Monday, February 13, 2006

Jewish Christianity: A Definition

What exactly is Jewish Christianity? Who is a Jewish Christian? Which books in the NT can be regarded as being Jewish Christian? Should it (or they) be defined ethnically, based on praxis, or doctrinally?

James Carleton Paget is probably on the money when he (tentatively) opts for a praxis-based definition of "a Jewish Christian as someone who accepts the messianic status of Jesus (the bare minimum requires of someone wishing to be a Christian) but feels it necessary to keep, or perhaps adopt, practices associated with Judaism such as circumcision, in the case of males, the sabbath, the food laws, and other such related practices". (p.734).

Paget, J. Carleton. 2002. ‘Jewish Christianity.’ In Cambridge History of Ancient Judaism. 3 vols. Edited by W.D. Davies. Cambridge: CUP. 3:731-75.

In more recent times, some "Messianic Jews" dislike being called "Christians" since they wish to maintain that they are still Jews. Is this insistence misplaced?


J. B. Hood said...

By the definition you cited, do any NT books qualify as "Jewish Christian"?! Which book(s) holds to circumcision, food laws, and Sabbath observance?

My own opinion is that Judaism was much broader than that in the 1c, even though these are of course "big ticket" items. To frame the question in terms of those items alone, however, is to place a decidedly rabbinic stamp on things.

daviv52 said...

commenting on your last paragraph, it is difficult to compare the Judaism of today with the Judaism of the first century. It seems perfectly plausible to me that a first century person could believe that Jesus was the messiah but coud still consider himself and considered by others to be Jewish based on your definition but 1900 plus years later, a person who considers Jesus to be the messiah cannot reasonably be considered to be Jewish no matter what Jewish practices he choses to adopt (or retain).

Dave said...

If we can have Jewish Christians in 2006, and still allow for the keeping of shabbat and other Judaistic practices, can we then have Islamic Christians...that is Christians who have turned from Islam, yet still want to keep the festivals of Islam?

James Crossley said...

which NT books hold Sabbath, circumcision, and food laws? Let's take the synoptics. Circumcision is a tricky one as it is not polemically mentioned and so who knows what was happening (although I would find it hard to think at least some 'Matthean Christians' were not circumcising their baby boys). Matthew 15.20 makes it clear Jesus did not criticise food laws and similarly the Matthean Jesus does not contradict any biblical ruling on the Sabbath. I would say the similar things about Mark and Luke. But does that mean that juest because Jesus was observant should Christians now be do? Even Paul says Jesus was born under the law. In the case of Matthew and Mark, I suspect law observance was expected (Mark isall tied up with my dating so a disclaimer). It is interesting though that he seems to think 'well even those who aren't so good and those naughty ones who teach people not to be good will be in the kingdom, the least in the kingdom, yes, but still there' (a paraphrase of Matt. 5.19). But while Luke clearly portrays Jesus as Law observant he has a kind of revelation history whereby in Acts it is clear that gentiles and even jews no longer have to observe major commandments.

What that says about Jewish Christianity I don't know but that's what some gospel people might have thought.

Kyle said...

I once heard a rabbi describe both Judaism and Christianity as off-shoots of Second Temple Judaism. Modern Judaism's relationship to Israelite religion seems pretty minimal to me.

Rod said...

I think, Dave, you have a basic misunderstanding of what it means to be Jewish. It's as much as racial identity as it is a religious. Hence you can be Jewish and atheist, a Jewish Buddist, a Jewish Sikh. You could even be a Jewish Christian, but that would be someone who retains the Jewish racial tag but has given up Judaism and assimilated to gentile Christianity.

Islam is much more of a religious identity. I think it unlikely you would ever get Islamic Christians, but never say never...

Further I think it unlikely so called Jewish Christians would want to keep Shabbat and I hesitate to say Judiastic practice, but biblical feasts(Rather than the adopted pagan feasts of the present church). This is where Jewish Christians and Messianic Jews part company.
Messianics are those Jews who have found the Jewish Messiah in Y'shua (Jesus) and those gentiles who have decided to align themselves with them, who wish to retain their religious practise.
They keep Shabbat, the biblical festivals and even those areas of the Law which they deem as relevant. Not due to legalism, but out of desire to please God, who did after all, give the Law.
The early disciples and followers of Jesus were, for the most part, practising Jews, who when they found Messiah, continued to be practising Jews.They had no problem with Shabbat keeping, Festival keeping or going to Synagogue.
Current Messianic Jews are the same. Why should Jews who believe in Messiah give up their heritage, and become gentile Christians?
The Messianic belief system is essentially the same as the Christian, but worship practise varies.