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Jewish Christians were the original members of the Jewish movement that later became Christianity. In the earliest stage the community was made up of all those Jews who accepted Jesus as the Jewish messiah. As Christianity grew and developed, Jewish Christians became only one strand of the early Christian community, characterised by combining the confession of Jesus as Christ with continued adherence to Jewish traditions such as Sabbath observance, observance of the Jewish calendar, observance of Jewish laws and customs, circumcision, and synagogue attendance, and by a direct genetic relationship to the earliest Jewish Christians.
The term "Jewish Christian" appears in historical texts contrasting Christians of Jewish origin with Gentile Christians, both in discussion of the New Testament church and the second and following centuries. It is also a term used for Jews who converted to Christianity but kept their Jewish heritage and traditions.
First century Jewish Christians were faithful religious Jews. They differed from other contemporary Jews only in their acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah. Those that taught that Gentile converts to Christianity ought to adopt more Jewish practices to be saved, however, were called "Judaizers". Though the Apostle Peter was initially sympathetic, the Apostle Paul opposed the teaching at the Incident at Antioch (Gal. 2:11-21) and at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:6-35). Nevertheless, Judaizing continued to be encouraged for several centuries, particularly by Jewish Christians.
As Christianity grew throughout the Gentile world, Christians diverged from their Jewish and Jerusalem roots. Jewish Christianity, initially strengthened despite persecution by Jerusalem Temple officials, fell into decline during the Jewish–Roman wars (66-135) and the growing anti-Judaism perhaps best personified by Marcion of Sinope (c. 150). With persecution by the orthodox Christians from the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th century, Jewish Christians sought refuge outside the boundaries of the Empire, in Arabia and further afield. Within the Empire and later elsewhere it was dominated by the Gentile based Christianity which became the State church of the Roman Empire and which took control of sites in the Holy Land such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Cenacle and appointed subsequent Bishops of Jerusalem.
- 1 Related terms
- 2 Split of early Christianity and Judaism
- 3 Jewish law and customs in Christianity
- 4 Communities whose origins reflect both Judaism and early Christianity
- 5 Contemporary movements
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Bibliography
- 9 External links
- Hebrew Christians — a 19th-century movement of Jewish converts to Christianity acting semi-autonomously within the Anglican and other established churches. though it is also used in some texts concerning the early church, and Arnold Fruchtenbaum applied the term to Jewish Christians standing aside from the Messianic Judaism movement.
- Hebrew Roots — A religious movement that embraces both Old and New Testaments but without the observance of the Jewish Talmud and many Jewish traditions not supported by Scripture.
- Christian Jews — a modern term which is frequently encountered in texts dealing with sociology and demographics.
- Judaizers — Early Christians who maintained or adopted Jewish religious practices, from the period of the inception of Christianity until approximately the fifth century.
- Judean Christians — Christians from Judea who were predominantly Jewish.
Split of early Christianity and Judaism
The Book of Acts reports that the early followers continued daily Temple attendance and traditional Jewish home prayer. Other passages in the New Testament gospels reflect a similar observance of traditional Jewish piety such as fasting, reverence for the Torah and observance of Jewish holy days. Jesus was a pious Jew, worshipping the Jewish God, preaching interpretations of Jewish law and accepted as the Jewish Messiah by his disciples. Proponents of higher criticism claim that regardless of how one interprets the mission of Jesus, that he must be understood in context as a 1st-century Palestinian Jew.
Heinrich Graetz postulated a Council of Jamnia in 90 that excluded Christians from the synagogues, but this is disputed. Jewish Christians continued to worship in synagogues for centuries.
Jewish law and customs in Christianity
Some early Jewish Christians believed non-Jews must become Jews and adopt Jewish customs. Paul criticized Peter for himself abandoning these customs, and therefore presenting a poor example to non-Jews joining the Christians. Paul's close coworker Barnabas sided with Peter in this dispute. The Catholic Encyclopedia 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 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." 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 brother of Jesus.
