Spiritual Profiling: How Jesus Interacted with 8 Different Types of People... and Why it Matters for You

Spiritual Profiling: How Jesus Interacted with 8 Different Types of People... and Why it Matters for You

by Tom Hovestol

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Jesus’ world was far more religiously pluralistic than most of us imagine. He grew up and headquartered His ministry in “Galilee of the Gentiles.” He regularly rubbed shoulders with polytheistic and superstitious Romans, with philosophical and sophisticated Greeks, with hard-partying pagans, and with God-fearing Africans. The Bible tells us that Jesus, unlike His fellow countrymen, did not avoid the despised and syncretistic Samaritans. Nor did Jesus shun the Jews who were considered persona non grata in the local synagogues, like those who worked for the occupying government, or who rejected Hebrew ways in favor of Greek, or who lived hellion lifestyles.

Moreover, Jesus interacted with individuals representing all of the major sects of Judaism--Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots, and Essenes. And these included a huge variety of spiritual expression from the emotional to the contemplative, from the spontaneous to the staid, from Bible-thumpers to compassion-lovers, from those who push religion to the four corners of their lives while others passionately seek to push it to the four corners of the globe.

Is there some way to categorize, organize and understand the varieties of spiritual expression that Jesus encountered? Is it possible that the kinds of people Jesus dealt with in His day are similar to the ones we face today? Are there prototypical and stereotypical religious patterns to which people gravitate? And why do we do so? If we lived in Jesus’ day, what spiritual “camp” would be most like ours? How would Jesus approach us? What would he do with us? What would our Spiritual Profile be?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802457134
Publisher: Moody Publishers
Publication date: 07/21/2010
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

TOM HOVESTOL is the pastor of Calvary Church in Longmont, Colorado. A graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Wheaton College, he served for three years as a teacher in Swaziland, Africa, and later as a pastor in Texas. He is the author of Extreme Righteousness: Seeing Ourselves in the Pharisees. He and his wife, Carey, are the parents of five children and reside in Longmont, Colorado.

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Moody Publishers

Copyright © 2010 Tom Hovestol
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8024-5713-4

Chapter One


"Dad, I hate being a pastor's kid!" Obviously these were not the words I wanted to hear from my teenage son. I was stunned and troubled. So I asked him why.

"It's not you or the church, Dad. It's just that your job is so weird. People in school-when they find out my father is a minister-ask me if my dad knocks people over."

When he explained further, I realized that the only concept many of his classmates in public school had of Christian pastors was what they derived from televangelists. And by all accounts, these telecasts do not resemble normal church life. However, this is the only normalcy that many who never go to church know, or may ever know.

We don't need pollsters to tell us that the Christian church in the Western world is declining (while it happens to be growing in the southern hemisphere and Asia). A poll by the Barna Group estimates the number of unchurched in the United States to be approaching 100 million, or about one-third of the American population. This growing group includes two spiritual profiles I identify in chapters 1 and 2 of this book, the unchurched (or the Gentiles) and the detached (or the detached and disenfranchised Jews). The unchurched seldom, if ever, attend a Christian church. They may subscribe to another religion or no religion at all. They know very little experientially about the beliefs, rituals, rules, or behaviors of churched people. For the most part the church is irrelevant to them.

In Jesus' day there were no churches, so the unchurched were really the "unsynagogued," that is, the "Gentiles" (goyim). From a Jewish perspective, the Gentiles came into existence the day God called Abram to be the first Jew (Genesis 12), around 2,000 BC. Ever since that time, Jews and Gentiles have always lived around each other, but usually remained distinct from one another.


When God called out the first Jew, Abram (Genesis 11), and made a covenant with him (Genesis 12), He stated that "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (v. 3). Thus began an unbalanced division of humanity into two groups, a minuscule people group called the "Jews" and a mammoth group called "Gentiles."

It is almost comical to devote only one spiritual profile to the Gentiles when technically they make up more than 99 percent of the population of the world. In Bible times the Gentiles were everybody who wasn't a Jew, and yet, the Bible overwhelmingly highlights the history of the Jews. Nevertheless, Gentiles figured prominently in the Old Testament and the New.

Throughout the Old Testament, Gentiles are mentioned. We first meet the Canaanites, who interacted with the patriarchs; then the Egyptians, who enslaved the Hebrews; and the Midianites, with whom Moses lived. We encounter the uncircumcised Philistines, who for so many years were Israel's nemesis; the Phoenicians, who gave supplies for the building of the temple; and the Syrian general Naaman, who was healed of leprosy. Then we meet a succession of Gentile nations who subdue the Jews, including the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes and Persians, Greeks, and Romans. Though the Jews were selected as God's "chosen people," the Gentiles have always been on His divine radar.

