Visit is Not a Social Call

Early in the life of the church, there was confusion and ignorance regarding whether Gentiles were required to adhere to Jewish Law and custom upon becoming Christ followers. This debate led to what is called “The Jerusalem Council” we read of in Acts 15.

In that council, following a presentation from the apostles Barnabus and Paul, the apostle James spoke up.

After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name.”
– Acts 15:13-14, ESV


Examples abound for ways the English language has evolved, and not just with slang terminology which changes year over year.

Currently, in western culture, the word “visit” generally denotes a social call. Alean and I regularly visit with our next-door neighbors. We are expecting a visit from our pastor in the next week. Other times visits are less social and more official. We may receive a visit from the local police on some matter, or a visit from the IRS.

These definitions of “visit” are not what is being discussed by the apostle James at the Jerusalem Council, above. The term is ἐπεσκέψατο (epeskepsato) meaning something more like to inspect, to look upon with a view toward helping, to benefit in some way. So, when Jesus said, “For I was . . . sick and in prison and you did not visit me,”1 he was not saying that we failed to come to the jailhouse for some sort of social call. He was saying, “I was in trouble and you didn’t help!”

The translators of the original NIV (1970s) understood exactly what Jesus was saying, and chose to translate Matthew 25 as follows:

I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.
– Matthew 25:43, NIV-1983 [bold mine]

Following the birth of Jesus’ cousin, John, John’s father, Zechariah, was filled with the Spirit and prophesied. Here is the opening statement from that prophecy:

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
     for he has visited and redeemed his people

– Luke 1:68, ESV

Later he prophesied of “the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high.”2 Jesus raised a widow’s son from the dead because his heart went out to her. He touched the coffin and commanded the dead man to get up. The man did get up, and the people were awestruck.

Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, “A great prophet has appeared among us!” and, “God has visited His people!”
– Luke 7:16, ESV

With our broader, fuller understanding of “visit,” let’s look again at the statement James made to the Jerusalem Council as he explained to the Jews what the apostle Paul was doing in his ministry to the Gentiles.

After Paul and Barnabus finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first looked upon the Gentiles to help them. In doing so, he took from them a people for his name.”
– Acts 15:13-14, Damon’s paraphrase

God took his people out of the Gentiles. He chose them for his name. And now God has extended his grace to graft the Gentiles into his people and to stamp his holy name upon us. He helped us, “visited” us, giving us everything we need for life and godliness.

Blessings upon you, my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

– damon
Twitter – @DamonJGray
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1. Matthew 25:43
2. Luke 1:78

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Damon J. Gray

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