Judaism and the Early Church Jewish influence upon the early first century church I

Jewish influence upon the early first century church

Jewish traditions

The early church kept many Jewish practices. They frequently visited the Temple, attended synagogues and continued to study the Old Testament. Early followers of Christ were considered a mere sect within Judaism. In the book of Acts these early church members were called “the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 25:5).[1] Many of the disciples and members of the early church kept of Jewish traditions such as eating raw grain. The Mosaic Law said “Ye shall eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor green ears, until the selfsame day that ye have brought an offering unto God.” Therefore, the disciples of Jesus ate raw grain.[2]

Many of the Jewish traditions and customs at mealtime, particularly at special suppers and banquets, were followed by Jesus and others of the early church.[3] Jesus and the disciples partook in Passover.[4] They ate at triclinium tables.[5] Jesus gave ‘sop’ and washed the feet of his disciples.[6] These facts are not too surprising considering that Jesus himself and the disciples were all Jews. For many years after Christ’s life and death these traditions and customs were honored because the entire Roman and Israeli culture was infiltrated with Jews and their traditions.

Many of the epistles written in the New Testament by Paul and others continually deal with the church being too “Jewish,” following traditions legalistically instead of simply following Christ. Paul’s letters are full of discussion about Jews and Gentiles, circumcision and uncircumcision, and the role of the Torah in the lives of those who are saved by faith in Messiah, especially the books of Romans, Galatians and Hebrews. Judaisers were everywhere, every bit as orthodox as the Chassidic Believers in Jerusalem. He was concerned about the great gulf that existed between the Judaisers and the Gentile Believers Eventually, after the council of Nicaea in 323 A.D. after being rejected both by Gentile Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism a new sect of Jewish Christianity began.[7]

A key point in the man of Jesus is that constantly through-out His life on earth, Jesus always challenged the motive and reasons behind tradition and Law. Jesus asked the Pharisees, “Why do ye transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? Thus have you made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.” Jesus stressed spiritual teaching from the law over following traditions.[8] At another point in time the Pharisees complained about the disciples not following certain laws. Jesus was not objecting to any law but rather refused the authority that the rabbis claimed to have in telling people the exact, detailed and legalistic manner in which each tradition and law must be done.[9] Here even before the early church is thought of as ‘established’ the man who is to initiate its existence is clearly dividing himself from the extreme Jews, the Pharisees.

The synagogue service was composed of two readings from scripture, the recitation of psalms, often a sermon, and prayers. The first reading was from the Torah. The second reading was from the prophets or writings. The early Church kept this structure for the Liturgy of the Word. Two readings from the Old Testament, a reading from the Acts of the Apostles or from the letters, and a reading from the gospels made up the early Christian meeting. The prayers came after the readings and sermon.[10]


[1] It is only used in Acts 24:5 and 25:7 that the term Nazarenes is used to refer to the follower of Jesus, elsewhere in the New Testament; it is used to designate Jesus. Logically it would follow to designated Jesus as “belonging to Nazareth” Marvin R. Wilson, Our Father Abraham (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989) p 40-41. Although, in Acts 24:5, it is clearly a slur against Paul. It continually is used scornfully and hostilely by those who are against he early church. And Walter Elwell, Ed, “Christians, Names of: Nazarene,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed,( Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker Academic, 2007), 236.

[2] Fred Wright. Manners and Customs of Bible Lands. (Chicago, Il: Moody Press, 1981), 43.

[3] Ibid,61-68.

[4] Luke 22:7-13, NASB, Ibid, 66-68.

[5]These are the tables where guests are reclined to an almost laying down on their stomachs position. This was so they could have secret conversation with the person next to them, but also so the servant could be in front of all the tables to serve all guests. Fred Wright. Manners and Customs of Bible Lands, 62-64.

[6] Ibid,66,67, 75.

[7] In more modern times, the Jewish Christian sect would look like Messianic Judaism or Jews for Jesus.

[8] Ibid, 116.

[9] Ibid, 56.

[10] Unknown. “The Influence of Jewish Worship on Christian WorshipLiving the Good News: Winter C • 2009-10, 1

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