Was Jesus directing his message to non-Jews?

Quotations

A Canaanite [Gentile] woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 15:22-24)

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel”. (Matthew 10:5-6)

“I am apostle to the Gentiles” (Paul in Romans 11:13)

But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles. (Paul in Galatians 1:15-16)

Commentary

In short, it is altogether likely that Jesus had not one good thing to say about Gentile as a group. Although Gentiles later were attracted to him through the gospel, he was not attracted to them, nor was he the least interested in attracting them to him. (Leander E. Keck – Professor Yale)

“the early Church struggled over the question of whether or not male converts from Gentile backgrounds needed to be circumcised…But in the records of these debates within the New Testament , no one ever invokes a saying of Jesus on this disputed subject – presumably because he never made one. The issue had not come up because Jesus’ followers were Jews, his mission was to Israel, and he simply took circumcision for granted.” (Joel Marcus – Professor Duke, Princeton)

The Church began as a reform movement within Judaism. Jesus’ own ministry in Galilee and Jerusalem (c. AD 28-30) was directed primarily at the Jewish people, and long after the crucifixion many Jewish converts remained deeply hostile to the idea of “gentile” Christianity. (Price and Thonemann – both Oxford)

“In the gospel of Mark Jesus has contact with Gentiles only in the person of the Syro-Phoenician whose daughter he heals. This contact is seen as exceptional, and the mission of Jesus is limited to his own countrymen. The future mission of the church to the Gentles is hinted only by the recognition of Jesus as Son of God by the Gentile centurion at the foot of the cross. By contrast to Mark, Luke is concerned, even in the gospels, to sow that the good news of Jesus extends also to those beyond Judaism”. (Henry Wansbrough – Oxford)

One accusation often brought against Paul is that he taught a totally different gospel from that proclaimed by Jesus himself. He has been described, for example, as the real founder of Christianity. At first sight it does indeed seem that the message of Jesus was very different from Paul’s. But we have to remember that while Jesus taught about God, not about himself, Paul, too, who is apparently so Christocentric in his teaching, is concerned primarily with what God did through Christ. Jesus did not come to “found” a new religion, but to call his people back to God. But Paul, also, was not founding a “new religion”, for he saw his gospel as the fulfilment of God’s promises, and his mission was to call Gentiles to join God’s people. If Paul’s gospel centres on the death and resurrection of Jesus, that was an inevitable shift for any Christian after Easter: neither of these events could be ignored! (Morna Hooker – Professor Cambridge)

Up to a certain point in time, perhaps in the middle of the first century – the generation after Jesus – there was no dividing line between Judaism and Christianity.  Jesus, indeed, never thought of himself as preaching a religion other than Judaism or Torah: “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil” (Matt 5:17).  If you had asked Jesus or any of his disciples what religion they were, they would have replied “Jewish”.  (Norman Solomon – Oxford)

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