Who were the Nazarenes?
The first believers in Y'shua were a Jewish sect known as "Nazarenes" or in Hebrew "N'tzarim" (Acts 11:19; 24:5). The "church father" Jerome (4th Cent.) described these Nazarenes as those "...who accept Messiah in such a way that they do not cease to observe the old Law." (Jerome; On. Is. 8:14). The fourth century "church father" Epiphanius gives a more detailed description:
But these sectarians... did not call themselves Christians--but "Nazarenes," ... However they are simply complete Jews. They use not only the New Testament but the Old Testament as well, as the Jews do... They have no different ideas, but confess everything exactly as the Law proclaims it and in the Jewish fashion-- except for their belief in Messiah, if you please! For they acknowledge both the resurrection of the dead and the divine creation of all things, and declare that G-d is one, and that his son is Y'shua the Messiah. They are trained to a nicety in Hebrew. For among them the entire Law, the Prophets, and the... Writings... are read in Hebrew, as they surely are by the Jews. They are different from the Jews, and different from Christians, only in the following. They disagree with Jews because they have come to faith in Messiah; but since they are still fettered by the Law--circumcision, the Sabbath, and the rest-- they are not in accord with Christians.... they are nothing but Jews.... They have the Goodnews according to Matthew in its entirety in Hebrew. For it is clear that they still preserve this, in the Hebrew alphabet, as it was originally written.
(Epiphanius; Panarion 29)
Nazarene Judaism maintains a belief in Y'shua as the Messiah. We do not leave the Jewish identity, heritage and culture to "convert" to a new or foreign religion. To some the concept of Jews believing in Y'shua and practicing Judaism to a contradiction in terms. The common wisdom is that on the one side you have Jews and Judaism, and on the other you have Gentiles and Christianity. However in the first century there were literally hundreds of thousands of Jewish followers of Y'shua (Acts 2:41, 47; 4:4; 6:7; 9:31; 21:20) they were zealous for the Torah (Acts 15:19-21; 21:17-27) and met in synagogues (James 1:1, 2:2). The big question then was, had Y'shua come for the Gentiles as well (Acts 10; Acts 15). The greatest paradox in history eventually occured, for today people question how one can follow Y'shua and remain Jewish.
Today we are seeking to put Y'shua back into the context of first century Judaism. Nazarene Judaism is a spiritual renaissance, a revival, a return to the pure faith of first century Nazarenes. A return to the Tenach and to the root of the olive tree (Rom. 11).
As the prophet Jeremiah tells us:
Thus says YHWH, "Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it: And you shall find rest for your souls...."
Originally written by James Trimm
Copyright UNJS, 2003