God’s Plan of Salvation for Jewish People and Gentiles (Romans 1:16)
God is faithful and unchanging, and His plan of salvation remains the same; for the Jew first and also for the Greek. There remains no partiality with Him (Rom.2:11) and God did not choose Israel because they were more numerous or deserving, but because He chose to love them, and He keeps His covenants (Deut. 7:7-9). There is a command to preach the gospel to every creature. That is a privilege and a sobering responsibility.
Romans 1:16 is as applicable today as it was two millennia ago. The Lord commissioned Saul to bear His name before Gentiles, kings and the children of Israel (Acts 9:15). But notice the order of events that follows in that chapter after the scales fell from his eyes and being strengthened with food and spending some days with the disciples. He immediately preached Messiah in the synagogues and proved to the Jews in Damascus that Jesus is the Messiah (Acts 9:20, 22).
Some reason that being witnesses for the Lord in Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria and all the ends of the earth was purely a matter of geographical logistics and that is what it means for the gospel to the Jew first and then the Gentile. Others state that the sense of the Jew first and then the Greek was limited to that time. Therefore, we should seek those in our locality and branch out from there. Whilst we would be wise to reach out to those near to us, we cannot ignore the fact that in Romans 1:16, both the verbs ‘to be ashamed’ and ‘is’ are written in the present tense, emphasizing continuous action and control the three clauses contained in that verse. [i] Whilst there are wide meanings relating to the word ‘first’ in regard to, time, place and rank[ii], we need to be consistent within the context of this verse and must allow the text to speak clearly for itself.
Furthermore, Paul consistently went into the synagogues first, when he ministered in a new area. That was evident in Cyprus (Acts 13:5), Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:14), Iconium (Acts 14:1), Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-3), Berea (Acts 17:10-11), Athens (Acts 17:17), Corinth (Acts 18:4) and Ephesus (Acts 19:8). Even when Paul and Barnabus turned to the Gentiles since their message was rejected in Antioch (Acts 13:46), afterwards they went to the synagogue at Iconium (Acts 14:1).
I was heartened to discover that
Hudson Taylor who laboured so faithfully in China sent his first tithe of the
year to Wilkinson who was devoted to Jewish outreach with an accompanying note
saying ‘To the Jew, first’, though equally encouraged by Wilkinson’s gift in
response ‘To the Gentile, second’. Scriptures and the history of Jewish outreach
testify that we need to retain a measured balance of recognizing that God has
not cast away His people (Rom. 11:1) or annulled His covenants (Gen. 17:8-9)
whilst recognising God has always had a wide plan of salvation to include the
Gentiles (Isa 56:3-8) and that we are equal under Jesus (Yeshua) our Messiah
[i] Arnold G. Fructenbaum ‘To the Jew First in the New Millennium’ in ‘To the Jew First’ Edited by Darrell L. Block and Mitch Glaser (Kregel, 2008; Grand Rapids), p189
[ii] Ibid, p206