First Believers

Shalom friends,

 

I know that some of you have been waiting for the next episode of the Hidden Messiah series – and I will return to that subject very soon. In just a couple of weeks, we will begin studying the “hidden Messiah” concept in the New Testament. But for now, as promised, we will take a short break from this intriguing theme and look at some   posts on seemingly different topics – although they are all  definitely related,  they are all pieces of this fascinating puzzle that is called “Israel and Yeshua”.

There is a very deep and important statement  of John: He came to His own and His own received Him not – and in order to understand fully this statement, we need to see a broader picture.  Thankfully, there is a growing recognition on the both sides that Yeshua “came to His own”; not only that He was a Jew and was born and raised as a Jew, but also that the New Testament is part of 1 AD Palestinian Judaism. We need to understand also, why His own received Him not – and I hope and believe that my articles about Hidden Messiah, who was as though hiding His face from us, will help us in this understanding, However, there were many Jews (or Israelites, the actual terminology) who did receive and accept Yeshua, – and today I would like to tell you about these first Jewish believers.  It will be also an important part of this broader picture, one more piece of this puzzle.

As you probably know, the “first church”, the community of the early followers of Yeshua, was completely Jewish. With all the profound differences that faith in Yeshua would make, outwardly the gathering and the fellowship of the early church was no different from a synagogue. The synagogue was the place where Jews and God-fearing Gentiles would gather together to read the Torah. From the book of Acts we know that it was a regular custom of Apostle Paul to attend synagogue every Shabbat.  Paul explicitly states that his apostolic mission was to reach the Gentiles with the gospel – and yet, in every new town where he arrives (in predominately Gentile regions), he goes to a synagogue. It was in synagogues that he met with Jews and Gentiles alike who were interested in the Word of God.  Here are just some scriptures:

 

When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. (Acts 13:5)

But they … came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down.( Acts 13:14-16)

Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed (Acts 14:1)

They came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures (Acts 17:1-3)

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue (Acts 17:10)

So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. (Acts 17:17)

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth… And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath (Acts 18:1-4)

And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. (Acts 18:19)

This situation lasted for quite some time. For at least a century after Yeshua’s death, there were people who believed that He was the Messiah, but who also attended synagogue, kept Shabbat, ate kosher and circumcised their sons. Unlike now, these people didn’t see any problem in being both a Jew and a Christian. So when did this period come to an end? When did the final “parting of the ways” happen?

 

Until recently, many believed that this period ended with the Council of Yavneh (around 90 AD): According to Jewish sources, there was a great Jewish council where all Jews agreed to follow mainstream rabbinic tradition, and those who didn’t were expelled. However this view has recently been challenged by different scholars (see Daniel Boyarin, The Jewish Gospels).  In reality, the Jewish believers and the Jews who didn’t accept Yeshua continued to worship together in synagogues at least until the Bar Kochba rebellion (132-136 CE), maybe even later. Most scholars now believe that Birkat ha-Minim (Heb. בִּרְכַּת הַמִּינִים, “benediction concerning heretics”, a Jewish curse on heretics (minim), the twelfth benediction of the weekday Amidah) was composed after the Bar Kochba revolt. The language of the benediction clearly demonstrates that it was specifically aimed against “Jewish separatists” and that the prayer was composed to expose those who  followed Yeshua and had accepted Him as Messiah. There would have been no need for such a prayer in synagogues if the Jewish followers of Yeshua were not amongst the gatherings there.

However, there were the later  Christian councils that drove a final separation line between traditional Jewish beliefs and practices, and the new religion of Christianity – especially the famous Council of Nicaea and its successor, the Council of Constantinople.  As Daniel Boyarin writes: “Nicaea effectively created what we now understand to be Christianity and, oddly enough, what we now understand as Judaism as well.  Across the seven decades between the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, options for ways of believing or being Christian were cut off through this process of selection, especially the option to be both Christian and Jew at the same time. One could not both believe in Jesus and go to synagogue on Sabbath”.

Thus, we arrive at a very sad conclusion: Even though the first cracks in the relationship between the disciples of Yeshua and Jewish mainstream could already be seen in the first century, it was only through the common efforts of the Jewish Rabbis and Christian scholars and writers (even though both sides would deny angrily any reference to the common efforts) that the process of delegitimization of Jewish believers who defined themselves as both Jewish and Christian, was completed. From that time on, one had to either: believe in the Nicene Creed, leave the synagogue, and be called a Christian; or, if one decided to stay in the synagogue, he would have to drop belief in Yeshua and then he would be called a Jew.

From that time on, we’ve had two distinct and very different religions: Judaism and Christianity – and as a good friend of our family, Boaz Michael, wrote: “All of us – all Christians and Jews – are children of this ugly divorce” between Judaism and Christianity. – “Let’s all become children of the reconciliation.”

