Thursday, June 07, 2007

The "Judaizers": Jewish Christians ("Messianic Jews")?, Non-Christian Followers of Judaism? Gnostic Sectarians?

This question came up, oddly enough, from one line that I included in an open prayer for non-Catholics:
Lord, help us all to control our tongues and to have discernment and wisdom to know when humor or satire is proper and necessary (such as when Elijah mocked the false prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel or Your Son's criticisms of the Pharisees or Paul's sarcastic remarks about castration).
This was disputed by one Carrie (or Cosette; take your pick), who runs a blog called Of Christian Women. I decided to do a treatment of biblical guidelines for the use of humor. As part of that, I replied to Carrie's criticisms, and the topic got into who Paul was rebuking in Galatians, with his sarcastic, biting "castration" insult. Were these people Christians or Jews? I had already shown that Jesus used similar humor in the Sermon on the Mount (therefore, a Christian can direct such humor towards other Christians, in certain situations). Here is the exchange (Carrie's words in blue):

Mocking the prophets of Baal or the Pharisees does not add up to mocking what you consider "brothers and sisters in Christ". Stop hiding behind that excuse.

And again:

I'm not so concerned with your humor as much as your attempt to defend your humor with biblical support. Your examples of Jesus and Paul are contradictory to your proclamation that Prots are siblings in Christ. It is the hypocrisy that bothers me.

Here is my former reply:

Perhaps the most famous instance of sarcasm in Paul was tongue-in-cheek desire for Judaizers to castrate themselves:

6: For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.
7: You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?
8: This persuasion is not from him who calls you.
9: A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
10: I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine; and he who is troubling you will bear his judgment, whoever he is.
11: But if I, brethren, still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? In that case the stumbling block of the cross has been removed.
12: I wish those who unsettle you would mutilate themselves!

(Galatians 5:6-12)
Now, again, the Judaizers were Christians. They weren't pagans or nonbelievers. See the article on them in the Catholic Encyclopedia and the article "Jewish Christians" from Wikipedia. The relationship of Jews and Christians and the Law and the New Covenant in the early Church was very complex. So, for example, even Paul circumcised Timothy:
1: And he came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek.
2: He was well spoken of by the brethren at Lystra and Ico'nium.
3: Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews that were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

(Acts 16:1-3)
Note that this incident occurred after the council of Jerusalem (that Paul attended), which had precisely ruled (led by Peter) that circumcision was not necessary for Gentile converts (Acts 15:1-21,28-29). So here is Paul circumcising a Gentile soon after the Council that had declared that it was unnecessary. And why? Scripture tells us it was "because of the Jews that were in those places (Acts 16:3).

So why is it that we always hear (as a polemic against the papacy) about Paul's rebuke of Peter when he compromised in behavior for fear of the Jews or Judaizers (Gal 2:11-14), but we never hear about this [possible] hypocrisy of Paul's, that is [arguably, or possibly] exactly the same sort of catering to men, and a shortcoming of resolve? To top it off, in the very next verse, we are told that Paul "delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem" (16:4).

See also my articles:

Should a Christian Ever Contribute to a Mosque Building Fund? / Early Christians and Jewish Synagogue and Temple Worship
(+ Discussion)

Jewish-Christian Dialogue on Authority and the Rabbinic Credentials of Jesus and the Apostle Paul
Paul called himself a Pharisee more than once [Acts 23:6, 26:5; Philippians 3:5]. Jesus observed Temple rites and various Pharisaical traditions, and even commanded His followers to observe the teachings of the Pharisees and obey them (Matthew 23:1-3).

Therefore, when Jesus uttered His scathing denunciations of the Pharisees, it was not directed towards total unbelievers, but towards kinsmen who had gone astray and had become hypocrites. The New Testament refers to Christian Pharisees, and Nicodemus was one. Joseph of Arimathea was likely a Pharisee, as we know that he was a member of the Sanhedrin (Mk 15:43), and that body was dominated by Pharisees at the time of Jesus. Paul was observing purification rites in the Temple when he was arrested (Acts 21:26-28).

