Judaism and the Early Church Jewish influence upon the early first century church II

The Hebrew Old Testament

The Scriptures used by the early church was the Jewish Scriptures (or the Hebrew Bible which is known in the Christian Bible as the Old Testament).[1] The Old Testament appears to be in full ‘canonical’ form as early as first century B.C. and as late as first century A.D.[2] Jesus Christ studied the Hebrew Bible as a young child according to the Gospel.[3] He went to synagogue every Sabbath. From a bird’s eye view of the early church, Jerome accepts the Old Testament but he accuses the Jewish ‘remnant’, converted by the Apostles, of remaining attached to the ‘uilitas litterae’ or the Jewish traditions within the Church.[4] The early church did not struggle with adhering to the Hebrew Bible, although sometimes it was guilty of taking the Jewish tradition too far.

Jews and Gentiles

Obedience and attitude towards the Law by some of the first century Jews varied more than what is commonly assumed. Some Jewish believers, early on, were themselves observant but seem to have resisted the pharisaic tightening of the Law. Some pleaded for acceptance of Sabbath alongside Sunday; others are criticized by Gentile Christians for "keeping Passover with the Jews." For some, observance to the entire Torah was an ideal, but not obligatory. Others kept the Law and demanded the same of Gentiles; and some made no such demand. And there were those who abandoned the Law altogether.[5]

Although the early church had been made up of both Jew and Gentile, there was always a marked difference between the two churches. Jewish Christians continued to observe the law although they trusted ultimately in Christ for their salvation. With the increase of the Gentiles being added to the church, many began to raise questions as to the responsibility of the Gentiles to keep the laws of Moses. The arguments became so strong that the Church of Antioch thought it necessary to send a few delegates to the Church of Jerusalem to discuss these important matters. They decided that idolatry, fornication, eating the meat of strangled animals and eating blood be prohibited among the Gentiles. No other law should be imposed upon them. This decision by the council was readily received and found acceptable to the Church of Antioch.

Even after this great first council, the Jews continued to think of themselves as an exclusive race and the very idea of their losing this identity by a continual merging with the Gentile believers seemed somewhat repugnant to them. Many Jewish believers continued to meet at the local synagogue. It was not until the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 that Judaism began to crumble. The temple and priesthood were now gone, and only a legalistic study of the law remained. Jewish Christianity must either follow the rabbi's interpretation of the scriptures or follow Gentile Christianity by reinterpreting the Old Testament in light of the revelation of Christ. As a result of their knowledge of the Old Testament scriptures, the Jewish Christian was in a better position to possess a well established and solidly grounded faith. The tendency for the Jewish church to lapse back into Judaism was apparent while the reckless life of the Gentile seemed something worth avoiding. This dilemma seems to have brought forth the need for the book of Hebrews, in which book the author attempts to show how the temple and the priesthood, as well as the lives of the fathers, had consisted of obvious allegories, each one somehow pertaining to Christ.

Hellenistic Jews had begun to set forth an apology of their faith in the territories where they had settled in their Diaspora. Without a central Temple, they sought to propagate intrinsic worth and clarify central theological tenets with well articulate theological propositions.[6] Unsurprisingly, the synagogues were successful. They not only provided a place for Hellenistic Jews to meet together regularly but lent itself to being a natural “base of operation” for Christian missionaries in the early stages of the Church. Many Jews had moved away from a strict devotion to the particulars of Palestinian Judaism but were still dedicated to its core tenets.

Furthermore, “God-fearing” gentiles who were already drawn to aspects of Judaism found in Christianity all of the same advantages and were also drawn to these synagogues. Christianity to them offered “monotheism, high ethical standards, a close knit social community, the authority of an ancient sacred Scripture, a rational worship”[7] without all of the drawbacks and obstacles that kept way from Judaism: “the association with a single nationality, the rite of circumcision, restrictions that seemed meaningless (Sabbath, food laws, etc).”[8]

For the conservative Jew, the sister religion of Christianity was a religion for Gentiles and it does not speak to Jews. The Jews believe that they are already saved and they do not need Jesus. Spiritual orphans, like the Gentiles do need Jesus. Some Jews will admit that God wants to save other nations besides Israel and that is why Christianity is for.[9] This mindset existed among some of the first century Jews but especially developed after the fourth century.

[1] James S. Jeffers. The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament. (Downers Groves: Intervarsity Press, 1999),218.

[2] Randall Price. Searching for the Original Bible.(Eugene, Or: Harvest House Publishers, 2008), 108.

[3] Luke 4:14-21

[4] ELI SABETH ME´ GIER. “Jewish Converts in the Early Church and Latin Christian Exegetes of Isaiah, c. 400–1150 Journal of Ecclesiastical History”, Vol. 59, No. 1, January 2008, 2.

[5] Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik, eds, JEWISH BELIEVERS IN JESUS: THE EARLY CENTURIES. (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2007), 238.

[6] Everett Fergusson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), 617

[7] Ibid, 617-618.

[8] Ibid , 617-619.

[9] Michael S. Kogan, “TOWARD A JEWISH THEOLOGY OF CHRISTIANITY”, Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 32:1, Winter 1995, 100-102.