Christians often refer to Paul as ‘the apostle to the Gentiles’. Paul himself does not use that exact phrase; here, he prefers to call himself (in the original language) ‘an apostle of (to) Gentiles’. He expresses the same idea in different words in Galatians 2:7 and 1 Timothy 2:7.
Today, people rarely use the words ‘apostle’ and ‘Gentiles’ unless they are talking about religion. However, at the time of the first Christians, both words (in their original language) were in common use.
Today, the word apostle means one of the first, or most important, church leaders. However, formerly, the word meant a servant, or worker, whose master sent him to carry out an important task. For example, a master might send his worker, whom he trusted, abroad, for the purposes of trade. That worker was originally called an apostle. He had great responsibility because he had to make important decisions on behalf of his master.
The first Christians understood that God had given great responsibility to many of their leaders. He had sent them abroad to declare his gospel, the message about Christ (see Romans 1:16). It is a message that changes people’s lives, so it is a great responsibility to declare it (2 Corinthians 5:17-20).
The first apostles did not only declare God’s message. They also established new churches, even in places where there were no Christians previously. Paul’s special task was to do that among the Gentiles; in other words, people who were not Jews.
The word for Gentiles simply means ‘the nations’. None of those nations were serving the real God. So the Jews (Israel’s people) did not consider that they belonged to ‘the nations’. Rather, God had chosen them to be his special people. However, in his special work as ‘apostle to the Gentiles’, Paul did not neglect the Jews. In fact, in each place that he went, Paul first declared God’s message to the Jews (Acts 17:2).
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© 2017, Keith Simons.