Many Gentiles in Jesus' day lived in Israel. Most were part of the far-flung Roman Empire that stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Euphrates River. Since Israel was a natural land bridge between the three continents comprising the Empire, Gentiles crisscrossed the country constantly, and many chose to settle down, seizing opportunities for agriculture (especially in Galilee) and commerce. Israel was indeed a major crossroads of the world.

Economically the Gentiles in Israel came from all classes from nobility to slaves, from ladder-climbing military personnel to those caught in the nonpersonhood of slavery. And of course, most had no interest in the Jewish synagogue, although proselytes could enter the court of the Gentiles. Almost all were polytheistic, and many worshiped the Roman gods of the day. Let's look more closely at the Gentiles' TENDENCIES.

TENDENCIES of the "Unsynagogued" Gentiles

Truth: The source of truth to the first-century Gentile was a hodgepodge of polytheistic myths and legends, pagan superstitions, Hellenistic philosophy, and Latin law. Some would also have had familiarity with the Hebrew Scriptures. Economics: Gentile society in Jesus' day was divided into a variety of classes based on birth, wealth, and ethnic background. Many Gentiles were slaves and a large disparity separated rich and poor. The Romans had developed a sophisticated market economy based on agriculture, trade, raining, manufacturing, and government projects. Rome imposed a heavy tax on the Judea province to fund the governmental portion of the economy.

Neighborhood: The Gentiles' sense of community was strong. Its basis was the extended family, which was loyal to the city-state, which was a part of the greater Roman Empire. State religion was the glue that held it all together.

Devotion: Tapping the power of the gods to live a good and happy life was a Gentile pursuit. The gods were feared and fate was assumed. Thus keeping on the good side of the gods was all important. This was accomplished by participation in various religious ceremonies and making appropriate sacrifices.

Everyman: The Gentiles, borrowing from the Greeks, separated the soul from the body, matter from spirit. They believed that every person had a divine soul, and an imprisoning body. Cultivation of the soul was emphasized, even as what one did with his body was deemphasized. Choosing to accept one's fate and make the most of it was the route to happiness.

Nature of God: The Gentiles feared and worshiped a pantheon of gods that they believed gave them peace and prosperity. Patriotism, religion, and superstition were combined, and the power of the gods was more important than the gods' character.

BLDBLDivics: The synthesis of religion and state was assumed by the normal Gentile. The gods were intertwined with politics, and the emperor was somewhat deified. Submission to the Roman government and law was considered a sacred civic duty. And for most Gentiles the benefits of Roman rule were considerable (heavy taxation excluded, of course).

Immortality: The Gentiles widely believed in an afterlife. However, its existence was shadowy and the fear of the unknown was very strong. Most expected a time of judgment, followed by a spirit existence in the underworld. The specially virtuous or heroic could expect their souls to rest in better place, like the Elysian Fields.

Ethics: The Roman world was built on law more than morality. Right and wrong was determined by the law of the state, not by philosophical notions of virtue or religious notions of morality. If the laws of the state, designed largely to keep the peace and enhance prosperity, did not preclude an activity, it was not considered wrong. Thus, moral corruption, particularly in the sexual realm, was common and not considered unethical.

Summary: The Gentiles in Jesus' day were largely god-fearing people. Belief in the gods dominated their thinking, and keeping on the good side of the gods dominated their behavior (superstitions, omens, traditions, rituals, rites, taboos, etc.). They also wanted to enjoy life. Thus sports, entertainment, and the pursuit of pleasure were their goals. And all of these were with a view to living a good, happy life on earth and the hope of a peaceful rest in the next world.


How did Jesus interact with the Gentiles in His day? Consider these seven encounters.

Foreign Forbearers (Jesus and His Gentile Roots)

Jesus' first "interaction" with the Gentiles occurs centuries before He is born. The New Testament opens with His genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17). Jesus' family tree connects Him with the first Jew, Abraham; the Jewish patriarchs; the greatest Jewish king, David; and numerous other famous-and infamous-and unknown Jews. Jesus' roots are undeniably Jewish. However, one cannot fail to notice that Jesus' genealogy also includes Gentiles. Three Gentile women, two of them known for their sexual immorality (Tamar in Genesis 38 and Rahab) and one for her love (Ruth), are listed among Jesus' forebearers. The very first thing the gospels highlight about the Gentiles is that Jesus had "bad" Gentile blood! Conspicuously Jesus identified with all humanity, "the good, the bad and the ugly."

