Types of Jewish Christianity (Raymond Brown)

It is possible to group the various types of early Christians around the evangelist responsible for the establishment of their group.  1 Cor 1-4 demonstrates that there were schisms along the lines of teachers.  While Paul says that these loyalties to leadership are having a negative effect on the church, the fact that they exist informs us that some of the house churches in Corinth were loyal to Paul, Peter, Apollos, etc.

It is possible, according to Brown, to identify at least four sub-groups of early Christianity:

Jewish Christians who practiced full observance of the Mosaic Law.  This group required circumcision for all converts including Gentiles. The Judaizers in Asia Minor and Antioch would fall into this category, as well as the Pharisees in Acts 15.  Paul considers these believers to be “false brothers” (Gal 2:4) and the Gospel of John strongly condemns those who do not separate from the synagogue (John 12:42).

Jewish Christians who did not insist on circumcision for Gentile converts, but did require them to keep some of the purity laws. This group was involved in the “Antioch incident” (Gal 2), and may have been associated with James and Peter. Brown includes Barnabas and John Mark in this type as well.   Brown speculates they were dominate in Antioch, Rome, Pontus, Cappadocia and the province of Asia (the last three are the recipients of  1 Peter).

Jewish Christians who did not insist on circumcision or purity laws for Gentile converts, nor did it insist that Jewish Christians abandon the Law. This is Pauline Christianity and first developed in Antioch, but was extensively elaborated by Paul in his letters.  That Paul was not anti-Law for Jews is an important distinction.  Paul continued to keep Passover and was willing to participate in some form of Temple worship (Acts 20:16, 21:26, 24:11).

Jewish Christians who did not insist on circumcision or purity laws for Gentile converts, but also saw not significance for the Jewish Temple. Stephen and the Hellenists may represent this view (Acts 6-7).  Stephen’s speech seems to be a rejection of the Temple as a form of worship for those who are in Christ.  Perhaps Hebrews and the Gospel of John can be included here since the Temple is spiritualized or allegorized

Brown’s types of early Christianity are helpful, but it is also possible to develop a type or two on either end of this scale. The Ebionites, for example, would be more conservative that Type 1 since they reject Paul as a heretic.  The Nicolatians, for example, would be more liberal than Type 4 since they reject the Law to the extent that they embrace immorality.  In both cases these groups are sub-Christian since they have a serious deficient view of Christ or the atonement.  As we read through Hebrews and the other Jewish letters, this four-part typology may need to be modified or adapted.

Bibliography: Raymond Brown, “Not Jewish Christianity and Gentile Christianity, but Types of Jewish/Gentile Christianity” CBQ 45 (1983): 74-79.

21 thoughts on “Types of Jewish Christianity (Raymond Brown)

  1. Brown’s typology seems to suggest a generous amount of variety in the early church. I don’t know if I’m reading too much into Brown, but these four types seem to be viable Jewish Christian options for the time. My question is, would Paul or James see these all as plausible Jewish Christian lifestyles? It seems to be easy to look back and determine that these different types had a solid Christology, but slightly different perspectives on Law observance and classify them all as Christ followers. Would Paul have thought the same?
    My second question is, could an argument be made that the council of Jerusalem fits under a progressive type 2 for Brown? By progressive I mean to say, that new believers were not to be burdened with the Law in the beginning, but as they matured they should adopt Law, with the exception of circumcision. The reason I bring this question up is because the conclusion of the council of Jerusalem only lists four things that the new believers should do in order to have fellowship with one another: Abstain from food polluted by idols, abstain from sexual immorality, abstain from the meat of strangled animals, and abstain from blood. With those being the only four things that Christians need worry about before having fellowship with one another it begs the question, “what about lying or murdering?” I believe this question is answered by the next statement in Acts 15:21, “For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.” It seems as if James is either making a compromise with Paul or that this was the intended purpose, was that, new believers were to be slowly indoctrinated to the Law just as we today indoctrinate people into the church. When a new believer walks in the front door of the church we don’t tell them that they are in charge of a Sunday school class and for bringing spaghetti and meatballs to the pot luck. They must be brought up to maturity. Hebrews 5:12-14 touches on this concept of maturing in the faith and in righteousness. Would it make sense that this maturing process would lead us to a life that was in consonance with God’s Law, which leads to righteousness?

