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Background - Part 4
Roman Anti-Semitism and Development of the "Church"

(Last updated 5/30/00)
 
 

In order to properly understand the book of Romans, modern prejudices must be understood and addressed. Understanding "why" certain teachings are incorrect is helped by knowing "what" their roots are, and "where" they came from.

As previously mentioned, first century Rome had its "problems" with its Jewish province in Judea-Samaria. There were a number of skirmishes and several wars fought in the first and second centuries. With the war that ended in 70 AD, much of the Torah-based, Jerusalem-centered Messianic community was killed or scattered.

Two important events occurred around this time:

  1. James (actually named Jacob/Ya'acov) the brother of Yeshua died.
  2. The Temple was destroyed.

This combination of events caused a greater division between the Jerusalem Jews who believed in Yeshua and those who did not. Yeshua's brother, Ya'acov, was actually very instrumental in holding the believing and non-believing Jewish communities together. (1) This fracture in the Jewish community is significant as it pushed those Jews who believed in Yeshua (and also the gentiles who were coming to faith in Yeshua within Judaism), further away from the rest of Judaism.

This division gave gentiles who had no regard for the Jewishness of their "faith" (coming right out of the pagan Roman culture), a louder voice in community affairs and interpretation of Scripture. Anti-Jewish polemic can be found as early as the teachings of Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch at the end of the first century. Ignatius spoke out against gentile "Christians" having anything to do with Jewish forms of worship and that Jews becoming "Christians" should stop living as Jews, saying that it was "absurd to speak of Jesus Christ with the tongue and to cherish in the mind a Judaism which has now come to an end." (2)

With the war of 132 AD, Jerusalem was literally "plowed under," by the Romans and renamed Aelia Capitolina. Shrines to the Roman gods, Jupiter and Venus, were erected. What little was left of the community of Jewish believers in Yeshua was wiped out and soon replaced with a very Roman non-Jewish (highly pagan) "church." Rome went on to wipe out most of Judea, destroying 985 towns and killing over a half million Jewish men. (3) Even more died later from starvation, disease and fire.

Rome went on to pass harsh laws banning worship on the Sabbath, the Jewish (Biblical) feasts, public Jewish rituals, and reading of Torah. (This is part of the reason Sunday worship replaced following the Friday to Saturday evening Sabbath.) Jews, including those who followed Yeshua, weren’t allowed within 150 miles of the city. The lineage of Jewish successors to Yeshua and Ya'acov ended and a string of gentile "popes" soon followed.

THE EARLY CHURCH AND JUDAISM

The leadership of this new gentile "church" was quick to embrace the Roman government's position regarding Jews and was overtly hostile to anything Jewish, including the Torah. Numerous false doctrines were established as early as the second century. Among these were the teachings that "the Law" was actually given as a punishment to the Jews, that Jerusalem had been destroyed and taken from the Jews due to their sin, and that the "Church" had replaced Israel as God's people.

For instance, as early as the second century, we have Justin Martyr saying:

We too, would observe your circumcision of the flesh, your Sabbath days, and in a word, all your festivals, if we were not aware of the reason why they were imposed upon you, namely, because of your sins and the hardness of heart. The custom of circumcising the flesh, handed down from Abraham, was given to you as a distinguishing mark, to set you off from other nations and from us Christians. The purpose of this was that you and only you might suffer the afflictions that are now justly yours; that only your land be desolated, and your cities ruined by fire, that the fruits of your land be eaten by strangers before your very eyes; that not one of you be permitted to enter your city of Jerusalem. Your circumcision of the flesh is the only mark by which you can certainly be distinguished from other men…as I stated before it was by reason of your sins and the sins of your fathers that, among other precepts, God imposed upon you the observance of the Sabbath as a mark. (4)

In the third century, we have the following opinion from Origen of Alexandria:

We may thus assert in utter confidence that the Jews will not return to their earlier situation, for they have committed the most abominable of crimes, in forming this conspiracy against the Savior of the human race…hence the city where Jesus suffered was necessarily destroyed, the Jewish nation was driven from its country, and another people was called by God to the blessed election. (5)

The attitude of these two "Church fathers" was not an anomaly. The whole of Roman society around the time of Yeshua and Paul was extremely anti-Jewish. One reason being that many Roman families had lost sons in the Jewish wars. Roman intellectuals of the day wrote much derogatory material about the Jews living among them. (6)

Roman society was pagan and centered around the worship of many gods. In the midst of this was a Jewish society of around 7 million, (about 10 percent of the Roman population), a very noticeable minority. (7) Jews were despised for their peculiar religious practices and failure to worship the gods of Rome as every other conquered people was forced to do. (8) Once the Jewish leadership had been removed, changes were immediately put into effect with little opposition.

It is critical to the study of Romans, to know that these new "gentile believers" came out of this background and had no regard for anything Jewish. As we will see, most of Paul's letter is addressed to these people as they were not living as gentile believers in Yeshua should have been.

CHURCH COUNCILS AND JEWISH REGULATIONS

Continued anti-Jewish laws passed by the Roman government, assured that there would be "no going back." Constantine, (the 4th century emperor of Rome, who remained a pagan sun worshipper unto his deathbed), claimed to have had "a vision" that led him to "legalize Christianity." This initiated a process that would eventually make paganized Christianity the religion of the Empire.

