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In Acts, you see a consistent pattern in Paul's travels and ministry where he enters a city, on Shabbat he goes to the Synagogue, shares the gospel, ends up with the jews being upset and fighting with Paul.

In a couple of places, he actually says he is done with the jews and will go to the gentiles, but when he goes to the next city he repeats the process.

He was told by Jesus to go to the gentiles, the Jerusalem church & Paul agree that he will focus on gentiles, so why this pattern. Is there more to this pattern?

Acts 13:42 As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath.46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

Acts 14:1 At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed. 4 The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. 5 There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them.

Acts 17:1 When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 5 But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd.

and others are there ....

Adding this verse that reinforces my question

Acts 19:8 Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. 9 But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.

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  • @Yeddu I do not think the Apostle Paul missed the memo regarding Matthew 28:19-20. You know, going into all the world and make disciples. Or when he stated to Timothy at 2 Timothy 2:2, "And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also." Your question is "pigeonholing" Paul. Pigeonholing==assign to a particular category or class, especially in a manner that is too rigid or EXCLUSIVE." It's not as if Paul disobeyed God. However, he did disobey the Holy Sprit at Acts 21 starting at vs4.
    – Mr. Bond
    May 13 at 20:49
  • See God-fearer.
    – Lucian
    May 14 at 1:57
  • @Mr.Bond, Matthew was probably written in the 80s Paul died in the 60s.
    – Yeddu
    May 14 at 6:42
  • @Lucian please see this hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/60261/…
    – Yeddu
    May 14 at 6:43

10 Answers 10

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Your are pre-supposing that a Paul was supposed to only go to the gentiles. You are saying Jesus told Paul he was an apostle to the gentiles. He was according to ‘theology’ the apostle to the gentiles - but we need to look a little closer..

ROMANS 11:13 For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles

Here Paul is calling himself an apostle to the Gentiles. You can pre-suppose [add] that this was because of a direct call. You can find scripture where the Holy Spirit assigned him as a missionary. - BUT - you must take into account the Old Testament!

ACTS 13:47 For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles’ That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’

Note in this passage - ’us’ - The ‘us’ refers to the jews. This quote from Torah was for Israel. God was speaking to Israel. Gods intention was always to bring salvation to the nations by using Israel, ‘through Israel. Via the Jews. That was Gods ‘intent’.

So that’s why we see Paul saying ....

ROMANS 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.

Therefore it’s very clear why Paul went to synagogues. The Jews knew the Word. But they needed the gospel. Then they could be a light..... to the Gentiles. The Gospel needed a foundation - the foundation the Jews were expert with.

Adding a few more verses I found about Pauls commision from Jesus...

Acts 25:15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ “ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. 16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ 19 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles

Acts 9:15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

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  • 1
    I think "us" here is referring to followers of Christ who were charged with spreading the gospel....not the Jews specifically. Paul had already told the Jews in vs46..."you rejected it". The us is definately Christ's followers. Are you Unitarian by any chance Dave?
    – Adam
    May 13 at 21:01
  • @Adam Unitarian? No idea. Would need to look it up to see what it means. As for ‘us’, it refers to the intended audience of the quote Paul then references.
    – Dave
    May 13 at 21:07
  • You can't tell it from the English, but the Greek word used in Acts 13:47 for "you" in "I have set you as..." is singular, and this makes sense because the verse Paul is quoting, Isaiah 49:6, isn't addressing the nation of Israel, but rather the Messiah, Jesus. One mission of the Lord's servant in Isaiah 49:5 is to "to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself", something that doesn't make sense if the actor is the collective people of Israel, but does if it's a single person: Jesus. So whether "us" in Acts 13:47 is the Israelites or the apostles, the light is Jesus.
    – bob
    May 14 at 12:47
  • @bob Isaiah 49, context, a few verses before verse 6, we see who ‘you’ is - v3 ”You are My servant, O Israel”
    – Dave
    May 14 at 18:30
  • 1
    @bob I take your point. And accept that it could well be taken as you outline. This ‘two meanings/views’ within a single passage is a common literary technique in Hebrew. Including the often subtle transitions between them. Then taking into consideration the picture of Israel’s ‘role’ as outlined in the Old Testament. But I also accept your view is clear here.
    – Dave
    May 14 at 19:23
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Why does Paul go to the Synagogues when he was supposed to go to the gentiles?

Yes, time and again we read that Paul was an "apostle to the nations" (Rom. 11:13). This was his main task to spread the gospel of Jesus.

Was Paul only to teach the gentiles?

