Jewish Opposition to Christians in Asia Minor in the First Century -- By: Eckhard J. Schnabel
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Jewish Opposition to Christians in Asia Minor in the First Century
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
This study examines the reasons for the opposition of the Jews of Roman Asia Minor to the Jewish Christian missionaries and their teaching. It will be seen that while theological convictions played a significant role, the opposition in the local synagogues cannot be explained only with reference to the Jews’ zeal for the law and for the purity of the Jewish community. The available evidence, particularly of Josephus, suggests that the Jews of Asia Minor were concerned to preserve the social and political rights and privileges that they had enjoyed since Julius Caesar, which had come under pressure in different places at different times and which would be threatened if pagans joined the community without being asked to submit to circumcision and to other Jewish traditions such as the food laws. Concerns about the financial viability of the local Jewish community and about the relationship with the Jewish commonwealth in Judea may have played a role as well.
Key Words: mission, evangelism, Jews, synagogues, opposition, Rome, imperial edicts, politics, Asia Minor, Paul, Acts, Revelation
Luke reports in the book of Acts that, whereas Paul and his missionary team were initially received cordially in the synagogues of the cities they visited, opposition by members of the local Jewish community was a regular occurrence, an opposition that on some occasions culminated in outright persecution. This opposition is usually explained with reference to Paul’s message that salvation comes not through obedience to Torah, including the practice of circumcision and the food laws, but through Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah.1 Some scholars have suggested
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that political considerations need to be taken into account as well when we seek to understand the opposition of Jewish diaspora communities to Paul.2 The following observations will explore the validity of this suggestion. Because there are few sustained discussions of these issues in the scholarly literature, the focus will be on the primary source material, notably Luke’s book of Acts and Josephus’s historical works. Questions regarding the historical reliability of Luke’s account in the book of Acts and of Josephus’s reporting will not be discussed. Despite the obvious significance of the editorial decisions of both Luke and Josephus, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that their narratives can be compared to the historiographical standards of the Hellenistic-Roman period.
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