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.