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. ISRAEL O.

    Hi Giselli,

    The Tithing that Yahweh commanded for Israel was never practiced by the early believers. and you can confirm this for yourself by reading the entire New Testament. That tithe was food and meat, not money. Among other today, which they call tithing, has nothing to do with the Biblical tithing. It thing, It was meant for the Levites, strangers, fatherless children and widows. (Deut 14v22 to 29). Historically, what many churches are enforcing was established by the Roman Catholic Church around the 5th century as one of the ways to raise more money. Anyone with an in-depth knowledge of the biblical tithing knows that gentile believers cannot observe it. We are not commanded to pay tithes and we are not authorized to collect it. Period.

  2. Giselli Nichold

    About tithe, what do you know? Christian have obligation to give?

  3. Duncan

    Great article, Prof. Julia, and interesting comments. This is the gap in church history I have been wanting to know more about but have not found much is known or written, so thank you! Do you have any other resources you might recommend? I have Dr. Boyarin’s book, “The Jewish Gospels”, but are there any others that go into this subject in more detail?

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Duncan. I would also recommend a book called “Jewish believers in Jesus: the early centuries”, [edited by] Oscar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik, 2007 by Henndrickson Publishers. It is a good book, and I hope you will find it interesting and helpful.

  4. Larry Prince

    What a powerful discussion! I am intrigued by reading and re-reading these posts … at first, reading some, I think “Oh no — that doesn’t follow at all,” or “this all sounds to me dangerously like Paul’s admonition to Timothy and Titus to ‘not get caught up in foolish, unedfying arguments.'” But then, something (SomeOne?) keeps bringing me back to this topic string/stream, and I’m fascinated by the depth of something someone said, who had just said something in an earlier post that I had “dismissed” as shallow, irrelevant or contentious. Now I believe I can take off my own “water wings” and realize that if anyone has been shallow it’s been me. I’m not “boo-hoo-ing” — I’m just thanking everyone involved here for sharing the rays of light they are discovering on their own journey. You folks REALLY LOVE GOD, and I thank Him for leading you (and me), and you for setting an example by fervently and relentlessly following Him. I am reminded of Ya’acov, who “wrestled with a man” and wouldn’t let go until he was blessed — and wound up with a limp,and a new name (Yisrael). He was (transformed and) blessed, all right, but the Lord changed his walk!

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Larry, for being so open and so sincere! I am also very grateful for this discussion and for everyone who shares his thoughts and his heart on these pages. I hope and believe that these are not “foolish, unedifying arguments”: besides the glimpses of the personal journeys, together we are trying to assemble here this big puzzle that is called “Yeshua and Israel” – and we definitely need both knowledge and revelation, in order to see the whole picture.

  5. Elizabeth Seibel-Ross

    I haven’t yet read the preceding comments, but I wanted to share something I learned from a DVD I’m studying by Dr. John Fischer about “The Epistles from a Jewish Perspective” that goes to part of your teaching. Dr. Fischer teaches that the usual interpretation of Jn 1:11 “He came unto His own, but His own received Him not” is that the Jews rejected Jesus; however, he suggests a more careful reading of the text shows that Jn 1:3 provides the context for Jn 1:11. It begins with “in the beginning” ( echoing back to Genesis) and says that “all things were created by Him, and there was nothing that was created that was not created by Him.” Within that context who or what is the “His own” of a few verses later? It’s His Creation. He came unto His Creation, but His Creation received Him not. Of course that’s not the way it’s been interpreted over the course of time and history, so we find ourselves in the present situation of separation of our two communities of faith. I like the idea of being a child of the reconciliation because I think that gets us all back on the right path – the original intention of our Creator that His Creation is drawn together back to Him.

  6. D. B.

    All this is very interesting and have enjoyed reading this short history (in a nutshell). Thank you very much. Still, there are unanswered questions. Looking at both Hagar and Sarah, the two mothers, two covenants (even Cain and Able as two nations fighting in the womb); would this be part of the reason for the divide between Judaism and Christianity, OR Saturday (Sabbath) and Sunday worship? To stretch my question a bit further (OUT OF CURIOSITY): “Would this in any way, shape, or form, give rise to ISIS”?

    1. Dorothy Healy

      I think you’re absolutely right D.B. – from Cain and Abel, through Isaac and Ishmael, to Jacob and Esau (who fought in the womb), we see the ongoing conflict between flesh and spirit – that’s what is Torah is about. I agree that the divide we see in this discussion between Judaism and Christianity is an ongoing reflection of that. But, it was all in the foreknowledge of God, and God still loves the Jews (and the sinners) and the unfolding of his plan for the Jewish people is not yet over. Re Isis – surely they are the ultimate depiction of fleshly man we see today – of course there is another spirit involved there also.