“. . . to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the authority of Satan to God; in order that they may receive forgiveness for sins, and an inheritance among those being sanctified by faith in Me.” Acts 26:18
To Turn – It’s quite common for Christians to speak of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. Unfortunately, that’s imported theology. The Greek verb epistrepho is consistently used for the conversion of Gentiles, never for the conversion of Jews. Paul’s mission was to bring the Gentiles into the house of Israel through Yeshua. He explains that mission to Agrippa in this passage. He says Yeshua instructed him to open the eyes of the Gentiles and enable them to convert from a life dictated by the demands of Satan to a life under the benevolence of God. That mission statement could hardly be ascribed to the Jews. They were not under the authority of Satan. Jews did not convert to the God of Scriptures. They already believed in the one true God. What they needed to see was the truth about the Messiah Yeshua. But nowhere in the New Testament (the Ketuvim Netzarim – writing of those who follow the Nazarene Yeshua) is this ever called a conversion.
You will find the same Greek verb used in Acts 11:21 concerning the Gentiles in Antioch, in Acts 14:15 for the appeal to men in Lystra, in Acts 15:19 where James specifically refers to the Gentiles and in James 5:19 and 20 where it is applied to returning sinners. This Greek verb is the equivalent of the Hebrew shuv, the most important verb in the Tanakh for returning to the one true God of Israel. But in the Ketuvim Netzarim it is never applied to the house of Israel, even to those who are disobedient members of the house.
Almost all of us are converts. We came from Gentile backgrounds. We served false gods, perhaps not intentionally but certainly willingly. We chased the dreams the world offered. We subscribed to religions of man-made dogmas. We were far from the house of Israel. So, epistrepho applies to us. Somehow God touched us and brought us into the company of His people. We are converts. Unfortunately, in this age many ethnic Jews also need to be converted because in spite of their heritage, they are really Greek in the way they think and act. They are just as much citizens of the world as we were. But when Sha’ul wrote his letters and when Luke wrote his chronicle, there was a clear distinction between those who were faithful followers of God (Jews) and those who were outside the house of Jacob. Conversion meant becoming an adopted son or daughter of Israel’s God, not of some new religion called Christianity. Sha’ul was never a Christian. Neither were any of Yeshua’s closest disciples. They were all Jews who believed Yeshua was the promised Messiah.
Why is this so important? What difference does it matter now that Christianity is well-established as a religion that also worships the one true God? The reason it matters is simple: Sha’ul thinks, speaks, writes and preaches as a Messianic Jew. In fact, every author of the New Testament has the same worldview – Jewish. As soon as we start to treat the words of these men as if they were something other than the words of Messianic believing Jews, we misunderstand them. They do not share the worldview of the Greeks. They do not employ Scripture in their letters the way that Greek thinkers do. They do not have the same view of social responsibility, government, ethics, money, power, religion or the “church.” Their worldview comes from second Temple Judaism, massaged by rabbinic thinking. If we want to understand them, we must resist all attempts to “convert” them to a new religion. They never left Judaism. They just saw their Messiah come. Conversion is for us, the outsiders. A Gentile converts. A Jew just believes.
Topical Index: conversion, epistrepho, shuv, Judaism, worldview, Acts 26:18
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