Proselytes and God-Fearers

       The attitude of first century Jews towards Gentiles was not one of hospitality to say the least. We have to keep in mind that for a very long time the Jews ruled over themselves after leaving Egypt and after going into exile they were not treated very well by some of their captors. Julius Scott says, “Rabbinic literature generally displays deeply hostile feelings against non-Jews.”[1]Just to be clear there was no uniform feeling about Gentiles, just as there was not a singular understanding of Judaism. Gentiles were shown varying degrees of kindness, friendship, and acceptance depending on whether or not they were sympathetic towards the Jews or at least not hostile toward them.[2] While some Gentiles in positions of authority were shown some respect and honor the majority of Gentiles were viewed with skepticism, animosity, and contempt.[3]
            At first glance you probably couldn’t tell a proselyte apart from a God-fearer. There are certain rituals a person would have to go through in order to become a full proselyte or convert. Converts accepted every area of Jewish life—law, national allegiance, social and cultural customs, and the rest; they became naturalized Jews.[4]Once a proselyte has shown their commitment they were generally expected to be circumcised, offer a sacrifice and undergo baptism.[5]The greatest difference between a proselyte and a God-fearer is that the God-fearer may still possibly be allowed to worship in certain areas of the temple without all of the dedication of being circumcised, offering a sacrifice or being baptized. God-fearers still held to a tight moral code and lived almost virtually as Jews minus a few details.
            Christians today can learn much from the history between the Jews and the Gentiles of the first century especially when they began to mix into the body of Christ. We have to remember that just because someone is different from us that does not always make them wrong, and that just as we bring in our understanding from our past they are going to do the same from theirs. We just have to make sure that we do not end up promoting a sectarian culture or trying to enforce rules upon other people to worship God in manner that is not described/prescribed in the Bible.

[1] J. Julius Scott Jr., Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1995)335.
[2]Ibid, 336.
[3]Ibid, 336.
[4]Ibid, 342.
[5]Ibid, 343.

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