This study is part of a series that will examine the Jewishness of the original followers of Jesus. Did their belief in Jesus the Messiah and his death and resurrection lead to a subsequent abandoning of various Jewish practices? The approach taken will be to go through each book of Acts, examining relevant texts for insights into this question.
Acts 9:1–2 ESV “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
Saul's purpose in traveling to Damascus was to find “disciples of the Lord” and ”bring them bound to Jerusalem.” What was the relationship between the “disciples of the Lord” and the Jewish community in Damascus. Saul's assumption in asking for letters is that the “synagogues of Damascus” are subject to the authority of the high priest— we can assume that these synagogues are fully Jewish. Saul was also assuming that those synagogues would be instrumental in his purpose of finding “disciples”. Up to this point in the history recorded in Acts, there has been nothing that suggested that the disciples have separated themselves from the Jewish community. In Jerusalem we find the disciples worshiping in the temple. We have no reason to assume that the situation would be different in Damascus. The underlying assumptions of this text suggest that the disciples were fully integrated with the Jewish community of Damascus— Saul expected to find them in the synagogues there.
Acts 9:10 NRSV “Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias....”
Paul later describes Ananias: “A certain Ananias, who was a devout man according to the law and well spoken of by all the Jews living there” (Acts 22:12). Ananias was both a “disciple” and a “devout man according to the law”— in other words, Ananias was a fully Torah observant Jew who believed that Jesus was the messiah. Not only was he Torah observant, but he had done nothing to alienate the Jewish community in Damascus as he was “well spoken of by all the Jews living there”. It is unlikely that Ananias was exceptional among the disciples. The context suggests that the disciples that Saul had come to find were integrated into the Jewish community and that, like Ananias, they were also fully Torah observant Jews.
Acts 9:15 ESV “But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.”
Jesus did not revoke the covenants— Israel remains as a group of people distinct from “the Gentiles”, set apart from the other nations (Romans 3:1-3, 29–31; 11:1, 26–29). The “church” does not replace Israel. In this text we see that “the Gentiles” and “the children of Israel” are separate categories and that Saul has a mission to both of them. Israel remains relevant.