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Jewish Christians

John the Baptist
Simon Peter
Twelve Apostles
James the Just
Simeon of Jerusalem
Paul of Tarsus
Patriarchs of Jerusalem

Ancient sects

Modern sects
Ebionite Jewish Community
Messianic Jews
Syrian Malabar Nasrani

List of events in early Christianity
Paul of Tarsus and Judaism
Christian anti-semitism
Bar Kokhba Revolt
Aelia Capitolina
Emperor Constantine

Clementine literature
Gospel of Matthew
Epistle of James
Gospel of the Ebionites
Gospel of the Hebrews
Gospel of the Nazoraeans
Liturgy of St James

Aramaic of Jesus
Aramaic name of Jesus
Background of Jesus
Council of Jerusalem
Early Christianity
Expounding of the Law
Sermon on the Mount
Seven Laws of Noah


Jewish Christians (sometimes called also Hebrew Christians or Christian Jews) or Messianic Jew is a term with two meanings, a historical one and a contemporary one.

The historical term refers to Early Christians of or attracted to Jewish culture. They generally used one of the Jewish-Christian Gospels. This concept deals with the relation between the traditional beliefs and practices of Judaism (including Jewish proselytes) and the then-emergent universal religious concepts of Hellenistic Judaism and then Christianity. Former Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Oxford, Alister McGrath claims that the 1st century Jewish Christians were fully faithful religious Jews, only differing in their acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah.[1] Historians debate whether or not the Roman government distinguished between Christians and Jews prior to Nerva's modification of the Fiscus Judaicus in 96. From then on, practicing Jews paid the tax, Christians did not.[2]

The contemporary concept simply refers to individuals of certain Jewish ancestry or heritage, who are adherents of some form of Christianity, which may or may not incorporate some Jewish customs. This includes converts from Judaism to Christianity and ethnic Jews who for one reason or another had not been raised within Judaism.

Jewish origin of Christianity

Jesus, his Twelve Apostles, the Elders, his family, and essentially all of his early followers were Jewish or Jewish Proselytes.[3] According to Eusebius the Early Jewish Christians used the Gospel according to the Hebrews which Jerome said was written by Matthew.

The term "Early Jewish Christians" is often used in discussing the Early History of Christianity, see also Early Christianity and History of early Christianity. Hence the 3,000 converts on Pentecost (Sivan 6), following the death and resurrection of Jesus (Nisan 14 or 15), described in Acts of the Apostles,[4] were all Jews and Proselytes. Samaritans were not Jewish (Judean), but are still identified with the tribes of Israel and also numbered among the early followers, as is the Ethiopian eunuch.[5][6] Traditionally the Roman Centurion Cornelius is considered the first Gentile convert,[7] as recorded in Acts 10,[8] albeit he too is a "God-fearer" proselyte who participated in a Jewish synagogue. The major division prior to that time was between Hellenistic and non-Hellenistic Jews or Koine Greek[9] Acts does not use the term "Jewish Christians", rather those led by James the Just, Simon Peter, and John the Apostle, the "Pillars of the Church", were called followers of "The Way".[10] Later groups, or perhaps the same group by different names,[11] were the Ebionites and Elkasites.

The terms circumcised and uncircumcised, which occur frequently in the New Testament, are generally interpreted to mean Jews and Greeks respectively, who were predominant in the region at the time; however this is an oversimplification as 1st century Iudaea Province also had some Jews who no longer circumcised (usually Hellenized Jews living in the diaspora), and some Greeks (called Proselytes or Judaizers) and others such as Egyptians, Ethiopians, and Arabs who did. See also Abrahamic religion and Circumcision controversy in early Christianity#Jewish background.

Jesus is frequently called the "Nazarene".[12] Named after him, the followers of Paul were the Nazarene (sect),[13] though Paul's relationship with Judaism is disputed.

Council of Jerusalem

According to Acts 15,[14] the Council of Jerusalem, customarily believed to have been led by James the Just, determined that Religious male circumcision (assumed by some[who?] to signify conversion to Judaism) should not be required of Gentile followers of Jesus, only basic abstentions: avoidance of "pollution of idols, fornication, things strangled, and blood" (KJV, Acts 15:20, also Genesis 11:1-8 (idolatry), 9:20 (sexual depravity), 9:5 (cruelty to animals), 9:3-4 (abstention from blood)). The basis for these prohibitions is not detailed in Acts 15:21, which states only: "For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day", stressing that they are Mosaic Commandments which Gentiles must pay attention to. Many, beginning with Augustine of Hippo[15] consider the consensus emphasised the four stipulations based on the Noahide Laws stated in Genesis, and applicable to all people (Noah's descendants after the Flood). On the other hand, some modern scholars[16] reject the connection to Noahide Law (Genesis 9) and instead see Lev 17-18 (see also Leviticus 18) as the basis. Some modern Christians[who?] are also unclear as to whether this meant that this Apostolic Decree in some way still applies to them or merely that the requirements were imposed to facilitate common participation by Gentiles in the community of Jesus' followers (which at that time included Jewish Christians), so as to remind the Jewish followers of Jesus to uphold those Laws applicable to them (i.e. the full Mosaic Laws). According to Karl Josef von Hefele, the Apostolic Decree is still observed today by the Greek Orthodox.[17] See also Biblical law in Christianity, Expounding of the Law, and Noahidism.

