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As Was Their Custom
The Jewish Disciples in Light of Scripture

by Paul Sumner

  There is a misconception about the first disciples of Yeshua, that once they believed he was the Messiah (Greek, Christos) they became "Christians," and that they immediately made a clean break with Judaism then evolved a kind of pre-Catholic form of what later became known as Christianity.

In the New Testament this is not the picture at all. There is no sudden surge of contempt for all things old and beautiful — and God-given. In the NT there is no radical break with ancient beliefs and Mosaic practices. The God of the patriarchs is the Father of "his servant Yeshua" (Acts 3:13), the "Father of lights . . . in whom there is no shadow of turning" (Jacob 1:17).

When the disciples entered the Jerusalem Temple or when Saul/Paul of Tarsus attended synagogue around the Mediterranean, it was not a new and alien venture. Nor was it merely a missionary sortie into enemy territory. It was their "custom" (Acts 17:2) to be with their people.

As it was Yeshua's "custom" to enter "the synagogue on the Sabbath" (Luke 4:16), so his followers continued living as pious Jews following the example of their Master.


The following scripture quotations are evidence that:

  1. The earliest Jewish believers in Yeshua did not stop worshiping as Jews, either in the Jerusalem Temple or in synagogues

  2. The Jewish believers observed the biblical feasts or holidays.

  3. The Jewish believers were observant of the Law in other respects.

  4. Even the Apostle Paul, who is often called anti-Law and anti-Jewish, openly observed requirements of the Law.

  5. The inner circle around the infant Yeshua consisted of pious, Torah-observant Jews.

  6. The first Gentiles to accept Yeshua were already believers in Israel's God and observed aspects of the Mosaic Law.

  7. The disciples did not use the name "Christian" to describe themselves. What terms did they use?

[Each numbered item above is hot-linked to its quote-cluster below.]

Point 1
The earliest Jewish believers worshiped
in the Jerusalem Temple or attended synagogue

Luke 24:53 — [they] were continually in the Temple, praising God.

Acts 2:46-47a — Day by day continuing with one mind in the Temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people.

Acts 3:1 — Now Peter and John were going up to the Temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer [three o'clock in the afternoon, for the Minchah prayers].

Acts 5:12 — At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon's portico [on the Temple grounds].

Acts 5:21 — They entered into the Temple about daybreak and began to teach.

Acts 5:42 — Every day, in the Temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Yeshua as the Messiah.

Acts 17:2As was his custom, Paul went to [the Jews in the synagogue at Thessalonica], and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures.

Acts 22:17 — When I [Paul] returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the Temple . . . I fell into a trance.

Acts 22:19 — And I said, "Lord [Yeshua], they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in you."

Acts 26:11 — As I [Paul] punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme.

[See the parallel study: Saturday Night]

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Point 2
The Jewish believers observed the biblical feasts
or marked time by them

Acts 20:6 — We sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread [week of Passover], and came to them at Troas within five days; and there we stayed for seven days.

Acts 20:16 — Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; he was eager to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost [Shavu'ot].

Acts 27:9 — When considerable time had passed and the voyage was now dangerous, since even the Fast [of Day of Atonement] was already over.

1 Corinthians 5:7-8 — Messiah our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the Feast [of Passover].

[Notice their observance of Shabbat in Saturday Night.]

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Point 3
The Apostle Paul openly observed requirements of the Law

Acts 16:1-3 — Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

Acts 18:18 — In Cenchrea [Paul] had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow.

Acts 19:34 — But when they recognized that he was a Jew [by his attire?], a single outcry arose from them all as they shouted for about two hours, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!"

Acts 21:24, 26 (NRSV) — Join these men and go through the rite of purification with them, and pay for the shaving of their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself observe and guard the Law. Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself alaong with them, went into the Temple, giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them.

Acts 22:3 — I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the Law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today.

Acts 24:14-18 — But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets; having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. In view of this, I also do my best to maintain a blameless conscience both before God and before men. Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings; in which they found me occupied in the Temple, having been purified...

Acts 25:8 — Paul said in his own defense, "I have committed no offense against the Law of the Jews or against the Temple or against Caesar."

Acts 26:6-7, 22 — Now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O king, that I am being accused by Jews. . . . I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place.

Acts 28:17, 20 — Brethren [leading men of the Jews in Rome] . . . I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers. . . . I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel.

Romans 7:12 — The Law is holy, and the Commandment is holy and righteous and good.

Romans 7:14 — We know that the Law is spiritual.

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Point 4
The earliest Jewish believers were observant of the Law
in all respects

Acts 15:5 (NRSV) — Some believers . . . belonged to the sect of the Pharisees.

Acts 18:8 (NRSV) — Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, became a believer in the Lord, together with all his household.

Acts 21:20 (NRSV) — When they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, "You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the Law.

Acts 22:12 — A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there.

Luke 23:5524:1 — The women who had come with him out of Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. And they returned and prepared spices and perfumes. And on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, bringing the spices which they had prepared.

