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.


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

Jewish influence upon the early first century church

Jewish traditions

The early church kept many Jewish practices. They frequently visited the Temple, attended synagogues and continued to study the Old Testament. Early followers of Christ were considered a mere sect within Judaism. In the book of Acts these early church members were called “the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 25:5).[1] Many of the disciples and members of the early church kept of Jewish traditions such as eating raw grain. The Mosaic Law said “Ye shall eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor green ears, until the selfsame day that ye have brought an offering unto God.” Therefore, the disciples of Jesus ate raw grain.[2]

Many of the Jewish traditions and customs at mealtime, particularly at special suppers and banquets, were followed by Jesus and others of the early church.[3] Jesus and the disciples partook in Passover.[4] They ate at triclinium tables.[5] Jesus gave ‘sop’ and washed the feet of his disciples.[6] These facts are not too surprising considering that Jesus himself and the disciples were all Jews. For many years after Christ’s life and death these traditions and customs were honored because the entire Roman and Israeli culture was infiltrated with Jews and their traditions.

Many of the epistles written in the New Testament by Paul and others continually deal with the church being too “Jewish,” following traditions legalistically instead of simply following Christ. Paul's letters are full of discussion about Jews and Gentiles, circumcision and uncircumcision, and the role of the Torah in the lives of those who are saved by faith in Messiah, especially the books of Romans, Galatians and Hebrews. Judaisers were everywhere, every bit as orthodox as the Chassidic Believers in Jerusalem. He was concerned about the great gulf that existed between the Judaisers and the Gentile Believers Eventually, after the council of Nicaea in 323 A.D. after being rejected both by Gentile Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism a new sect of Jewish Christianity began.[7]

A key point in the man of Jesus is that constantly through-out His life on earth, Jesus always challenged the motive and reasons behind tradition and Law. Jesus asked the Pharisees, “Why do ye transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? Thus have you made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.” Jesus stressed spiritual teaching from the law over following traditions.[8] At another point in time the Pharisees complained about the disciples not following certain laws. Jesus was not objecting to any law but rather refused the authority that the rabbis claimed to have in telling people the exact, detailed and legalistic manner in which each tradition and law must be done.[9] Here even before the early church is thought of as ‘established’ the man who is to initiate its existence is clearly dividing himself from the extreme Jews, the Pharisees.

The synagogue service was composed of two readings from scripture, the recitation of psalms, often a sermon, and prayers. The first reading was from the Torah. The second reading was from the prophets or writings. The early Church kept this structure for the Liturgy of the Word. Two readings from the Old Testament, a reading from the Acts of the Apostles or from the letters, and a reading from the gospels made up the early Christian meeting. The prayers came after the readings and sermon.[10]

[1] It is only used in Acts 24:5 and 25:7 that the term Nazarenes is used to refer to the follower of Jesus, elsewhere in the New Testament; it is used to designate Jesus. Logically it would follow to designated Jesus as “belonging to Nazareth” Marvin R. Wilson, Our Father Abraham (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989) p 40-41. Although, in Acts 24:5, it is clearly a slur against Paul. It continually is used scornfully and hostilely by those who are against he early church. And Walter Elwell, Ed, “Christians, Names of: Nazarene,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed,( Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker Academic, 2007), 236.

[2] Fred Wright. Manners and Customs of Bible Lands. (Chicago, Il: Moody Press, 1981), 43.

[3] Ibid,61-68.

[4] Luke 22:7-13, NASB, Ibid, 66-68.

[5]These are the tables where guests are reclined to an almost laying down on their stomachs position. This was so they could have secret conversation with the person next to them, but also so the servant could be in front of all the tables to serve all guests. Fred Wright. Manners and Customs of Bible Lands, 62-64.

[6] Ibid,66,67, 75.

[7] In more modern times, the Jewish Christian sect would look like Messianic Judaism or Jews for Jesus.

[8] Ibid, 116.

[9] Ibid, 56.

[10] Unknown. “The Influence of Jewish Worship on Christian WorshipLiving the Good News: Winter C • 2009-10, 1


Judaism and the Early Church Introduction


Christianity started out as a breakaway sect of Judaism. [1] The two religions have a long history together. Judaism certainly had a lot of influence upon the formation of Christianity, especially among the first generation of “Christians” or followers of Christ. Many of the traditions, beliefs and practices of the early church (Christianity) centered on the values of Judaism. In the first three centuries of early church, Jews and Christ followers got along well together. In fact, churches and synagogues were sometimes built next to each other, as many members of the early church also regularly attended synagogue. Even in the Fourth Century Judaism and Christianity shared protected status as an “old religion” under Roman law.[2] Only after Jewish rabbis denounced Christianity as a new religion did much conflict arise. Roman persecution ensued upon the denouncement and the two “religions” were at odds with each other and began to split apart.[3] The key difference of understanding revolves around one man, Jesus Christ.

[1] Ed Hindson and Ergun Caner, eds. The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics: Surveying the Evidence for the Truth of Christianity.( Eugene, Or: Harvest House Publishers, 2008),300.

[2] F.F Bruce, "The Early Church in the Roman Empire," The Bible Student (Bangalore, India), 56

(March-April 1933): 30-32.

[3] Ibid