2nd Temple Judaism and Christianity

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : September 23, 2004

I started classes at Bethel Seminary today. This morning, I had 2nd Temple Judaism. We are priviledged to have Dr. Michael Wise teaching us from his area of particular expertise. I’ve very interested in learning about the context in which Jesus and the early church ministered. So much of the popular understanding of the Bible is flawed because we read back our culture into the text; understanding the 2nd Temple period of Jewish history is intensely important for understanding the New Testament.

Today, for example, Dr. Wise emphasized that Christianity is essential A form of Judaism…or at least it was early on. There were many Judaisms, but only two survived the destruction of the Temple in AD70–rabbinic Judaism, which perseveres to this day, and Christianity. Writers such as NT Wright have done a service to the Church by pointing out how inherently Jewish early Christianity was–this is not to say they were Messianic Jews in the way we think today, but that they considered themselves True Israel. For the early Christians, Christianity was a purer form of Judaism. They hardly saw themselves as a departure from Judaism; instead they felt that they were being faithful to YHWH and His Messiah.

I hope to post anything of particular interest as the course continues, especially regarding implications for the Church.

for further reading . . .

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9 Responses to “2nd Temple Judaism and Christianity”

  1. Chris on September 24th, 2004 12:58 am

    I didn’t want to split hairs with a man who probably knows much more than I do, but even though I know what he means, it’s not precise to say that Christians are Jews “in a sense” or that Christianity is a purer form of “Judaism” simply because the nation of Judah, as Paul eloquently argues in Romans, has never been fully aligned with “true Israel.” Christians are “true Israel,” but they are not Jews (or Judah-ites).

  2. Van S on September 24th, 2004 9:25 am

    Yes, but how often did people in the first century use “Jews” in such a precise way? Wasn’t the Northern Kingdom essentially desimated, leaving the Southern Kingdom of Judah the dominant tribe? Wouldn’t it be fair to refer to the whole of Israel as belonging to Judaism? I see your argument, but I would still go along with the idea of Christianity being Judaism, since until Christianity, Judaism is the religion of YHWH worship.

  3. Chris on September 25th, 2004 1:48 am

    It is BECAUSE the Jews had no precise definition of themselves in the first century that we are being imprecise when we say Christians are “in a sense” Jews. BTW, the Northern AND Southern kingdoms fell, it’s just that the North fell slightly sooner than the South.
    The question isn’t whether the whole of Israel is housed within Judaism, but whether all of Judaism corresponded to Israel, the answer to which is no. It is no at once for the issue of nominality within the nation throughout its sordid history, but more importantly because Israel’s self-identity spans its entire history from Abraham to Christ, MOST of which does not include a Jewish self-identity (cf. Romans 4) and never hinges on it.

  4. Van S on September 25th, 2004 11:44 am

    The North not only fell sooner, but much harder. Israel fell to the Assyrians in 721 BC; Judah fell to the Babylonians a little over a century later in 597 BC. It is my understanding that the people today known as ‘Jews’ are descended from the Kingdom of Judah and those of the Kingdom of Israel that fled to Judah…the Northern Kingdom was In 722 BC, the Assyrians, conquered the Northern Kingdom, destroyed its capital Samaria, and sent the Israelites into captivity. At that point much of the ten tribes that make up the North become “lost”…except those that fled south to safety in Judea, which at that time maintained its independence. Those that didn’t flee to Judea were never brought back into the land. In this way, all of Israel became known as “Jews”. Israel is the Jews and vice versa…at least in their thinking at this time. I think you are splitting semantic hairs that can’t be split. Ethnicity and religion could perhaps be separated, but not in such a way that “Judaism” is ethnic and “Israel” is religious. I think a distinction can be made, but simply not in the way you are making it. I could be wrong, but I’d like to see something a bit more conclusive to be convinced.

