Watch: Welcome to Nazarene Israel
Welcome to Nazarene Israel. My name is Norman Willis, and I want to talk with you about something that changed my life, and changed the way I read the Bible forever, and I believe that if you will take the time to understand what I will present to you in this short video, that it will change your life, and the way you read the Bible forever as well.
When I was a child in the Christian Church, I was taught that the terms Nazarene and Christian were synonyms. I was taught that Nazarenes were Christians, and that Christians were Nazarenes, and that these two terms referred to the same exact group of people. It was only years later, after I began studying the Bible carefully, and in great detail, that I began to see that while almost everyone believed these two groups to be one in the same, that this was not actually correct, but that in fact, the Nazarenes and the Christians were two related-but-separate groups of people that sometimes met together, and were therefore often confused for each other, but that the truth is that they were distinct. Then, after three centuries had passed, the Christians began to persecute the Nazarenes, until they finally drove them unto extinction.
Scripture speaks of many mysteries, and many truths that were to be sealed up until the times of the end. Yet many people believe we are now entering into those end times, and so it is now time for these mysteries to begin to be revealed. So to see where the confusion between the Nazarenes and the Christians began, first let’s read Acts 11:26, taking care not to assume anything. What it says is that the Nazarene disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. This means that Antioch is where people first began to blur the distinction between the Nazarenes and the Christians.
Ma’asei (Acts) 11:26
26 And when he [Barnabas] had found him [Shaul], he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the ecclesia and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
This is the verse that leads many people to believe that the terms Nazarene and Christian are synonyms, but it can’t mean that, because while others began to call the disciples Christians, the disciples continued to call themselves by their original Hebraic name, the Jewish (or Israelite) sect of the Nazarenes (and this is an important distinction). For example, notice how in Acts 24:5 the Jewish sects of the Pharisees and Sadducees called the Apostle Shaul (Paul) not a Christian, but a ringleader of the Jewish (or Israelite) 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 [Israelite] sect of the Nazarenes.”
Also, notice how Shaul never says that he is a Christian who is no longer a part of the Jewish (or Israelite) nation. Rather, he says that according to the Way which the sects of the Pharisees and the Sadducees were also calling a sect (KJV: heresy), he still believed everything that was written in the Law, and in the Prophets. That is something most Christians cannot honestly say.
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 and in the Prophets.”
Now, the Apostle Shaul is not saying that he belonged to the Christian Church of the Nazarene. Rather, what he is saying is that his faith was still Jewish (or Israelite). And in fact he tells us directly that he was still an Israelite in places like Romans 11:1, where he even goes so far as to tell us his tribe.
Romim (Romans) 11:1
1 I say then, has Elohim [God] cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
The Apostle Shaul continued to think of himself as a part of the nation of Israel, just that he now belonged to the Nazarene sect (or the Nazarene segment of the nation). That is why it the sects (or the segments) of the Pharisees and the Sadducees called him a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes (and we will talk about that a lot more in the next video). Yet this is also why Shaul was still able to go into the Jewish synagogues even as late as Acts 28:22, was that the Nazarenes practiced a form of Judaism that believed on Yeshua (or Jesus), who had come out of Nazareth (or Natseret).
Ma’asei (Acts) 28:22
22 “But we desire to hear from you what you think; for concerning this sect [of Judaism], we know that it is spoken against everywhere.”
In other videos we will see who the Christians are, as distinct from the Nazarenes (and why there had to be two groups), but we what we need to see here is that Acts 11:26 does not say that the Nazarenes and the Christians are the same group of people. It only means that Acts 11:26 is when the Christians also began to call the Nazarenes by the name Christians, starting to blur the distinction between the two groups, sealing the truth up, and leading to the confusion that we have today. And, as we will see in in future videos, this confusion was actually important, because it would play a key role in the Falling Away of Second Thessalonians 2:3, which had to take place before the final redemption could occur (and we will discuss the Falling Away in detail in future videos).
So as I kept studying, what I kept seeing is that the Nazarenes still maintained their original identity as the Israelite sect of the Nazarenes. This lasted at least until the fourth century CE (some 300 years later), when the Catholic Church began to persecute the Nazarenes unto death. One of the many reasons we know this is that one of the primary founding fathers of the Catholic Church was named Epiphanius of Salamis, and he wrote a book in the early fourth century, about the time the Catholic Church was being formed. This book was called Panarion (meaning, Against Heresies). And in this book, the Catholic Church father Epiphanius condemned a group he called the Nazarenes for practicing a Christian form of Judaism, just like the Messiah and His apostles had kept.
Notice in this passage how Epiphanius tells us that the Nazarenes believed on the Messiah, and yet they continued to practice the Jewish and Israelite rites of circumcision, and kept the Sabbath, and that they read from the laws of Moses (Moshe). He writes:
The Nazarenes do not differ in any essential thing from them [i.e. the Pharisees and the Sadducees], since they practice the customs and doctrines prescribed by Jewish Law; except that they believe in Christ. They believe in the resurrection of the dead, and that the universe was created by God. They preach that God is One, and that Jesus Christ is His Son. They are very learned in the Hebrew language. They read the Law [of Moses]…. Therefore, they differ…from the true Christians because they fulfill until now [such] Jewish rites as the circumcision, Sabbath and others. [Catholic Church Father Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion (“Against Heresies”), 29, 7, pp. 41, 402]
Now, as I kept studying, hoping to learn to walk like my Example walked, I realized that in Jewish parlance, the term “reading the law” is a euphemism for the traditional Jewish Sabbath morning worship service (also called the Torah service). And in the Torah service, the Jews read from the Laws of Moses and from the Prophets, just as the Messiah did in Luke 4:16, where we see that the Messiah’s custom was to go into the synagogues on the Sabbath day, and stand up to read. But what we need to know here is that they don’t hand this honor out to just anyone. You can’t just walk in off the street and stand up to read. In Judaism, “Standing up to read” is a big honor, and they typically coordinate this honor ahead of time, and they only offer it to respected members of the assembly in good standing. So what this tells us is that Yeshua was a practicing Jew in good standing in His hometown synagogue (and this is the example He gives us to follow as well).
