Jewish Customs In the Early Church

Cordoba 2All of the initial Christians were either Jews by birth or by conversion, and apparently there were no Gentile members for at least the first ten years.

This conclusion is implied by several texts, including Acts 10, where, approximately ten years after His ascension, the Lord had to instruct Peter three times to go into the house of a Gentile.

This strongly suggests that the Jewish Church had been meeting house to house and breaking bread only in Jewish homes up to the time (Acts 2:42-26). Furthermore, when Peter entered the house of Cornelius, he explained to his household that he still understood it to be unlawful for a Jew to enter the house of a non-Jew (Acts 10:28).

Further evidence of the Jewishness of the early believers can be found in an incident recorded in Acts 21:20, an incident which occurred some twenty-five years after the Lord’s ascension. When Paul returned to Jerusalem with some charitable contributions for the believers, he was told that during his absence many thousands of Jews had become believers, yet they continued to be staunch upholders of the Law.

Hebraic Names For the Early Church

Not only were the first fifteen elders of the Jerusalem Church Jewish, but so were the initial names applied to the early congregations. The term Minim, meaning “heretics” in Hebrew, was used by some in the Jewish community to describe the new believers. The Way, used in Acts 21:14 and 22, was a Messianic term taken from texts such as Isaiah 40:2, which refers to preparing “the way of the Lord.” The Nazoraioi is Greek for Nazarenes (Acts 24:5) and is obviously derived from Jesus’ Jewish hometown. The term Messianists is derived directly from the Hebrew word Messiah. Epiphanius’ history says that before the believers were called Christians, they were for a short time known by the title Iessaioi, probably derived from the nameJesus, (17) a name saturated with the idea of salvation. Each of these names has a Hebraic background and is closely related to an Old Testament text.

The word Christian does not come from the Hebrew word for Anointed One but from a Greek word, and was not used by the Jerusalem Church at all. Christian was first used as a Gentile title for the believers at Antioch some forty to forty- five years into the first century (Acts 11:26). The term “were called” suggests that the name was coined by those outside the Church, perhaps to distinguish the disciples of Christ from unconverted Gentiles, as well as from other branches of Judaism. There is no evidence that the term was used extensively as a self-designation by the early Church, since it is only used three times in the New Testament and only once by a believer (Acts 11:26, 26:28, and 1 Peter 4:16).

The word Christian does a not appear consistently as a self-designation until the Didache,(18) and was used later by Ignatius during the late first or early second century.(19) The reason this term was not used earlier may be explained by a letter from the Roman Governor Pliny the Younger to Emperor Trajan around the year A.D. 112. The letter indicates that those identifying with this name were killed.(20)

In examining the Jewish roots of the Church, it is important to differentiate between the Hebrew Christians, such as the Nazarenes and Messianists at the beginning, and the various groups of Ebionites with Judaizing traits, which were active around the turn of the first century. The early Hebrew Church was composed of those who believed in justification by faith as well as those who stressed traditions that involved legalism. Although most Jewish believers continued to keep the Sabbath and the various laws that differentiated them from non-Jews, strictly as an identification code, they did not require it for their non-Jewish converts. This identification as a Jew had nothing to do with salvation, but was kept by Jews as a reminder of the special eternal Covenant that God had made with them as a chosen people. The Covenant reminded God’s people that they were the guardians of the Holy Land and were obliged to maintain and preserve the Law (Genesis 15:18, 17:7-10, Deuteronomy 7:6, Psalms 105:45, Ezekiel 16:6, Isaiah 44:1 and Romans 3:1-2).

After an investigation of all Scripture relating to Israel, it appears that the chosen people status was not awarded as a special privilege, but because the people of Israel could be trusted to preserve the Law of God (Psalms 105:45). Although some 170 of the 613 Laws of the Torah apply to moral and ethical matters, few Christians recognize them as apart of modern theology and it has fallen to the Jewish people to preserve this aspect of God’s Law until the present.

The above is an excerpt from the book Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church

Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church

This is a well-researched and fascinating study of the Jewishness of the historical Jesus. The author explores the structure and mission of the original church in the Jewish culture of the first century.

The book combines scholarship with an understandable writing style, resulting in a book that can be easily read but challenging to the reader. This book is a must for every serious student of the Bible in enlightening us as to our Jewish heritage.

Forewords by Brad Young, Ph.D., Dr. Marvin Wilson, and Dwight Prior.

Review By Pieter “Toypom” (Johannesburg)

This valuable book explores the history of the first century of the Christian religion, showing that the early leaders of the church were Jewish, that the early church was organized on the pattern of the synagogue and explaining what Jesus really meant in his frequent use of Jewish idioms that were literally translated into Greek with the resulting confusion of meaning.

The book is written as a study text with review questions at the end of each chapter. What emerges is quite astonishing and not at all what many Christians have been led to believe. In the context of the Hebrew idioms, many perplexing utterances of Jesus become perfectly clear.

Chapter One presents the evidence for the Jewish background of the early church and discusses the early Hebraic names for the church. The fascinating Chapter Two deals with Jewish idioms in the teachings of Jesus; it includes passages on the parable of the reed and the oak, the golden vine, binding and loosing, the good eye and sounding the trumpet.

Chapter Three examines misconceptions regarding the law. It includes discussions of the law and grace, the Holy Spirit and the law, Paul and the law, the famous Gnostic Marcion and his view of the law, the letter of the law, the purpose of the law, and great Christian leaders’ view of the law.

Chapter Four explores the old and the new covenants, the Noachide laws and 4th century theology, whilst the next chapter looks at subjects like the Holy Spirit, grace and gifts before Christ, the three stages of salvation and the relationship of the law to the New Testament.

Chapters Six to Nine are an in-depth study of the Pharisees, including their theology, their study and worship, and the Sadducees, Scribes and Essenes. There are also passages discussing their duties, their communities and the different types of Pharisee.

Their teachings are discussed in Chapter Eight, which includes discussions of miracles, traditions, evangelism and teaching methods. The final chapter looks at similarities between the Puritans and the Pharisees, Pharisaic doctrines and the schools of Hillel and Shammai.

The last chapter lists eight significant conclusions of the preceding text. These include the fact that Christianity was born within the matrix of Judaism and that the original language, idioms, customs, organizational structure and religious practices of the church were thoroughly Jewish.

The book contains a glossary, a bibliography and endnotes arranged by chapter. I highly recommend this work to all Christians who wish to understand the roots of their faith and what Jesus really meant, especially where his words in the English translations of the Bible appear to be confusing. In this regard, I suggest the interested reader also consult the brilliant book by David Bivin: Understanding The Difficult Words Of Jesus.

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  1. RT: @heartofwisdom: new: Jewish Customs In the Early Church http://bit.ly/7d5bvc

  2. Kay DeFreese says:

    Jewish Customs In the Early Church http://bit.ly/7d5bvc

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