    • Jacob – you said “would Paul or James see these all as plausible Jewish Christian lifestyles?” I am not sure that matters, it is possible that the middle two could “agree to disagree,” but the first type reacted violently to Pauline Christianity and persecuted Paul. James or Peter might be “stuck in the middle” of Paul and thoroughly Jewish Christians.

      Secondly, I am not sure your characterization of the results of the Jerusalem Council are accurate: “new believers were not to be burdened with the Law in the beginning, but as they matured they should adopt Law, with the exception of circumcision.” I am not sure the Acts 15 decision said anything like, “When *Gentiles* become more mature, they ought to do the Law.” They said no “Works of the Law” (ie, boundary markers) and immediately keep the four sojourner-type laws. IMHO, the council in Acts 15 is a complete Win for Paul (type three) Christianity.

      • If Acts 15 is a complete win for Paul (type three) Christianity, why does James include the Moses and Synagogue part at the end? Why does Paul do very Jewish things yet preach against the Law? It seems as if Paul is either a hypocrite doing that which he tells others not to do or he’s doing exactly what he’s supposed to. I think that from his perspective the Law was a stumbling block for people in that they thought they could obtain salvation by it, where as he knowing and trusting that his salvation comes from Christ had no burden upon him while following the Law. He preformed circumcision on Timothy, observed the Sabbath with the Jews, offered sacrifices in the temple, I’m guessing he probably kept the kosher laws as well. I’m fine with the laws from Acts 15 being those that apply to sojourners, but I feel like there is something that we’re missing. Paul is very Jewish and we read into his writings very Greek concepts. Such as, Israel was a physical nation with physical laws and the church the body of Christ is a spiritual body with spiritual laws. It sounds very Greek, very gnostic. Even the concept that the law is written on our hearts we make it sound very Greek instead of Jewish. We separate the body and the heart, the physical and spiritual and I don’t think that it does justice to the scriptures. I agree with Keith that Christianity may look very different if the Gentiles didn’t take such an aggressive stance towards the Jews after 70 AD. Even Constantine is responsible for a lot of anti-Semitic sentiments, which resulted in the separation of Jewish holidays from “Christian” holidays. Ex. Passover and Sabbath become, Easter and Sunday.

      • Jacob, you ask “Why does Paul do very Jewish things yet preach against the Law?” Two issues here, neither have to do with the typology above. First, I think that Pauline Christianity as we have it in the NT never said that Jews ought to reject the law. For Timothy, he must be circumcised since he is a Jew (his mother was, anyway), but Titus does not (since he was a Gentile).

        Secondly, I think that you need to work on what the “works of the Law” Paul is against in his letters actually were — does this mean the whole law, or the “boundary markers” which set Jews apart from Gentiles? (IMHO, most of the time he has the boundary markers in mind.”

        “we read into his writings very Greek concepts.” Speak for yourself . In Brown’s typology, Paul is still Jewish Christianity, but one that recognizes a separation between Jews and Gentiles, and I might add a form of Christianity that targets Gentiles more intentionally that Type 2; IMHO Type one did not really deal with Gentiles, except for God-Fearers who aligned with the synagogue.

  2. Reading through Brown’s four perspectives of a developing Jewish Christianity, it can easily be assessed that the theology developed by Paul in Antioch is the correct understanding of Yahweh’s redemptive plan through Christ. This theology, however, more so than the other pillars in Palestine like James and Peter, was concerned with Gentiles. Paul’s task set by Yahweh to the Gentiles took precedence over his Jewish brothers (though the gospel is for the Jews first). The more conservative Jewish Christians were more concerned with having Christ plus the Law rather than Paul’s theology of having Christ then responding to that with the Law of the Spirit. As Paul states in Romans, however, “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (7.12). Paul does not command his Jewish listeners to abandon the Law but their reliance on it for life. In fact, Paul argues that the Law is dead because through Christ we have risen above its curse through his flesh (7.4). Though the Law was given to protect and show what is righteous, the law was set as a taskmaster, or guider, until the moment of Christ’s arrival. The Law prepares Israel for the coming Messiah (Gal 3.24). Now that Christ has come, why should entering Gentile believers be forced to backpedal to a Law inferior of the the one to whom the Law pointed to? Paul’s theology is persuasive, especially as we read through Galatians and Romans showing his listeners that the Law still provides a rich practice to meeting Yahweh but that it is no longer through the Law in which they find favor, but through faith in Christ.

