In a discussion of whether the New Covenant Scriptures were given as a manual of practice for Messianic Jews, I asked the question, “So does Paul’s writing not apply to Jewish believers? I ask because unless the New Testament does not apply to Jewish believers, then at least some things HAVE been changed.” I posted most of my reply here.
To that, Erin replied, “[N]o it doesn’t. In case you don’t know, the ‘Galatians’ were gentile. The ‘Colossians’ were gentile…To forget the audience to whom the authors of the NT were talking does you a great unjustice, and furthers the general ignorance prevalent in today’s Christian body. Paul primarily talked to gentiles. Jesus talked primarily to Jews.”
So then, the question arises, “Does what Paul wrote to Galatia, Colossia, and Rome apply to Gentiles only, or to Jews only, or to both?
Let us look first at the introductions of the books to see if that helps us understand the intended audience for these books.
Romans tells us it was written to all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints. This does not really tell us whether Paul intentionally included Gentile or Jewish believers or not.
To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Galatians was written to the churches in Galatia. From this line alone, we are not sure whether Gentiles or Jews were included as part of the intended audience or not.
1Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2and all the brothers with me, To the churches in Galatia:
The introduction to the book of Colossians does not provide any more help than those of the other two books. Here we see Paul wrote to the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse.
1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
So, in all three cases, the books could have been written to either Gentiles, Jews, or both – the introuctions do not make it clear, but neither do they exclude anyone.
We will now examine the text of each book to see if we can ascertain who was the intended audience.
Romans 1:13 tells us that at least part of the intended audience was Gentiles, as Paul mentioned “other Gentiles.”
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.
But we see in Romans 2 that Paul is speaking to those who call themselves Jews.
17Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; 18if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.
So it appears the book of Romans was written to Gentiles and Jewish believers in Rome.
We have confirmation of this in Romans 7. It is evident the audience knew the Law, from Romans 7:1.
1Do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to men who know the law—that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives?
But more than that, the audience had died to the Law that once bound them. Roman 7:4-6.
4So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. 5For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. 6But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
Since the Law had once bound them, the audience must have included Jews. Thus we have confirmation that the book of Romans was written to both Jewish and Gentile believes.
But what about the book of Galatians? To whom was it written? We have already seen it was written to multiple churches in Galatia. Now we have to try to understand from the text itself who was the intended audience.
In Galatians 3:1-5, we see they knew the Law, and after coming to faith were trying to observe the Law.
1You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? 4Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing?5Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?
How could the Law lead a Gentile to faith in Christ? A Gentile would not have been held prisoner by the Law, so it could not have led him to faith in Christ.
23 Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
So from the text, we see that Galatians was written to an audience that at least included Jewish believers.
We see this is confirmed in Galatians 5:1-6, where Paul is speaking of not being burdened again by a yoke of slavery (the Law). Yet, it is also clear that at least some of his audience were not yet circumcised, so would have not been Jewish.
1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. 2Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
So then, we have seen that the book of Romans and the book of Galatians were written to a mixed audience of Jewish and Gentile believers.
Let us now examine the text of Colossians to see if we can glean from it whether the audience was Jewish, Gentile, or both.
Recall that the Law was given to Jews. The Law be against and oppose those who were not given the Law? It can not. Therefore, at least part of the audience were Jewish believers.
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.
So we see in the text itself that the epistles to the Romans, Galatians, and Colossians were all intended for the believers in those areas. Romans are Galatians are obviously for both Jewish and Gentile believers. Colossians has been shown to be to Jewish believers, although I think the introduction makes it clear it is for anyone who believes in Christ.
But perhaps most importantly is what we see in Paul’s letter to Timothy,
2 Timothy 3:15-17
15and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
ALL scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. This would include the three letters in question: Romans, Galatians, and Colossians.