Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Gentile conversion to early Christianity

How did Gentiles conceptualize their conversion to earliest Christianity?

Yesterday I was contemplating the following break-down:

1. Some within the earliest church believed a Gentile needed to convert fully to Judaism. We call these the "Judaizers." We find hints of them in Acts 15:5 with Christian Pharisees, Pharisees who had believed in Jesus as Messiah without stopping to be Pharisees. Paul's opponents in Galatia similarly were Christians who believed Paul's Gentile converts needed to convert fully.

The tone of Galatians suggests that some did. So one group of Gentile converts to the Jesus sect became circumcised and fully converted to Judaism.

2. A second group--let's call it the James/Peter group--also saw full conversion as the optimal course for Gentiles. But they did not force Gentiles to convert fully (Gal. 2:3). Perhaps on the model of the stranger in the land, they believed that Gentiles could be saved from the coming wrath of God if they put their faith in God and his Christ. They expected them to follow some basic purity rules in order to have table fellowship.

3. A third group is the Pauline group. Paul fully included Gentiles within the "seed of Abraham" alongside Jews on the basis of faith. They were grafted into the tree. Did they see themselves as converting to a form of Christian Judaism? Perhaps it is misleading to put it that way in that "Judaism" was not a word that meant what we use the word to mean now.

Did they see themselves as converting to a Jewish sect? Obviously the word sect is a modern one, but I think they surely saw themselves becoming part of a Jewish group.

4. Finally there were probably Gentiles, especially as time went by, perhaps especially after the destruction of the temple, who saw themselves as outside Israel. The fiscus Judaicus, the tax on Jews first levied by Vespasian after the destruction of Jerusalem, was no doubt a driving force among Gentile believers to distinguish themselves from Judaism.

Unsurprisingly, the "parting of the ways" between Judaism and Christianity may have ultimately been driven at first by money.

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