I don’t think we fully appreciate the significance of what happened when the Holy Spirit fell upon a group of gentiles as Peter was preaching in the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:44-48).
It took a vision for Peter, where God declared a number of animals clean, and an angelic visit for Cornelius to get these two groups together. After the Holy Spirit fell, it caused such a controversy in the early church they called a meeting to figure out what do to with the hundreds of gentiles becoming Christians.
But a few Bible verses and even archaeology provide a hint of what a radical change this was for the early church that was initially made up of solely Jews.
In 1871 a stone slab from the Jewish Temple that existed in Jesus day was discovered by archaeologist Charles Clermont-Ganneau. On the slab written in Greek was:
“No foreigner is allowed to enter the courtyard and enclosure surrounding the temple. Whoever is caught will be responsible to himself for his death, which will ensue.”
Greek was the common language of the day and was used because this warning threatening death was not intended for Jews, but Gentiles.
The Jewish temple was broken up into four areas. The outer courtyard was known as the court of the gentiles, and the inner court had three areas, one for women, one for men and one for the priests serving in the temple.
There were walls and warning signs preventing Gentiles from entering the inner temple area.
We even see the threat of violence in an incident involving Paul. He was visiting Jerusalem with a gentile man named Trophimus and a riot nearly broke out after some Jews falsely accused Paul of defiling the temple by bringing his gentile friend into the inner court (Acts 21:27-29).
Though the concept is not found in the Old Testament, the Jews considered the gentiles unclean. This came from the Jewish Talmud, an ancient document providing Jewish interpretations of the law. It basically added hundreds of new man-made laws that God never intended.
We can see the Talmud’s view of the gentiles at work in a confrontation between the pharisees and Christ:
“Then some Pharisees and scribes *came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” (Matthew 15:1-2 NASV)
The Pharisees asked Jesus why the disciples did not wash their hands before eating bread as was the “tradition of the elders” — a reference to the Talmud.
Since there was no refrigeration, food was bought daily at the market and invariably people would come in contact with gentiles. The Talmud ordered Jews to wash their hands before eating to remove any uncleanness associated with being around gentiles.
However, the Bible completely contradicted the views of the pharisees. There were several Old Testament passages that spoke of God moving on the gentiles and bringing them into Israel. Some even spoke of the Messiah bringing the gentiles into the House of God (Daniel 7:14; Amos 9:11-14; Psalm 22:27-28; Psalm 86:9; Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 42:1).
This promise was fulfilled in the early church which meant that the church was simply the continuation of Israel.
The Apostle Paul clearly taught there was no more division between Jews and gentiles. And some believe he was referring to this temple wall and perhaps even the warning sign when he wrote:
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 6:14 ESV)
And again when he said:
- 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 NASV)
There are no racial barriers in the Kingdom of God or there should’t be.
- Warning to Gentiles from the Days of Jesus — Inscriptions: Holylandphotos