Did not God send messengers to Gentiles prior to Paul’s apostleship?


by Shawn Brasseaux

In the Old Testament, the LORD God indeed sent prophets, or spokesmen, to various Gentile (non-Jewish) regions. For example, He commissioned Jonah to go and preach to Nineveh; another instance is that Obadiah wrote to and about the Edomites (descendants of Esau). But, were these equivalent to Paul’s Gentile ministry?

We Bible-believers and students who understand Paul’s special ministry as “the apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13) may be astonished to discover that God spoke to non-Jews before Paul was ever saved and commissioned in Acts chapter 9. In that case, what makes Paul’s ministry so “special?” How do we answer the critics of Pauline dispensationalism in this point?

Jeremiah chapter 1 says, for example: “[4] Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, [5] Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” Reading through Jeremiah’s very large Book, we observe him directing messages to Gentiles. Jeremiah 27:1-11 speaks of the Babylonian captivity to overtake the lands of Edom, Moab, the Ammonites, Tyrus, and Zidon. Gentiles are the theme of Jeremiah in chapters 46–51. Verse 1 of chapter 46 says: “The word of the LORD which came to Jeremiah the prophet against the Gentiles….” Thereafter, Egypt has a message from God (verses 2-28), the Philistines and Tyre and Zidon have some words from God (47:1-7), as well as Moab (48:1-47), the Ammonites (49:1-6), the Edomites (49:7-22), Damascus and the Syrians (49:24-33), Elam (49:34-39), and the Babylonians-Chaldeans (50:1–51:64). These are certainly non-Jewish peoples.

As mentioned earlier, the Prophet Jonah is sent to preach to Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian Empire: “[1] Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, [2] Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me” (chapter 1). The Assyrians were some of Israel’s most bitter enemies. While Jonah refuses at first, he eventually preaches and they convert and reform.

Many decades after Jonah, God sent Nahum to Nineveh, recorded in Nahum chapter 1: “[1] The burden of Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite. [2] God is jealous, and the LORD revengeth; the LORD revengeth, and is furious; the LORDwill take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies. [3] The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. [4] He rebuketh the sea, and maketh it dry, and drieth up all the rivers: Bashan languisheth, and Carmel, and the flower of Lebanon languisheth. [5] The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein. [6] Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him.”

The Prophet Obadiah’s focuses on Edom in his little Book: “[1] The vision of Obadiah. Thus saith the LORD God concerning Edom; We have heard a rumour from the LORD, and an ambassador is sent among the heathen, Arise ye, and let us rise up against her in battle. [2] Behold, I have made thee small among the heathen: thou art greatly despised. [3] The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee, thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; that saith in his heart, Who shall bring me down to the ground? [4] Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the LORD.”

Indeed, the above Scriptures are directed toward Gentiles, but they are all bad news. They are against the Gentiles” as Jeremiah 46:1 shows. They were never anything like Paul’s message to Gentiles. If you look carefully in those verses, there is impending judgment, divine wrath. There is no mercy, grace, or peace. The Edomites—descendants of Esau—will be judged because they have hated and mistreated Israel (descendants of Jacob, twin brother of Esau—see Genesis 25:21-26). Obadiah 10 says: “For thy violence against thy brother Jacob shame shall cover thee, and thou shalt be cut off for ever.”

The Ninevites have been evil, and Jonah is sent to preach to Nineveh, capital city of the Assyrians, to tell them that they will be overthrown in 40 days. God is very displeased with them. However, once Jonah preaches judgment, Nineveh repents and they avoid God’s wrath. Approximately 150 years later, though, Nineveh has returned to her wicked ways. Nahum prophesies Nineveh will not escape her doom and destruction this time (which indeed came).

Jeremiah writes about evil Gentiles whom Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, and others, will conquer and punish. There is some history here but there is prophecy too (future, as in the Second Coming of Christ).

The Prophets Jeremiah, Jonah, Nahum, and Obadiah were never sent to all nations with a single Gospel message. There was no Gospel (“good news”) for any of their audiences anyway. It was always judgment, wrath directed toward a particular non-Jewish nation for how they mistreated the nation Israel. Paul’s ministry, however, was directed toward “all nations,” and it was a message of “grace and peace.” Romans 1:5, for instance: “By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:….” And Romans 16:26, “But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:….”

Each and every Pauline epistle opens with “grace and peace” (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:2; 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4; Philemon 3). Instead of wrath and war, God’s attitude towards the whole world—all nations—in the Dispensation of Grace is one of grace and peace. You can search the Scriptures and find no message like this until you come to Paul’s apostleship. How could God’s attitude toward Gentiles change so drastically though? The key is the cross of Jesus Christ!

Second Corinthians 5:18-21 tells us: “[18] And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; [19] To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. [20] Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. [21] For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Pay close attention to verse 19—God is not imputing the world’s trespasses to it! Jesus Christ’s crosswork is the means whereby God can be gracious and amicable toward this most evil world. This is totally unheard of in the Bible until we come to Paul’s ministry. It was a special revelation the Lord Jesus Christ gave directly to Paul!

Also, during the ministries of Jeremiah, Jonah, Nahum, and Obadiah, Israel is still the preeminent people: at that time, God is still dealing with all nations in light of Israel’s spiritual status. With Paul’s message though, Israel is temporarily fallen. Salvation is currently going to the Gentiles without national Israel. Romans chapter 11 says: “[11] I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. [12] Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness? [13] For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: [14] If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them. [15] For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?” (See also Acts 13:46-38, Acts 18:6, and Acts 28:25-28.)

Furthermore, the risen, glorified, and ascended Lord Jesus Christ revealed to the Apostle Paul the formation of the Church the Body of Christ. All who would respond in faith to Paul’s Gospel—Christ died for our sins, He was buried, and He rose again the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)—would be placed into the Church the Body of Christ. They would all be destined for the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3,20-23; Ephesians 2:6-7). This salvation occurs regardless of Jew or Gentile status; again, this was unknown to the Old Testament prophets, including Jeremiah, Jonah, Nahum, and Obadiah. Pay close attention to verses 1-5 especially, as we now quote from Ephesians.

Ephesians 3:1-8: “[1] For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, [2] If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: [3] How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, [4] Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) [5] Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; [6] That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: [7] Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. [8] Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;….”

Galatians 5:6 affirms: “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision [Jewish] availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision [Gentile]; but faith which worketh by love.” Finally, Galatians 6:15: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.” In Paul’s ministry, there is no Jew or Gentile status—all are considered equal (that is, equally worthy of God’s wrath). We are either members of the Church the Body of Christ (saved), or not (lost). This was unknown to the Old Testament prophets, as they always spoke of Israel as being preeminent, Jewish circumcision making a difference as opposed to Gentile uncircumcision.

Ephesians 2:11-13: “[11] Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; [12] That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: [13] But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” (You may read the rest of this chapter in your own Bible if you like. Israel’s special status in time past is delineated in Romans 9:4-5.)

The formation of the Church the Body of Christ depends entirely upon the finished crosswork of Christ. This Gospel message of “grace and peace” is being offered to all nations today, apart from the nation Israel’s rise to kingdom glory. Never once did Jeremiah, Jonah, Nahum, or Obadiah speak about any of this. God had kept that secret from them. It was not time for Him to reveal it to mankind. We could go on and on, but at this point, we will stop. It is quite clear their ministries in no way compare to Paul’s Gentile apostleship and message.

Also see:
» How were Gentiles saved before our Dispensation of Grace?
» Can you compare and contrast Peter’s ministry and Paul’s ministry?
» Why does the Book of Acts end so abruptly?