My hypothesis begins with this conviction; that not only can we speak legitimately of the first century AD people known sometimes as ‘God-fearers’ but also that their role was invaluable, to the success or failure in the spread of the gospel as recorded in the book of Acts.
For the purpose of analysing the evidence, we can, for now be satisfied with the definition of God-fearers being members of the gentile-community who affiliate themselves to some degree with Jewish worship, who are interested in Jewish-morality and monotheism yet are not in obedience to some aspects of the Jewish Law (often circumcision) as a proselyte would be. I believe also that a God-fearer may still be involved with activities from paganism. The spectrum of ‘God-fearers’ would travel between polytheistic-paganism and proselyte-Judaism.
The difficulty in finding passages which mention ‘God-fearers’ is one of terminology. Luke in his two-volume narrative gives us at least five terms (φοβουμενοι τον θεον (Acts 10:1-2; 10:22; 13:16; 13:26), σεβομενοι τον θεον (Acts 13:50; 16:14; 18:6-7), σεβομενοι προσηλυτοι (13:43), σεβομενοι Έλληνες (17:17)). It’s my belief however, that they are one and the same people and that we can find peoples, not necessarily under the name ‘God-fearers,’ who can be categorised as God-fearers. Because of terminological issues, some believe that ‘God-fearers’ are ‘pious’ or ‘devout’ Jews. Its my aim through examining the texts, to show why this is an incorrect understanding. Some from this will give them too vague a description; others would go to the other extreme and over-institutionalise them.
Throughout the Old-Testament we see ‘God-fearer’ types; strangers who dwell with you. These dwelt with the Israelites and were given some basic laws to follow. Such as in Leviticus 17:12-13, Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood.
The Gospels give no explicit mentions of ‘God-fearers’ however there are places we might infer this, the most obvious is John 12:20ff
The Greeks were not Jews as they were among Jews. They’re still known by their Hellenistic name and they were worshipping at a Jewish feast, so could be God-fearers. But what makes this more likely is by cross-referencing this with Acts 17:4,12
The Greeks in Thessalonica and Berea are God-fearers, making it likely that the Greeks at Jerusalem were also God-fearers.
J.D.Crossam believes that Paul in his epistles was writing to God-fearers. Paul writes to Churches he founded, comprising many God-fearers. We also know that the Jews placed a lot of emphasis on the God-fearers , which might explain the constant difficulty with Judaizers trying to bring converts under the Law, and possibly the synagogues. God-fearers would be taught in the synagogues that circumcision was the way into the covenant, yet Paul taught it by faith alone. (Which was, by its very nature, more attractive to God-fearers who were suspicious of commitment to the Law.) This seems to be the specific debate in Galatians 2:16ff
It could be that Paul, when dealing with the Jewish law was addressing God-fearers who were susceptible to the Jewish mission to keep God-fearers in their circles.