    As we arrive in this class, my post primarily represents a theology that allows Gentile admission into the covenant. This does not speak for a quickly developing Jewish Christianity from the perspective of the Jews themselves. Fulling understanding how Christ fulfills Yahweh’s promise, how he administers his grace, and how Jews respond to this with the Law are questions that need to be answered.

    My concerning question is this: Throughout the persecuting years of Nero and Vespasian, Jewish Christianity took a blow dividing itself, and Christianity separated itself from its Jewish roots striking out on its own. After the quiet years, between the apostles and the apostolic fathers, Christians questioned how to administer the people and were concerned with providing strong biblical doctrine to incoming believers. Christians were forced to develop their own traditions to weather the days ahead. Is it possible that in Christianity’s separation from its Jewish roots (not a total separation) that we have lost valuable theology and practice represented in Hebrews through Revelation? If Judaism had not declared war on Rome, would Christianity have looked different? Better?

    • Keith asked “If Judaism had not declared war on Rome, would Christianity have looked different? Better?” Good question – although those sort of speculative “what if” questions are always hard to answer. Eventually Gentiles would outnumber Jews regardless, but I think that one result would be that early Christianity would not have gone anti-Semetist so quickly. By the second century there are some pretty terrible anti-Jewish language and the “Jewishness” of Jesus and Paul was lost until the recent past.

      I think that Brown would say that all four of his types were interested in Gentile evangelism, although they went about in different ways. I disagree that the first of his types “sought” Gentile converts, and I am not too sure that James-style Jewish Christianity sought to evangelize outside of Judea or other Diaspora communities (Antioch, Ephesus). I’m not totally committed to that point, but I’m not too far out there.

      • P-Long, I agree with you pointing out that as a result of the abrupt separation of first century Jewish Christianity and the Christianity we begin to see in the second century there developed a high degree of anti-Semitism. Further down the years no one needs to look further than Luther’s “Of the Jews and Their Lies” to find its climatic effects. This early anti-Semitism, built upon over the years, has greatly impacted the way we read through the NT, and more so, resulted in a incoherent and discontinuous Pauline theology. It can perhaps be argued and found evidential that what 20th century coined as the “new perspective” is a reassessment of a long history of falsified notions which may lead back to shortly after Jewish Christianity’s split. Though much of the past 2000 years of theology is sound material, much of 2000 years worth of faults are trying to be hastily corrected in the last 100 years worth of time. If Jewish Christianity in the first century had maintained itself, I believe that Christian theology would be more mature and effective (respecting the coarse that history has taken and what God has allowed and planned).

  3. Brown very accurately shined a ray of light on the distinct differences between each and every early group in Jewish Christianity.The four different views of Jewish Christianity remind me of the church denominations here in West Michigan. It would be like having They all believe they are right and they fight until they fall apart. Although, if someone tryed to circumcise me at Wellspring, I wouldn’t stick around very long. The way the Sanhedrin operated was similar to my old church(Christian Reformed). May God have mercy on their new preacher. The true is most churches fight about unimportant non-essential things and it becomes their demise. Brown’s four part typology would be Although I best relate to type 4. I have always been fascinated with the boldness of Stephen to speak the truth to such an established group such as the Sanhedrin. Yet, I think Stephen was addressing a larger issue than just discussing the four of Jewish Christianity. I agree Professor Long that each group most likely had a gentile philosophy for Evengelism. Yet as we see today, curtain denominations completely fail in evangelism. I see the most conservative of these four groups (type 1) as being a legalist group that has completely lost all purpose. Praise God for the twentieth century. Also the freedom we now have compared to the lack of freedom the early Jewish Church has in this article is absolutely shocking.

