. Vol 5, Diaspora Setting (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1996)
I. H. Marshall Acts (Tyndale Grand Rapids, 1992) p.183-184
J. B. Polhill The New American Commentary: Acts (Broadman Press, Nashville, 1992)
C. K. Barrett Acts, A Shorter Commentary (T & T Clark, New York, 2002)
C. Evans at al Dictionary of New Testament Background (IVP, Leicester, 2000)
G. Hawthorne et al Dictionary of Paul and his Letters (IVP, Leicester, 1993)

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