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The Ten Commandments on a monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol. The fourth commandment listed is "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy", but the applicability of Jewish or Biblical law in Christianity is disputed.

Judaizers refers to those who claim the necessity of obedience to the Torah Laws by Christians, which is normally considered a requisite only for the followers of Judaism. Similarly, "one who has Judaized" refers to a Christian who has accepted the necessity of adhering to the Torah Laws, see also Biblical law in Christianity. The ongoing debate over Judaizing in Christianity, which began in the lifetime of the apostles, reflects the contemporaneous debate within Judaism as to the place of Gentiles with regard to the Law of Moses, see also Proselyte, Noahide Law, Jewish background to the early Christian circumcision controversy, and Dual-covenant theology.

Distinct uses of the term "Judaizers" include:

  1. Adherence by Gentile Christians to the Torah Laws originally given to the Israelites (i.e. the 613 Laws given to Israel at Sinai). That Gentile Christians should convert to Judaism and obey the Laws of Moses was the assumption of some in the Early Church, represented by Pharisees who had become believers in Acts 15 (Acts 15:5). This was the Jewish Christian version of the opinion within Judaism that Gentiles should convert to Judaism in order to be right with God (see convert to Judaism). This opinion is traced by some scholars to a faction within early Christianity after the crucifixion of Jesus led by Jesus' brother James the Just (though compare Acts 15:24). Saint Paul opposed this position, with a Jewish Christian version of the opposite opinion in Judaism that Gentiles did not need to convert and obey the entire Law of Moses. See also Hellenistic Judaism. This conflict between Saint Paul and his opponents was the reason for the Council of Jerusalem (see Acts 15:1-35). Here James, Paul, and the other leaders of the early Christian movement agreed that Gentile converts needed only to follow the "three exceptions" (Acts 15:20,29; counted by some as four), laws that roughly coincide with Judaism's Seven Laws of Noah said to be established by God for all humankind (see also Genesis 9:1-17). This Apostolic Decree, still observed by the Orthodox Church, is similar to that adopted by Rabbinic Judaism, which teaches that Gentiles need only follow the Noachide Laws to be assured of a place in the World to Come. See also Dual-covenant theology.
  2. Adherence by Gentile Christians to Torah Laws intended for Gentiles. The "three exceptions" resolved by the Council of Acts 15 indicate that the apostles accepted that those portions of the Law of Moses (the Torah) intended for Gentiles (later known as the Laws of Noah) would apply to Gentile Christians. Extra-Biblical evidence shows that, at least in some areas (especially in the East), this included observances beyond the three exceptions, such as a Christianized form of Passover, Day of Atonement, and Sabbath. But other Gentile Christian communities (especially in the West), evolved in an increasingly anti-Jewish direction that interpreted Paul's teaching to mean that all Torah Laws are redundant "now that Salvation by Faith is available through Jesus' atoning death". From this latter point of view, any practice associated with Judaism came to be seen as a rejection of God's salvific gift, even the prohibition of blood which is listed among the "three exceptions" in Acts 15 (though the prohibition of blood was only rejected in the Western Church and not until the Middle Ages). It should be noted that while Acts 15 gives an example of what new Believers were subject to when entering the house of God, verse 21 states that the Gentiles would learn the ways of Moses the way it's been done. The prohibitions against fornication and idolatry are still observed by most Christian denominations even though they originated as Jewish law. See also Antinomianism and Marcionism and The Law of Christ.
  3. Continuance of observance of Torah by Jews who have (willingly or forcibly) converted to Gentile Christianity. This behavior was particularly persecuted between 1300 and 1800 under the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions, using as a basis the many references in the Pauline epistles regarding the "Law as a curse" and the futility of relying on the Law for attaining salvation, known as legalism. Thus, in spite of Paul's agreement at the Council of Jerusalem, Gentile Christianity came to understand that any Torah Laws (with the exception of the Ten Commandments and Natural Law) were anathema, not only to Gentile Christians but even to Christians of Jewish extraction. Under the Inquisition, the penalty to a converted Jew for "Judaizing" was usually death by burning.

