From the Bible: Judaism in Israel and the Diaspora

The precepts of the Law of Moses are valid for all Jews without exception. However, in the 1st century there were different ways to observe them according to the religious group to which they belonged. One of the most influential among the people was the Pharisees who, in the apotheosis of their exegesis, managed to add to the Law more than three hundred new precepts. His legalism was such that Jesus came to tell them, “Hypocrites, you sneak the mosquito and swallow the camel” (Mt 23:24).
On the other hand, the Jews living in Galilee, especially those of Greek origin, also differed from the more orthodox of the communities of Judah. As they moved away from that liturgical-sacrificial center of Jerusalem and the Temple and came into contact with the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the rest of the empire, mindsets changed. In the communities of the diaspora there was a willingness to exchange in the field of theological and philosophical ideas, Philo of Alexandria is a good example of this.
Hellenistic Jews, named after their Greek language and culture, were divided into two groups. The first was composed of those who had returned to Israel to settle down and live there in the last years of their lives, including characters such as the protomartir Stephen (Acts 6.5; 7.59), the early Christian deacoons (Acts 6:3-6), and widows neglected by the Apostles (Acts 6.1). The second group consisted of those who continued to live abroad and only occasionally – and if their economy allowed them – traveled to the Holy Land to visit the Temple for Easter or to study at some rabbinical school, this is the case of Paul born in Tarsus of Cilicia (Acts 21.39; 22.3).
Hellenists, having a more universalistic vision of salvation, accepted in their communities those heathen who were seduced by their way of living the faith. They are known as “god’s fearful,” because they admired the monotheism of the Jews, their veneration for the scriptures, and their ethics. Around the synagogues of Hellenistic Jews and in contact with the community there was always a large group of God-fearing willing to accept the Yahvist faith. They were required, only, not to blaspheme, not to commit adultery or to have unclean relationships (incest, sodomy, etc.), not to shed blood or steal and not to consume raw meat. This was enough to prevent the Jews they related from incurring legal impurity. Many never became proselytes, in which case they would have had to circumcise and observe all the legal and gastronomic precepts of the Torá. Many who later enthusiastically embraced the gospel also came from this group.
One thing that distinguished Hellenistic Jews alike, both repatriated and those living in the diaspora, was that they did not speak commonly in Hebrew or Aramaic, but in Greek, even if some knew these languages. And it was in Greek that they read the scriptures in their synagogues, using the Alexandrian version called Septuagint, text then widely used by Christian missionaries in all regions of the Empire.
The influence of Hellenistic Jews and God-fearing Jews on evangelization was enormous, especially after Easter. Stephen and Philip are said to have performed great signs and wonders (Acts 6.8; 8.6-8,13). The book of Acts says that Philip’s daughters had the gift of prophecy (Acts 21:8-9). On the other hand, the missionary activity of Paul and his many collaborators is well known: Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Phileman, Titus, Aquila, Priscrilla, Febe, Lucas, Andronicus, Magnificate, Estakium, Apeles, Aristobullo, etc.; the list would be endless. Significantly, the action of the Holy Ghost is emphasized among the leaders and members of the Hellenistic community (Acts 6.5-8; 7.55; 8.29; 11.24; 18.26). His openness of mind and this universalist character of God’s gift made it not necessary to become Hebrew to be part of the new community that accepted Jesus as the expected Messiah. You could be gentle and be a believer in Jesus. This great capacity for cultural and cultural adaptation laid the foundations for the expansion of Christianity very quickly.
The ethnic element was no longer indispensable to be part of the chosen people. God poured out his graces to those who accepted Jesus as the promised and expected Savior. Faith in Him as Christ and baptism in the Holy Spirit became the vehicle for adding brethren to that new people of God, heir to the promises we call the Church (Acts 2:47). Ω

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