The First Gentile Saved in the New Testament

Who was the first Gentile saved in the New Testament? Cornelius in Acts 10

Many people think that the Ethiopian eunuch was the first Gentile saved. There are several reasons why that is not the case.

In Acts 8:26-38, Philip met up with the Ethiopian Eunuch on the road that went down from Jerusalem to Gaza. The eunuch was in Jerusalem to worship. This would seem to indicate that he may have been in Jerusalem around the time of one of the Feasts of Israel. As he was reading a scroll of the prophet Isaiah, it appears that he may have been a proselyte (a convert to Judaism).

Philip was later identified as an Evangelist in Acts 21:18. In Ephesians 3:1-6 Paul the Apostle states that a secret, or mystery, was given to him by divine revelation. Paul goes on to say that this secret was only given to Apostles and Prophets, and only in the current generation. And that secret was that Gentiles were to be included in the body of Christ as fellow heirs. As a result of Paul’s revelation it seems inconsistent that Philip would have been preaching to a Gentile at this point as Philip was not an Apostle or Prophet and the revelation to preach to a Gentile had not yet been given to the Church. 

For this reason, I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, 2 if you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, 3 how that by revelation he made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in a few words, 4 whereby, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ, 5 which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the Gospel. —Ephesians 3:6

The Apostle Peter had an encounter with some Gentiles in Acts 10. This is the story of Cornelius the Centurion. Cornelius had a vision in which he saw an angel and was told to send for Peter who was in Joppa. Around this time Peter was on the roof of the house in Joppa when he too had a vision. In this vision unclean animals (those Jews could not eat) were being let down to earth in a sheet. A voice told Peter to “kill and eat.” Peter told the Lord no because he had never eaten anything unclean. And the Lord told him not to call anything unclean that He called clean (referring to Gentiles being saved). Immediately after this, messengers from Cornelius were at the door where Peter was staying.

When the messengers explained why they were there, Peter remembered his vision. Peter met with Cornelius and his family and began to tell them about the Gospel message. In the course of doing that, the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and his family and they received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. After that they were baptized in water.

Shortly after that, in Acts 11:1-18, Peter was back in Jerusalem and explained that Gentiles had also received the Word of God. The Jews of the circumcision, that originally objected, after they heard about Peter, Cornelius and the vision from the Lord, ceased with their objections.  

It is interesting to note that depending on whose scholarly timeline you look at; the events in the book of Acts 10, with Peter and Cornelius, didn’t happen until around 37-40 A.D. This means that for the first few years of the Church—no Gentiles were mentioned as being saved. This might have been a fulfillment of Romans 1:16.

For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone that believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (Gentile). —Romans 1:16

Gregg F. Swift, J.D.