Gentiles, Fearful of God and Mesianic Jews

by deacon Orlando Fernandez Guerra

The first Christian communities were made up of people from three different fields: the Gentiles, the Fearful of God, and the Mesianic Jews. Gentiles was a term used by the Israelites of the biblical period to refer to all those who were not Jews; that is, anyone else of Mesopotamian, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, etc. language and culture, who inhabited the neighboring territories of Israel or those conquered by the Roman Empire, whose religiosity was fundamentally pagan. The Romans were quite tolerant of the different religions of the conquered peoples, as long as they did not disturb the Roman pax, nor the tax system imposed by imperial policies.
We know that pagan religions were almost all polytheists and their capricious gods – through their priests – rewarded or punished the conduct of men, forcing them to make great offerings and continuous sacrifices to quell their anger. Sacrifices could be as bloody as the death of humans, even those of their own children. Hence, a pagan found it very difficult to separate himself from his religion to embrace a different one. The fear of offending his gods would keep him subject to them. So conversions were slow during the first centuries, motivated, especially, by the novelty of that God-Love (1 Jn 4.8,16) preached by Christians. Mass entry into the Church occurred only after the conversion of Emperor Constantine.
The second group would consist of the so-called “God-fearing”, which I have spoken of before. They were people very close to Jewish communities but never became his proselytes. They welcomed Hebrew monotheism, religious practices and ethics, but not those that really differentiated them from the rest of the population, such as circumcision, sabbatical rest, and ritual and food regulations. Many of these believers belonged to well-to-do social classes close to imperial power. Despite not being able to fully communite in the synagogue, they were the patrons of them and helped them economically and socially before the civil authorities, exempting them from some common practices such as the cult of the emperor. In this way, they exercised a patronage that was highly appreciated by the Jews.
With the evangelization of Christian missionaries, the fearful of God would discover a new face of Judaism based on Jesus and open to all nations. This would be your chance to fully belong to the chosen people. Ritual practices that excluded them from the community of Israel were no longer necessary. The only demand, in addition to what was already assumed by them, was the acceptance of the gospel of Jesus Christ in faith and the reception of baptism that added them to the new people of God, and thereby inaugurated the mesianic era. With the passage of this influential group from the Synagogue to the Church, the Jews lost not only potential proselytes from their community, but also the civil and economic support they previously received from them; the reaction was immediately the rejection of Christian missionaries.
The third group was made up of the mesianic Jews, who did not differ from the rest of their compatriots, because they were circumcised and fulfilled all the ritual and legal precepts of purity. They were considered descendants of Abraham and the Jerusalem Temple – before being destroyed by the Romans – was their most important religious center. They were differentiated only by the fact that they had recognized in Jesus the promised Messiah for centuries, been baptized in his name, and integrated into a community that lived in the hope of the Lord’s return to make all things new (Ap 21.5; 22.20). The Mesianic Jews basically came from the Judeo-Hellenistic communities that lived in Galilee and the diaspora. The cosmopolitan environment in which they performed gave them a more tolerant and universalist mentality and education.
Christian communities grew throughout the Empire in urban environments and were configured in a very varied way, as their members belonged to different ethnic groups, with cultures, traditions and even with different social classes. There were among the converts, rich and well-off people, as well as officials, soldiers, magistrates, pretores, etc. From the mixture of these three groups – not without conflict within it, as we can see from the same gospels and the Pauline and universal epistolary – the great Catholic Church was born. Ω

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