According to Acts 15 the Council of Jerusalem c.50, customarily believed to have been led by James the brother of Jesus, determined that religious male circumcision (associated but also debated with 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). 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".
Many, beginning with Augustine of Hippo, consider the consensus emphasised the four stipulations based on the Noahide Laws stated in Genesis, and applicable to all people. Some modern scholars reject the connection to Noahide Law 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). According to Karl Josef von Hefele, this Apostolic Decree is still observed today by the Eastern Orthodox.
According to Eusebius' Church History 4.5.3–4: the first 15 Christian Bishops of Jerusalem were "of the circumcision". The Romans destroyed the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem in year 135 during the Bar Kokhba revolt, but it is traditionally believed the Jerusalem Christians waited out the Jewish–Roman wars in Pella in the Decapolis.
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. 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".
Modern Christians, such as Ethiopian Orthodox and Coptic Orthodox still practice circumcision (for both males and females, the latter of which the Jews never practised) while not considering it a part of conversion to Judaism, nor do they consider themselves to be Jews or Jewish Christians. Roman Catholicism condemned circumcision for its members in 1442, at the Council of Florence.
Communities whose origins reflect both Judaism and early Christianity
Role of Hellenistic Judaism
Both Early Christianity and Early Rabbinical Judaism were far less 'orthodox' and less theologically homogeneous than they are today; and both were significantly influenced by Hellenistic religion and borrowed allegories and concepts from Classical Hellenistic philosophy and the works of Greek-speaking Jewish authors of the end of the Second Temple period before the two schools of thought eventually firmed-up their respective 'norms' and doctrines, notably by diverging increasingly on key issues such as the status of 'purity laws', the validity of Judeo-Christian messianic beliefs, and, more importantly, the use of Koine Greek and Latin as sacerdotal languages replacing Biblical Hebrew.
Certain Christian communities of India, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel/Palestinian Territories have traditionally been associated with some 1st-century Jewish Christian heritage. The Syriac Orthodox Church, the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, and the Melkite Greek Catholic Church of Antioch are churches with known Jewish Christian membership that dates as far back as the 1st century. All three churches had common origins in terms of membership, where the majority of adherents was a mix of Greeks and Hellenized Jews and Syrians from Antioch and the rest of Syria who adopted the new faith. The Syriac Orthodox Church follows the Antiochene Rite that celebrates liturgy in Syriac and still carries some particular customs that are considered today as purely Judaic in nature.
Beyond Antioch, Alexandretta and Northwestern Syria, the main centers of Hellenistic Judaism in the Levant before the destruction of the Second Temple, the opening verse of Acts 6 points to cultural divisions between Hellenized Jews and Aramaic-speaking Israelites in Jerusalem itself:
"it speaks of "Hellenists" and "Hebrews." The existence of these two distinct groups characterizes the earliest Christian community in Jerusalem. The Hebrews were Jewish Christians who spoke almost exclusively Aramaic, and the Hellenists were also Jewish Christians whose mother tongue was Greek. They were Greek-speaking Jews of the Diaspora, who returned to settle in Jerusalem. To identify them, Luke uses the term Hellenistai. When he had in mind Greeks, gentiles, non-Jews who spoke Greek and lived according to the Greek fashion, then he used the word Hellenes (Acts 21.28). As the very context of Acts 6 makes clear, the Hellenistai are not Hellenes."
Some historians believe that a sizeable proportion of the Hellenized Jewish communities of Southern Turkey (Antioch, Alexandretta and neighboring cities) and Syria/Lebanon eventually converted to the Greco-Roman branch of Christianity that eventually constituted the Melkite Churches of the MENA area:
"As Jewish Christianity originated at Jerusalem, so Gentile Christianity started at Antioch, then the leading center of the Hellenistic East, with Peter and Paul as its apostles. From Antioch it spread to the various cities and provinces of Syria, among the Hellenistic Syrians as well as among the Hellenistic Jews who, as a result of the great rebellions against the Romans in A.D. 70 and 130, were driven out from Jerusalem and Palestine into Syria."
