Did Jesus Minister Exclusively to Jews and not Gentiles?

Did Jesus Minister Exclusively to Jews and not Gentiles? July 2, 2020

 

Some Catholic liberals argue that the following famous “missionary / evangelism” passage refers only to Jews among all the nations. This is sheer nonsense. Here is the passage:

Matthew 28:19 (RSV) Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Now what does the Greek say? Is this solely about Jews, as is absurdly claimed? Word Pictures in the New Testament, by A. T. Robertson states for this passage: “All the nations (παντα τα ετνη — panta ta ethnē). Not just the Jews scattered among the Gentiles, but the Gentiles themselves in every land.”

Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (“Little Kittel”) states that “In some 100 passages, ethnē is undoubtedly a technical term for the Gentiles as distinct from Jews or Christians” (p. 201). There is nothing whatsoever in the passage indicating that Jesus was referring only to Jews in foreign nations: to be evangelized.

We’re told that “the Jesus of Matthew” is utterly unconcerned with non-Jews (Gentiles). This is an equally ludicrous opinion. A clear instance in Matthew of Jesus’ outreach beyond the Jews is His interaction with the Roman centurion:

Matthew 8:5-13 As he entered Caper’na-um, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him [6] and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” [7] And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” [8] But the centurion answered him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. [9] For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, `Go,’ and he goes, and to another, `Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, `Do this,’ and he does it.” [10] When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. [11] I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, [12] while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” [13] And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; be it done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

Note how Jesus not only readily healed the Roman centurion’s servant (8:7, 13), but also “marveled” at his faith and commended it as superior to the faith of anyone “in Israel” (8:10). And that led Him to observe that many Gentiles will be saved, whereas many Jews will not be saved (8:11-12). If this is supposedly a “Jewish only” view (“Gentiles need not apply”), it sure is the weirdest, most confusing way imaginable to express it.

A second counter-example is from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus told His followers, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).

A third example is the parable of the weeds, which showed a universal mission field fifteen chapters before Matthew 28: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of man; [38] the field is the world, and the good seed means the sons of the kingdom; . . .” (13:37-38).

A fourth example is Jesus healing the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman (of demon possession):

Matthew 15:28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

As a fifth example, Matthew seems to not be aware of his own supposed “Jews only Jesus” since he applies an Old Testament passage about outreach to Gentiles directly to Jesus as the Servant and Messiah:

Matthew 12:15-21  Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all, [16] and ordered them not to make him known. [17] This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: [18] “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles. [19] He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will any one hear his voice in the streets; [20] he will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick, till he brings justice to victory; [21] and in his name will the Gentiles hope.”

A sixth counter-example is Jesus telling the Jewish “chief priests and scribes” (Mt 21:15) and “Pharisees” (21:45) that righteous Gentiles will enter the kingdom before self-righteous Jews (like them):

Matthew 21:31b-32 “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. [32] For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him.

Matthew 21:42-43, 45  Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: `The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? [43] Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.”  [45] When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them.

A seventh example is Jesus earlier echoing His message of the Great Commission (Mt 28:19-20):

Matthew 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come. (cf. Mk 13:10; Lk 24:47)

The same view is also supposedly apparent in the Gospel of Luke as well. Really? That’s news to me. We must read different Bibles. Folks who argue in this fashion must not have read (or understood) Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). The whole point of it was to show that Samaritans were truly neighbors to Jews if they helped them, as the man did in the parable. In 2014, I drove on the road (from Jerusalem to Jericho) which was the setting of this parable.

Secondly, Luke records Simeon saying about Jesus:

Luke 2:30-32 for mine eyes have seen thy salvation [31] which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, [32] a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.”

Thirdly, Jesus healed yet another foreigner: a Samaritan man, commending his faith:

Luke 17:12-19 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance [13] and lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” [14] When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. [15] Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; [16] and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. [17] Then said Jesus, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? [18] Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” [19] And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Fourthly, Jesus specifically went to the land of the Gadarenes or Gerasenes, east of the Sea of Galilee, to minister to them (I was there, too). This was where Jesus sent the demons into the pigs, and it appears in all three synoptic Gospels (Mk 5:1-20; Lk 8:26-39; Mt 8:28-34). Wikipedia, in its article on the region, states:

The name is derived from either a lakeside village, Gergesa, the next larger city, Gadara, or the best-known city in the region, Gerasa. . . . They were both Gentile cities filled with citizens who were culturally more Greek than Semitic; this would account for the pigs in the biblical account.

As anyone can see, the evidence in the Bible against this ridiculous critique is abundant and undeniable. Jesus never says (nor does the entire New Testament ever say) that He came to “save Israel” or be the “savior of Israel.” Anyone who doesn’t believe me can do a word search (here’s the tool to do it). Verify it yourself. He only claims to be the “Messiah” of Israel (Jn 4:25-26): which is a different thing. When Jesus says who it is that He came to save (i.e., provided they are willing), He states explicitly that He came “to save the lost” (Lk 19:10) and “to save the world” (Jn 12:47).

Likewise, St. Paul states that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). Last I checked, sinful human beings were not confined solely to the class of Jews or Israelis.

Lastly, if we look at the Gospel of John, we observe Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4:5-29), which perfectly illustrates His “inclusive” view. Here He not only ministered to her with great compassion, but noted at the end that salvation was to extend to the non-Jewish Gentiles as well: “salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him” (4:22b-23).

This outlandish insinuation that Jesus somehow didn’t want to help or heal anyone but his own Hebrews / Jews, simply doesn’t hold water. People who think like this appear unwilling to crack open a biblical concordance and look up passages relevant to these dubious claims.

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Photo credit: Christ and the Centurion (c. 1575), by Paolo Veronese (1528-1588) and his workshop [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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