You seem to be referring to our Q&A on Saudi Arabia, where we wrote the following:
“Turning to the New Testament, we find that Arabs were present in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost when God poured out His Holy Spirit on the New Testament Church (Acts 2:11), and that Paul, after his conversion, went to Arabia (Galatians 1:17) and stayed there for a while, perhaps, as Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible suggests, to associate with those Arabs who had been converted on the Day of Pentecost.”
It is true that some commentaries seem to suggest that the “Arabs,” who were present in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost in 31 AD, were Jews who were living at the time in Arabia and who had come to worship in Jerusalem. However, even though people of Jewish descent were included, they were not the only ones mentioned in Acts 2. Note carefully the inspired record in Acts 2:5-11:
“And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, ‘Look, are not all these who speak Galileans [i.e., the apostles]? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Phartians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them [the apostles] speaking in our own tongue the wonderful works of God.’”
Notice carefully that several categories of people are listed here—Jews dwelling in Jerusalem—and Jews and proselytes who were dwelling in other parts of the world, and who had come to Jerusalem to worship God on the Day of Pentecost.
Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible explains:
“Devout men, out of every nation – Either by these we are simply to understand Jews who were born in different countries, and had now come up to Jerusalem to be present at the passover, and for purposes of traffic, or proselytes to Judaism, who had come up for the same purpose…”
Gentiles who had been converted to Judaism were called “proselytes”—and we read that they, too, were present when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost. Barnes’ Notes on the Bible explains that the term “Jews” refers to “native-born Jews, or descendants of Jewish families,” while the term “Proselytes” speaks of “those who had been converted to the Jewish religion from among the Gentiles. The great zeal of the Jews to make proselytes is mentioned by our Saviour as one of the special characteristics of the Pharisees, Matthew 23:15.”
Barnes explains how a Gentile could become a “proselyte” or a “convert”:
“Among the Jews there were two kinds of proselytes:
“1. ‘Proselytes of righteousness,’ or those who wholly and fully embraced the Jewish religion, who were baptized, who were circumcised, and who conformed to all the rites of the Mosaic institutions.
“2. ‘Proselytes of the gate,’ or those who approved of the Jewish religion, renounced the pagan superstitions, and conformed to some of the rites of the Jews, but were not circumcised or baptized.”
However, as the People’s New Testament explains, “To make one proselyte [means:] Induce Gentiles to become circumcised and to keep the Jewish religion. This is the sense in which proselyte was then always used.”
Christ was not too impressed with the Pharisees’ efforts to proselytize someone, as they introduced those converts to and compelled them to abide by the traditions of Judaism, which were in many aspects contrary to the commands of God, as revealed in the Old and New Testament. Still, we note that Jews and proselytes were present in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, and we also note that later, one of the seven original deacons in the Church of God was Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch (Acts 6:5).
The People’s New Testament states that Nicolas was a “Gentile (Greek) of the great city of Antioch, who had been converted to Judaism and been circumcised. This is the meaning of proselyte in the New Testament.” Barnes’ Notes on the Bible adds, “The word does not mean here that he was a convert to ‘Christianity’ – which was true – but that he had been converted at Antioch from paganism to the Jewish religion. As this is the only proselyte mentioned among the seven deacons, it is evident that the others were native-born Jews, though a part of them might have been born out of Palestine, and have been of the denomination of ‘Grecians,’ or ‘Hellenists.’”
Still later, “Jews and devout proselytes” followed Paul and Barnabas in the city of Antioch and were encouraged and persuaded to CONTINUE in the grace of God (Acts 13:42-43).
The concept of Gentiles becoming proselytes was already taught in Old Testament times. We read in Exodus 12:43-49 that a stranger—a Gentile—dwelling in the nation of Israel, could partake of the Passover, but only after he had been circumcised.
We also note that some time before the Roman centurion Cornelius was baptized by Peter (compare Acts 10), an Ethiopian eunuch was already baptized by Philip (Acts 8:26-40). The eunuch was obviously a proselyte who had embraced the Jewish religion; he had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning to Ethiopia (verses 27-28).
The controversy which led to the first Council of the New Testament Church in Jerusalem, as described in Acts 15, evolved around the fact that Peter had baptized a Roman centurion who had NOT first become a proselyte by turning to Judaism; that is, he had not been circumcised and baptized to become a proselyte, according to the rites of the Pharisees, and he had not embraced all of the injunctions listed in the entire law of Moses—including temporary and by then superseded rituals—as well as man-made traditions and customs of the elders, which were not included in the Law of God (compare Acts 15:1, 5; see also Matthew 15:1-9; Mark 7:1-13; Galatians 1:14).
The apostles concluded, based on the godly vision of Peter and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that “Gentiles who are turning to God” could become members of the Church of God without having first to become proselytes by being circumcised (verse 19), embracing Judaism, committing to keeping the rituals and sacrifices which Christ had abolished with His death, and by embracing man-made traditions. They made clear, however, that God’s law had to be kept, including certain permanent injunctions which were found in Old Testament passages that ALSO described temporary ritual requirements (compare verse 20, 29). The apostles emphasized, for instance, that Gentiles who were turning to God were still required to keep the Ten Commandments, including the Sabbath (verse 21)—a requirement which is still binding for Christians today.
It is therefore NOT correct to conclude that only native Jews were present in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost in 31 A.D, when the New Testament Church of God began. There were also Proselytes in attendance, including Arabs. Our statement, as quoted at the beginning of this Q&A, has therefore merit; namely, that “Paul, after his conversion, went to Arabia (Galatians 1:17) and stayed there for a while, perhaps, as Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible suggests, to associate with those Arabs who had been converted on the Day of Pentecost.”
Lead Writer: Norbert Link