In the last chapter we saw that by the fourth century the Christians and the Nazarenes were two completely separate faiths—and that the Christians persecuted the Nazarenes. History indicates that the Messiah Yeshua was a Nazarene. However, history is not enough—we need to prove everything from Scripture. So, was Yeshua a Christian, or was He a Nazarene?
The Renewed Covenant (New Testament) tells us the Messiah Yeshua would be called a Nazarene because He grew up in a town called Nazareth (Natseret, נצרת). Let us look at the Aramaic Peshitta.
|Matthew 2:23 MGI
23 And he came [and] lived in the city that is called Nazareth, [so] that it would be fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
(23) ואתא עמר במדינתא דמתקריא נצרת איך דנתמלא מדם דאתאמר בנביא דנצריא נתקרא
Sometimes people look for this reference in English translations of the Tanach (Old Testament), but they don’t find it because the reference is to the Hebrew of Isaiah 11:1, where it was said that a Rod (King David) would grow from the stem of Jesse, David’s father—and that a Branch (Yeshua) would grow up out of his roots. The Hebrew word for “branch” is Netzer (נצר) (shown in the shaded area).
Isaiah 11:1 NKJV
11 There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch [Netzer] shall grow out of His roots. Hebrew Masoretic Text
(1) וְיָצָא חֹטֶר מִגֵּזַע יִשָׁי | וְנֵצֶר מִשָּׁרָשָׁיו יִפְרֶה
Matthew is shown in Aramaic and Isaiah is in Hebrew, yet by omitting the vowels we can see that Nazarene (נצריא) and Netzer (נצר) have the same root (נצר), therefore it was correct for Matthew to say that Yeshua would be called a Nazarene.
In Hebrew and Aramaic thought, if Yeshua was called a Nazarene, then His followers would also be Nazarenes. This is why, in Acts 24:5, the Pharisees accused the Apostle Shaul (Paul) not of being a Christian, but of being a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.
Ma’asei (Acts) 24:5
5 “For we have found this man a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.”
But why did the Pharisees say the Apostle Shaul was part of a sect? In Hebrew, the term for “sect” is min (מן), which means, a departure. The basic idea is that the faith Yahweh gave Israel at Mount Sinai is the one true and correct faith—and that everything else departs from that faith. Therefore, for the Pharisees to say that Shaul was part of a “sect” was to say he had departed from the truth. Shaul, however, felt he had not left the truth, because he still believed everything that was written in the Torah and in the Prophets.
Ma’asei (Acts) 24:14
14 “But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect [KJV: heresy], so I worship the Elohim [God] of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law [of Moshe] and in the Prophets.”
We will revisit this topic in later chapters, once we have some more background information. However, for right now, let us note that Shaul never claimed he was a Christian. Rather, he claimed to be an Israelite—and he said he still believed all things that are written in the Law and in the Prophets. This is something most Christians cannot honestly say.
While the word “sect” can refer to a cult, mostly it refers to a sub-section of something larger. For example, Christendom can be divided into different sub-sects (Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox, for example)—and inside these sects there are still more sub-sects. For example, inside Protestantism there are Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, etc. Ironically, the members of some sects consider the members of all other sects to be heretics—and this attitude is Scriptural, even if it is wrongly applied.
Judaism is similarly exclusory, and fragmented. The Orthodox Jews form the largest sect, but there are also Conservative Jews, Reform Jews, Karaite Jews, Hasidic Jews, and others. The Orthodox Jews consider all of the other sects to be heretics (as implied in the language of Acts 24:14, above).
It helps to understand that Scripture names groups of people according to their attitudes and beliefs. That is, it labels them according to their spirits. This is why the same sects still exist today as existed in the first century, just with different names, because the same spirits are still around today.