Surviving Byzantine and 'Syriac' communities in the Middle East
Some typically Grecian "Ancient Synagogal" priestly rites have survived partially to the present, notably in the distinct church service of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, Syriac Orthodox Church and the Melkite Greek Catholic communities of the Hatay Province of Southern Turkey, Syria and Lebanon.
The unique combination of ethnocultural traits inhered from the fusion of a Greek-Macedonian cultural base, Hellenistic Judaism and Roman civilization gave birth to the distinctly Antiochian "Middle Eastern-Roman" Christian traditions of Cilicia (Southeastern Turkey) and Syria/Lebanon:
The mixture of Roman, Greek, and Jewish elements admirably adapted Antioch for the great part it played in the early history of Christianity. The city was the cradle of the church."
Members of these communities still call themselves Rûm which literally means "Eastern Roman", "Byzantine" or "Asian Greek" in Turkish, Persian and Arabic. The term "Rûm" is used in preference to "Ionani" or "Yāvāni" which means "European Greek" or "Ionian" in Classical Arabic and Ancient Hebrew.
Most Middle-Eastern "Melkites" or "Rûms", can trace their ethnocultural heritage to the Southern Anatolian ('Cilician') and Syrian Hellenized Greek-speaking Jewish communities of the past and Greek and Macedonian settlers ('Greco-Syrians'), founders of the original "Antiochian Greek" communities of Cilicia, Northwestern Syria and Lebanon. Counting members of the surviving minorities in the Hatay Province of Turkey, in Syria, Lebanon, Northern Israel and their relatives in the diaspora, there are more than 1.8 million Greco-Melkite Christians residing in the Northern-MENA, the US, Canada and Latin America today i.e. Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic Christians under the ancient jurisdictional authority of the patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem ("Orthodox" in the narrow sense) or their Uniat offshoots ("Catholic" or "united" with Rome).
Today, certain families are associated with descent from the early Jewish Christians of Antioch, Damascus, Judea, and Galilee. Some of those families carry surnames such as Youhanna (John), Hanania (Ananias), Sahyoun (Zion), Eliyya/Elias (Elijah), Chamoun/Shamoun (Simeon/Simon), Semaan/Simaan (Simeon/Simon), Menassa (Manasseh), Salamoun/Suleiman (Solomon), Youwakim (Joachim), Zakariya (Zacharias) and others.
In modern days, the term "Jewish Christian" generally refers to ethnic Jews who have converted to or have been raised in Christianity. They are mostly members of Catholic and Protestant congregations, and are generally assimilated into the Christian mainstream, although they retain a strong sense of their Jewish identity. Some such Jewish Christians also refer to themselves as "Hebrew Christians".
The Hebrew Christian movement of the 19th century was a largely Anglican-led and largely integrated initiative, led by figures such as Michael Solomon Alexander, Bishop of Jerusalem 1842-1845; some figures, such as Joseph Frey, founder of the London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews, were more assertive of Jewish identity and independence.
The 19th century saw at least 250,000 Jews convert to Christianity according to existing records of various societies. Data from the Pew Research Center has it that, as of 2013, about 1.6 million adult American Jews identify themselves as Christians, most as Protestants. According to the same data, most of the Jews who identify themselves as some sort of Christian (1.6 million) were raised as Jews or are Jews by ancestry. According to a 2012 study, 17% of Jews in Russia identify themselves as Christians.
Messianic Judaism is a religious movement that incorporates elements of Judaism with the tenets of Christianity. Adherents, many of whom are ethnically Jewish, worship in congregations that include Hebrew prayers. They baptize messianic believers who are of the age of accountability (able to accept Jesus as the Messiah), often observe kosher dietary laws and Saturday as the Sabbath. Although they do recognize the Christian New Testament as holy scripture, most do not use the label "Christian" to describe themselves.
The two groups are not completely distinct; some adherents, for example, favor Messianic congregations but freely live in both worlds, such as theologian Arnold Fruchtenbaum, the founder of Ariel Ministries.
