Jewish Christians versus Gentile Christians

In the late first and early second centuries AD, Christianity had spread beyond Palestine first to Jewish communities living abroad and then on to pagans.

As the center of gravity shifted outward we see, mostly in Acts and the Pauline Epistles, the conflict between these two groups.

It should be noted that the majority of what I am calling Gentile Christians were actually Jews living outside of Palestine.

Important differences include:

The Jewish Christians saw Christianity as a sect within Judaism.

You could be fully Jewish and fully Christian at the same time.

"They [the Christians] went as a body to the Temple [in Jerusalem] every day but met in their houses for the breaking of bread ...
Day by day the Lord added to their community those destined to be saved." Acts 2:47

The Gentile Christians saw it as a correction or replacement of Judaism.

The Jewish Christians saw Jesus as a holy man elevated to Lord and Christ.

"Men of Israel, listen to what I [Peter] am going to say: Jesus the Nazarene was a man commended to you by God ... you took and had crucified ...
God raised this man Jesus to life ... God has made this Jesus ... both Lord and Christ." Acts 2:22, 23, 32, 36

The Gentile Christians saw Jesus as the pre-existing divine Son of God.

"[Jesus], being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped. But emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are; ...", Philippians 2: 6-7

The Jewish Christians saw Jesus' God the Father is the Old Testament Creator God Yahweh (Jehovah).

The Gentile Christians saw that Jesus' God the Father was transcendent and was a better revelation of God.

The Jewish Christians believed the world as created good and has evil only through man's sin.

The Gentile Christians believed that the world was inherently evil with no redeeming value.

"You must not love this passing world or anything that is in the world. The love of the Father cannot be in any man who loves the world, because nothing the world has to offer -- the sensual body, the lustful eye, pride in possessions -- could ever come from the Father but only from the world; and the world and all it craves for is coming to an end; but anyone who does the will of God remains forever." I John 2:15-17

The Jewish Christians believed the Christian was still bound by some of the Old Testament Law.

According to Acts, the Apostles held the Council of Jerusalem to debate this issue.

Peter describes how pagan converts should not be forced to accept
"... the very burden that neither we nor our ancestors were strong enough to support ...", Acts 15:7-12

The other Apostles agree, specifying only that they keep
"... these essentials: you are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from fornication." Acts 15:29

The Gentile Christians believed a Christian is completely released from the Old Testament Law.

In Galatians the author refers to the same decisions,
"The only thing they insisted on was that we should remember to help the poor, as indeed I was anxious to do.", Galatians 2:10

The author rebukes Cephas (Peter) for giving in to
"...the group that insisted on circumcision.". Galatians 2:12

"... you [Cephas] have no right to make the pagans copy Jewish ways.". Galatians 2:14

The author continues
"... all those who depend on the works of the Law are under a curse, since Scripture says: 'Accursed be he who does not make what is written in the book of the Law effective, by putting it into practice'.". Galatians 3:10-11 (quoting Deuteronomy 27:26)

"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by being cursed for our sake...". Galatians 3:13

The Jewish Christians believed the Old Testament was the divinely inspired Word of God.

The Jewish Christians constantly quoted the Old Testament, especially as "proof" texts. In them you commonly see "according to the scriptures" and the like. As an example look at the Epistle to the Hebrews.

The Gentile Christians believed the Old Testament was obsolete and irrelevant.

The Gentile Christians almost never quoted the Old Testament, in fact this is the easiest way to spot which texts are which. As an example look at The First Epistle of John.

Using these criterion, I divide the books of the New Testament like this:

The Jewish Christian books: Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, Romans, I Corinthians, II Thessalonians, Hebrews, James, I and II Peter, Jude and Revelations.

The Gentile Christian books: II Corinthians, Galatians, Phillipians, I Thessalonians and I John.

This is not to say that portions of these books may have later additions or corruption that do not fit this pattern.

The later books divide along an early Gnostic and anti-Gnostic line.

The early proto-Gnostic books: John, Ephesians, Colossians.

The early anti-Gnostic books: I and II Timothy, Titus, II and III John.

Philemon is too short to classify definitively.

Return to "Origins of Christianity"

(c) 2004 Thomas F. Swezey All rights reserved.