This was an essay that I wrote for school about the interactions between the Jews, early Christians, and Gentiles and then also addressing the issue of studying the Bible for devotional purposes verses studying the Bible for historical purposes. I know that it’s a little unpolished but I hope that you enjoy it!
The Jews, Gentiles, and the early Christians had many differences that often caused negative interaction between them, these differences primarily being differences of belief and religious practice. Throughout the Old Testament, by making a covenant with the Jews and giving them His law, the Lord set the Jews apart from the Gentile nations. The Jews were commanded to conquer the surrounding nations and not make peace with them unless they were very far away (Deuteronomy 20:10 – 15). On the other side of the same coin, the Lord used the pagan Gentile nations such as Egypt, Babylon, and Rome to conquer His people – usually when they were falling into sin. Thus, to the Jews, the Gentiles were either the hated conquered or the feared conquerors. When Israel came into peace with the pagan nations, the Jews began to act as the pagans did and the Lord judged the nation of Israel for their sin. Thus, for those reasons, the Jews and the Gentiles almost continually had a strained relationship.
The Jews has a mixed response to Christ, and, likewise they had a mixed response to Christians. There were many Jews who wished to kill all the Christians, but there were others heard the word and believed, such as on the day known now as Pentecost, where, “those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.” (Acts 2:41, NKJV). In contrast, often the Jews, especially the religious leaders, were so intent on eradicating the Christians that they relied on and/or stirred up the Gentiles to help them in their quest, as in Paul’s trip to the city of Iconium, where “the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren.” (Acts 14:2, NKJV)
The Christians had been commanded to take the Word to the Jews first, and also to the Greek. Thus, there were many Jewish converts. Surprisingly, the Gentiles came to Christ and to the early Christians for counseling and the Christians were happy to help, as evidenced by the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10, or, in the story of Philip and the eunuch in Acts 8:34 – 35 (NIV), “The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” The Gentiles were often wary of the Christians and treated them with suspicion. When the results of Christian teaching affected their business negatively, however, the Gentiles took strong measures against them, as in the case of Demetrius the Silversmith (Acts 19:23 – 41).
Another level at which the early Christians, Jews, and Gentiles differed was their reading of the Scriptures and their reasons for reading the Scriptures. By reading the Scriptures merely as a reliable historical source, one is seeking to gain historical insight on events of the past but is not necessarily reading for the purpose of tracing God’s plan of redemption through history. Reading the Scriptures for devotional purposes, on the other hand, implies studying it with the intent of learning what God has to say to His people. The mere facts of the Bible would have been such a major part of the Jews culture and tradition that it is likely that they already knew a large part of their history through the many feasts they attended and through oral tradition that is so prevalent in the Near and Middle East that Jews would have studied the Bible primarily for “devotional” purposes – for seeking God’s will and revelation through the law and the prophets. The Gentiles, as a whole, would have been unfamiliar with the Scriptures and likely didn’t study the Scriptures at all. Because the early Christians were a mix of converted Jews and Gentiles, many of them Gentiles, they would have studied the Scriptures for both historical and devotional purposes, because they, especially the Gentiles, would be unfamiliar with both the historical and devotional content of this new religion, and, for the Jews, they re-read or were re-taught the Scriptures in light of their new revelation.
In short, there were many factors which affected the interaction between the first-century Jews, Christians, and Gentiles. Although a significant amount of the interaction between these groups was negative due to differences of belief and practice, this was not always the case, especially between the early Christians and Gentiles. Like the early church, it is my prayer that we will all have the boldness to proclaim Jesus, crucified and resurrected, to all the world and wherever we go – to the Jew and also to the Gentile.