While we live in a multicultural, internationalized world today, it could be argued that the early church, almost two thousand years ago, was just as transcultural. Acts 13:1 records members of the Antioch church who were from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. It was in Antioch that the term “Christians” was coined (Acts 11:26). Moreover, Luke intentionally points to the international “all nations” phrase of Christ’s great commission in the very structure of the book of Acts.
Acts 1:8 serves as a sort of table of contents, where Jerusalem is mentioned first, then Judea and Samaria, and finally, the ends of the earth. The action in the book of Acts follows this trajectory. The acts of the church happening in Jerusalem are mentioned first, then the Spirit guides the church to Judea and Samaria. When persecution erupts, the church then explodes missionally to different parts of the earth. Significantly, Luke places the following three testimonies right before the explosion that launches stage three. Acts 8 mentions the work of Philip in reaching the Ethiopian. Acts 9 records the testimony of Saul, along with Ananias’s connection to his conversion. Acts 10 revolves around Peter’s outreach to the Gentile believer Cornelius.
At first glance, these may seem like mere chronological testimonies. But when compared with the book of Genesis’ account of the Tower of Babel, they present striking parallels.
After the Noah narrative of Genesis 6–9, chapter 10 chronicles the descendants of the three sons of Noah: Japheth, Ham, and Shem. Chapter 11 then narrates the story of the Tower of Babel that resulted in God creating new languages and scattering the people throughout the earth. In chapter 12 the Abrahamic story begins with Abram’s call to the mission of blessing “all the families of the earth” (Gen. 12:3). The families referenced here are those that were established a couple of chapters earlier—from the three sons of Noah.
What is happening in Acts is a partial fulfilment of the Abrahamic Covenant that, through the new Israel, the church, or Christ’s body, the effects of the Tower of Babel will be undone and eradicated. Whereas the Tower of Babel narrative started the course of different languages, the Pentecostal meeting of Acts 2 reversed the many languages, so that now humanity could understand each other. Whereas the three sons of Noah were scattered throughout the earth, the church under Christ’s great commission was in the process of bringing them back together again: the son of Ham from Ethiopia, the son of Shem named Saul, and the son of Japheth named Cornelius of Italy. God used His disciples, Phillip, Ananias, and Peter, to reach and call all nations back to being His children through Christ.