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April 13th, 2008

[A sermon about proselytes will be delivered in May, 2008]

“Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Baranbas, who, speaking to them persuaded them to continue in the grace of God”

(Acts 13:43)

The term “proselyte” or “proselytes” may be found once in the Gospels (Matthew 23:15) and three times in Acts (2:10; 6:5; and, 13:43); for a total of four references. The Greek term for proselyte is used in each of these references. A working definition of a proselyte is—“a convert from one religious belief or party to another” (Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, p.881). Perhaps, the greatest Jewish example of a proselyte is in Ruth, the Moabitess (see Ruth 1:16-17).

There appear to be two kinds of proselytes during New Testament times. The first group are sometimes referred to as “proselytes of the gate;” the second group, “proselytes of righteousness.” The difference between the two groups are degrees of commitment. Proselytes of the Gate seem to have preferred the monotheism and high ethics of Judaism in stark contrast with their former idolatrous heathen backgrounds. Proselytes of Righteousness, on the other hand, wholeheartedly accepted all of the Judaic commands, including circumcision. The Law of Moses did make reference to Gentiles who would come to embrace Judaism (Ex. 20:10; Deut. 5:14). The meaning of the English “proselyte” (proselytos) derives from proserchomai, meaning “to come unto.”

In this sense, therefore, both Jewish proselytes and Christians are Messiah focused (Matt. 11:28); God-fearing (Acts 13:16); and, resident aliens (1 Pet. 2:11).

– Robert M. Housby

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