Luqa (Luke) 4:16
16 So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.
So with this new information I had to ask myself, what does it mean that Epiphanius was one of the main founding fathers of the Catholic Church, and in the fourth century he began to condemn and persecute the Nazarenes for practicing the same kind of Jewish faith that the Messiah had practiced, and had taught His disciples to keep in the first century? At a minimum, doesn’t it mean that by the fourth century CE, the Catholic Church and the sect of the Nazarenes were not the same groups of people? Doesn’t it mean they were two separate faiths? Or why else would the Catholics have condemned the Nazarenes? More importantly, was it right for the Catholic Christians to condemn the Nazarene Israelites for practicing the same faith that the Messiah taught His apostles to keep? In other words, was it right for the Catholic Church to condemn the faith once delivered to the saints? Or was that not rather a blasphemy of the highest order?
Then I began noticing that in First Corinthians 11:1, the Apostle Shaul (or Paul), who was a leader of the sect of the Nazarenes, tells us to imitate him, as he also imitated the Messiah, the Nazarene.
Qorintim Aleph (1 Corinthians) 11:1
11 Imitate me, just as I also imitate Messiah.
So then I had to ask myself, if the Messiah was a Jew (or an Israelite) who kept the Law of Moses perfectly, and went into the Jewish synagogues on the Sabbath, and participated in the Sabbath morning Torah service, then doesn’t that mean we are supposed to do the same? But if so, then why then did Epiphanius condemn the Nazarenes for doing the same kinds of things that the Messiah would have done, and that the Apostle Shaul (Paul) also tells us to do? What sense does that make?
Epiphanius seems to say that the faith once delivered to the saints was not Nazarene Judaism, but Catholicism. But the big problem here is that even the Catholic Church’s own top scholars disagree. For example, let us look at the works of the late Catholic professor Marcel Simon. He was a leading Catholic expert on the first century. Yet even though Marcel Simon was a devout Catholic, he disagreed that Catholic Christianity was the original faith. In fact, he said the exact opposite, but notice what he says. Marcel Simon says that Epiphanius well knew that it was the Nazarenes (and not the Catholics) who had descended directly from the primitive first century community, but that the Scriptures tell us that the original community of disciples were called the Nazarenes—yet over time, the Catholic Church began to consider the Nazarene Jews to be heretics, because they continued to believe what Professor Simon called, “outmoded positions.” Let’s read it carefully.
They [Nazarenes] are characterized essentially by their tenacious attachment to Jewish observances. If they became heretics in the eyes of the Mother Church, it is simply because they remained fixed on outmoded positions. [Yet] They well represent, [even] though Epiphanius is energetically refusing to admit it, the very direct descendants of that primitive community, of which our author [Epiphanius] knows that it was designated by the Jews, by the same name, of Nazarenes.
[Late Catholic First Century expert Marcel Simon, Judéo-christianisme, pp. 47-48.]
I had to stop and think about that. The late professor Marcel Simon said that Epiphanius knew it was the Nazarenes (and not the Catholics) who had descended directly from James, John, Peter, Paul, Matthew, Andrew, Phillip and the rest; and yet both Epiphanius and Marcel Simon called the Nazarenes “heretics” because they continued to keep the same faith the Messiah had taught them to keep, in the first century. But why would they do that? Doesn’t Jude 3 tell us to earnestly contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints?
Yehudah (Jude) 3
3 Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you, exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.
So if Jude 3 tells us to “earnestly contend” for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints, then why did the Catholic Church call it heretical, and persecute it unto extinction? And if we think about it, Epiphanius’ Catholicism is the basis for not only the Roman Catholic faith, but it also serves as the basis for Protestantism, for Eastern Orthodoxy, for independent Christianity, and for the Christian Evangelical movement. All of these come from the Roman Catholic Church, and yet none of these is the faith we are supposed to earnestly contend for, because these are all forms of Christianity, rather than Judaism (or Israelite worship).
Once I saw that the terms Nazarene and Christian did not refer to the same group, but that they were two different groups that began to be confused with each other, I had to set aside everything I thought I knew about the Bible, and I had to study everything out all over again. And the picture I come up with for the faith once delivered to the saints is very different from the Roman-style Christianity I was taught as a child. And it is also different than rabbinic Messianic Judaism, because while the Messiah Yeshua loved the Jewish people, He was against the corruptions of the rabbinical leadership (and we will talk a lot more about that in future videos as well).
Our Father has blessed me with the ability to study these things out full time for the past 21 years, and after 21 years of full time research into the original faith, I feel I have reached the point where we can share these things in an accessible way, so that anyone who loves the Messiah, and has a heart to obey the Bible in its fullness can both learn and live the truth, and thus please his Messiah and King.
In these videos, we hope to show you from Scripture what the Messiah wants us to do, and how He wants us to do it. We hope you will be like the noble Bereans, and study these things out for yourselves, because we don’t want you to believe anything just because we say it. Rather, we want you to study things out, and pray about them, and let the Spirit be your guide. But if you study these things out, and you also find them to be true, and want to practice the faith once delivered to the saints, then welcome home to Nazarene Israel, the original faith of the apostles.