Early Jewish Christians included those who believed non-Jews must become Jews and adopt Jewish customs. They were derogatively called Judaizers, and even Paul used this term[18] against Jesus's student Peter in public according to Young's Literal Translation of Gal 2:14:[19]

But when I saw that they are not walking uprightly to the truth of the good news, I said to Peter before all, `If thou, being a Jew, in the manner of the nations dost live, and not in the manner of the Jews, how the nations dost thou compel to Judaize?

However, Barnabas, Paul's partner up till then, sided with Peter.[20][21] Catholic Encyclopedia: Judaizers: The Incident at Antioch[22] claims: "St. Paul's account of the incident leaves no doubt that St. Peter saw the justice of the rebuke." however, L. Michael White's From Jesus to Christianity[23] claims: "The blowup with Peter was a total failure of political bravado, and Paul soon left Antioch as persona non grata, never again to return." See also Incident at Antioch and Pauline Christianity. Scholar James D. G. Dunn, who coined the phrase "New Perspective on Paul", has proposed that Peter was the bridge-man (i.e. the pontifex maximus) between the two other "prominent leading figures" of early Christianity: Paul and James the Just.[24]

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:[25] "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:[26]

"...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."

The Cenacle on Mount Zion, claimed to be the location of the Last Supper and Pentecost. Bargil Pixner[27] claims the original Church of the Apostles is located under the current structure.

According to Eusebius' History of the Church 4.5.3-4: the first 15 Bishops of Jerusalem were "of the circumcision". The Romans destroyed the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem in year 135 during the Bar Kokhba Revolt. However, that doesn't necessarily mean an end to Jewish Christianity, any more than Valerian's Massacre of 258, (when he killed all Christian bishops, presbyters, and deacons, including Pope Sixtus II and Antipope Novatian and Cyprian of Carthage), meant an end to Roman Christianity. After the Roman-Jewish Wars (66–135), which Epiphanius believed the Cenacle survived,[28] the significance of Jerusalem to Christians entered a period of decline, Jerusalem having been temporarily converted to the pagan Aelia Capitolina, but interest resumed again with the pilgrimage of Helena (the mother of Constantine the Great) to the Holy Land c. 326–28. According to the church historian Socrates of Constantinople,[29] Helena claimed to have found the cross of Christ, after removing a Temple to Venus (attributed to Hadrian) that had been built over the site. For that reason she is seen as the Patron Saint of Archaeologists.

Circumcision controversy

A common interpretation[who?] 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[30] notes: "Jesus, however, does not appear to have taken into account the fact that the Halakha 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." 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.[31]

Surviving communities whose origins reflect both Judaism and early Christianity

The Nasrani or Syrian Malabar Nasrani community in Kerala, India is conscious of its Jewish origins. The Nasrani are also known as Syrian Christians or St. Thomas Christians. This is because they follow the traditions of Syriac Christianity and are traditionally descendants of the early Jewish converts by Thomas the Apostle. Today, they belong to various denominations of Christianity but they have kept their unique identity within each of these denominations.[32]

An existing community that still maintain their Jewish traditions are the Knananites. The Knanaya, who are an endogamous sub-ethnic group among the Syrian Malabar Nasrani are the descendants of early Jewish Christian settlers who arrived in Kerala in A.D 345. Although affiliated with a variety of Roman Catholic and Oriental Orthodox denominations, they have remained a cohesive community, shunning intermarriage with outsiders (but not with fellow-Knanaya of other denominations).

Contemporary movements: Jewish Christians, Messianic Jews, Ebionites

There are at least two varieties of syncretisms between Judaism and Christianity: syncretisms that emphasize Christianity (Jewish Christians) and syncretisms focusing on Judaism (Messianic Jews). By contrast, modern Ebionism attempts to continue the beliefs and practices of Jesus' early Jewish followers, before the advent of Saint Paul's doctrines, and hence does not follow the Christian canon (which it considers a Graeco-Roman religion).

