A Question I Was Asked:

Did Jesus Never Preach to Gentiles?

The Question:

Did Jesus never minister to Gentiles? This is what I heard on Christian TV. The preacher said that the woman at the well in Samaria was not a Gentile. I am confused. Surely she was. Can you help clear this up?

UK Apologetics Reply:

In general terms, Jesus did not minister to Gentiles. That ministry, according to the divine plan, was to follow later, initially through Paul and Barnabas, then later through others. The first disciples were also told not to enter Gentile territory. Notice this:

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).

This Scripture is especially interesting because it also confirms that the people residing in Samaria at that time certainly were Gentiles - about which more later. But let us next look at Matthew 15:

He answered, 'I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.' (Matthew 15:24).

So, primarily, the mission of Jesus was among those of physical Israel - yet not entirely! Now let us look at Matthew 15 rather more closely:

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, 'Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.' Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, 'Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.' He answered, 'I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.' The woman came and knelt before him. 'Lord, help me!' she said. He replied, 'It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs.' 'Yes it is, Lord,' she said. 'Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table.' Then Jesus said to her, 'Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.' And her daughter was healed at that moment. (Matthew 15:21-28).

Here we see that Jesus made an exception because of noting great faith in a Gentile woman. Jesus also, of course, taught a woman at the well in Samaria (John 4). There is no doubt that this woman was a Gentile, in fact she herself confirms it:

The Samaritan woman said to him, 'You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?' (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans). (John 4:9).

This confirms that this woman was clearly a Gentile, yet I have heard some preachers (who should have known better) say that this woman must have been of Israelitish stock. She was not. Notice the outcome of this:

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, 'He told me everything I've ever done.' So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, 'We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.' (John 4:39-42).

So this very clearly and unmistakably proves that even though the initial mission of Christ and the first Apostles was substantially to racial Israelites, Jesus made a few exceptions to this! So this reveals that the teaching of some - that Jesus was unable to preach to any Gentiles until after the cross - is an erroneous teaching. As the Son of God, Jesus could make exceptions where He wished; the overall grand plan was unaffected. Yet I too have heard some say that no Gentile was to receive the Gospel while Jesus walked this earth. The teaching is in error.

Much later, of course, the vision of unclean animals was given to Peter (Acts 10), after which the church started to preach more widely to Gentiles, a mission which fell primarily to Paul and Barnabas. Then in AD49 (Acts 15) the matter of the requirements/responsibilities of preaching the Gospel among the Gentiles was finally clarified, though many Gentiles were believers by then.

I would just give my questioner one piece of advice: you mention "Christian TV." My advice would be not to learn your Christian theology from those people.

Robin A. Brace. September 16th, 2013.