  4. When I read the description of the types of Jewish Christianity (Raymond Brown), I see the division among the early believers. I understand why Paul says that “these loyalties to leadership are having a negative effect on the church.” It reminds me of the divisions or conflicts of today among denominations, and the tendency to follow the preacher rather than follow Christ. I understand there are false teachers and one must be diligent in proving that what is being preached is truth. 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” When hearing a message, rather than just accepting that it is truth, one should critically think and study what was said so that they may not be deceived. It seems like divisions in churches and amongst God’s people have gotten out of hand. Many denominations differ on minor issues, yet it causes such great division that believers are unable and unwilling to come together to worship. I do not believe that this is what God intended, but I never realized that it all started so early in the early church.
    -McKenzie McCord 1/24/18

  5. When I read the description of the ‘Types of Jewish Christianity (Raymond Brown)’, I see the division among the early believers. I understand why Paul says that “these loyalties to leadership are having a negative effect on the church.” It reminds me of the divisions or conflicts of today among denominations and the tendency to follow the preacher rather than follow Christ. I understand there are false teachers and one must be diligent in proving that what is being preached is truth. When listening to a message, one needs to use critical thinking and also study, as to not be deceived by false truths. 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” It seems that the divisions among God’s people and in churches have gotten out of hand. Many denominations differ on minor issues and it causes such great division that believers are unable and unwilling to come together to worship. I do not believe that this is what God intended for the church, but I never realized that it all started so early on in the early church.

  6. The various types of early Jewish Christians largely saw the significance of either the Law and/or the temple. Although in the majority of cases, the temple was not forced upon Gentiles, there were several groups who believed that the Law should be followed by Gentiles believers in either its partial or full extent. Those who believed that the Law should be followed to its full extent were the Judaizers and the Ebionites and created for themselves a largely uncompromising belief in the necessity for the Law to be followed. This created some degree of division because Paul informs us in Galatians 2 that they tried to infringe on the freedom that the Gentile believers had in Christ and tried “to make us slaves” (Gal. 2:4). This extreme conservatism led to an even greater enslavement by the Law and a spiritual denial of the freedom Christ brings to every believer.

    The main difference there is between the Judaizers and the Ebionites is the former and latter group’s opinion of Paul. Scripture does not give a clear picture of the view the Judaizers held towards Paul, especially considering his formal training as a pharisee. However, the Ebionites believed that Paul was a heretic because of his view of the Law. In seeing how the Ebionites viewed Paul’s view of the Law has heretical, this begs the question of whether the Ebionites would have seen James and, to a lesser degree, Peter’s change in their views of the Law has heretical.

    Neither of these early church leaders speak in a way that focuses on denying the Law, yet at the same time, Acts 15 gives us an image of the Jerusalem council and shows the Jewish leaders removing some of the restrictions of the Law for the Gentiles. Although ultimately, the end of the Jerusalem council reveals that the church leadership decided that the Gentiles should follow some purity laws. This reveals that the restrictions for Gentiles fell on a compromise between type 2 and type 3, although it is clear that the end result leaned more towards type 3.

    With James as one of the leaders of the Jerusalem church, his impact on this decision would be widely known among the local Jewish church that he had influence over. His impact on the decision would have been known by the Ebionites rather quickly, as they would likely have been known as part of the church in Jerusalem during that time. Ultimately, the case could be made, considering his words of Acts 15:13-21 that James would have leaned more towards a compromise between type 2 and 3 possibly rendering him a heretic to the Ebionites.

  7. In these early churches, we see division. We see these same divisions today, whether it is a big division like theology or as simple as pews or chairs. These disagreements affect the congregation and leaders in the church. Paul recognizes this and chooses to write to these churches to give a fresh perspective and the negative effects they may not be able to see. Part of this is also the loyalty each individual had to a family. It is easy to get focused on following a physical person, instead of Christ. Even today we see this happen as people leave the church when a pastor steps down or retires. I know that first hand as I have watched my family members leave because their loyalty was to the pastor. It is a good thing to have good fellowship with others, but God should be first. We worship God, not the praise band.
    In this article, Brown shows us four sub-groups in Christianity. Each has reasoning and their opinion of interpretation. Looking back to the context of this time, I could personally see why there may be divided. It is not always easy to lose what they once did or follow a new idea of how a Christian should live out their faith. These divisions continue to grow from there. It is important to recognize that these divisions were about how they practice their faith. All in all, it will be interesting to see the changes to these groups and how other groups may form or adapt in further studies.