. . . The only unarguable case of humor being used against nonbelievers is Elijah on Mt. Carmel, mocking the prophets of Baal. I never claimed otherwise, but it doesn't follow that, therefore, such humor, mocking, or sarcasm can never be used against fellow Christians, if they are playing the hypocrite. I have now proven beyond all doubt that this is perfectly permissible, and is one way that we imitate Paul (as he commanded us to) and Jesus Christ.

* * *

Carrie (now Cosette) stated on my blog:

The Judiazers [sic] were false teachers, adding works to the simple gospel message of salvation by faith alone.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by your answer based on your religion, but doesn’t common sense tell you that Paul wouldn’t anathemize [sic] his own brethren?

It never fails to amaze me that a Catholic can read the Book of Galatians and completely miss the whole point.

And here is my present response:

This is where you are all wet, in making the charge that I stated this solely because I am a Catholic. First of all, one can distinguish between Christians who were influenced by Jewish ideas along these lines, and those (possibly but not necessarily Jewish) who were influencing them. "Judaizers" is used in both senses, leading to some confusion.

But to say flat-out that none of these people being influenced were Christians, is silly and foolish. You say I believe this because simply I am a Catholic. That's untrue because I can easily cite many Protestant or secular sources showing that the"Judaizers" were (at least in part) Christians.

I cited Wikipedia ( already, but if you don't care for that, how about The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church (edited by J.D. Douglas, Grand Rapids, MI: Zodervan, 1978, "Judaizers", p. 554):
A party of Christians in the early church who thought it was necessary that Gentile converts to Christianity should be circumcised and observe the Jewish law -- in fact that they should become Jews in order to become Christians.
There are Protestant commentators (some, e.g., from the school of "the New Perspective on Paul") who think they (i.e., the parties doing the "influencing") were Jews or followers of sectarian offshoots of Judaism, but opinions differ, so that, in any event, this is not a Protestant-Catholic divide, but a scholarly one of differing opinions in good faith.

Here is a great deal more evidence for my assertions, from non-Catholic scholarly sources:
In the early Church a section of Jewish Christians who regarded the OT Levitical laws as still binding on Christians. They tried to enforce on the faithful such practices as circumcision and the distinction between clean and unclean meats. Their initial success brought upon them the strong opposition of St. Paul, much of whose writing was concerned with refuting their errors.

(The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, second edition, edited by F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, Oxford University Press, 1983, "Judaizers" [complete], p. 763)
Some Jewish Christians were so conservative that they demanded, in effect, that Gentiles had to become Jews in order to be true Christians. They insisted on circumcision and other Jewish legal requirements, and frowned on social contact with 'unclean' Gentiles. These 'Judaizers' appealed to the Jerusalem church . . . But Paul refused to tolerate any demands imposed on Gentile converts . . .

(Eerdmans Handbook to The History of Christianity, editor: Tim Dowley, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977, "What the First Christians Believed," by consulting editor David F. Wright, 97)
The great biblical scholar F.F. Bruce refuses to take a stand one way or another, and remains "agnostic" on the question, stating (in a section on St. Paul's letter to the Galatians):
It was evidently written by Paul to warn his Galatian converts against certain "trouble-makers" [footnote: Galatians 1:7; 5:12] who were urging upon them a line of teaching and course of action which, as he saw the situation, threatened to undermine the gospel which he had brought to them and which they had accepted. But even on the character and policy of these "trouble-makers" there is disagreement.

The view adopted here -- provisionally, not dogmatically -- . . . it is a natural conclusion, then, that the "trouble-makers" were judaizers . . .

(Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977, 179)
Yet Dr. Bruce does not specifically claim that they were Jews (or Christians). That such a thorough and respected New Testament scholar has such uncertainty on the matter, proves my point and disproves the criticisms of Carrie / Cosette that the Judaizers were obviously Jews and non-Christians, and that I only contend that they were Christians because I am a Catholic who (strongly implied) doesn't understand what a Christian is in the first place, or what the gospel is (per the usual anti-Catholic playbook).