Now, if you were a Jew, and wanted to "believe in the Messiah," you had to publicly renounce all things Jewish and become "a Christian." Any Gentile who joined with the Jews in their worship would be breaking the law and punished. As early as the fifth century, laws were passed preventing Jews from holding public offices and forbidding the building of new Synagogues. (9)

The church councils of the fourth century formulated the doctrines and creeds that Christianity holds to this day. These councils were made up of gentiles from the same anti-Semitic background as those of the previous two hundred years. Jewish believers who held regard for Torah were barred from attending these meetings, and their positions on the meaning of Scripture with regard to Torah were "overruled." (10) One of the earliest councils ruled that anyone found eating with Jews would be prevented from taking communion so that he would "learn to amend," (11) and that marriage to a Jew would result in excommunication. (12)

The remaining believers, who held fast to the Torah observant doctrines of the original community, were mocked and considered at best "weak" in their faith if not in fact heretics.

For example, we have Epiphanius, in the fourth century, stating:

"They [the Nazarenes] have no different ideas, but confess everything exactly as the Law proclaims it and in the Jewish fashion-- except for their belief in Messiah... but since they are still fettered by the Law -- circumcision, the Sabbath, and the rest-- they are not in accord with Christians." (13)

By the end of the 4th century, anything resembling a "pro-Torah" view of "the faith" had become non-existent in what was now called "Christianity." The Councils of Antioch (341CE) and Laodicea (360CE) prohibited Christians from participating in Jewish rituals. As one modern historian puts it, this was all done to show that Jewish tradition was, "inherently evil, obsolete and irrelevant for practical Christian life." (14)

Faith in Yeshua went from being 100 percent Jewish to 100 percent anti-Jewish in less than 300 years.

All of this history is the foundation of the Christian Church. Persecution of Jews throughout history, the Crusades, the Inquisitions, numerous mass expulsions throughout history, and of course the Holocaust, are all the direct result of the Church's anti-Semitic doctrines.

The "Protestant Reformation" of the 16th century did nothing to change Christianity's anti-Jewish foundation. The "reformers," such as Luther and Calvin, were as anti-Semitic, if not more so, as their predecessors a millennium before them. Martin Luther's writings were a favorite of Adolph Hitler, who acquired many of his ideas on how to deal with Jews from him. (15)

The concerns of the "reformers" were solely with what they felt was corruption and abuse of power in the Christian/Catholic church. They had no desire to return to the Torah-based Judaism of Yeshua and the apostles. (16)

An understand of the following is imperative:

The anti-Semitic ideologies and anti-Torah theologies of the early Church leaders and later Protestant "reformers," established the foundation for all Christian opinion, Catholic and Protestant, to this very day. All interpretation of Scripture coming from Christian teachers, authors or institutions, including every Christian Bible translation available and all of their footnotes, every Christian Bible commentary book, study course, Sunday sermon and seminary's teaching curriculum and movies, has been filtered through the doctrines of these men and reinforced through hundreds of years of Church teaching.

If a person is willing to accept the facts of history, and the idea that what they have been taught in their church may not be the correct interpretation of Scripture, then they have a chance to understand what Paul, the Torah-observant Pharisee, was saying in the book of Romans.


  1. James the Brother of Jesus, Robert Eisenman, 1997, Penguin Books, New York, NY.
  2. Ignatius' Letter to the Magnesians
  3. Caesar and Christ, Will Durant, 1944, Simon and Schuster, New York, p. 548.
  4. Justin Martyr - Dialogue with Trypho (Circa 138-161 A.D.)
  5. Origen of Alexandria (185-254 A.D.) as quoted in Scattered Among the Nations, Documents Affecting Jewish History 49 to 1975, Edited by Alexis P. Rubin, Jason Aronson Inc., London, pp. 22-23.
  6. Jew & Gentile in the Ancient World, Louis H. Feldman, 1993, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, pp. 123-176
  7. Caesar and Christ, Will Durant, 1944, Simon and Schuster, New York, p. 546.
  8. The Mystery of Romans, Mark Nanos, 1996, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, pp. 64-68.
  9. Novella III, as instituted by Theodosius II, Roman Emperor in the East, 439 A.D.
  10. The last known meeting between the Jewish minority and Gentile majority was in the year 318,  presided over by Sylvester, a representative of Emperor Constantine.
  11. Council of Elvira, 304 A.D., Canon 50, Laws Relating to Jews
  12. Council of Elvira, 304 A.D., Canon 16, Laws Relating to Jews
  13. Epiphanius; Panarion 29; 4th Century -- See Biblical Law by James Trimm at: www.nazarene.net/biblaw.htm.
  14. Paul and the Jewish Law - Halakha in the Letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles, Peter J. Tomson, 1990, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, p. 3.
  15. Martin Luther called for persecution of Jews, including; burning their synagogues to the ground, destroying their homes, confiscating their Talmuds and prayer books, killing their rabbis who refused to stop teaching, revoking their right to travel, and putting them in concentration camps. Hitler followed Luther's recommendations quite well. See Anti-Semitism of the "Church Fathers," at www.yashanet.com/library/fathers.htm.and, Why the Protestant Reformation Failed!, at: www.yashanet.com/library/reformf.htm.
  16. See Anti-Semitism of the "Church Fathers," at www.yashanet.com/library/fathers.htm.

 


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