More generally, then, the term "Judaizing" has come to refer to following any mixture of Jewish traditions or laws, by a Christian (whether of Gentile or Jewish extraction). The term should not be confused with "Conversion to Judaism" (i.e. conversion away from Christianity and into Judaism). Rather, Judaizer remains a term associated with Christianity and the question of adherence to Torah Laws. See also Dual-covenant theology.

References over time

According to the description in the Talmudic Toledoth Yeshu, the Notzrim were an infamous class of Judaizers. The main issues revolved around the seventh-day Sabbath and Trinitarian controversy in Early Christianity, but other issues were also in dispute, such as pagan holidays and the keeping of the Mosaic laws.

The word Judaizing was also used particularly after the third century of the Christian Era, to describe Jewish Christian groups like the Ebionites and Nazarenes.

The term was also used in Spain at the time of the Spanish Inquisition, when it was used to describe any practice which even felt Jewish, such as lighting of candles on festivals or observing the Saturday Sabbath.

In current day, the term can be used also to describe a subset of Messianic Jews who believe that Gentiles and Jews must follow the entire Sinai Law (in addition of course to recognizing Jesus as the Savior and Messiah). This approach is reminiscent of the original position of James, recorded in Acts (although James subsequently rectified this approach, per his decision of Acts 15:1-35). There are two possible rationales for this approach: (a) either it is understood that Gentiles and Jews are commanded by the Torah and New Testament to follow the entire Sinai Law, or (b) it is understood that in coming to Jesus all Gentiles become part of Israel and therefore must follow the entire Sinai Law.

Origin of the word

The word Judaizer or Judaize is seldom used in English Bible translations, however, an exception is the Young's Literal Translation for Galatians 2:14:[1]

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?

The meaning of the verb Judaize,[2] from which the noun Judaizer is derived, can only be derived from its various historical uses. Its Biblical meaning must also be inferred and is not clearly defined beyond its obvious relationship to the word "Jew." The Anchor Bible Dictionary, for example, says: “The clear implication is that gentiles are being compelled to live according to Jewish customs."[3]

The Koine Greek word Ιουδαϊζω being translated here occurs once in the Septuagint, in Esther 8:16-17 written around 200 BC in Susa, Persia:

And the Jews had light and gladness, in every city and province wherever the ordinance was published: wherever the proclamation took place, the Jews had joy and gladness, feasting and mirth: and many of the Gentiles were circumcised, and became Jews, for fear of the Jews. (Brenton Translation[4]).

It occurs once in the New Testament, in Paul's Epistle to Galatians 2:14 (part of the "Incident at Antioch") written around the year 50:

But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?" (NRSV)

It occurs once in Josephus' Jewish War 2.18.2, referring to the Great Jewish Revolt (66-73), written around the year 75:

...when the Syrians thought they had ruined the Jews, they had the Judaizers in suspicion also (Whiston Translation[5]).

It occurs once in Plutarch on Cicero 7.6 written in about 75:

When a man named Caecilius, one of the freed slaves, who was said to be given to Jewish practices, would have put by the Sicilians, and undertaken the prosecution of Verres himself, Cicero asked, "What has a Jew to do with swine?" verres being the Roman word for a boar. (Dryden Translation[6]).

The Romans may have considered all Christians to be Judaizers. According to Suetonius, during the reign of Domitian (81-96):

Besides other taxes, that on the Jews [A tax of two drachmas a head, imposed by Titus in return for free permission to practice their religion; see Josephus, Bell. Jud. 7.6.6] was levied with the utmost rigor, and those were prosecuted who, without publicly acknowledging that faith, yet lived as Jews, as well as those who concealed their origin and did not pay the tribute levied upon their people [These may have been Christians, whom the Romans commonly assumed were Jews]. I recall being present in my youth when the person of a man ninety years old was examined before the procurator and a very crowded court, to see whether he was circumcised. (Suetonius on Domitian 12.2, Rolfe Translation[7]).

It occurs once in the Apostolic Fathers collection, in Ignatius's letter to the Magnesians 10:3 written around the year 100:

It is absurd to profess Christ Jesus, and to Judaize. For Christianity did not embrace Judaism, but Judaism Christianity, that so every tongue which believeth might be gathered together to God. (Roberts-Donaldson Translation[8]).