"Galilee of the Gentiles" (Gentile Neighbors)

After a brief sojourn in Africa (Matthew 2:13), the holy family moves hack to Nazareth, to "Galilee of the Gentiles" (Matthew 4:15, quoting Isaiah 9:1). Jesus spends roughly the next thirty years of His life in Nazareth, a small town, likely inhabited mostly by Jews. However, He may have worked, and surely He shopped, in Sepphoris, a sophisticated Roman city about four miles northwest of Nazareth. Galilee is racially mixed, mainly Greek-speaking, has a large number of slaves, and is less than one-third Jewish. Important trade routes crisscross Galilee. As a result, Gentile merchants, soldiers, and travelers frequent the region. Jesus would rub shoulders with Europeans (Romans, Greeks, etc.), Middle Eastern Asians (Phoenicians, Syrians, Persians, etc.), and Africans (Egyptians, Libyans, etc.).

Though never explicitly stated, Jesus must have maintained cordial relationships with His Gentile workmates, customers, neighbors, and passersby. I fully suspect, that as a good Jew, Jesus did quality work, treated His customers fairly; was a good neighbor, and extended a typical Middle-Eastern hand of hospitality to strangers. We can reasonably surmise that Jesus developed and maintained mutually respectful relationships with the Gentiles in His life.

Going to the Dogs (The Canaanite Woman)

Calling someone a "dog" is derogatory worldwide today, but it was doubly so in Jesus' day. Back then dogs were unclean scavengers (cf. Exodus 22:31; 1 Samuel 24:14), and to call someone a "dog" was a term of deep contempt. So, Jesus' encounter with the Canaanite woman in Phoenicia (Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30) adds spice and significance to His ministry among the Gentiles while it plays with the word "dog."

The story begins with the bland-sounding words, "He entered a house" (Mark 7:24). However, in His day it might have been said, "Jesus has gone to the dogs!" Gentiles are "dogs" by common Jewish estimation. In the house, Jesus is approached by a Syrophocnician woman who has a demonized daughter. Thus, she has three strikes against her: her race (a Gentile), her heritage (a history of conflicts with the Jews), and her problem (a demonized daughter).

Jesus' exchange with the woman is classic. He halts her by suggesting that "it is not right to take the children's bread" (God's covenantal priority on the Jews) and "toss it to their dogs" (Gentiles). She unhesitatingly acknowledged her second-class status, then added that she would settle for some covenantal "crumbs." She will gladly "dumpster dive" to provide "food" for her daughter. Jesus is thoroughly impressed with her humility and faith. When we watch Jesus at work, we notice that He sometimes waited for human resources to be exhausted, bootstraps to break, hopes to be dashed, and "crumbs" to become desirable before He stepped forward with good news and good deeds.

Food Fight (Gentiles and Food)

The juxtaposition of Jesus confronting the issue of food laws (Mark 7:1-23) and His visit with the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30) is by no means accidental. Jewish food laws created significant barriers, and Jesus knows that leaving such barriers in place will waylay His mission to the world. So Jesus emphatically states, "Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean'" (Mark 7:15). And Mark makes the implications of Jesus' words plain as day, "In saying this, Jesus declared all foods 'clean'" (Mark 7:19).

The fight over food essentially separates Jews and Gentiles, and the early Christian church cannot shake it until God shakes up Peter and causes him to reconsider his perspective on food (Acts 10). And even with God's clear instructions to guide them, the church still struggles mightily with food issues throughout the remainder of New Testament times (Acts 15; Romans 14-15; 1 Corinthians 8; Revelation 2:14, 20). When we watch Jesus at work among the Gentiles, we notice that He busted barriers that would have impeded the spread of the gospel.

Interview Request Denied (The Greeks)

During the week of Jesus' crucifixion, some Greeks (Gentile God-fearers) who have come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, request an interview with Jesus (John 12:20-36). Jesus, however, is focused on the cross, and appears to ignore their request. Instead Jesus launches into a monologue on the cost and glory of His impending death.

It strikes me as strange that this incident is even mentioned. So why is it? When we watch Jesus tit work, we notice that He is very sensitive to divine timing. Sometimes we try to push God's work when the time is not right and the people are not ripe. Sometimes we are too afraid to let Gentile appetites intensify and thirsts get to a parched pitch without providing gospel crumbs and sips. Sometimes we seem to act as if our job is to kick-start the dead, or manipulate the mellow, or persuade the indifferent, or drop the whole load on the merely curious. We are afraid to let people get thoroughly lost. Jesus refused to "sell the divine" before its time.


Excerpted from SPIRITUAL PROFILING by TOM HOVESTOL Copyright © 2010 by Tom Hovestol. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1. Jesus and the unchurched.
How did Jesus interact with the Gentiles – those in His world (and ours) with an ungodly or pagan religious background?