Paul's own words at 1 Cor 9:19-23 let us know to what extent he preached to all people:

19 For though I am free from all people, I have made myself the slave to all, so that I may gain as many people as possible. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew in order to gain Jews; to those under law I became as under law, though I myself am not under law, in order to gain those under law. 21 To those without law I became as without law, although I am not without law toward God but under law toward Christ, in order to gain those without law. 22 To the weak I became weak, in order to gain the weak. I have become all things to people of all sorts, so that I might by all possible means save some. 23 But I do all things for the sake of the good news, in order to share it with others. [bold mine]

Paul expended himself to teaching and preaching at every chance he had to everyone he could.

Were only Jews to be found in the synagogues?

No. Proselytes, or someone that converted to Judaism, would also be found in the synagogue. The best example of this is the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:27-38). It probably goes without saying that proselytes would visit and/or congregate at the local synagogue. This afforded Paul the opportunity to reach those of other nationalities.

Finally, the most compelling reason for Paul also speaking to the Jews was given by Jesus himself at Acts 9:15:

But the Lord said to him: “Go! because this man is a chosen vessel to me to bear my name to the nations as well as to kings and the sons of Israel. [bold mine]

[Scripture quotations are from the "New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Study Edition)"]

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  • Paul empowered himself to reach out to all but he was supposed to reach out to gentiles per Jesus. If you see the texts many of the gentiles and Proselytes accepted him but several jews did not receive his message well. Had he stuck to the gentiles he would not have been hurt.
    – Yeddu
    May 13 at 16:04
  • 1
    @Yeddu In Phillipi, a professed Roman city, Paul was beaten with rods. (Acts 16:21, 22) Only preaching to Gentiles would not have afforded him any protection since Jesus said that those who follow him would be persecuted. (Mt 5:11; 10:22; 24:9; 2Ti 3:12; 1Pe 2:21)
    – agarza
    May 13 at 16:11
  • You are right. This incident was based on when Paul got rid of the spirit from a woman who used to foretell things and made money for her owners.. But still, the Synagogue issues were about the preaching of Jesus
    – Yeddu
    May 13 at 16:17
  • Can you elaborate more on "the Synagogue issues were about the preaching of Jesus"? I am not sure what you are referring to.
    – agarza
    May 13 at 16:20
  • I am saying that except for this incident in Acts 16:21 other times when Paul was hurt was for preaching about Jesus to Jew.
    – Yeddu
    May 13 at 16:24
2

Consider the first part of my answer to exegesis - Were there implicit laws not referenced in the Acts 15 letter to gentile believers? - Christianity Stack Exchange:

Until Peter's vision (Acts 10 (NKJV)), in which he is told that Christianity is intended for all mankind, "… God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean", Christianity was entirely Jewish, the only difference being the belief that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Christians and Jews lived, worked, worshiped, and studied together. But now Gentiles were wanting to become Christians, and there was no obvious path for them to follow.

Consider how the Gentiles that were considering converting were learning Christianity:

So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. — Acts 13 (NKJV)

In Antioch, Paul was teaching at an existing synagogue on the Sabbath. In other places, where there was no Paul or other teacher continually available, interested Gentiles were expected to attend regular sabbath services at their local synagogue. There, they could learn the basic truths about God, creation, and the history of Israel.

During the other six days, they could study the scriptures for themselves. Until recently though, books of all kinds were rare and expensive. Individual people did not own Bibles, and there were no lending libraries; anyone wanting to read the scriptures had to go to a synagogue.

The important concept to know is that although Christianity appears to be a new religion, it is built on Judaism and fundamentally is Judaism, with a new understanding of the Hebrew scriptures.

Initially, Gentile converts were even expected to convert to Judaism first, before they could become Christians (Acts 15). Eventually it was decided that full conversion to Judaism wasn't necessary (many laws were part of the Old Covenant between God and Israel, and many were for the running of Israelite society and the priesthood).

Instead, potential Christian converts were expected only to obey the laws that God gave to all mankind for all time through Noah. Acts 15:20 lists the three Noahide Laws that aren't already generally accepted by almost all religions. The Jews considered Gentiles that followed these laws to be good people, and as such were welcome to study in the synagogues.

The books, the knowledge, the teachers were all available in synagogues, which were holy places dedicated to learning about God.

The synagogues provided valuable resources for Paul and the new Christians.

1

This answer will bring up related topics so I can't give full "proof" in this short post, but I will refer you to a book that discusses it in great detail.

Facts:

  1. Acts is the reoffering of the Kingdom (earthly) to Israel. "Father forgive them for they do not know what they do" -- God answered His dying Son's last request

  2. The "gospel" preached by the 12 apostles is called "The Gospel of the Circumcision" which his specifically for Israel, not Gentiles.

