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What the Bible says about Proselytism
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Exodus 12:48

The Hebrew language lacks an exact equivalent to the Greek noun proselyte, which means a newcomer (Strong's #4339). However, in the Old Testament, God's law does allow the ger (Strong's #1616), usually rendered "stranger," to become a full-fledged citizen of Israel. To do this, he needed to become circumcised. Exodus 12:48 addresses this changing of belief system in reference to the Passover.

The stranger "wants to keep the Passover." There is no hint of God expecting Israel to seek converts among the heathen by actively preaching to—or, at—them. Here, there is no coercion, subtle or otherwise; the Gentile convert voluntarily gives himself to come under the Old Covenant. Deuteronomy 4:5-7 states the dynamics of this conversion.

Charles Whitaker
Proselytism Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (Part One)

Deuteronomy 4:5-9

Gentiles' observing the results of Israel's obedience to God's law would be drawn to reject their pagan belief system in favor of God's true religion. There is no reference to God's calling these people. Rather, conversion is treated as a fully rational and voluntary choice made when thoughtful pagans recognize the superiority of God's way over their own satanic practices.

In other words, Israel's role was to be an example. God did not command missionary activity on the part of ancient Israel. Israel's proselytism was to be non-verbal, as distinct from the overt verbal action of preaching through the written or spoken word.

Not proselytism through words, but through works, is the God-sanctioned method for ancient Israel. Israel was not so much to preach as it was to obey and to teach. Obeying God's law was an individual responsibility; teaching that law was a parental duty. Notice verse 9, which stresses both roles.

The Old Testament is replete with examples of Gentiles who were won over to Israel by witnessing the unquestioned superiority of God's way of life, and subsequently becoming convinced that His way was for them. One early example may be "Eliezer of Damascus" in Abraham's day, the chief servant in his household. Other examples, certainly, are Ruth in the period of the judges, Uriah the Hittite in David's day and Ebed-Melech in Jeremiah's time. All these quickly come to mind as Gentile converts.

Later on, however, Hellenized Jews caught missionary fever and discarded the approach sanctioned by God. Active—and far-flung—evangelism became the order of the day. Indeed, the first New Testament occurrence of the word proselyte appears in Matthew 23:15 where Christ chastises the scribes' and Pharisees' for their hypocritical approach to spreading their corrupt religion.

Charles Whitaker
Proselytism Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (Part One)

Matthew 23:15

Proselytes were common in the days of the apostles. Acts 2:10 records their presence, with the Jews, in Jerusalem on Pentecost. Nicolas, "a proselyte from Antioch," is numbered in Acts 6:5 as an original deacon. Finally, Acts 13:43, mentions "devout proselytes" who followed Paul in Antioch. In context, these clearly refer to Gentile proselytes to Judaism.

Indeed, Paul's problems with the circumcision party had its roots in the widespread Jewish practice of proselytism in those days. The members of this party - almost certainly (misguided) members of God's church - followed Paul from city to city, telling Gentile converts of their need for physical circumcision. They took their cues from Exodus 12:48 and other scriptures. These Jews were men of their age, and therefore took no exception to the practice of proselytism. Also, they apparently accepted the validity of Paul's commission to carry Christ's "name before Gentiles" (Acts 9:15). Their only issue was physical circumcision. As a result of this controversy, the apostles had to redefine circumcision in its proper New Covenant terms.

In the New Testament, God clearly commissioned some to preach the gospel of God's Kingdom actively. Paul received such a commission, as Acts 9:15 clearly relates. Christ also commissioned His other apostles to "go therefore and make disciples of all the nations . . ." (Matthew 28:19). These commissions have their parallel in the commissions received by the Old Testament prophets. Examples include the prophets Isaiah (Isaiah 6), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1) and Jonah (Jonah 1).

It is important to recognize, though, that neither the Old Testament commissions to the prophets nor the New Testament commissions to the apostles remove the responsibility on the part of the people to be examples. God has always used this means - the example of His people - as a fundamental method of reaching others. As one excellent New Testament example, notice I Thessalonians 1:7-9, where Paul lauds the converts in Thessalonica, pointing out the breadth of their example to other church congregations and to the world at large:

. . . so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. . . .

So strong was their witness that Paul needed not "to say anything." These people certainly did not hide their light under a basket. Example can speak louder than preaching.

Charles Whitaker
Proselytism Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (Part One)

Mark 7:32

The phrase "they brought to Him" describes others presenting the man to Christ. From this, we can learn several lessons of service. Those who presented the man to Christ were involved in a work everyone should emulate, that is, leading people to Christ as the solution to their needs. This work involves compassion and sacrifice. It is not proselytizing, per se, as it is done most effectively by being a true witness of God's way of life.

We must have compassion for people needing help, as those who brought the deaf-mute man to Christ had, otherwise they would not have gone out of their way to bring him. In addition, bringing others to Christ shows a willingness to pay the cost, as it is a sacrifice of time, effort, and sometimes money—and often brings criticism and ridicule from the world. It may not be an act that brings prestige in the eyes of the world, but it is wonderful in God's sight if His name is promoted and glorified.

The men in this scenario simply took a man to Christ for healing. Our work may be as simple as turning a person's attention to an article or sermon, or in this Internet age, showing him the church's website to make him aware of spiritual solutions to his problems. While these efforts can lead people to Christ, the most effective way is to be a true witness of God's way of life by living righteously (Psalm 37:30; Proverbs 10:20-21, 31-32; Revelation 20:4).

Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Healing a Deaf-Mute (Part One)


 




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