- David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers (2000). Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Amsterdam University Press. p. 709. Retrieved 15 February 2014.
- Theological dictionary of the New Testament 1972 p568 Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey William Bromiley, Gerhard Friedrich "When the Jewish Christians whom James sent from Jerusalem arrived at Antioch, Cephas withdrew from table-fellowship with the Gentile Christians:"
- Cynthia White The emergence of Christianity 2007 p36 "In these early days of the church in Jerusalem there was a growing antagonism between the Greek-speaking Hellenized Jewish Christians and the Aramaic-speaking Jewish Christians"
- Michele Murray Playing a Jewish game: Gentile Christian Judaizing in the first and Second Centuries CE, Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion - 2004 p97 "Justin is obviously frustrated by continued law observance by Gentile Christians; to impede the spread of the phenomenon, he declares that he does not approve of Jewish Christians who attempt to influence Gentile Christians "to be.. "
- McGrath, Alister E., Christianity: An Introduction. Blackwell Publishing (2006). ISBN 1-4051-0899-1. 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)."
- Damick, Fr. Andrew Stephen (2011), Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, Chesterton, IN: Ancient Faith Publishing, p. 20, ISBN 978-1-936270-13-2
- Keith Akers, The lost religion of Jesus: simple living and nonviolence in early Christianity, Lantern Books, 2000 p. 21
- Wylen, Stephen M., The Jews in the Time of Jesus: An Introduction, Paulist Press (1995), ISBN 0-8091-3610-4, 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 0-8028-4498-7, Pp 33–34.; Boatwright, Mary Taliaferro & Gargola, Daniel J & Talbert, Richard John Alexander, The Romans: From Village to Empire, Oxford University Press (2004), ISBN 0-19-511875-8, p. 426.;
- Küng, Hans (2008), "Islam: Past, Present and Future" (One World Publications)
- Kessler, Edward and Neil Wenborn, ed. A Dictionary of Jewish-Christian Relations, 2005, p. 180. "Hebrew Christians - Hebrew Christians emerged as a group of Jewish converts to Christianity in the early nineteenth... Edward Kessler"
- Hurtado, Larry W. Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, 2005, p.211. "Also, if we itemize the instances of Jewish opposition/ persecution in the Acts narratives of the Jerusalem church, the leaders of the Hebrew Christians are more frequently on the receiving end (eg, Peter and John in 4:1-22;"
- Gallagher, Eugene V. and W. Michael Ashcraft, ed. Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America, 2006, p213. "In the 1970s, Fruchtenbaum defined himself as a Hebrew Christian and was skeptical about the more assertive forms of Messianic Judaism."
- Kaplan, Dana Evan. The Cambridge Companion to American Judaism 2005, p. 412. "In contrast, four out of five secular and Christian Jews indicated that being Jewish was not "very important" to them. ... As compared with born Jews and Jews by choice, secular and Christian Jews generally feel positive about being Jewish, but it has few if any consequences for them and is not particularly important to them."
- Joan Taylor, Christians and the Holy Places: the Myth of Jewish-Christian Origins, Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 18
- James Carleton Paget, Jews, Christians and Jewish Christians in Antiquity (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament) (9783161503122) August 2010 Mohr, J. C. B.
- Vallée, Gérard. The Shaping of Christianity The History and Literature of Its Formative Centuries (100-800) 1999
- White (2004). pp. 127–128.
- Ehrman (2005). p. 187.
- Wylen (1995). Pg 190.
- Berard (2006). Pp 112–113.
- Wright (1992). Pp 164–165.
- Gal 2:14
- Gal 2:13
- Acts 15:39-40
- "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Judaizers". www.newadvent.org.
- L. Michael White (2004). From Jesus to Christianity. Harper San Francisco. p. 170. ISBN 0-06-052655-6.
- 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]
- Contra Faust, 32.13
- For example: Joseph Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles (The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries), Yale University Press (December 2, 1998), ISBN 0-300-13982-9, chapter V
- Karl Josef von Hefele's commentary on canon II of Gangra notes: "We further see that, at the time of the Synod of Gangra,  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."