"Jewish Christians" is sometimes used as a contemporary term in respect of 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. They are mostly members of Protestant and Catholic congregations, usually are not strict about observing the Laws of Moses, including 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 population of Orthodox Christians who are of Jewish descent and conduct their worship mostly in Hebrew (the most prominent language in Israel, as well as the official language). The term could thus be used, for example, of Arnold Fruchtenbaum, the founder of Ariel Ministries.[33]

This term is used as a contrast to Messianic Jews, many of whom are ethnic Jews who adhere to a religion in which Christian belief (usually evangelical) is generally grafted onto Jewish ritual which would, to outsiders at least, typically resemble Judaism more than Christianity. 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 are stricter about Torah observance, including observance of Sabbath and Kosher dietary laws. Many (but by no means all) do not use the label "Christian" to describe themselves, however they do recognize the Christian New Testament as holy scripture. The boundary between the two movements is blurred, but the differences between the two movements are such that it may not be fair to treat them as one (cf. Baptists and Methodists, for example). Additionally, there is a few organizations to support Messianic Jews who wish to remain faithful to Torah, most notably the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations and the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council.[34]

The term Ebionites derives from the Hebrew Evyonim, meaning "the Poor Ones",[35][36] which has parallels in the Psalms and the self-given term of pious Jewish circles.[37][38] The term "the poor" was probably one of several designations for the early followers of Jesus - a reference to their material as well their religious poverty.[35][39][40] Following the advent of Pauline Christianity and schisms with that early Christian Church, the graecized Hebrew term "Ebionite" was applied exclusively to Jewish Christians separated from the developing Pauline Christianity. Christian Church father Origen (185 - 254 CE), says "for Ebion signifies “poor” among the Jews, and those Jews who have received Jesus as Christ are called by the name of Ebionites."[41][42] Tertullian inaccurately derived the name from a fictional heresiarch called Ebion.[35][37] Modern Ebionites attempt to reconstruct the beliefs and practices of these ancient Ebionites, in particular as they were between the time of Jesus' ministry, and during the leadership of James the Just (brother of Jesus and leader of the Jesus movement from Jesus' death until 62CE), and up until the last Jewish leadership of the Jesus movement, in 135 CE (as reported by Eusebius in Historia Ecclesiastica). As their ancient counterparts, modern Ebionites recognize only the Torah as scripture, although they also assign scriptural status to parts of the Gospel of Matthew (which according to Christian Church fathers, was originally written in Hebrew (in shorter form than the current version of Christian canon). They reject the Constantinian Nicene Creed and its statement of God as a Trinity and Jesus as equal to God. They also reject Saint Paul in general, and specifically his concept of atonement by blood and his idea that following Jesus makes the Torah Laws (especially ritual Law) unnecessary.