Some scholars are of the opinion that these were Jews and precursors of what later became the Ebionite heresy, or even worse, a strain of Gnosticism (Bruce mentions the latter possibility). Philip Schaff (one of the "patron saints" of the general Protestant view of Church history) holds to the "primitive Ebionite Jews" explanation (History of the Christian Church, Volume I: 565-567). Some scholars (e.g., Harnack and Hort) have equated the Ebionites with the Nazarenes (i.e., 4th-century patristic usage rather than biblical).

Renowned Pauline scholar Sir William M. Ramsay held that the Judaizers were a "party" within the Christian Church, in his famous work, St. Paul: the Traveller and the Roman Citizen (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1897; rep. Grand rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1962). In recounting what he feels to be Paul's thought processes in his letter to the Galatians, he refers to "Judaistic Christians" twice (p. 188) and "the superiority of the free to the Jdaistic Christians is illustrated . . ." (p. 189). Other phrases he uses are:
"Judaising party in the Church" (p. 160)

"Judaising party" (p. 170; and twice on p. 172)

"Judaistic party" (p. 184)

"extreme Judaistic party in the Church" (p. 375; implying that there was even a lesser such "Judaizing party" as well; otherwise, why the descriptor "extreme"?)
More modern biblical scholars and historians are even more interesting. James D.G. Dunn is always informative and fascinating, even when one disagrees with him (as I do, not infrequently):
In Galatians Paul speaks of no less than three gospels. First, his own . . . (Gal. 2.7) . . . Second is the gospel for the Jews, 'for the circumcision' (2.7), represented by the 'pillar apostles', Peter in particular, centred on Jerusalem. Paul recognizes this Jewish version of the gospel as a legitimate form of Christian kerygma, appropriate to the Jews . . . in his view it involved a greater subjection to the law than he himself thought right (2.11-21). However, so long as the proponents of each of these two gospels recognized the validity of the other and did not seek to impose their own gospel on those who held to the other, Paul was content. But evidently the churches in Palestine had a legalistic right wing which opposed the law-free Gentile mission. Theirs is the 'other gospel' which Paul attacks in fierce language in 1.6-9. It is not finally clear whether Paul denied Christian status to this third gospel (1.7 probably means: it is not another gospel but a perversion of the gospel of Christ). But he leaves no doubt as to what he thought of the so-called 'Judaizers'' attempts to force their understanding of the gospel on others: it is no good news, the way of bondage; those who preach it are 'sham Christians', they have missed the full truth and ought to castrate themselves (2.4f; 5.12)!

(Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, London: SCM Press, 2nd edition, 1990, 23-24)

We know from Gal. 2.4, not to mention Acts 15.1 and Phil. 3.2ff, that there was a strong party in the Palestinian churches, a powerful force in the Christianity of Jerusalem and Palestine, which insisted on circumcision for all converts. Paul calls them some very rude names -- 'false brethren' (RSV), 'sham Christians, interlopers' (NEB -- Gal 2.4), 'dogs' (Phil. 3.2) . . . But it is quite clear, from Gal. 2 and Acts 15 at least, that they were Jewish Christians -- that is to say, a force within the Jerusalem community who could with justice claim to speak for Jewish believers in Judea . . . Here at once we recognize a form of Jewish Christianity which stands within the Christian spectrum at the time of Paul's missionary work . . .

(Ibid., 252-253)
Dunn even thinks that the famous incident of Paul's rebuking Peter for hypocrisy at Antioch (Gal 2:11-14) may have been regarded by many in the early Church (remarkably to the till-recently, standard Protestant interpretation) as a "victory" for Peter, rather than for Paul:
Here is one of the most tantalizing episodes in the whole of the NT . . . we have to be content to make what we can of the clues and hints Paul gives us -- the problem being, of course, that we have only one side of the dispute, Paul's, and just how one-sided it is we are not fully able to judge. Who was at fault in the incident? . . .

