Christianity / History / Religion

The Great Commission: How can anyone take the New Testament seriously?

The Gentiles Ask to See Jesus

The Gentiles Ask to See Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here is the famous closing to Matthew, describing what the post-resurrection Jesus said to his disciples (and all subsequent believers):

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20 (RSV)

Here’s Paul talking about his calling from God:

15 But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has wrought through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed.

Romans 15:15-18

Paul goes on and on in the epistles about his mission to the Gentiles, that he was called through visions by the spiritual Jesus to spread the gospel to non-Jews. But what of the Great Commission? Didn’t the apostles hear Jesus’ words?

I guess not, because in Acts Peter, like Paul, was visited by a vision:

Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. 10 And he became hungry and desired something to eat; but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heaven opened, and something descending, like a great sheet, let down by four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.

Acts 10:9-16

This heavenly vision rejecting Jewish kosher laws perplexed Peter. Soon after the apostle meets Cornelius, a Roman centurion, and voiced his troubles with spreading the word of God to Gentiles:

28 and he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit any one of another nation; but God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”

Acts 10:28-29

It’s clear that God has shown him this only after the mystical vision he experienced in hunger on a rooftop after hours of meditation and prayer.

After hearing Cornelius’ testimony Peter proclaims:

“Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

Acts 10:34-35

This all being said, how are we to take serious the New Testament when in Matthew, supposedly depicting earlier events, Jesus commands his apostles to preach the gospel to all nations, yet Acts and the epistles seem to know nothing of this?

Are we to believe the words of the bodily-resurrected Christ had no effect on Peter, yet some mystical vision convinced him? Why does Peter find it strange and difficult to preach to non-Jews when the object of his worship actually commanded him after resurrection to do so? And why should we need Paul as “Apostle to the Gentiles?”

The Great Commission was unambiguous. I can’t buy into the rationalizations by apologists about this matter, they are unconvincing to say the least, and insulting to basic intelligence. The resurrected Jesus was very clear. Why the need in Acts 10 for some “perplexing” vision?

In Galatians 2 Paul is concerned with Judaizing the Gentiles. Converting Gentiles was not an issue. Paul there was opposing the “circumcision faction,” those that were happy to preach the gospel to Gentiles yet felt those converts should follow the Torah. Associating and interacting with Gentiles was not the issue. How to go about it was. Yet what we read in Acts makes no sense if we are to take the Great Commission seriously as history. And as I’ve said, we shouldn’t.

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2 thoughts on “The Great Commission: How can anyone take the New Testament seriously?

  1. I’m a little confused. What exactly is your objection? That something counter-cultural took a while to sink in? Or that God should not how partiality?

    • My primary problem is the conflict between what is said in Acts concerning Peter’s initial reluctance to accepting Gentiles into Christianity with Jesus’ proclamation of the Great Commission. It’s reasonable to assume Peter would have known of the command by the ostensible founder of Christianity to preach to all of God’s creation, not just to those who follow the Torah.

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