See also


  1. McGrath, Alister E., Christianity: An Introduction. Blackwell Publishing (2006). ISBN 1405108991. Page 174: "In effect, they [Jewish Christians] seemed to regard Christianity as an affirmation of every aspect of contemporary Judaism, with the addition of one extra belief — that Jesus was the Messiah. Unless males were circumcised, they could not be saved (Acts 15:1)."
  2. Wylen, Stephen M., The Jews in the Time of Jesus: An Introduction, Paulist Press (1995), ISBN 0809136104, Pp 190-192.; Dunn, James D.G., Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways, A.D. 70 to 135, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing (1999), ISBN 0802844987, Pp 33-34.; Boatwright, Mary Taliaferro & Gargola, Daniel J & Talbert, Richard John Alexander, The Romans: From Village to Empire, Oxford University Press (2004), ISBN 0195118758, p. 426.;
  3. Historical and Scriptural (NT) references to the original Jesus movement and its Jewish nature. "Original (Israelite) Christianity". 
  4. Acts 2
  5. Acts 8
  6. Ethiopian royalty considers itself of the Tribe of Judah, tracing its roots to Menelik I, son of the Queen of Sheba and Solomon
  7. Catholic Encyclopedia: Cornelius: "The baptism of Cornelius is an important event in the history of the Early Church. The gates of the Church, within which thus far only those who were circumcised and observed the Law of Moses had been admitted, were now thrown open to the uncircumcised Gentiles without the obligation of submitting to the Jewish ceremonial laws."
  8. Acts 10
  9. (Acts 6) and Aramaic (Acts 1:19) speakers. The conversion and acceptance of the Gentile Cornelius can be described in terms of the Judaic teaching which describes strangers becoming part of the community. Isaiah 56:3-7
  10. Acts 9:2, 18:25-26, 19:9-23, 24:14-22, see also Didache#The Two Ways
  11. Jackson-McCabe, Matt (2007), "Jewish Christianity Reconsidered: Rethinking Ancient Groups and Texts"(Augsburg Publishers)
  12. Matthew 2:23; Mark 10:47; 14:67; 16:6; Luke 24:19; John 18:5; 18:7; 19:19; Acts 2:22; 3:6; 4:10; 6:14; 22:8
  13. Acts 24:5, Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah 9:1
  14. Acts 15
  15. Contra Faust, 32.13
  16. For example: Joseph Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles (The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries), Yale University Press (December 2, 1998), ISBN 0300139829, chapter V
  17. Karl Josef von Hefele's commentary on canon II of Gangra notes: "We further see that, at the time of the Synod of Gangra, [340] the rule of the Apostolic Synod with regard to blood and things strangled was still in force. With the Greeks, indeed, it continued always in force as their Euchologies still show. Balsamon also, the well-known commentator on the canons of the Middle Ages, in his commentary on the sixty-third Apostolic Canon, expressly blames the Latins because they had ceased to observe this command. What the Latin Church, however, thought on this subject about the year 400, is shown by St. Augustine in his work Contra Faustum, where he states that the Apostles had given this command in order to unite the heathens and Jews in the one ark of Noah; but that then, when the barrier between Jewish and heathen converts had fallen, this command concerning things strangled and blood had lost its meaning, and was only observed by few. But still, as late as the eighth century, Pope Gregory the Third (731) forbade the eating of blood or things strangled under threat of a penance of forty days. No one will pretend that the disciplinary enactments of any council, even though it be one of the undisputed Ecumenical Synods, can be of greater and more unchanging force than the decree of that first council, held by the Holy Apostles at Jerusalem, and the fact that its decree has been obsolete for centuries in the West is proof that even Ecumenical canons may be of only temporary utility and may be repealed by disuse, like other laws."
  18. Strong's G2450 Ιουδαϊζω
  19. Gal 2:14
  20. Gal 2:13
  21. Acts 15:39-40
  22. Catholic Encyclopedia: Judaizers: The Incident at Antioch
  23. L. Michael White (2004). From Jesus to Christianity. Harper San Francisco. p. 170. ISBN ISBN 0-06-052655-6. 
  24. The Canon Debate, McDonald & Sanders editors, 2002, chapter 32, page 577, by James D. G. Dunn: "For Peter was probably in fact and effect the bridge-man (pontifex maximus!) who did more than any other to hold together the diversity of first-century Christianity. James the brother of Jesus and Paul, the two other most prominent leading figures in first-century Christianity, were too much identified with their respective "brands" of Christianity, at least in the eyes of Christians at the opposite ends of this particular spectrum. But Peter, as shown particularly by the Antioch episode in Gal 2, had both a care to hold firm to his Jewish heritage, which Paul lacked, and an openness to the demands of developing Christianity, which James lacked. John might have served as such a figure of the center holding together the extremes, but if the writings linked with his name are at all indicative of his own stance he was too much of an individualist to provide such a rallying point. Others could link the developing new religion more firmly to its founding events and to Jesus himself. But none of them, including the rest of the twelve, seem to have played any role of continuing significance for the whole sweep of Christianity—though James the brother of John might have proved an exception had he been spared." [Italics original]
  25. "Epiphanius: Panarion". Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  26. "ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus | Christian Classics Ethereal Library". 2005-07-13. Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  27. Bargil Pixner, The Church of the Apostles found on Mount Zion, Biblical Archaeology Review 16.3 May/June 1990 [1]
  28. Catholic Encyclopedia: Jerusalem (A.D. 71-1099): "Epiphanius (d. 403) says..."
  29. Socrates' Church History at Book I, Chapter XVII: The Emperor’s Mother Helena having come to Jerusalem, searches for and finds the Cross of Christ, and builds a Church.
  30. "JESUS OF NAZARETH". Jewish Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2008-11-03. 
  33. "About us — Brief history". Ariel Ministries. 
  34. "Who are we?". Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council (MJRC). 
  35. 35.0 35.1 35.2 G. Uhlhorn, "Ebionites", in: A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology, 3rd ed. (edited by Philip Schaff), p. 684–685 (vol. 2).
  36. The word is still in use in that sense in contemporary Israeli Hebrew
  37. 37.0 37.1 O. Cullmann, "Ebioniten", in: Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, p. 7435 (vol. 2).
  38. PsSal 10, 6; 15, 1; 1 QpHab XII, 3.6.10
  39. Minucius Felix, Octavius, 36: "That we are called the poor is not our disgrace, but our glory."
  40. The Greek equivalent (Greek: πτωχοί) ptōkhoi appears in the New Testament (Romans 15, 26; Galatians 2,10), possibly as an honorary title of the Jerusalem church.
  41. Origen, Contra Celsum, II, 1.
  42. "ANF04. Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second | Christian Classics Ethereal Library". 2005-06-01. Retrieved 2009-07-08. 

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