Gentile Lives Matter: Connecting OT Atonement, Jesus’ Death, and Gentile Inclusion

This paper will attempt to connect three themes: OT ritual purification, the death of Jesus, and the status of righteous Gentiles in the early church. The paper will consist of three parts:

1) OT sacrifices were often associated with ritual purification on behalf of the godly Israelite as he approached sacred space. Gentiles were prohibited from partaking in these rituals, in effect confirming their status as ceremonially unclean and outside the covenant of Abraham. Gentiles were thus understood to be “cursed” by simply being Gentile (Gen. 12:3; cp. Gal. 3:10-14).

2) Jesus’ crucifixion is often described in terms of ritual sacrifice (Rom. 3:25-26; Heb. 7-10; 1 John 2, 4) while also recognizing that his death did not align with strict OT sacrificial regulation (e.g., “he suffered outside the gate,” Heb. 13:12). This prompted NT writers to consider how to apply the meaning of Jesus’ death to (among other things) the struggles of the early church and the question of Gentile inclusion.

3) Believing Jews initially resisted the idea of fellowship with believing Gentiles because of their conceived ceremonially uncleanness (e.g., Acts 10:28). In time, however, one of the benefits of Jesus’ sacrificial death was applied to the question of Gentile impurity. Non-proselytized righteous Gentiles were considered “cleansed by the blood of Jesus” (e.g., Heb. 9:14; 1 John 1:7) and thus fit for membership in the Abrahamic covenant and full fellowship in the early church.