  8. It is very easy for me to see how the different denominations of Churches were formed just based on the variation of these four groups. That is not to say that the denominations started from these four groups but that they are a good example of how we can all believe the same thing and yet have different beliefs. Just in the evangelical church alone you have differing beliefs. Some churches believe that baptism is necessary for salvation while others do not. Some think that speaking in tongues is important while others do not. These Jewish Christians had differing opinions about whether circumcision was necessary or not for a believer in Christ. Still, others thought that purity laws were important for a follower in Christ but just like today, the one thing that should bind all followers of Jesus is what he did on the cross for us. Our love for Jesus should bind us together and every other discrepancy should be secondary to our love and faith in Christ Jesus

  9. The churches I grew up in believe that baptism is mandatory for salvation or as they called it in the black community churches “being saved” while others and other churches do not believe. Some people think that speaking in tongues is something that God demands me personally. I don’t believe that it is super important everyone’s relationship with God is different. Jewish Christians thinks differently when it comes to believing in Christ then someone that came up in the christian world. Our love and togetherness for Jesus should never change and no matter what I feel that every relationship with Jesus is different but it is pure in the best way possible. Long as you doing what your supposed to do God will come through for you.

  10. I honestly have nothing deep or theological to comment on this post. I feel as if I am a little out of my league now if I am being honest. I hope to have a greater understanding of this as the class continues and am looking forward to finding answers to many of my questions! However, the thing that stood out to me when reading this post, was the difference in the subgroups of Christianity you outlined. In a previous post, I mentioned that I thought it was significant that the Jewish recipients of these letters were able to hold on to their Jewish culture and traditions. However, after reading about the different sects, including one which the Pharisees were grouped into, I wonder if that is entirely correct? Were there aspects of Jewish tradition that interfered with an understanding of the gospel? You mention that Paul was not anti-law for Jewish believers, but would holding on to those laws cause confusion with gospel? And does this translate to today’s church, where some denominations require specific things that others do or don’t? What is important when it comes to one’s faith? Is it simply belief in Jesus as Savior, or are there things that can enhance or interfere with one’s relationship with Christ? I look forward to studying these books further and gaining a better understanding of how these Jewish Christians lived out their faith.

  11. It is interesting that Brown noticed four main sub-groups of Christianity. His groups each fall under a certain person (or group of people) that had different beliefs about how the law applied to living out faith. For instance, the idea that Gentiles needed to be circumcised was associated by Brown with the Pharisees in Acts 15 and the Juadiezers in Asia Minor and Antioch (Long, 2018) (Brown,1983). Brown’s sub-categories include and greatly focus on the role of circumcision and the law of Moses. It makes sense that this would be such a controversy in the church because of how important both circumcisions, the Mosaic law, and becoming an Israelite were to the church before the expansion of the Christian faith “when the Chrisitan church expanded outside of the Judaism of Palestine and throughout the Gentile Roman Empire” (Jobes, 2011). It was after Peter, Paul and James decided that Gentiles did not need to become Jews to be Christians that other questions of ethics and morality as a Chrisitan came into play (Jobes, 2011). The church today still struggles and sadly often divides as a result of misaligned beliefs about how certain ethics and theology ought to be lived out in the church.

    It is interesting to see that Brown could have even added another sub-group to both the more liberal and more conservative sides of the groups he formed. A more liberal group being the Nicolaitans and the more conservative Ebionites. Seeing all of the different sub-groups makes me wonder what it would have been like had Paul, Peter, and James decided differently about Gentiles needing to become Jews, and why they decided that it was not necessary even though Jesus himself practiced the Jewish customs.