  5. Chris on September 25th, 2004 2:24 pm

    Judah actually fell in 586 BC, of the “10 lost tribes” two were already gone, and no, you’re incorrect in your understanding that “those who didn’t flee to Judah were never brought back to the land.” The land was resettled by a mixture of Israelites and other peoples, who became the progenitors of the Samaritans. You’re making the logical fallacy called “undistributed middle.” You’re saying that Jews are “Israel,” Christians are “Israel,” therefore, Christians are Jews. If you are trying to make the point that Christians are “in some sense” Jews, then it is necessary for you to contend that “true Israel” and “Jews” are exactly equivelant, because the NT ONLY refers to Christians as “true Israel.” I never said that “Jew” was an ethnic term and “Israel” is a religious term. The term “Jew” can be many things and did mean a myriad of things in first century Judea, but the term “true Israel” has a quite precise definition in the NT. What I am saying is that Jews are not equivelant to Israel, they are part of Israel, both because they did not exist as we see them in the first century until a certain time in Israel’s history, and because when they did, they were not all part of “Israel.” I don’t think it gets any more convincing, except perhaps in the book of Romans.

  6. Van S on September 25th, 2004 6:17 pm

    I hear what you are saying. I agree with you that Christians are not Jews. I will give you that part of the argument. But, I don’t see how anything I said in my original post is imprecise. I referred only to Judaism, wich isn’t the same thing as being a Jew. Also, I’d like to know if you think Romans 2:12-29 refers only to ethnic Jews.

  7. Chris on September 26th, 2004 6:01 pm

    Not only are Christians not Jews, Christianity is not Judaism, which you contended in your first reply. You said it is because until Christianity, there was Judaism. Maybe I’m just not explaining it very well, but my response to that is twofold: (1) just because Judaism was the precursor to Christianity doesn’t make them the same thing, and (2) there is a significant portion of the history of God’s chosen people that doesn’t include Judaism. Being a Jew and Judaism are the same thing, by almost any definition, I’d like to hear how you think they’re different.
    What you said in your original post was imprecise because you said that (1) Christianity is essential[ly] a form of Judaism, (2) Christianity was a strain of Judaism that survived the fall of the Temple, (3) early Christianity was inherently Jewish, (4) they hardly saw themselves as a departure from Judaism. These are all points Dr. Wise made, and I was simply disagreeing with him. I know what he was trying to say in each case, but I think he was being imprecise. In my opinion, (1) that Christianity originated within Judaism is not the same as saying it is essentially a form of it, (2) by the time the temple fell, not only did nearly all Christian communities have a self-identity entirely outside of Judaism, they were recognized by others as distinct from Judaism, (3) even from the beginning, the influx of Gentiles, which quickly made Jews the minority, made sure that Christianity was no longer a “Jewish thing.” (4) Because of this, they quickly saw themselves as a departure from Judaism. What makes things confusing is that many Jewish Christians continued to practice their Judaism, but we know from the NT that the early Christians, after much debate, realized that those practices were not necessary for being a follower of Christ, not because they were creating a new form of Judaism, but because the covenant Judaism was based on had become obsolete (Heb. 8.13)

  8. Van S on September 26th, 2004 11:37 pm

    If you read my original post, I never say that Christianity is a form of Judaism, I DO say, however, that Christianity is a purer form of Judaism. My intention was to show how Christianity fulfills the deepest expectations of the Judaism of its time. It wasn’t a splinter sect, but a fulfillment. That was the main point I was trying to get at. I think this argument is best continued in class, me amigo.

  9. Chris on September 27th, 2004 4:44 pm

    I hear what you’re saying, and would just say it differently. Christ fulfilled the promise to Abraham, along with the covenants to him, to David, Solomon, and the new covenant offered through Jeremiah. The one covenant he did NOT fulfill was the Mosaic covenant and its Law, around which Judaism was built. I agree, let’s continue this in class. I will say that I think the discussion we’re co-leading on when did Judaism and Christianity split will be interesting to say the least.

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