1

Titus 1:10

For there are also many rebels, idle talkers and deceivers, especially the Jewish Christians. (NABRE)

I often see references to Jewish Christians, but I have no idea who they really were. Is there an accepted clear definition, including when they were first appeared as a recognised separate group and when they ceased to exist? Are they clearly identified in the New Testament, or are they only inferred to, by later commentators?

2
  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others. I also recommend going through the Help Center's sections on both asking and answering questions.
    – agarza
    Commented Dec 13, 2023 at 15:00
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. -- not that I object to moving the discussion to chat, but how did this action get attributed to me when I did not do it? Commented Dec 13, 2023 at 18:17

2 Answers 2

1

'Jewish Christians' is one way of translating the description of the group referred to literally as "they of the circumcision" or "the circumcision party". (Colossians 4:11, Gal. 2:8, etc.) The first Christians were, in fact, virtually all Jewish. Later, as Gentiles joined in large numbers, Christians "of the circumcision" became the minority. While some Christians of Jewish origin did not observe the entire Law of Moses, many did. The Book of Acts is a good resource to understand how the demographics of the early church evolved in this regard. Here is a passage that paints a vivid picture:

Acts 15

When they [Paul and Barnabas] arrived in Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church, as well as by the apostles and the presbyters, and they reported what God had done with them. 5 But some from the party of the Pharisees who had become believers stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and direct them to observe the Mosaic law.”

From the above we learn of Christians who were Pharisees; but unlike Paul (who was also a Pharisee), they held that Gentile Christians had to observe the Law. Years later, when Paul visited Jerusalem just prior to his arrest, Acts reports that there thousands of Christians in the city who were also practicing Jews.

Acts 21

20 They praised God when they heard it but said to him, “Brother, you see how many thousands of believers there are from among the Jews, and they are all zealous observers of the law. 21 They have been informed that you are teaching all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to abandon Moses and that you are telling them not to circumcise their children or to observe their customary practices. 22 What is to be done?

See Galatians 2 to understand the tension between Jewish and Gentile Christians at Antioch, were the problem was reversed compared to Acts 21. (In other words, at Antioch, it was the Gentile Christians who were offended by the teaching of Jewish-Christian "men from James," while in Jerusalem it was the Jewish Christians who were offended by the supposed teaching of Paul).

Acts 2

when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong. 12 For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised. 13 And the rest of the Jews [also] acted hypocritically along with him, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.

The problem here is that the decision made in Acts 15 did not deal with table fellowship. Gentiles could be Christians without observing the Jewish Law, but what about Jewish Christians who interpreted the Law to mean they were not allowed to eat with non-Jews?

In terms of dates, Jewish Christianity was a very important group during the entire first century but began to decline after the Temple was destroyed in 70 c.e., and the Jerusalem church was scattered. This part of the question is better asked at Christianity.SE., but here is an article with more information.

Conclusion: Jewish Christians were Christians who were born Jews and retained a Jewish identity, including the observance of some or all of the Law of Moses.

3
  • Again, I do not know why this was downvoted - a perfectly valid answer. +1.
    – Dottard
    Commented Dec 13, 2023 at 19:45
  • I think it was downvoted because I started to answer when the question had not bible quote... and then I saved the question from close-votes by including a verse from a translation that said "Jewish Christians" instead of "they of the circumcision." Commented Dec 13, 2023 at 22:37
  • OK, but I do not believe that deserves a downvote.
    – Dottard
    Commented Dec 13, 2023 at 23:41
0

Since I am the one who posted the original question, I would like to take the opportunity of apologising to anyone who thought the question was inappropriate, or offensive. That was not my intention, but it remains a genuine question. I could not find a quote in the NT that used the expression, I think partly because the term didn't come into existence any earlier than the 18th century in Germany. Wikipedia says that the Jewish Christians didn't come into existence until the first century. They might have been part of the early Church led by James and Peter. Galatians 2:11-14 suggests James expected Jewish Christians to follow the Jewish Law. Paul was against them, Galatians 6:16 and calls them "agitators" Galatians 1:7 & 5:10. My question is really how Jewish and how Christian did you have to be, in order to be a Jewish Christian? Are they the unbelievers that Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians who can be sanctified by being married to a believer? If it also applies the other way around, as the text says, what does it mean to be "sanctified" in this context? It seems clear that they are constantly being referred to as a nameless group within the NT, in the context of whether Christianity was going to be a new religion time mainly for idolatrous pagans, or a sect within Judaism, like the Essenes and the Samaritans. They seem to have faded out by the 8th century. The lack of clarity about them can be seen in Eph 2:11, Col 2:8-231, Tim 1:6-11. So, although the term Jewish Christian doesn't appear in the NT, there is plenty of evidence within the NT that clearly shows they existed and they seem to have been the fracture point about what would be the future direction of Christianity. That being the case, I think it was a legitimate question to ask here and I appreciate all the answers that have been given.

1
  • 1
    I don't think anyone was offended by your question. The issue was whether it was "off topic" and better asked in the Christianity.SE group. Here, we normally deal with how to understand specific bible verses... which is why I added the quote from Titus 1. I thought your question was OK without the quote because its answer is clearly related to actual bible verses. Some users feel this isn't enough to qualify as a valid question here. Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 2:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.