Q&A. The Jewishness of the Early Church

Temple of Jerusalem | Description, History, & Significance | Britannica

A friend asks (lightly edited):

In Acts 2.46, it says (ESV): “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.” Placing this in its historical context, the temple here refers to the Jewish temple, correct? So they’re going to temple with the other Jews, and then baptizing and receiving the Lord’s Supper in their homes?

Yes! Going to temple (until it was destroyed in AD 70), being baptized in ritual baths which were “everywhere in Jerusalem,” and receiving the Lord’s supper (an actual meal!) in their homes. No Gentile Christians as of yet, just Jewish Christians doing both paradigmatically Christian things and paradigmatically Jewish things.

My understanding is that a number of the early Christians in the Jewish community were proselytes, that is, ethnic Greeks and the like but religiously Jewish? Is there any evidence that proselytes constituted a disproportionate percentage (high or low) of the first century church?

Yes! Many so-called “God-fearers.” Luke records the baptism of many (in Acts 13, 17, etc.). Indeed, Acts is partly an account of the ethnic expansion of the Church. The first Samaritans (sometimes considered “half-Jews”) are baptized in Acts 8. The first Gentile (an Ethiopian) is also baptized in Acts 8. Acts 10 and 11 record the baptism of Cornelius (a Gentile proselyte) and the first proclamation of the good news to Greeks (11.20).

As far as percentages, my guess is that the Church became majority-Gentile by the end of the first century, partly because Christian-Jewish relations seem to have deteriorated rather quickly (as is evidenced in parts of the New Testament) and partly because there many more Gentiles to reach than Jews as the good news spread across the Roman world. Early on, however, the Church was firmly rooted in her Jewish roots. (Jewish) Christians only began leaving Jerusalem en masse after a persecution (Acts 8.1). The Epistle of James refers to a Christian meeting as a “synagogue” (2.1) and to Christian teaching as “the Law” (2.12, 4.11). And so on.


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