Glossary 22 Judaizer
Judaizer. Paul described a situation wherein Peter refused to eat with Gentile believers (Gal 2:11-21). Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, was severely rebuked for communicating to Gentile believers that they were not fully accepted in Christ unless they “live like Jews.” Hence, Paul concluded that Peter, by practicing table separation, was compelling Gentiles to “Judaize,” that is, to behave like Jews. The error, by one in authority, had the potential to create two separate churches—one for the Jews and one for the Gentiles—an outcome inimical to Christ’s goal of reconciling both Jew and Gentile into one body (Eph 2:14-18). The partition was taken down by Christ; yet Peter’s actions could potentially re-erect it. The implication of Peter’s actions with respect to the sufficiency of faith alone in Jesus Christ warranted the public challenge and was called by Paul “playing the hypocrite” (Gal 2:13). After all, Peter had fellowshipped with Gentiles before (Gal 2:12, 14).
So, “Judaizer” is a biblically derived term from Paul’s animadversion of Peter who attempted to bring Gentile Christians under the spell of bygone Jewish laws (i.e., separation, circumcision). Hendrickson, elaborating on the above event, believes that a Judaizer is a Jew “who had indeed confessed Jesus but insisted that in order to attain salvation—at least complete salvation—it was necessary for all, Gentile as well as Jew, to keep the law of Moses, with special emphasis on circumcision.”[i] But the reality is that Peter did not believe for a moment that Gentiles were not saved by faith in Christ or that they had to keep the laws of Jewish identification, as these matters were settled in congress before this (Acts 15:7-11). Instead, he lapsed under pressure and reverted to Jewish law that accentuated the difference between Gentile and Jewish believers. Or, as Bruce apprehends this, it was as if, for Gentile Christians, their faith in Christ was not enough, they needed to go a step further in “conformity to Jewish law or custom: they must, in other words, ‘judaize’.”[ii] From this context, a Jewish believer who compels a Gentile to live like a Jew is a Judaizer, and the Gentile who adopts those behaviors peculiar to Judaism is Judaizing. Peter and the other elders were violating the conscience of Gentile believers by intimating, with subtle judgmentalism, that their participation in the commonwealth of Israel (i.e., now the church) required more than the bond of faith.
The meaning of this term has widened to embrace situations where non-Christian Jews, in their association with the church, attempt to convince Christians, both Jew and Gentile, that certain Jewish laws are required either for complete salvation or as a necessary component of pleasing God, such as circumcision (Acts 15:1; Gal 6:12) and the observance of holy days, including the Sabbath (Gal 4:9-10; Col 2:16). Paul also refers to these infiltrators as “false brethren” (Gal 2:4) and “dogs” (Phil 3:2), motivated by “a show of the flesh” (Gal 6:12). So, Peter and other Jews, were swayed and carried away, by a false doctrine. “At one point, the Judaizers opposed and briefly affected Peter.”[iii] Hence, “Judaize,” which comes from Ioudaizeïn, “to live like Jews” (Gal 2:14), is to obey laws specific to the Jewish religion,[iv] or to assimilate to the Jewish culture, with the belief that this obedience or assimilation is necessary for salvation, meritorious for sanctification, or simply that the exterior rites of Judaism are beneficial or optimal—a mindset that is essentially antithetical to salvation by grace through faith. “Calvin undoubtedly was correct that from Paul’s point of view, first-century Judaism, and the Judaizers in particular, had a faulty understanding of the role of the law in justification.”[v] “The Jewish customs and manners that are meant are religious ones, observances that are prescribed by the Torah (circumcision, Sabbath and festival, abstention from pork, etc.).”[vi] “What was formerly obedience to the law is now mere Judaism.”[vii]
“Judaize” is sometimes used even more generally to describe the compulsion of Christians to perform religious rites or traditions without reference to Judaism; that is, to conform to a set of rules that define a sectarian culture, usually without biblical authority, such as abstention from meat on Friday, preventing priests from marrying, and declaring a day to be holy. “They prescribe observances which are in a great measure useless, and are sometimes absurd; secondly, by the vast multitude of them, pious consciences are oppressed, and being carried back to a kind of Judaism, so cling to shadows that they cannot come to Christ.”[viii]
Cohen distinguishes between the original intent of “ioudaizeïn” (to be like a Jew) and the later use of the term by Clement (to become a Jew).[ix] Moo disagrees.[x] Cohen further notes that “Judaizing” is a pejorative label most often used in situations where actual Jews are not integral to the debate, and so advises against the current use of the term. However, he does not take into account the influence of Messianic Jews and the Jewish Roots Movement within the Christian community which practice Jewish customs and laws for various spiritual, physical, or social reasons.[xi] Yet, it is not only a direct connection with Judaism that leads to Judaizing, but the indirect influence of emerging theological concepts bolstered by contemporary values. For example, the development of Seventh Day Baptist congregations in the seventeenth century followed the intensifying emphasis on a direct relationship between the Sabbath and Lord’s Day;[xii] but the result would have been the same if a Jewish believer led the movement. At present, the Western focus on health and diet has caused many Christians to adopt the dietary laws of the OT; and again, the result is no different than if a Jewish Christian led the movement. As such, the term is properly used to describe the practice, by non-Jews, of cultic OT laws that were clearly abrogated by the NT. One should not claim to be a beneficiary of the new covenant in the blood of Jesus Christ and then practice the abrogated laws of the old covenant as if they conveyed or merited some spiritual benefit.