It occurs once in the Acts of Pilate, chapter 2, roughly dated from 150 to 400:

And Pilate, summoning the Jews, says to them: You know that my wife is a worshipper of God, and prefers to adhere to the Jewish religion along with you... Annas and Caiaphas say to Pilate: All the multitude of us cry out that he [Jesus] was born of fornication, and are not believed; these [who disagree] are proselytes, and his disciples. And Pilate, calling Annas and Caiaphas, says to them: What are proselytes? They say to him: They are by birth children of the Greeks, and have now become Jews. (Roberts-Donaldson Translation[9]).

The Synod of Elvira[10] of around 306 prohibited Christians from marrying, worshipping with, or publicly eating with Jews, Pagans and Heretics.

The Council of Laodicea of around 365 decreed 59 laws, #29:

Christians must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honouring the Lord's Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ. (Percival Translation[11]).

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It is widely held that Paul accused Judaizers of teaching that observance of the Abrahamic ritual was necessary to be justified and hence saved, i.e. Legalism, (for a counterview, see New Perspective on Paul). These groups taught that Gentile followers of Jesus needed to become Jewish proselytes and by so doing also observe the various requirements of the written Torah.

According to Eusebius' History of the Church 4.5.3-4: the first 15 Bishops of Jerusalem were "of the circumcision", although this in all likelihood is simply stating that they were Jewish Christians (as opposed to Gentile Christians), and that they observed Biblical circumcision and thus likely the rest of Torah as well[12].

The issue was an early source of controversy in the church of and came to a head during the Council of Jerusalem. According to the account given in Acts 15, it was determined that Gentile converts to Christianity did not have to go through the proselyte ritual to secure a place in the World to Come; but in addressing the second question as to whether or not they should obey the Torah they encouraged the Gentiles to "abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication," in order for the Gentiles to be able to immediately participate in Jewish community: "For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath. (Acts 15:22)" The expectation was that the Gentiles, upon immediately renouncing their idolatrous practices and ways (the four prohibitions), could now get through the door of a synagogue and hence learn the rest of Torah in the synagogues where they were still expected to attend.

Paul also addressed this question in his Epistle to Galatians in which he condemned those who insisted that the proselyte ritual had to be followed for justification as "false believers" (Galatians 2:4):

But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. But because of false believers secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us — we did not submit to them even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you. And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) — those leaders contributed nothing to me. 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. They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do. [...] "We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners" - yet we know that a person is justified not by the group requirements for getting "in" to the Jewish family through the proselyte ritual, but through faith in Jesus Christ! And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by becoming Jewish according to the way of Jewish authorities, because no one will be justified by becoming Jewish in the way proscribed by the Jewish authorities. (Galatians 2:3-9, 15-16 NRSV)

Also Paul warned the early Galatian church that Gentile Christians who submit to the laws of Torah will be alienated from Christ: "2 Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. 3 And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. 4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace." (Galatians 5:2-4). The Epistle to Titus 1:11, often attributed to Paul, is, according to some Biblical scholars, also a condemnation of these practices.

The influence of the Judaizers in the church diminished significantly after the destruction of Jerusalem, when the Jewish-Christian community at Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans during the Great Jewish Revolt.[13] The Romans also destroyed the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem in 135 during the Bar Kokhba Revolt. However, that didn'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.

Circumcision of Jesus, sculpture in the Cathedral of Chartres.

Christian groups following Jewish practices never completely vanish, although they had been designated by the Catholic Church as heretical by the 5th century. Old Testament practices are still practiced among Gentiles to this day, including circumcision (see also Christian View of the Law). The Coptic churches continue to practice circumcision, but critics charge this may reflect ancient Egyptian influence or be a response to the culture of the Islamic majority (see also Abrahamic religions and Circumcision controversy in early Christianity). In Torah-submissive Christian groups which include the Ethiopian Orthodox church, dietary laws and Saturday Sabbath are observed as well.[14]

Jewish Encyclopedia: Gentiles: Gentiles May Not Be Taught the Torah makes the following observation:

R. Emden (), in a remarkable apology for Christianity contained in his appendix to "Seder 'Olam" (pp. 32b-34b, Hamburg, 1752), gives it as his opinion that the original intention of Jesus, and especially of Paul, was to convert only the Gentiles to the seven moral laws of Noah and to let the Jews follow the Mosaic law— which explains the apparent contradictions in the New Testament regarding the laws of Moses and the Sabbath.


