Saturday, February 2, 2013

Proselytes and God-Fearers

       The attitude of first century Jews towards Gentiles was not one of hospitality to say the least. We have to keep in mind that for a very long time the Jews ruled over themselves after leaving Egypt and after going into exile they were not treated very well by some of their captors. Julius Scott says, “Rabbinic literature generally displays deeply hostile feelings against non-Jews.”[1] Just to be clear there was no uniform feeling about Gentiles, just as there was not a singular understanding of Judaism. Gentiles were shown varying degrees of kindness, friendship, and acceptance depending on whether or not they were sympathetic towards the Jews or at least not hostile toward them.[2] While some Gentiles in positions of authority were shown some respect and honor the majority of Gentiles were viewed with skepticism, animosity, and contempt.[3]
            At first glance you probably couldn’t tell a proselyte apart from a God-fearer. There are certain rituals a person would have to go through in order to become a full proselyte or convert. Converts accepted every area of Jewish life—law, national allegiance, social and cultural customs, and the rest; they became naturalized Jews.[4] Once a proselyte has shown their commitment they were generally expected to be circumcised, offer a sacrifice and undergo baptism.[5] The greatest difference between a proselyte and a God-fearer is that the God-fearer may still possibly be allowed to worship in certain areas of the temple without all of the dedication of being circumcised, offering a sacrifice or being baptized. God-fearers still held to a tight moral code and lived almost virtually as Jews minus a few details.
            Christians today can learn much from the history between the Jews and the Gentiles of the first century especially when they began to mix into the body of Christ. We have to remember that just because someone is different from us that does not always make them wrong, and that just as we bring in our understanding from our past they are going to do the same from theirs. We just have to make sure that we do not end up promoting a sectarian culture or trying to enforce rules upon other people to worship God in manner that is not described/prescribed in the Bible.

[1] J. Julius Scott Jr., Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1995)335.
[2] Ibid, 336.
[3] Ibid, 336.
[4] Ibid, 342.
[5] Ibid, 343.

First Century Messianic Titles

Most of us can agree that in our day and age when we here the term Messiah we either think automatically of Jesus or the Christmas cantata. However, that was not the case for Jews in the first century. When term “Messiah” was used depending upon which school of thought they belonged to their minds could have raced any number of ways. For some the Messiah could be a single person, a group of people, or merely an idea.[1] In a more specific manner however the “term Messiah (literally, the Anointed) could be applied to any person who held office by the gift, grace and anointing of God. Thus, technically it could be applied to all leaders of Israel.”[2]
            Some of the other terms that were used to describe Messiah in the first century were Son of Man (which was a direct reference to Daniel 7, and is in fact the phrase used most by Jesus to describe himself). Another term was the suffering servant or the servant of the Lord; the majority of these references get their basis from the book of Isaiah. While the suffering servant was not the most popular phrase, “there is among certain groups a faint trace of a Jewish expectation of a suffering Messiah or at least of some suffering eschatological figure.”[3] The list of names goes on and on they include the Righteous, the Branch, Son of God or David, the Stone, the Coming One, the root of Jesse.[4] The names or titles most closely associated with early Christianity would have to be Son of Man, Son of God/David. These titles resounded with more ease in explaining to the Jewish audience at the time that Jesus was whom he claimed to be.
In choosing the best title(s) to describe Jesus to an unbeliever I would first start off with the suffering servant. Using Scripture where Christ says, “ For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45 ESV) Then explaining the depth of that statement in how he was beaten as a criminal, and went to the cross as the ultimate form of service and love. Then I would use the example of the stone or corner stone and show how the Jews have always anticipated his arrival, but since it was not in the manner they were expecting he was rejected (John 1). So by showing that He is the ultimate foundation of faith and he suffered for us, these are the best things I can think to help a non-believer get a visual grasp of who Jesus is/was.

[1] J. Julius Scott Jr., Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1995)310.
[2] Ibid, 309.
[3] Ibid, 318.
[4] Ibid, 319-320.