The Attitude of the Primitive Church toward Judaism -- By: Everett F. Harrison

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 113:450 (Apr 1956)
Article: The Attitude of the Primitive Church toward Judaism
Author: Everett F. Harrison


The Attitude of the Primitive Church toward Judaism

Everett F. Harrison

In order to enter into this subject at all, one needs to have some understanding and appreciation of Judaism. Perhaps the best way to arrive at this is to consider two imaginary men, one a pagan of the Hellenistic age and the other a Jew of the same period. Both hear the Christian gospel proclaimed and both accept it. The erstwhile pagan can properly think of his new position in terms of addition. He knows God now for the first time in a personal sense through his faith in Christ. He enters into the experience of being chosen of God unto salvation and of being a child of God. A whole area of spiritual knowledge is opened before him. He is introduced to a fellowship with other believers. Certain things in his old life must be eliminated, especially idolatry and that laxity in the realm of morals which so often characterized the paganism of the period. It may be, too, that certain lines will have to be drawn in his social intercourse, lest his witness be compromised and his spiritual progress impeded. But in the main he can think of his status as a Christian primarily in terms of something added to him.

On the other hand, the Jew is already familiar with many elements that make up the Christian gospel. He has been taught from early childhood the personal nature of God and His unique place as Creator and as the covenant-God of his fathers. He knows something of election and salvation. He is acquainted with the Messianic hope of his nation. He has been taught to live in the world in terms of decency and the canons of morality which are enunciated in the law and the prophets. The principal thing which is new in his present

position as a believer is his confidence that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah.

But the Judaism which he has known is far more than a system of belief or even a Sabbath-day fellowship. Judaism is a culture, a way of life. The nationalistic and so-called secular aspects are woven tightly into the religious, so that the pattern is not complete unless both are present. We have some difficulty appreciating this because of our traditional separation of church and state. In the very nature of the case the first adherents to Christianity, being all Jews, could not divest themselves of that which had been their very life, especially since much of this inheritance was recognized as fully in line with the gospel revelation and a preparation for it. Theologically speaking, no doubt, it is proper to say that the moment they became Christians they ceased to be Jews, for in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek. Consequently, Paul speaks of deliberately becoming a Jew in order to win Jews (You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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