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Jewish Christians (sometimes called also "Hebrew Christians" or "Christian Jews", but see below for differences) is a term which can have two meanings, an historical one and a contemporary one. Both meanings are given below.
History of Christianity Edit
The term "Early Jewish-Christians" is often used in discussing the Early History of Christianity. Jesus, his Twelve Apostles, the Elders, his relatives, and all or essentially all of his early followers were Jewish or Jewish Proselytes. Hence the 3,000 converts on Pentecost, following the death of Jesus, described in Acts of the Apostles Acts 2, were all Jews and Proselytes. The history claimed further in Acts shows all converts to have been non-Gentile prior to the discussion of the conversion of the Roman Centurion Cornelius by Peter in Acts 10, traditionally considered the first Gentile convert. The major division prior to that time was between Hellenistic and non-Hellenistic Jews or Koine Greek (Acts 6) and Aramaic (Acts 1:19) speakers. The conversion and acceptance of the gentile Cornelius can be descibed in terms of the Judaic teaching which describes strangers becoming part of the community (Isaiah 56:3-7). Acts does not use the term "Jewish-Christians", rather those led by James the Just, Simon Peter, and John the Apostle, were called Nazarenes (Acts 24:5) or followers of "The Way" (Acts 9:2, Acts 18:25-26, Acts 19:9-23, Acts 24:14-22, see also Didache#The Two Ways). Later groups, or perhaps the same group by different names, were the Ebionites and Elkasites.
The Christian appelation was first applied to the followers after Paul of Tarsus started preaching at Antioch (Acts 11:25-26). Paul made the early division between those circumcised and those not circumcised in his Epistle to the Galatians 2:7-9:
- "On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised." (NRSV)
The Council of Jerusalem, according to Acts 15, determined that circumcision was not immediately required of new converts, only avoidance of "pollution of idols, fornication, things strangled, and blood" (KJV, Acts 15:20). The basis for these prohibitions is unclear, Acts 15:21 states only: "For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day", the implication being that they are based on the Law of Moses, some consider them to be the Noahide Laws.
These early so-called "Jewish-Christians" were also derogatively called Judaizers, Paul used the term against Peter in public (Galatians 2:14), perhaps meaning those who adopted Jewish customs, such as Oral Torah which was added to the written Mosaic Law. Marcion in the 2nd century, called the "most dangerous" heretic, rejected the Twelve Apostles, and interpreted a Jesus who rejected the Law of Moses using 10 Pauline Epistles and the Gospel of Luke. For example, his version of Luke 23:2: "We found this fellow [Jesus] perverting the nation and destroying the law and the prophets". Irenaeus in turn rejected Marcion and praised the Twelve Apostles in his Against Heresies 3.12.12:
- "...being brought over to the doctrine of Simon Magus, they have apostatized in their opinions from Him who is God, and imagined that they have themselves discovered more than the apostles, by finding out another god; and [maintained] that the apostles preached the Gospel still somewhat under the influence of Jewish opinions, but that they themselves are purer [in doctrine], and more intelligent, than the apostles."
Circumcision controversy Edit
Circumcision in the Bible
A common interpretation of the circumcision controversy of the New Testament was that it was over the issue of whether Gentiles could enter the Church directly or ought to first convert to Judaism. However, the Halakha of Rabbinic Judaism was still under development at this time, as the Jewish Encyclopedia article on Jesus notes: "Jesus, however, does not appear to have taken into account the fact that the Halakah was at this period just becoming crystallized, and that much variation existed as to its definite form; the disputes of the Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai were occurring about the time of his maturity." Note that this controversy was fought largely between opposing groups of Christians who were themselves ethnically Jewish. According to this interpretation, those who felt that conversion to Judaism was a prerequisite for Church membership were eventually condemned by Paul as "Judaizing teachers". The source of this interpretation is unknown, however, it appears related to Supersessionism or Hyperdispensationalism (see also New Perspective on Paul). In addition, modern Christians, such as Ethiopian Orthodox and Coptic Orthodox still practice circumcision while not considering it a part of conversion to Judaism, nor do they consider themselves to be Jews or Jewish Christians. In 1st century Pharisaic Judaism there was controversy over the significance of circumcision, for example between Hillel the Elder and Shammai (see also Circumcision in the Bible#In rabbinic literature). Roman Catholicism condemned circumcision for its members in 1442, at the Council of Florence. In the Bible, circumcision is part of the Abrahamic covenant, Genesis 17, and as a result is observed by two of the three major Abrahamic religions.
Contemporary Jewish Christians Edit
"Jewish Christians" today are persons who are ethnically Jewish but who have become part of a "mainstream" Christian group which is not predominantly based on an appeal to Jewish ethnicity or the Law of Moses. This term is used as a contrast to Messianic Jews, a majority of whom are ethnic Jews who have converted to a religion in which Christian belief (often of a very evangelical nature) is generally engrafted onto Jewish ritual which would, to outsiders at least, typically resemble Judaism more than Christianity.
A well known Hebrew Christian is the theologian Arnold Fruchtenbaum, the founder of Ariel Ministries. He is not generally known as a Messianic Jew but is not unhappy about being labelled as one either.
Many Jewish leaders regard this movement, represented if not typified by groups such as "Jews for Jesus", as more of a threat to Judaism than the one posed by efforts to convert Jews to a more mainstream Christianity, which have been ongoing for centuries; "Messianic Judaism" is largely a phenomenon of the latter part of the 20th century. Others disagree and feel that cultural assimilation rather than any form of conversion is the greatest enemy now facing Judaism.
Similar groups Edit
There are important similarities and differences between "Jewish Christians" (or "Hebrew Christians") and "Messianic Jews". Jewish Christians identify themselves primarily as Christians. They are (mostly) members of Protestant and Catholic congregations, (usually) are not so strict about observing Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) or the Sabbath, and are (generally) assimilated culturally into the Christian mainstream, although they retain a strong sense of their Jewish identity which they, like Messianic Jews, strongly desire to pass on to their children. In Israel, there is a growing number of Orthodox Christians who are of Jewish descent and conduct their worship mostly in Hebrew (a commonly spoken language in Israel). Messianic Jews consider their primary identity to be "Jewish" and belief in Jesus to be the logical conclusion of their "Jewishness". They try to structure their worship according to Jewish norms, they circumcise their sons and (mostly) abstain from non-kosher foods, and (often) observe the Sabbath. Many (but by no means all) do not use the label "Christian" to describe themselves. The boundary between the two movements is blurred, but the differences between the two movements are such that it is not fair to treat them as one, any more than one would treat Baptists and Methodists as a single entity, for example.
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- List of Messianic Jews and Hebrew Christians
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- Walter Bauer's ORTHODOXY AND HERESY Appendix 1: On the Problem of Jewish Christianity
- PBS Frontline From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians: Wrestling with their Jewish Heritage
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