2. Jesus and the detached.
How did Jesus interact with the Secular Jews – those in His world (and ours) who were detached from the religious establishment for a variety of reasons?

3. Jesus and the mixed up.
How did Jesus interact with the Samaritans – those in His world (and ours) who were despised by the Jewish mainstream because they had fashioned a heterodox (other, different), syncretistic spirituality?

4. Jesus and the old school.
How did Jesus interact with the Sadducees – those in His world (and ours) who saw themselves as the chief leaders, the archbishops of Judaism?

5. Jesus and the do-gooders.
How did Jesus interact with Pharisees who followed Hillel – those in His world (and ours) who were known for their benevolence, their pursuit of goodness?

6. Jesus and the Truth-seekers.
How did Jesus interact with Pharisees who followed Shammai – those in His world (and ours) who were passionately concerned about orthodoxy, rightly dividing the word of truth?

7. Jesus and the passionate ones.
How did Jesus interact Jesus with the Zealots – those in His world (and ours) who held their two great passions – religion and politics – in parallel.

8. Jesus and the mystery crowd.
How did Jesus interact with the Essenes – those in His world (and ours) whose approach to spirituality was esoteric, inward and communal?

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher


Spiritual Profiling is really about understanding that we have different kinds of neighbors we are called to love and engage. . . It will lead us to consider how to relate well to the variety of people around us, a profitable study, well worth the time.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and New York Times Bestselling Author



Spiritual Profiling is really about understanding that we have different kinds of neighbors we are called to love and engage. Pastor Hovestol takes us through the different types of people who inhabited Jesus' world and how he interacted with them as a way to help us with the different kinds of people we meet. The study is solid and intriguing. It will lead us to consider how to relate well to the variety of people around us, a profitable study, well worth the time.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and New York Times Bestselling Author


Pastor Tom Hovestol’s very readable work draws attention to a reality of life that Christians commonly overlook as they consider ministry to others. By means of copious references to the Scriptures (specifically, to the examples provided by the Lord Jesus Himself), the author provides insights and appropriate instruction for how Christians might show respect for the diversity of viewpoints held by different people. This offers valuable guidance both for those who wish to evangelize wisely and those who want to be salt and light in a 21st century world. The author’s style is irenic and respectful, exactly what we would expect from an individual who has spent many hours drinking from the well of Jesus’ wisdom.

Dr. Ken Bickel
Professor of Pastoral Studies
Grace Theological Seminary


Here is a fresh reading of Jesus’ ministry, a creative tutorial developed for every hungry disciple who wants to “re-centralize” Christ in their faith. With a pastor’s grasp of his time and a prophet’s passion for true-hearted devotion, Hovestol helps us critique the “spiritual fraternities” of our own day.

Dr. Andrew J. Schmutzer
Professor of Bible
Moody Bible Institute


In Spiritual Profiling Pastor Tom has given us a new lens through which to view ourselves and others. His diligent research into eight religious cultures of Jesus’ day forms the basis for a fresh perspective on the expressions of those cultures in our world. The companion online assessment tool brings a sharp and personal focus to the application of these biblical insights. This is a must read for those seeking to genuinely and effectively live out the life of Jesus in our pluralistic society.

Stephen LeBar, Ph.D.
Former Executive Director, CBAmerica


A luminous exposé of the loving wisdom and brilliance of Jesus! There is refreshing and penetrating insight here. This is a much needed read for the next generation of the church as it engages a globalized and pluralistic world with the Gospel.

Heath Hardesty
NextGen Pastor
Valley Community Church


How should you relate today to the unchurched, the dechurched, religious syncretists, do-gooders, traditionalists, and several other groups of people? The answer is found in the surprising ways that Jesus related to these kinds of people in His day. Tom Hovestol has given us the gift of new lenses to see more clearly how Jesus related with diverse groups of people. He has also handed us new tools so that we can relate to similar people just like Jesus did—and always with grace and truth.

Brian Mavis
Executive Director of Externally Focused Network


Clever. Fresh. Insightful. Interesting. Fun. Challenging.  Spiritual Profiling takes us down a biblical path we have not traveled before. Tom Hovestol combines the discipline of a scholar with the warmth of a pastor to give us a fresh look at Jesus and his relationships.

Leith Anderson
President, National Association of Evangelicals, Washington, DC
Pastor, Wooddale Church, Eden Prairie, MN


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Spiritual Profiling: How Jesus Interacted with 8 Different Types of People... and Why it Matters for You 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was one of my best reads in a long time. It open my eyes to what Jesus was dealing with on a grander scale