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The First Missionaries to the Non-Jews

The first missionaries to the non-Jewish people were not apostles, teachers of theology, or learned people. They were ordinary persons, most probably simple business people. The Bible records "men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus" (Acts 11:20, NASB). This is the first time we see in the Bible that missionary work is happening amongst Greeks who have never heard the gospel before or have never been exposed to the Jewish religion.

Earlier, we see Peter preaching to Cornelius and his household, a group of devout Italians and God-fearers (Acts 10:1-2). We also see Philip preaching to an Ethiopian Eunuch who just came back from worship in Jerusalem (Acts 8:27-28). During this time, most missionary work is with Jewish people scattered in the Mediterranean world. A few are with Samaritans and gentiles who fear God, such as with Cornelius and this Eunuch. Nonetheless missions work among the Jews and the devout gentiles have something in common; they are all familiar with the Jewish law. In a manner of speaking, there is really no crossing of culture. Cornelius, the Eunuch, and other non-Jewish God-fearers are expected to stay within the parameters of the Jewish religion. Preaching is "simply" persuading the listeners that Jesus is the Christ as prophesied in the Old Testament. Cross cultural missions have really not yet happened at this point.

It is only in Antioch that we see a group of believers from Cyprus and Cyrene who traveled to Antioch and preached the gospel to the Greeks in the city (Acts 11:20). This is the first instance of a truly cross cultural missionary work.  Some scholars have even made the observation that this is the first time the preaching of the gospel did not mention Jesus Christ, but simply "Lord Jesus" (Tennent 2010:328). God blesses their efforts to be relevant to the Greek listeners. It even comes to the point that the leaders of the Jerusalem church had to send a team to investigate the growth of the church in Antioch (Acts 11:20-23). All because of the missionary efforts of ordinary men from Cyprus and Cyrene. God bless ordinary people who have the heart for cross cultural missions work.


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