- Bargil Pixner, The Church of the Apostles found on Mount Zion, Biblical Archaeology Review 16.3 May/June 1990 
- On the Jerusalem Church between the Jewish revolts see: Jonathan Bourgel, From One Identity to Another: The Mother Church of Jerusalem Between the Two Jewish Revolts Against Rome (66-135/6 EC). Paris: Éditions du Cerf, collection Judaïsme ancien et Christianisme primitive, 2015 (in French).
- Eusebius, Church History 3, 5, 3; Epiphanius, Panarion 29,7,7-8; 30, 2, 7; On Weights and Measures 15. On the flight to Pella see: Bourgel, Jonathan, "The Jewish Christians' Move from Jerusalem as a pragmatic choice", in: Dan Jaffe (ed), Studies in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity, (Leyden: Brill, 2010), p. 107-138 (); P. H. R. van Houwelingen, "Fleeing forward: The departure of Christians from Jerusalem to Pella," Westminster Theological Journal 65 (2003), 181-200
- "ECUMENICAL COUNCIL OF FLORENCE (1438-1445)".
- Daniel Boyarin. "Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism" Stanford University Press, 1999, p. 15.
- " Conflict and Diversity in the Earliest Christian Community" Archived 2013-05-10 at the Wayback Machine., Fr. V. Kesich, O.C.A.
- "History of Christianity in Syria", Catholic Encyclopedia
- "Antioch," Encyclopaedia Biblica, Vol. I, p. 186 (p. 125 of 612 in online .pdf file. Warning: Takes several minutes to download).
- Bar Ilan, Y. Judaic Christianity: Extinct or Evolved? pp. 297–315.
- Gundry, Stanley N; Goldberg, Louis, How Jewish is Christianity?: 2 views on the Messianic movement (Books), Google, p. 24.
- "How many Jews are there in the United States?". Pew Research Center.
- "A PORTRAIT OF JEWISH AMERICANS: Chapter 1: Population Estimates". Pew Research Center.
- "American-Jewish Population Rises to 6.8 Million". haaretz.
- Arena - Atlas of Religions and Nationalities in Russia. Sreda.org
- 2012 Survey Maps. "Ogonek", № 34 (5243), 27/08/2012. Retrieved 24-09-2012.
- "About us — Brief history". Ariel Ministries.
- Freedman, David Noel; Myers, Allen C, eds. (2000). "Jewish Christians". Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Eerdmans.
- Bromiley, Geoffrey W (1979). International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: A-D. Eerdmans.
- Cameron, Ron (1982). The Other Gospels: Non-Canonical Gospel Texts. Westminster John Knox.
- Duling, Dennis C (2010). "The Gospel of Matthew". In Aune, David E. Blackwell companion to the New Testament. Wiley-Blackwell.
- Ehrman, Bart D. (2003). Lost Scriptures. OUP.
- Hastings, James (2004). A Dictionary Of The Bible: Supplement -- Articles. Minerva Group.
- Howard, George (2000). "Hebrews, Gospel According to the". In Freedman, David Noel; Myers, Allen C. Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Eerdmans.
- Lapham, Fred (2003). An Introduction to the New Testament Apocrypha. Continuum.
- Schneemelcher, Wilhelm (1991). New Testament Apocrypha: Gospels and Related Writings. Translated by Robert McLachlan Wilson. Westminster John Knox.
- Netzari Faith
- Simchat Torah Beit Midrash:- Jewish Christians
- Jewish Studies for Christians
- Frontline: From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians: Wrestling with their Jewish Heritage at PBS
- Medieval Sourcebook: Saint John Chrysostom (c.347-407) : Eight Homilies Against the Jews at Fordham University
- Jewish Encyclopedia: Christianity in its relation to Judaism: Early Christianity a Jewish Sect
- The Ascendance of Messianic Judaism in the Context of Hebrew Christianity by William Greene, Ph.D.
- F. Stanley Jones, The Rediscovery Of Jewish Christianity, Society of Biblical Literature, 2012