Scripture names people according to their beliefs, and their walk. For example, Israel is called Israel because they believe on Israel’s Elohim. However, when we read about the Greeks (Hellenists) of the Renewed Covenant, these are not ethnic Greeks, but less devout Jews who obeyed an invader, rather than Yahweh. About two hundred years before Yeshua, the Hellenic King Antiochus invaded Judea, and he commanded all of the Israelites to forget Yahweh, and to worship Greek gods instead. Those who obeyed him (even partially) were called “Greeks” (or Hellenists) as a derogatory term, because they had adopted Greek customs and traditions.The sect of the Pharisees of the first century changed their name in the Middle Ages, and now they are called the Orthodox Jews. The Karaite Jews of today descend from the sect of the Sadducees. Even though there is no direct connection, the Hellenists of the first century (also called the “Greek” Jews in some translations) are similar to the Reform Jews of today, because they have the same kind of spirit. As we will see later, the rabbinic Messianic Jews of today are like the “Pharisees who believed” of Acts 15. (We will talk about the Messianic Jews in more detail as we go along.) Because it will help us later on, we will spend a bit more time learning who these groups are now.
Maqabim Aleph (1 Maccabees) 1:41-43
41 Moreover King Antiochus wrote his whole kingdom, that all should be one people,
42 And every one should leave his laws: so all the heathen agreed according to the commandment of the king.
43 Yea, many also of the Israelites consented to his religion, and sacrificed unto idols, and profaned the Sabbath.
It was common to name people according to their faith until the Enlightenment (i.e., the Luciferism) of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This is also when Reform Judaism arose. Reform Jews feel it is okay to blend faiths, and they are open to hearing about other faiths. This is the same spirit as the Greeks (Hellenists) of the first century—and this may be why the Pharisees asked themselves if Yeshua was going to go teach among the Greeks outside the land.
Yochanan (John) 7:34-35
34 “You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come.”
35 Then the Jews said among themselves, “Where does He intend to go that we shall not find Him? Does He intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?”
Later we will see that Christianity probably did arise among the Hellenic Jews, but what we need to see here is that Scripture does not label us according to our genetics, because Yahweh does not care about our genetics, but our hearts. This is also why Yochanan HaMatbil (John the Baptist) told the Pharisees and the Sadducees that their genetics was no guarantee of salvation.
Mattityahu (Matthew) 3:7-9
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his immersion [baptism], he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance,
9 and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Avraham as our father.’ For I say to you that Elohim is able to raise up children to Avraham from these stones!”
Today (after the Enlightenment) there is thought to be a difference between being an Israeli and being an Israelite. To be an Israeli (i.e., to live in the land of Israel) you need paperwork from the state. However, to be an Israelite, you simply convert to the worship of the Elohim of Israel, as Root (Ruth) did.
Root (Ruth) 1:16-17
16 But Ruth said: “Entreat me not to leave you, Or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, and your Elohim, my Elohim.
17 Where you die, I will die, And there will I be buried. Yahweh do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me.”
Ironically, while Ruth became an Israelite the instant she pledged allegiance to the Elohim of Israel, if she came to the border of Israel today without paperwork from the government, she would likely be turned away. This kind of distinction does not exist in Scripture, for in Scripture, however you worship (and however you self-identify), that is who you are (and that is what you are called).
Bearing all of this in mind, let us note, then, that the Apostle Shaul self-identified as an Israelite (a follower of the Elohim of Israel), and not as a Christian.
Qorintim Bet (2 Corinthians) 11:22
22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I.
Shaul told the Jews in Rome that Elohim had not cast away His people Israel, for he also was an Israelite.
Romim (Romans) 11:1
1 I say then, has Elohim cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
Then, when Shaul was taken to Rome, the Jews there wanted to hear about the Nazarene sect of the Israelite faith (rather than about torahless Christianity).
Ma’asei (Acts) 28:22
22 “But we desire to hear from you what you think; for concerning this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere.”
The difference between the original Nazarene faith and torahless Christianity has a lot to do with what might be called zealousness for the three Ls:
- The land of Israel
- The Hebrew language
- The law of Moshe
The Nazarenes clung zealously to their inheritance in the land of Israel, the Hebrew language, and the law of Moshe, because as we will see in the next chapter, they understood the law of Moshe to be a marital covenant between them and Yahweh Elohim, which they had to obey if they wanted to be part of the bride.
In contrast, the Christian church teaches that the law is not a marital covenant, and that it has been done away with (“and good riddance!” many of them would say).