Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Believing men persuaded

Men in Antioch preached the gospel and many became Christians. This was shortly after Peter preached to Cornelius' household and defended the inclusion of the Gentiles amongst those whom were to have life in Jesus' name.
But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. (Acts 11:20-21)
This is an interesting passage, though variously translated. The KJV and many that follow it join the act of believing with coming to the Lord. The NIV does likewise.
  • KJV | And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.
  • NKJV | And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.
  • NRSV | The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord.
  • NIV | The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
Thus the passage would be saying that a great number Hellenists were persuaded by the men of Cyrene and Cyprus and as a result turned to the Lord.

Though the ASV and several recent translations connect turning the the Lord with antecedent faith.
  • ASV | And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number that believed turned unto the Lord.
  • RSV | And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number that believed turned to the Lord.
  • ESV | And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
  • LEB | And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.
  • NET | The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number (ἀριθμὸς) who believed (πιστεύσας) turned to the Lord.
Although the people could have just believed the message and thus turned to the Lord, are they believers? The question is: were they persuaded and therefore believed? or were believing men persuaded?

The NET study note says,
The participle πιστεύσας (pisteusas) is articular and thus cannot be adverbial. It is adjectival, modifying ἀριθμός (arithmos), but has been translated into English as a relative clause (“who believed”). 
I suspect that the study note is saying that the word "believing" is joined to the word "number" so it must be an describing the great number of people. The phrase could be translated "...a great believing-number turned to the Lord."

We have a potentially important distinction in this passage and elsewhere. The Great Commission was to tell the world about Jesus so that men may repent and be baptised; that they may become disciples; that they may have life in his name. This is quite obvious in our current age. Even so, the time of the New Testament was a time of transition. Jesus revealed himself as the Messiah. He is the true Israel. Christianity was in its infancy. So what are we to make of the faithful of that time? Anna and Simeon in the temple, the disciples, the family of Jesus (even they did not believe him (John 7:5)), Cornelius and other God-fearers. These people were part of God's kingdom but had yet to come to trust in Jesus. While it is true that many of the lost repented of their sins and trusted in Jesus for their salvation, there were others who were part of the kingdom but who were ignorant of how Jesus fulfilled the Messianic promises.

Could not these Hellenists* be men who were believers in the One True God, and because they were so, when Christ is preached they believe also in him? Could this not also be the situation with God-fearers among the Greeks?
Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,
“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.
Jesus had said that he had sheep in other folds before his death and resurrection (John 10:16). Jesus had told some Jews that everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to him (John 6:45), and told others that if God were their Father they would love him (John 8:42).

There were many people who loved God and on learning about Jesus loved him also, and turning to him, entrusted their lives to him.


*If the word is "Hellenists" then this would refer to the godly Greek-speaking Jews in Antioch, or perhaps proselytes. If the word is "Greeks" then this would refer to the Greek God-fearers in Antioch.

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