Before Christ, Did God Expect Gentiles to Become Jews in order to be Saved?

Question:  Cornelius was a God-fearing Roman.  One commentary says,”These were Gentiles who loved the God of Israel and were sympathetic to and supportive of the Jewish faith. Yet they stopped short of becoming full Jews in lifestyle and in circumcision.”  How did God feel about Gentiles who came to love Him but would not “fully commit” in terms of observing the Law?  Did He desire believing Gentiles to adhere to Jewish Law, or did He not expect that of them because they were Gentiles?  Cornelius was post-Jesus, but what about before Christ came?  When a Gentile became a believer in the God of Israel, did God want them to observe Jewish Law, or was that just for the nation of Israel?

Answer:  This is a very interesting question.  We are not given any specific answer to it that I am aware of in either the Old or New Testaments.  However, we might be given some clues.

We may suppose that Melchizedek (Genesis 14) was approved by God as priest, since he received tithes from Abraham, and we may presume that he was not required by God to adhere to the same standards Abraham was.  On the other hand Jacob’s sons told the men of Shechem that they could not ally with them unless they were all circumcized (Genesis 34).  But they were lying to them in order to avenge their sister.  So we might not believe that their statement was a valid one in any point.

When Naaman the Aramite was healed by dipping in the waters of Jordan (2 Kings 5), Elisha did not also preach to him that he needed to become a Jew as well, even though he presented Elisha with a request that when he had to go into the pagan temple and bow it be forgiven.  This indicates that he had converted to worship of Yahweh.  Elisha told him to go in peace.

The message in Acts 10 that comes from Peter’s mouth is, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (verses 34,35).  I’m leaning toward the view that it didn’t matter in any generation, before or after Christ’s coming, that Gentiles did not follow Jewish legal codes.

On the other hand, Paul continued at times to observe Jewish law (hence, his arrest, Acts 21:20-33).  He did not keep it in order to be saved, but simply because he was a Jew and it was permissable for Jews to keep the Law God had given them to set them apart from Gentiles.  Gentiles are not meant, it seems, to keep the Law, only Jews.

Randall Johnson

See also:

Do Gentiles Need To Convert To Messianic Judaism?