The faith-popularising activity of Judaism as a non-missional religion in the New Testament era

Contributor

Did the Jews engage in missionary activities in the New Testament era? Since most of the first Christians were of Jewish background, with their centre in Jerusalem, and considering the relevance of missionary activity in early Christianity, this is a highly significant question. Before the ministry of Apostle Paul, Christians of (primarily) Jewish origin were those who defined the circle and practice of potential followers of Christ. For this reason, it is crucial to identify the motivations of the continuously intensifying and purposefully mission-focused efforts with regard to the Gentiles. Could this dynamic be rooted in the missional character of Judaism towards the non-Jewish people?

Our research shows that (a) Judaism had not become a religion deliberately focused on missionary activities during New Testament times. They did not initiate missionary efforts since they were not convinced to have been their duty from JHWH to convert non-Jewish people to Judaism. (b) However, the Jews were aware of their election, and believed that, as a consequence of this, they needed to proclaim – by exposing their faith and ethical lifestyle – JHWH’s rulership to everyone. They knew the prophecies about the future that the Gentiles would eventually turn to JHWH as the only God and King of the Universe and would worship Him together with the Jews. (c) The Jews opened possibilities to the Gentiles, who felt attracted to their faith, to get closer to Judaism. Those who had shown stronger commitment came to be accepted to (on different levels) and integrated into the Jewish faith community.

Furthermore, during the New Testament era, the Jewish national existence was under threat by the Roman Empire. This urged them even more to popularise their faith in order to secure their national subsistence. This dynamic shaped the spiritual and cultural background of the ever-increasing intentional missionary efforts of the Early Church towards the Gentiles.