It’s a tricky thing to engage an atheist in a debate over scriptural interpretation. They are by definition approaching the biblical writings under numerous presuppositions; namely that God doesn’t exist and the Bible is a man-made myth. Therefore the motivation behind their challenges is not typically a desire for an open exchange of ideas or a sincere interest understanding Christian theology.
That said, every once in a while I will try to share some theological insight in an attempt to address the challenges they put forth and, I hope, help them to understand God more clearly. This post is one such attempt. The recent attacks against me in the Twitter universe have been led by an anonymous writer who goes by the pseudonym Thomas Doubtmoore. He has repeatedly challenged me with a specific collection of verses. Here’s the latest:
— Thomas Doubtmoore (@Doubtism) August 29, 2016
I decided to take a look at this meme to see how accurate his critique is. In the first part he cites two verses and shows this paraphrase:
“Go not into the way of the Gentiles…but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel…I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel”
The two verses he cites for this paraphrase read as follows (NIV translation):
“As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’” -Matthew 10:7
“He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’” -Matthew 15:24
Obviously, his paraphrased statement is based on multiple verses which are different than the ones he cited. So I’ll start off by giving him a hand in strengthening his argument before I show how it’s false. The correct verses to use in Matthew chapter 10 that show support of his paraphrased statement would be verses 5 and 6, which read as follows:
“These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.”
– Matthew 10:5-6
In the second part of his meme he cites these verses (NIV translation):
“He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
The question he poses along with this meme is, “When did Jesus change his mind?” This is an attempt to point out two supposedly contradictory statements made by Jesus, which could be summarized as follows:
- Do not go among the Gentiles
- Go among the Gentiles
Meaning is derived from context, so let’s take a look at the cited verses in context.
- In Matthew 10:5-6 Jesus is giving instructions to his twelve disciples for a mission trip on which He is sending them. (For the full context read Matthew 10:1-23.) This is during Jesus’ earthly ministry, before His crucifixion and resurrection.
- By contrast, Jesus’ statements in Mark 16:15-16 were made post-resurrection and in the context of a universal commandment, rather than mission-specific instructions.
- The Matthew 15:24 verse he cites is an unrelated incident. Here Jesus is not talking with His disciples, but with a Canaanite woman who is pleading for help her with her demon-possessed daughter. Jesus explains to her that his priority is the salvation of the Jews, and after a theologically profound interaction (essentially a test of her faith) verse 28 tells us “Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.”
There is no contradiction between these three passages. But let’s extend some grace and assume Mr. Doubtmoore’s point is broader than what he stated. Suppose he is actually asking why Jesus would choose not to include the Gentiles at one point and then later “change His mind” to include them after all.
The answer to this question is that the Jews have a priority over Gentiles as the chosen people of God. God had an “order of operations” for salvation, so to speak, as summarized by the Apostle Paul:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”
See also Luke’s writings in Acts:
“Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: ‘We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”’ When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”
Hopefully, this helps to clear up some of the errant allegations made by Mr. Doubtmoore and others that hold his worldview. I continue to pray for him and ask you to do the same. With his passion and intelligence, he would make quite a warrior for Christ if he were willing to open his heart to God’s truth.
One of the things that resonate so deeply with me about the Christian faith is that it does not require us to leave our intellect at the door!
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
Matthew 22:37 (Emphasis mine)