We naturally tend to assume that Paul made his point and won the day -- Peter admitting his mistake, and the previous practice being resumed. But Paul does not actually say so . . . if Paul had won, and if Peter had acknowledged the force of his argument, Paul would surely have noted this, just as he strengthened his earlier position by noting the approval of the 'pillar apostles' in 2.7-10 . . . In the circumstances, then, it is quite likely that Paul was defeated at Antioch, that the church as a whole at Antioch sided with Peter rather than with Paul. . . . it was also probably a decisive factor in bringing Paul and Barnabas to the parting of the ways (cf. Acts 15.36-40); and no doubt it caused Paul to redefine his position on the mutual responsibilities of Jewish and Gentile Christians within a mixed Christian community -- for it can hardly go unnoticed that Paul's advice to such communities in I Cor. 8,10.23-11.1, and Rom. 14.1-15.6 (not to mention his own practice according to Acts 21.20-26) is more in line with the policy of Peter and Barnabas at Antioch than in accord with his own strongly worded principle in Gal. 2.11-14!

(Ibid., 253-254)
Noted historian Donald Harman Akenson argues similarly in his recent book about the Apostle Paul. Her states in a footnote near the end of the book that he refused to use the term "Judaizers" in his book because the relevant scholarly literature has not produced "sufficient agreement" on its meaning, and that it, therefore, could be a misleading term. That said, he proceeds with his own analysis:
[I]t is an unfortunate word . . . a useless word, for it makes us think we know more than we do. Saul uses the Greek verb "to Judaize" only once, and that is in Galatians 2:14 . . . Significantly, in the epistles wherein Saul denounces people whom later historians call "Judaizers," Saul does not use the term "Judaizer." It is an invention of the later church. Despite the absence of reliable evidence, most commentators and most present-day biblical scholars identify these "Judaizers" as being Gentiles who were followers of Yeshua but who also were deeply into one or more of the traditions of praxis that revolved through late Second Temple Judaism . . .

When Saul denounces unnamed persons for pushing Judahist praxis too strongly upon Gentiles, we should not assume that we know immediately who it was: it could have been lifelong Judahists who were allied to the Yeshua-faith; it could have been Gentiles who had become full proselytes to Judahism as well as followers of Yeshua; and it could even have been Judahists who themselves had no allegiance to Yeshua, but who recognized the Yeshua-faith as a branch of Judahism and therefore urged all of its members to carry out the full 613 commandments. Manifestly a term that is based on contradictory empirical foundations, it is neither descriptively nor analytically viable. It has to be abandoned and with it the overtones of the slur based on nearly two millennia of misreading of Saul: namely that anything smacking of "Jewish" practice was wrong and so said the first missionary of the faith. He didn't.

(Saint Saul: A Skeleton Key to the Historical Jesus, Oxford University Press, 2000, 289-290; footnote 9 for chapter seven)
On the other end of the spectrum we have Carrie/Cosette, who has informed us (courtesy of free speech on my blog) that I don't know what I am talking about in this regard, simply because I am a Catholic, and how alleged Catholic ignorance and spiritual stupefaction "never fails to amaze" her. Former Catholic, anti-Catholic Carrie/Cosette knows better, because, after all, she relies on profound research such as Jack Chick tracts. Yes, you read that right. Here is what she thinks of Catholicism:
I grew up in a Catholic family. I went to church every Sunday with my parents, was baptized as a baby, did first communion, confirmation, CCD, etc. Once I went away to college I only went to mass maybe twice on my own (except summers when I was home with my family). After all those years of religion I knew nothing about God, other than he existed. I don’t even think my family owned a Bible. If we did I never saw it. The same goes for my extended family and all of my friends that were Catholic.

