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Judaism and Christianity
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The Biblical term "Proselyte", derives from the Koine Greek προσήλυτος/proselytos, as used in the Septuagint for "stranger", i.e. a "newcomer to Israel"[1]; a "sojourner in the land"[2], and in the New Testament[3] for a convert to Judaism from Paganism. It is a translation of the Biblical Hebrew word גר/ger[4].

Two kinds of proselyte in Judaism

There are two kinds of proselyte:

  1. Ger tzedek (righteous proselytes, proselytes of righteousness, religious proselyte, devout proselyte)
  2. Ger toshav (resident proselyte, proselytes of the gate, limited proselyte, half-proselyte)

A righteous proselyte[5] was a Gentile who had converted to Judaism, was bound to all the doctrines and precepts of the Jewish economy, and was considered a full member of the Jewish people. They were to be circumcised and immersed in a mikvah should they wish to eat of the Passover sacrifice. A gate proselyte[6] was a "resident alien" who lived in the Land of Israel and followed some of the customs. They were not required to be circumcised nor to comply with the whole of the Torah. They were bound only to conform to the so-called seven precepts of Noah, the Noahide Laws: do not worship idols, do not blaspheme God's name, do not murder, do not commit immoral sexual acts, do not steal, do not tear the limb from a living animal, and do not fail to establish courts of justice. Besides these laws, however, they were also required to abstain from work on the Sabbath, and to refrain from the use of leavened bread during the time of the Passover.

Proselytes in early Christianity

The "religious proselytes" spoken of in Early Christian writings were righteous proselytes, as distinguished from gate proselytes. There is some debate however as to whether proselytes known as Godfearers (Phobeomenoi)[7] and/or Worshippers (Sebomenoi)[8] - who were baptized but not circumcised - fit into the righteous or gate category. A dispute over this subject is recorded in the Council of Jerusalem, see also Circumcision in the Bible.

History of the proselyte in Israel

Proselytes have had a place in Judaism from early times.[9] The Law of Moses made specific regulations regarding the admission into Israel's community of such as were not born Israelites.[10] The Kenites, the Gibeonites, the Cherethites, and the Pelethites were thus admitted to levels of Israelite privileges. Thus also we hear of individual proselytes who rose to positions of prominence in the Kingdom of Israel, as of Doeg the Edomite, Uriah the Hittite, Araunah the Jebusite, Zelek the Ammonite, Ithmah and Ebedmelech the Ethiopians. According to the Books of Chronicles, in the time of Solomon there were 153,600 proselytes in the land of Israel[11] and the prophets speak of the time as coming when the proselytes shall share in all the privileges of Israel.[12] Accordingly, in New Testament times, we read of proselytes in the synagogues.[13]

The name proselyte occurs in the New Testament only in Matthew and Acts.[14] The name by which they are commonly designated is that of "devout men", or men "fearing God", or "worshipping God", or "Godfearers".

On the historical meaning of the Greek word, in chapter 2 of Acts of Pilate (roughly dated from 150 to 400), Annas and Caiaphas define "proselyte" for Pilate:

"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 Translation [1]

In the citation we can also see that Pilate's wife is a gate proselyte. Though drawn to the Jewish religion, she could never become a Jewess as long as she was married to a gentile uninterested in adhering to Judaism.

Rules for proselytes in the Torah

The Torah lists several rules that proselytes (גר/ger,Strong's H1616) must follow. These precepts and their interpretation in the Talmud form the basis for any rules regarding converts to Judaism.

  • partake in Yom Kippur (Lev 16:29)
  • not possess Chametz during Pesach (Ex 12:19)
  • celebrate the Feast of Weeks (Deut 16:11)
  • celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (Deut 16:13-14) and stand at the Day of Assembly of the Sabbatical Feast of Tabernacles (Deut 31:9-13)
  • not follow after any Nochri gods & their abominations (Idolatry) (Deut 29:09-30:20)
  • not worship Molech (Lev 20:2) nor practice any of the abominations of the Egyptians & Canaanites (depravity) (Lev 18:3-26, see also Leviticus 18)
  • not blaspheme (Lev 24:16, Num 15:30-31),
  • may be donated carrion to eat if in need, but must observe ritual after eating carrion or treif to escape sin (Lev 17:15; Deut 14:21)
  • not engage in bloodshed (Lev 24:17-22) but Proselytes of the gates & the settlers among them guilty of accidental manslaughter may flee to any of the six cities of refuge (Num 35:15)
  • not steal by not making compensation for damages (Lev 24:18-22)
  • not if also settlers steal rights by not following the laws on contracting Jews (Lev 25:47-55)
  • not steal by eating the Paschal Feast Offering if also a settler (Ex 12:45) or if not without accepting circumcision as compensation if he does (Ex 12:48) there being one law for all in this regard (Ex 12:49; Num 9:14)
  • not steal God's compensation for sins by consuming blood and must remember also to drain & bury the blood of any edible game ever caught (Lev 17:10-14),
  • not steal God's due by not offering the first fruits after immigration (Deut 26:1-11)
  • not steal from Aaron if anyone of the Proselytes of the gates would burn an offering by not bringing it to the tent of meeting to offer. (Lev 17:8) but shall bring any free-will, vow, or sin offerings to the Aaronites to make atonement on the altar (Lev 22:18-25; Num 15:22-29) and shall follow the same rules as the communities of Israel with regards to them. (Num 15:14-16)
  • have the right to a just hearing of cases before the Shoftim (Deut 1:16; 24:17; 27:19)
  • have the right to be chosen to carry the red heifer ashes for a water of sprinkling, but must wash his clothes and declare himself unclean until evening (Num 19:10)
  • have the right to loving unoppressive treatment from Jews especially if a poor or needy hired help (Ex 22:21; 23:9; Lev 19:33-34; Deut 10:18-19; 24:14)
  • have the right to exemption from being charged interest by Jews (Lev 25:36-37)
  • have the right if also settlers to have their children contracted to a Jew for life (Lev 25:45)
  • have the right as Israel's brethren (Exod 12:19, Lev 10:6) not to be ruled over with rigour if under contract to a Jew (Lev 25:46)
  • have the right to enjoy rest on the Sabbath (Deut 5:13-14; Ex 20:9-10; 23:12)
  • have the right if also settlers to eat of Jews' statutorily unharvested Sabbatical year produce (Lev 25:6)
  • have the right to field corners & purposefully ungleaned & forgotten harvest & fallen fruit in Jews' fields (Deut 24:19-21; Lev 19:9-10; 23:22)
  • have along with the Levites, Asuphim & widows the right to in the Shaari (Beth Din) feast of Israel's tithe in the end of every third year (Deut 14:29; 26:12-13)
  • have the right to replace the unfaithful (Deut 28:43)


See also

External links

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