  3. The Christian church we are members of did NOT start on the Day of Pentecost but in Acts 13:1,2 -- Paul and Barnabus were the first two members of the early "body of Christ" and Sergius Paulus was the first non-proselyte gentile to believe.

  4. The gospel Paul preached to the Gentiles is different in many ways, and is called "The Gospel of the Uncircumcision" (I enumerate the many differences, providing Scripture, in the book suggested below)

These two gospels are specifically named in Galatians: Galatians 2:7, KJV: "But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter;"

This verse is NOT saying there is only one gospel which Peter and the 12 preached to the Circumcision (Israel and proselytes) and Paul preached to the Gentiles. There are many differences between the two gospels which I detail in the book I recommend below.

When Israel rejected the testimony of the Holy Spirit regarding the resurrection and Lordship of Christ in the first 12 chapters of the book of Acts (the "Peter" section), God moved to do a new work among the Gentiles. He raised up Saul of Tarsus for this purpose. Peter and the 12 preached the Gospel of the Circumcision to Jews first, then proselytes "in the land" of Palestine through the first 12 chapters. The only gentiles reached were already proselytes -- no un-proselytized gentiles were reached by the 12, and in Acts the 12 never leave Palestine. This is because in Acts 1 Jesus told them to go "to the limits of the land" not "the whole world" as some translations wrongly translate it.

Paul was "severed" from the Circumcision to go to the gentiles with Barnabus in Acts 13:1,2. He went with a different message to a different audience. He went "outside the land" and had two missions at the same time:

  1. To go to Jews FIRST with the same gospel Peter and the 12 preached, regarding the kingdom of God on earth
  2. To gentiles with the Gospel of the Uncircumcision.

The book I referred to is called "Between the Gospels: The Chronicle of Israel's Apostasy and Gentile Belief" and is available, freely, at https://livefaith.tv/richards-books It covers the entire book of Acts, as a commentary, and examines it in this light. A separate section discusses how these truths impact other Biblical subjects.

Israel's apostasy was complete after Paul's last witness to the Jewish leaders in Rome in Acts 32. That is when Israel's promise of the Kingdom was "held in abeyance until the fulness of the Gentiles comes in." At that time Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians were written which reveal the secret of Christ (Ephesians 1:10) and the Administration of the Secret (Ephesians 3). These epistles, founded on Romans-Galatians, are in effect from then (Acts 28:28ff) to the Lord's return for his church. This period of time was NOT revealed before and the joint-body of Christ did not exist yet (Israel is still superior to Gentiles in Acts). The administration changed, Israel is "on hold" and the Gospel of the Circumcision is inoperative at this time. God will again deal with Israel according to THAT gospel (not Paul's) once the church has been taken up.

So the reason Paul went to the Jews is because it was his responsibility to finish the witness to them outside the land of Palestine WHILE he preached the Gospel of the Uncircumcision to the gentiles.

Acts 9:15 -- But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:

I hope this explanation helps.

-- Richard

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That Paul is predominantly and most outspokenly in comparison with other apostles (for Peter also, for instance, preached to the gentiles /Acts 10:1-11:18/) the preacher of gentiles does not mean that he is not a preacher of Jews as well. Paul abstains to preach only in those places, where other apostles also preached before him, in order not to build on others' foundation (Romans 15:20).

Now, if this is so and if Paul's preaching includes also Jews alongside with the gentiles, then it is only natural that in any city Paul would first go to his co-national Jews who would be both culturally and linguistically closer to him. Moreover, with Jews Paul would have a common ground of discourse on which to base the preaching, namely, the text of the Bible, the Pentateuch and the prophets, which he studied diligently for three years (Galatians 1:17), through which he could prove effectively to the Jews that Jesus Christ was the true Messiah. The study of the Bible was intended for the conversion of Jews, not the gentiles, who did not know and cared not for Moses and the prophets, thus to Athenians Paul preaches Christ without even mentioning them. Moreover, there was a purely a reason of convenience: there was in any city a diaspora-solidarity of Jews, so Paul, as a Jew, could benefit from it in any stranger Hellenic city he would arrive at, which is only natural.

0

Acts 13:

46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us:
“ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”

As pointed out by the OP, with hindsight, we saw that Paul continued to speak to the Jews later on. So verse 46 cannot mean that Paul refused to speak to the Jews from then on.

What did Paul mean then?