Judaizing is a pejorative term, and rightly so, because it describes a mindset or behavior that is contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It can be supposed that Peter was not intending to divide the church nor did he did he feel ill-will toward Gentiles, but the fruit of his Judaizing (compelling Gentiles to behave like Jews—You are not accepted unless you get circumcised) would lead to division, judgmentalism, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy.
Regarding the Sabbath, the LD camp would view most forms of Sabbath-keeping to be Judaizing. Keeping a Sabbath is keeping a Jewish law, and to obey it as if it were a required activity or spiritually beneficial is Judaizing. Keeping the Sabbath on Sunday instead of Saturday, with the misapprehension that only the day of the week was ceremonial, is still Judaizing. Calling Sunday or the Lord’s Day the “Christian Sabbath” is certainly a misnomer, for what is a “Christian Sabbath” but a modified Jewish Sabbath observed on the wrong day. If a Christian mom wants to keep her Sunday afternoon free of ordinary duties (or any other day of the week), that is her prerogative, but it is not the same as keeping the Sabbath. And she does not have to invoke Sabbath law to give her afternoon rest an air of spirituality. But the moment she becomes proud of her chosen expression of personal piety and looks down on those who do not share her enthusiasm, or, worse, she criticizes others as Sabbath-breakers, then she is a Judaizer.
The history of the development of Sabbatarian thought has been thoroughly documented.[xiii],[xiv],[xv] Parker correctly relates that the early Reformers (1520-1530) questioned the Catholic Church’s stance that Sunday church attendance was based on the fourth commandment, but within forty years, subsequent Reformers began to “reassert the divine imperative to observe one day in seven.”[xvi]As one would expect, the emphasis on the Sabbath as a paradigm for Christian worship would inevitably lead to controversy. In the 1580s, the Dedham Classis considered the same matters that are under discussion here: whether Christian worship on Sunday is of divine decree, what is expected of believers on this day, and how to enforce compliance. The latter point is only necessary if the State has the power to compel its subjects to attend church services, which it did at the time. As Sabbatarian practices increased during this time, it became known to King James I, in 1617, that magistrates in Lancashire had ordered “rigorous restrictions” and “a total prohibition of Sunday recreations,”[xvii]and in response issued the first “Book of Sports” in 1618 that would allow the populace, should they desire, to perform “lawful” recreations, such as piping, dancing, archery, vaulting, and rushbearing, while continuing to prohibit “unlawful” pastimes, such as bearbaiting.[xviii] Heylyn noted the King’s Declaration “occasioned much noise and clamor” causing Sabbatarian ministers to urge even more seriousness for the Christian Sabbath; for example, teaching that to make a feast or wedding dinner on the Lord’s Day was as great a sin as for a father to take a knife and cut his child’s throat.[xix] The obvious inconsistency is that the State would not be willing to execute Sabbath-breakers like murderers—but they did levy fines. Should a butcher kill an animal and sell the meat, his fine would be about $150 in today’s currency. A person who drives a herd (a drover) or uses a wagon would be fined the equivalent of $200 for doing so on the Christian Sabbath.[xx]
Building upon the Sabbatarian doctrines of the Precisionists (Puritans), John Traske came to believe the Sabbath should be kept on Saturday just as the fourth commandment requires, a teaching that earned him the pillory at Westminster and then three years in prison before he recanted.[xxi] So strict were the Puritans, that King Charles I republished the Declaration of Sports in 1633 hoping to prevent the Puritans from punishing those who practiced archery, danced, or gathered for May-games or wakes (dedications of a church). But when the Puritans took power in 1643, they ordered the burning of this document.[xxii] This is but a glance at the plague of controversies aroused by Judaizing the Lord’s Day.
