Vol. 5, No. 8
Since You Asked
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Names may be included at the discretion of the Editor unless querists request their names be withheld.
Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary says of "prayer," "an address (as a petition) to God or a god in word or thought." Originally, in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve conversed directly with God (Genesis 3:9). After the fall and expulsion from the Garden, man never again enjoyed the same relationship with God. From that time, with occasional exceptions, mankind has not had the opportunity to converse directly with God, and man's address to God has been through the vehicle we call "prayer."
Most students of the Bible believe that the Book of Job is the oldest Bible book. Whereas the Book of Genesis chronicles the creation forward for thousands of years, it was probably penned later than the Book of Job. Both the Book of Genesis and the Book of Job concern the religious period known as Patriarchy. The word "prayer" first appears in our English Bibles in Job 16:17, "Not for any injustice in mine hands: also my prayer is pure." However, the earliest reference to prayer in Genesis is comparatively soon after the fall of man; "And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD" (Genesis 4:26). Since Seth was the third son of Adam and Eve and Seth's son, Enos, was the grandson of Adam and Eve, the reference to prayer in Genesis 4:26 probably predates the Book of Job. The McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia observes:
That prayer was coeval with the fallen race we cannot doubt, and it was in all probability associated with the first sacrifice. The first definite account of its public observance occurs in the remarkable expression recorded in the lifetime of Enos, the son of Seth: "Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord" (Gen 4:26). From that time, a life of prayer evidently marked the distinction between the pious and the wicked. The habit was maintained in the chosen family of Abraham, as is evident from frequent instances in the history of the Hebrew patriarchs.
It is reasonable to conclude that "prayer" began and continued as a means of communication with God from the time mankind lost the opportunity in the Garden of Eden to talk directly with God.
McClintock, John, and John Strong. McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2000.
Mish, Frederick C. Ed. Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, 1993.
Was Cornelius the first Gentile convert as it is indicated in Acts 11:18? That verse says, "When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life." I heard a lesson at an encampment a few years ago, and we were told that the Ethiopian eunuch was the first Gentile convert. I must admit I had never heard that before in my life. Your insight would be most appreciated!
The Gentiles were not the recipients of the Gospel message until about ten years after the establishment of the Lord's church. It was then (Acts 10-11) that the apostle Peter reluctantly but due to divine instruction preached the Gospel to Cornelius and the other Gentiles gathered with him at his home.
Years before though, the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch, was converted to Christianity (Acts 8:26-40). Bible students differ as to whether this man was a Jew who lived in Ethiopia or a Gentile who had become a Jewish proselyte. "Luke now records a further step in the expansion of the church beyond its initial Jewish setting by relating the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, who was probably a half-convert to Judaism, although he may possibly have been a Jew" (Wycliffe).
Through the centuries, Jews had become scattered throughout the world due to either their choice in pursuit of economic enterprises or because of persecution. Hence, it is plausible to imagine either case regarding this Bible character, but the Bible does not specify. The Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary supposes that he was "a Gentile proselyte to the Jewish Faith," as does Matthew Henry's Commentary, "He was a proselyte to the Jewish religion, for he came to Jerusalem to worship."
If the Ethiopian eunuch was a Gentile who had proelyted to Judaism, he was only a Gentile technically, because he was practicing Judaism (Acts 8:27). If one were desirous of making such a technical distinction, then, he would need to cite so-called Gentile conversion to Christianity years earlier on the very birthday of the church in Acts 2. Among the multitudes to which Peter (and the other apostles, vss. 7, 14-15) preached the Gospel that day were "proselytes" (vs. 10). The 3,000 souls who became Christians that day as a result of that preaching were some of those assembled and probably included some proselytes.
However, the Gospel was preached to classes of people until all classes of people had been the beneficiaries of Gospel preaching. It is highly unlikely that every individual accountable person in the nations ringing the Mediterranean Sea heard the Gospel preached even in the first century (Colossians 1:23). Geographically, nationally and racially, the Gospel proceeded from one class of people to another until all classes of people had heard the Gospel message. "...ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). "...For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:39). Jews and proselytes, Samaritans and lastly Gentiles were the recipients (as classes of people) of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, technically there were Gentiles who were first proselytes to Judaism who became Christians years earlier than when the Gospel was preached to Cornelius and those assembled with him. Yet, in that sense of considering so-called Gentile conversion, the Ethiopian eunuch would not be the first Gentile convert to Christianity. Ordinarily, though, when considering the progress of the Gospel of Christ from one class of humanity to another, the Gentiles are usually recognized as having received the Gospel of Christ first at the house of Cornelius.
Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible: New Modern Edition. CD-ROM. Hendrickson Publishers, 1991.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.
Wycliffe Bible Commentary. CD-ROM. Moody Press, 1962.