In the second century, Marcion opposed the Judaizers. According to the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica article on Marcion: "It was no mere school for the learned, disclosed no mysteries for the privileged, but sought to lay the foundation of the Christian community on the pure gospel, the authentic institutes of Christ. The pure gospel, however, Marcion found to be everywhere more or less corrupted and mutilated in the Christian circles of his time. His undertaking thus resolved itself into a reformation of Christendom. This reformation was to deliver Christendom from false Jewish doctrines by restoring the Pauline conception of the gospel, Paul being, according to Marcion, the only apostle who had rightly understood the new message of salvation as delivered by Christ. In Marcion's own view, therefore, the founding of his church—to which he was first driven by opposition—amounts to a reformation of Christendom through a return to the gospel of Christ and to Paul; nothing was to be accepted beyond that. This of itself shows that it is a mistake to reckon Marcion among the Gnostics. A dualist he certainly was, but he was not a Gnostic." But like the Gnostics, Marcion believed that the Jewish God Yahweh had created the world, was lesser in status to the unreachable higher God, and was evil, see also Dualism. Against this view, Irenaeus of Lyons's Against Heresies 3.12 section 12 ridiculed those who think they are wiser than the Apostles because they were still under Jewish influence.

Judaizing teachers

The Judaizing teachers were a group of Jewish Christians who taught that converts to Christianity must first be circumcised (i.e. become Jewish through the ritual of a proselyte) in order to observe the Law of Moses (as well as the oral traditions of the authorities making the proselyte ritual mandatory for Gentiles to secure a place in the World to Come) in order to be justified. This group was very active in the church of the first century AD prior to the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in the Great Jewish Revolt. These requirements made Christianity a much less appealing religious choice to many Gentiles.

Paul saw these teachers as being both dangerous to the spread of Christianity and propagators of grievous doctrinal error. Many of his letters included in the New Testament (the Pauline epistles) contain considerable material disputing the view of this group and condemning its practitioners. In 2 Corinthians 11:5 and 12:11 he called his opponents super-apostles. Also, in 2 Corinthians 11:13 -15 Paul refers the Judaizers as False Apostles. Paul publicly condemned Peter for his seemingly ambivalent reaction to the Judaizers, embracing them publicly in places where their concepts were popular while holding the private opinion that the teachings were erroneous, for example 1 Cor 9:20–23.

The Catholic Encyclopedia: Judaizers notes: "Paul, on the other hand, not only did not object to the observance of the Mosaic Law, as long as it did not interfere with the liberty of the Gentiles, but he conformed to its prescriptions when occasion required (1 Corinthians 9:20). Thus he shortly after circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:1-3), and he was in the very act of observing the Mosaic ritual when he was arrested at Jerusalem (21:26 sqq.)."

Judaizing teachers are even more strongly condemned in the Epistle of Barnabas. (Although it did not become part of the Christian Biblical canon, it was widely circulated among Christians in the first two centuries and is part of the Apostolic Fathers.) Whereas Paul acknowledged that the Law of Moses and its observance were good when used correctly ("the law is good, if one uses it lawfully", 1 Tim 1:8), the Epistle of Barnabas condemns most Jewish practices, claiming that Jews had grossly misunderstood and misapplied the Law of Moses.

Later effects of Judaizer controversy

The eight homilies Adversus Judaeos (against the Judaizers) of John Chrysostom (347407) deal with the relationship between Christians, Jews and Judaizers.

At various times since the second half of the fifteenth-century, the Russian Orthodox Church has described several related heretical groups as having a Judaizing character; the accuracy of this label — which was influenced by the early Christian polemics against Judaizers — has been disputed. (See Sect of Skhariya the Jew.)

The letter to the Galatians strongly influenced Martin Luther at the time of the Protestant Reformation because of its exposition of Justification by Grace. See also Law and Gospel.

See also


External links