Original Christianity was in a Jewish Culture with Jewish Thinking

Original Christianity was not the huge international religion people know today. It was considered by most to be a sect of Judaism, initially called the Nazarenes, later the group became identified as “Christians” at Antioch. The teaching of this early Christianity was distinct, and identifiable in tracing its Jewish roots.i This only makes sense as Christianity started as a fulfillment of messianic prophecies that originated in Judaism. Original Christian doctrine follows along the same lines as Old Testament scriptures, using analogies, types, apocalyptic writings, and other recognizable Jewish thinking patterns.

By the middle of the second century Christianity had grown and spread into the Greek Culture surrounding Israel. Gnostics, a sect in the culture that sought special knowledge of God in, among other things, religions, now included Christ and scripture as sources of knowledge. Gnostic incorporation of Christian doctrine marks a milestone in the growth of Christianity. For the first time, Christianity was viewed as a systematic theology. Christianity transitioned from Judaistic thinking processes to the analytical, philosophical thought processes of Greek culture. This was a dramatic change and its effect was far-reaching.

Danielou’s book on the theology of Jewish Christianity is one a few books that even address this topic. He gives a rare insight into how different the thinking process was in the first Christians.

“Between the Incarnation and the emergence of Hellenistic theology in the works of the apologists there was a phase of Christian thought of which the character is little known, because the works in which it expressed itself have largely disappeared.”ii

Thus starts Danielou’s book on the theology of Jewish Christianity. Danielou goes on to say that this little-known phase of Christian thought may be little known for several reasons. First, it was an early understanding of Christianity that was superseded by a later one. And, second, this early Jewish Christianity was largely Semitic or Syriac and those environments disappeared, in contrast to the Greek culture which survives in some form to this day. Danielou says that Christianity remained until the middle of the second century a Judaistic religion. Hellenistic Christianity followed after that.

Early Judaistic Christianity was as different from Hellenistic Christianity as Jewish culture was to Greek culture. Judaistic Christianity was different from the concept of legalistic Jewish converts to Christianity who just wanted to maintain the law. What was Judaistic about this Christianity was that the thinking patterns and lifestyle decisions of the participants reflected Jewish culture. Hellenistic culture was noted for its deep and abstract thinking. Everyone has heard of Plato, and Pythagoras, the author of the Pythagorean Theorem. Greek philosophical argument is full of concepts where ideas are broken down, compared, ordered, and explained in depth and detail. Contrast that with Jewish culture. Where Greek is analytical, Jewish culture 2000 years ago and beforehand was much more allegorical and symbolic.

An example of Judaistic thinking is the “type.” A type is a character or object that is used as an example for some more complex or unknown thing to teach simple truths with emphasis. The word “rock” is used in the bible to teach about the power and strength of something.

To show that Jehovah is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him. Psa 92:15

and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of a spiritual rock that followed them: and the rock was Christ.1Co 10:4

In the above verses, we have examples that emphasize biblical truths using the word “rock”. God is our “rock.” Christ is our “rock.” The image is one of strength and security. In the next verses, we will see Moses used as a “type”. Moses is shown as an example of some of the attributes of the Savior:

For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea;
and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;
and did all eat the same spiritual food;
and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of a spiritual rock that followed them: and the rock was Christ.
Howbeit with most of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.
Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.
Neither let us make trial of the Lord, as some of them made trial, and perished by the serpents.
Neither murmur ye, as some of them murmured, and perished by the destroyer.
Now these things happened unto them by way of example; and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come.
Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.1Co 10:1-12

These verses use Moses as an example of Christ. Moses performed miracles; Christ performed miracles. The Israelites “were all baptized unto Moses”. We are baptized in Christ. They ate the spiritual food and drink (another type) which we do of which holy communion is the greatest example. The verses state that the rock they “drank” of was Christ.

This section also tells us why types or examples are used. “These things happened unto them by way of example, and they were written for our admonition.” They are used for our learning, examples. Some are used as warnings.

Speaking allegorically is part of this Jewish culture. Jesus spoke in parables, a form of allegory:

And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;
And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:
Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:
But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.
Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? Mat 13:3-10

This is a powerful story. A seed has the power to grow into a plant. But it has to be sown in the right environment for the growth to be fruitful. Seeds that fall on rocks, or on soil that is too shallow, or among weeds will not grow into fruitful plants. Only plants that fall on good, fertile, deep soil will be fruitful. This is explained in later verses.

Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.
And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:
For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.
For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.
Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.
When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.
But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;
Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.
He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.
But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Mat 13:13-23

The images of seeds scorching in the sun because the soil is too shallow, or being choked by weeds, or growing tall and fruitful are powerful images. They are easy to remember and understand. They make simple points powerfully.

In contrast, the analytical style that we have been raised in since the time of the Greeks certainly allows for intricate explanations, but not with the simple, powerful imagery of the parable.

Original, powerful Christianity was birthed in the Jewish culture with its communication styles of allegory and symbolism using tools like parables, and types. While there is not necessarily a cause-and-effect relationship, one can not ignore the fact that Christianity was never more powerful in believing and manifestations of the spirit than at this time.

i. A History of Early Christian Doctrine Before the Council of Nicaea, Vol. I: The Theology of Jewish Christianity, Jean Danielou, Darton, Longman, and Todd, 1964, p7
ii. ibid

(c) copyright 200923 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved. last revised 9/7/2023

2 thoughts on “Original Christianity was in a Jewish Culture with Jewish Thinking”

  1. Janet Fillhart Schmid

    Excellent article, Mark Smith, for our actually understanding the Scriptures in their cultural context, although by His Spirit the WORD is eternal. My Light in the Word in the last six years has been exponentially widened, though I’ve studied Scripture all my life having believed as child. At 70, while I’m cramming for exams, it seems belief in Messiah is coming full circle as the last days approach.

    I found your site by searching for “logos” in the Septuagint to understand John 1:1 better. I once read of another aspect to the Hebrew “Logos” is “wisdom.” Just your table of contents sparks me. Thank you for your research.

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