Around the age of 27 I started to get interested in the Bible. Not so much the book itself, but in some of the stories from the Old Testament. I won’t go into the details as I’m hoping to write up my testimony soon. Anyway, I decided to try going back to church but wanted to try a Protestant church as my boyfriend (now my husband) had grown up in a Protestant environment and his family seemed more in touch with the Bible. In that church I heard the Gospel and accepted Jesus as my Savior and my life changed in an instant.

I call myself a recovering Catholic because by the grace of God I was able to overcome my entrapment. I believe that Catholicism is a dead religion that fools people into thinking they are bound for heaven when most are not. I believe this because of my own experience growing up in the Catholic church and because of my continual interaction with my Catholic family members and friends.

Of course I’m speaking in very general terms here as I do not know anyone’s heart, but I’m going with the odds based on my experience. Of all my Catholic family and friends I don’t know one that could tell me the Gospel message. I don’t know one that reads their bible and most don’t even own one. But I know that they all think that they will be going to heaven upon death simply because they believe in the existence of God and attend mass weekly.

. . . If anyone reading this is Catholic, I hope I haven’t upset you too much by what I have said here, but I must be honest. I personally don’t believe that you can have a legitimate relationship with Jesus Christ and be a Catholic. There is too much disparity. That may sound harsh but I’m willing to say it because I believe it whole-heartedly and I don’t mess around when it comes to salvation.

It breaks my heart that there are people who seem to be trying to follow God and are being mislead into a false sense of security. Since I currently have family members lost in this trap, I tend to take a hard stance on this. This is also why I take a hard stance on other religions that are not pointing people to the one true God . I guess it’s part of my “recovery” program.

Here is an excellent resource that states this better than I have here: Are Some Roman Catholics Saved.

("My Version of a Recovering Catholic" -- 17 March 2006)
The last reference there was the Jack Chick tract (written by "former monk and priest" H. Gregory Adams). Here is the link again, and some of the whopper-gems that make up this farcical piece of disinformation:
Just as you cannot mix fire and water, neither can one be a saved person and remain a faithful Roman Catholic.

. . . Roman Catholics know about Christ, but do not know Him personally, therefore they are trying to work their way to Him. Roman Catholicism is essentially a religion of works and not of grace as taught in the Scriptures.

. . . Though the cross and the death of Christ are emphasized, the saving truths of Redemption are not taught. Or they are so mixed with Mary, penance, purgatory, ritual, mass, and with idol and saint worship, that faith unto salvation is completely obscure.

. . . And how can they repeat Calvary when the Bible says: "For this He did once" (Hebrews 7:27).

. . . Some tell us that they have met some pretty good Roman Catholics who talk all about Jesus and seemed to trust Him. But then again, if they trust Jesus alone for salvation (and there is no other way), then why mass, confession, beads, statues, crucifixes, etc., etc.?
. . . We urge you to pray for the Roman Catholics and to witness to them as never before. They are lost and need a living Saviour, not one dead on the cross.
Those who insist that there are saved Roman Catholics either do not know that Bible or do not know Roman Catholicism.
Whew! Further comment is superfluous. Anyone wanting to know how all this hogwash is untrue can find the answers on my blog, with just a little bit of searching. It does Carrie no good, nor anyone else any good, to misrepresent Catholic teachings and present a tortured caricature of them in order to promote their own. Just because she was abysmally ignorant when she was a Catholic doesn't mean that all of us Catholics were like her. In a word, she needs to face up to her own ignorance and not project it onto everyone else, in order to help justify her own decision to reject what she wrongly thinks is "Catholicism."

The issue at hand was understandable in the sense that people can differ (and scholars can and do). But it is the haughtiness and spiritual arrogance with which so many anti-Catholics dogmatically present their opinions that is insufferable. Her comments here flowed from her overall presupposition of anti-Catholicism, just as sludge flows from a sewer. Carrie is not the problem. She's probably a fine person. I have nothing against her personally; nor do I question her motivations. But I detest and despise the anti-Catholic rotgut (promulgated by the likes of Jack Chick in this instance) that has her and millions in bondage to falsehoods and lies about Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ. That is the devil's victory and no one else's.

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