Even though we experience more liberty to worship according to our beliefs, North observed palpable judgmentalism within Sabbatarian churches: “They [Sabbatarians with few rules] think of the others [Sabbatarians with many rules] as ‘legalists,’ while extremists [Sabbatarians with many rules] who follow the implications of their position naturally view their weaker brethren [Sabbatarians with few rules] as ‘latent antinomians.’”[xxiii] This is the inevitable outcome of Judaizing: judging those who do not adhere to your set of rules. But any good Sabbatarian must defend what they do or not on their Sabbath day as a spiritual necessity derived from good and necessary inference intended to obey the fourth commandment. How one keeps the Sabbath cannot be neutral or optional because it is a moral imperative apparently based on the most faithful interpretation of God’s word. One would expect all good Christians to agree 98% on what is required by the fourth commandment, but the topic is given to disputation and discombobulation. Is it sinful to sleep late the night before Sabbath? When does the Christian Sabbath begin and end? Is it a violation of the fourth commandment to wear a watch, celebrate a wedding, use the microwave, write a check, bake a roast, go to a restaurant, play or watch sports, play a musical instrument, read the newspaper, buy Monday’s newspaper, study for school, milk a cow, buy some aspirin or some bread, repair a broken fence, or dress in your best clothes on your Saturday or Sunday Sabbath? All of these were considered Sabbath-breaking by some Christian Sabbatarians at some point in history. Furthermore, may the “magistrate” punish those who do not go to church on Sunday or Saturday, or otherwise break the Sabbath?
Has any other moral commandment produced the same fruit of discord, disharmony, and disunity as Judaizing the Lord’s Day? Where are the books written during past 400 years attempting to define whole doctrines about what constitutes adultery or stealing, bearing false witness or coveting? Are there ongoing controversies about whether tête-à-têtes between a married man and a female co-worker are a violation of the seventh commandment—ultimately leading to church divisions? Have any new denominations been established due to a hullabaloo over the propriety of claiming a tax deduction given to a charity that has yet to obtain a 501(c)(3) non-profit status? What churches have decided to withdraw fraternal relations because of different opinions about the motivations behind those who gossip, or because some church said in their statement of faith: “It’s not gossip if you pray about it”? What large church faction developed after a brouhaha over the pastor exclaiming at a car show, “I’d love to get my hands on that 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe”? Churches get embroiled about a good number of things, but not about divergent understandings of moral commandments.
Past centuries and this present age demonstrate that the attempt to apply the Jewish Sabbath to the Christian Lord’s Day has only stirred up strife, controversy, judgmentalism, confusion, and division in God’s church. This is not the fruit of the Spirit; it is of the flesh.
[i] Hendrickson, William. Commentary on the Epistle to the Philippians, 1962 (NTC, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007, 4th Printing) p. 150.
[ii] Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Galatians (NIGTC, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982) p. 133.
[iii] Rushdooney, Rousas John. Romans and Galatians (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1997), p. 331.
[iv] Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, “Jew(s)” p. 616. Wilson, M. R., “Judaizers” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed, p. 638, Ed. Elwell; Baker, Grand Rapids, 2001.
[v] Silva, Moisés. “Galatians” in Commentary on the NT Use of the OT, p. 803.
[vi] Cohen, Shaye J. D. “Judaizing” in The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism, p. 847. Eds. Collins and Harlow; Grand Rapids, 2010.
[vii] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Bible Commentary, Vol 3. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2008) p. 379 (Gal 2:14).
[viii] Calvin, Institutes, 4.10.11. (p. 421)
[ix] Cohen, Shaye J. D. “Judaizing” in The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism, p. 847-848.
[x] Moo, Douglas. Galatians (BECNT, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), p. 151.
[xi] These comments should not be interpreted as anti-Semitic. I went to a church with a Hebrew-Christian emphasis, and participated in paschal seders and the Purim play. These were done to introduce goyim, like me, to the rich history and traditions of Judaism. This is entirely different from compelling goyim to perform rituals, as a Jew would do, for the betterment of one’s spiritual life.
[xii] Bauckham, R. J. “Sabbath and Sunday in the Protestant Tradition” in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, p. 332-334.
[xiii] Heylyn, Peter. The History of the Sabbath 1636, 2nd ed. (updated by Stuart L. Brogden, 2018).
[xiv] Carson, D. A., ed. From Sabbath to Lord’s Day.
[xv] O’Hare, Terrence D. The Sabbath Complete.
[xvi] Parker, Kenneth L. The English Sabbath (Cambridge, England: University Press, 1988), p. 24.
[xvii] Ibid. p. 150-151.
[xviii] Rushbearing was an annual resurfacing of church floors on the anniversary of the church’s dedication. Following a religious ceremony, the event turned into a festival with games, sports, drinking, and dancing. Bearbaiting was a spectator event during which a bear was tethered to a pole and tormented by viscious dogs, which also suffered during the contest.
[xix] Heylyn, Peter. The History of the Sabbath; 1636, 2nd ed. (updated by Stuart L. Brogden, 2018) p. 435, 427. Note Chantry’s observation of this same phenomenon of “authoritarian oversight” in today’s Sabbatarian churches: “Elders are determined to insist that church members keep the Sabbath in detailed specific application” (p. 80).
[xx] Ibid., p. 442.
[xxi] Ibid., p. 434.
[xxii] Cox, Robert. The Literature of the Sabbath Question, Vol. 1; 1865, (repr USA), p. 163.
[xxiii] North, Gary. “The Economics of Sabbath-keeping” in The Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 828.