    Raymond Brown, “Not Jewish Christianity and Gentile Christianity, but Types of Jewish/Gentile Christianity” CBQ 45 (1983): 74-79.
    Jobes, K. H. (2011). Letters to the Church: A Survey of Hebrews and the General Epistles. Zondervan.
    Long, P. J. (2018, January 19). Types of Jewish Christianity (Raymond Brown). Reading Acts. Retrieved January 23, 2022, from https://readingacts.com/2018/01/19/types-of-jewish-christianity/

  12. This post bears an important distinction to be made and recalled when looking at groups of Christians in the New Testament. They were not all the same and did not all share the same beliefs as to how the law should be obeyed, especially concerning gentiles. Just as we have different denominations within the church who support a varied range of different beliefs pertaining to a topic, one such example is baptism and whether it is essential or not, the original church also had its own divisions. I am very interested by the opening introduction to this post about the schisms along the lines of teachers. I understood from last semester and studying the Pauline letters that some were following Peter and some Paul, etc. But putting that together with the different types of Jewish Christianity, I am intrigued by who may have been the ‘leader’ of each of these types of Jewish Christianity. It is not necessarily true that each of these different divisions formed as a result of following different teachers, but it is not out of the question. And I fully acknowledge that this may be something where I am totally off base and taking this class will show me otherwise. But I cannot see any of the disciples or Jesus’ brothers as the teachers responsible for the first type of Jewish Christians, because they were not as strict as the Pharisees on following the law themselves. I can certainly understand how the second group may have developed from Peter’s teaching, considering the struggle he had with going to Cornelius’s house and the response he received from others after having gone there and telling the story of it. The third group sounds the most familiar, especially after last semester studying Paul’s letters. Additionally, as mentioned in the post introducing Jewish Christian Literature, most Christian Theology is focused on Paul’s writings. Though I admit to not being particularly familiar with the first group, I am perhaps even less familiar with the fourth group in early Christianity, because more has been done to explain the Pharisees than those who are directly opposite of the Pharisees. While these four categories do seem to cover all types of Jewish Christianity, it is important to realize that there are still more as even within each of the different types differences can arise that develop into a separate sect.

    Jewish Christianity is far more complicated than I ever realized. This makes sense though because modern denominations are rather confusing too.

  13. As a general rule I find it so interesting that people who call themselves Christians or followers of Jesus Christ, believe so many different things. Each person, reading through the scriptures interprets the teaching of Jesus differently. They can look at the law differently. They have different theology. Looking over these four sub-groups of Jewish Christians it is interesting to see how the pendulum swings both to the far left and the far right of the mark. Some are extreme law keepers, others seem to care little, but in reality that is the same today. Churches today can be divided into different sub-groups or denominations, perhaps not as extreme in some cases compared to the early Jewish Christians, but then again perhaps even more so. We can see the difference in the Fundamental Baptist movement to the more progresses Jesus just loves, you be you theology.
    Jobes, (2011), shares how the period of church expansion from about AD 33-60 was really a time of questioning the issues of circumcision and food laws among the church leaders. We may not necessarily debate about those things today; we do handle issues in the same way. Different groups take different stances to different extremes. In some ways it is comforting to know that this diversity within the church has existed from the beginning. It is important to have different opinions, to surround yourself with different perspectives and interpretations. It helps you grow. It can be difficult; however, it is hard to discern Biblical truth from human notions, and extreme groups don’t always help that contemplation process. Overall however it is interesting to see the parallels between the early church of 60 AD and the church of 2022.

    Jobes, K. H. (2011). Letters to the Church: A Survey of Hebrews and the General Epistles. Zondervan.

  14. Beginning this class my knowledge of Jewish Chrisitan Literature was very lacking, it still is, however, with this course I hope it improves greatly. Through reading this post I gained more knowledge already. When thinking about Jewish Chrisitans it never even occurred to me that it could be broken down even more. I think it’s helpful to see the division among the groups of Jewish Chrisitans, because it can assist us in seeing the value of the books we will be looking into. Having this knowledge of the subject will help further develop my understanding of Jewish Chrisitan Literature as a whole.

    When reading, Letters to the Church by Karen H. Jobes, chapter one gives us an introduction to Hebrews. This chapter helps us to better understand the different groups in the above blog post by allowing us to understand what was happening at the time. Jobes talks about the many different conflicts happening in terms of which laws and who should follow them. I think this is helpful information to add to the above information to better understand Jewish Chrisitan Literature.

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