The prophecy in verse 47 gives us a clue. Paul saw a new era was starting. Stage 1 was to speak to the Jews first (verse 46). Because of their rejection, Paul saw the beginning of Stage 2: spread the good news to the Gentiles and onto the ends of the earth. Verse 46 marks this watershed moment.

2
  • tony, If you are saying after acts 13:46 Paul did not preach to the jews, please consider the verses ... Acts 14:1 Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed. Acts 17:2, Acts 17:10, Acts 18:4, Acts 18:19, Acts 19:8
    – Yeddu
    May 13 at 16:23
  • If you are saying after acts 13:46 Paul did not preach to the jews. Where did I say that?
    – Tony Chan
    May 13 at 16:25
0

Paul does in fact indicate that it was his custom when entering a city to start by preaching to the Jews and then turn to the Gentiles:

1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews:

2 And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, (Acts 17: 1-2)

As noted in the OP, we see this pattern repeatedly from Paul. He'll start by teaching in the synagogue; he will usually be rejected, and then turn his attention to the Gentiles in that city. This pattern is acknowledged by Paul in Acts 13:46, as noted in the OP:

Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.

When he says he is done with the Jews, he refers to the people of a particular place. Throughout his ministry he continued to minister to both Jews & Gentiles.

Overlap in responsibilities

Would this sometimes result in overlap of duties among the apostles? Yes, it certainly would. Paul himself makes this point in 1 Cor 1:12-13 & 3:4-6, but emphasizes that they are all working towards the same end.

This in fact happens regularly among Christian missionaries today: a missionary may be assigned to a certain location and to teach in a particular language, but that doesn't mean they ignore everyone else. It means there is a group that is their primary focus (I have had this experience myself).

Why does Paul follow this pattern?

  1. There is some very practical value - by starting with Jews, who already have a solid Old Testament foundation, Paul ensures that the congregations he is founding will have a strong, core group who understand a lot of the scriptures and the doctrine. These individuals can then serve as pillars who support the local Christian community (e.g. Aquila & Priscilla).

  2. Jesus said so. As already noted by agarza, Acts 9:15 indicates Paul would teach before both.

  3. Paul did indeed love his native people and cares for their salvation. See discussion by Kyle Pope here.

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  • The reason I asked this question is, had he not done this, he would have got a chance to stay in the same place longer and have a bigger impact and of course not have got hurt. Please see the last point I posted in my question area Acts 19:8
    – Yeddu
    May 13 at 16:30
  • @Yeddu a very interesting point...although based on his impact on the silver trade in Ephesus, it seems he could manage to get himself kicked out of a city many different ways. If he had stayed in one place longer he wouldn't have traveled to as many places. So there's a benefit to moving around, at least occasionally. May 13 at 16:32
  • Always. You cannot have only one side of the coin.
    – Yeddu
    May 13 at 16:35
  • Is it OK to say that he had to keep going back to these places or writing to them as they kept forgetting what he told. It is an ok strategy to empower a smaller group and exponentially reach more people This is also a good strategy I feel. empowerment and Delegation what we call in this age. Still in acts...
    – Yeddu
    May 13 at 16:38
0

This answer is based on a Scripture called out in @agarza's answer, but I thought it should be its own answer.

Frame challenge: while Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, he was also sent to preach to the Jews

Based on this Scripture, Paul was not acting outside God's will for him:

Acts 9:15 (NIV; emphasis mine)

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

So the implicit assumption in the original question, that Paul was supposed to go only to the Gentiles is not supported by the Scriptures.

3
  • Please see the verses I added to the end in the correct answer. these verses clearly say that Paul was supposed to go to Jews first then the gentiles. So I got my answer thank you.
    – Yeddu
    May 14 at 13:11
  • @Yeddu - I understand that you have Accepted an Answer, but please remember that other users are always welcome to add alternative Answers.
    – Steve Taylor
    May 14 at 13:22
  • Noted Steve. I started recently on this tool and getting used to it. In this case, I was just pointing to the bob and agarza that there is a verse that clearly says that Paul had a mission to Jews and gentiles. That's all.... Used the accepted answer to point them to the right post(correct post in this case) so they dont have to read through all the answers.
    – Yeddu
    May 14 at 13:25
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God redeemed his people by his Son's atonement.

The good news was revealed to the 12 tribes by the disciples in the land of Israel and to the 7 synagogues/churches of Asia Minor.

Jesus told the rulers of the Temple, they were not Jews, when they claimed lineage from Abraham, not Issac, Jacob.

Herod and his family were not Jews.

0

The scripture says first to the Jews then to the Gentiles. He went to win the Jewish heart first. Why is this a problem?

The appeal to know the Messiah is to all mankind. Romans 1:16, Romans 2:10

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