A Eunuch, A Centurion and the Welcoming of the Gentiles

One of the most important events in the history of the church was the inclusion of the Gentiles among the followers of Jesus. Originally, the church was made up of all Jewish believers in Jesus. But by the end of the first century, the church was majority Gentile. When did this process begin?

Some may point to Peter’s preaching to Cornelius and his household as described in Acts 10. The way Luke describes their experience with the speaking in tongues, it looks like the Gentile Pentecost, Also, at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, Peter’s experience with Cornelius plays a major role in the church’s welcoming of the Gentiles.

However, if we turn back to Acts 8, we see that there was a Gentile conversion before Cornelius. In this story, Philip (one of the seven, not one of the twelve) shares the gospel with an Ethiopian eunuch on his way home from Jerusalem. The eunuch believed and was baptized.

So why does the experience with Cornelius make more of an impact than that of the eunuch?

The Ethiopian was indeed converted first, but his situation was different from that of Cornelius. First, the Ethiopian was on his way home and so his conversion would not challenge any beliefs of Jewish followers of Jesus. Cornelius, however, lived near Jewish followers of Jesus and his conversion would directly confront their beliefs.

But there is an even more important difference. Gentiles were always welcome to follow Jesus. However, they would have to convert to Judaism with the sign of circumcision. For the Ethiopian, as a eunuch, this was not an option. No Jewish believer could insist on his circumcision. But Cornelius was a different story. He had no excuse to not get circumcised. Except for the fact that the Holy Spirit had already testified to his true conversion that is.

The conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch was important, but it was the conversion of Cornelius and the skipping of his circumcision that sent shock waves through the church.

I discuss this and other matters in History of Christianity 7: The Church is Born.

Liked it? Take a second to support Stephen Bedard on Patreon!
Share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.