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Point 5
The first Gentile believers were already believers in Israel's God
and practiced aspects of the Mosaic Law

Acts 10:30 — [The Roman centurion] Cornelius said, "Four days ago to this hour, I was praying at the ninth hour [3 p.m. during the Minchah prayer time]; and, behold, a man stood before me in shining garments.

Acts 13:43 — When the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes [Gentiles who had undergone some steps of conversion to Judaism] followed Paul and Barnabas, who . . . were urging them to continue in the grace of God.

Acts 14:1 — In Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed, both of Jews and of Greeks.

Acts 15:19-20 — It is my [Jacob's] judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.

Acts 17:4 — Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women.

Acts 17:12 — Many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men.

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Point 6
The inner circle around the infant and boy Yeshua
and those who first recognized that God sent him
were pious, Torah-observant Jews.

Luke 1:5b-6 — There was a priest named Zechariah of the division of Abiyah, and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.
[These were the parents of John the Immerser, a cousin of Yeshua.]

Luke 2:22 — When the days for their [post-childbirth] purification according to the Law of Moses were completed, [Mary and Joseph] brought [Yeshua] up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord).

Luke 2:25, 27 — There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. . . . He came in the Spirit into the Temple; and when the parents brought in the child Yeshua, to carry out for him the custom of the Law, then [Simeon] took him into his arms, and blessed God.

Luke 2:36-38 — There was a prophetess, Anna . . . [who] never left the Temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. . . . [S]he came up [to Mary, Joseph, and Yeshua] and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of him to all those who were looking for the Redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 2:41-42 — His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of Passover. And when he became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast.

(For more details on this consider the article The Tzaddikim Who Raised Yeshua.)

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Point 7a
The Jewish disciples did not call themselves "Christians."
What terms did they use?

Linguists say the name "Christian" [Christiani] is originally Latin and meant something like partisans of Christus, soldiers of Christus, the household of Christus. (The Greek word is Christos, the anointed one.) The name was given to the believers by outsiders and likely had a mocking tone: "Christ-ites" or "Messiah groupies."

Acts 11:26 — The disciples were first called Christians [Grk, Christianoi] in Antioch.

Acts 26:28 — Agrippa replied to Paul, "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian [Grk, Christianos]."

1 Peter 4:16 — If anyone suffers as a "Christian" [Grk, Christianos], he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.

Paul never referred to himself as a "Christian"; rather he retained his ethnic and religious identity as a Jew:

Acts 21:39; 22:3"I am a Jew"

Romans 11:1 — "I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin"

Philippians 3:5 — "[I am] a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee"

In addition, Paul and the other followers of Yeshua chose other descriptive titles for themselves. Some of them are:

Followers of "the Way" [Grk, he hodos; Heb, ha-derekh]

Acts 9:1-2 — Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

Acts 19:9 — Some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people.

Acts 19:23 — About that time there occurred no small disturbance concerning the Way.

Acts 22:4 — I [Paul] persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons.

Acts 24:14 — This I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers.

Acts 24:22 — Felix, having a more exact knowledge about the Way, put them off.

Note: Acts 18:25-26 — This man [Apollos] had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Yeshua . . . . But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the Way of God more accurately.

"Disciples" [Grk, mathetai; Heb, talmidim]

Acts 6:1 — The disciples were increasing in number.

Acts 9:19 — For several days [Paul] was with the disciples who were at Damascus.

Acts 19:1 — Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples.

Acts 21:4 — After looking up the disciples [in Tyre], we stayed there seven days.

Acts 21:16 — Some of the disciples from Caesarea also came with us, taking us to Mnason of Cyprus, a disciple of long standing with whom we were to lodge.

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Point 7b
"Believers" [Grk, pistoi; Heb, ma'aminim; the root in both languages is related to faith: faith and belief are interchangeable ideas]
Acts 5:14 — And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number.

Acts 10:45 — All the circumcised believers . . . were amazed because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.

Acts 15:5 (NRSV) — Some believers . . . belonged to the sect of the Pharisees.

Acts 16:1 — Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer.

1 Thess 1:7 — You became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.

1 Thess 2:10 — You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers.

1 Timothy 4:10 — We have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.

1 Tim 6:2 (2x) — Those who have believers as their masters must not be disrespectful to them because they are brethren, but must serve them all the more, because those who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved.

1 Pet 1:20-1 — [Yeshua] has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead . . . so that your faith and hope are in God.

"Holy people (ones)" ("saints" in most translations; derived from Latin, sanctus) [Grk, hagioi; Heb. kedoshim] — based on Hebrew Bible usage for God himself ("the Holy One") and those around Him: angels (Deut 33:2; Zech 14:5; Ps 89:5); humans (Lev 11:44-45; Ps 16:3; Dan 7:21-27).

Acts 9:13 — Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man [Saul of Tarsus], how much harm he did to your holy ones at Jerusalem."

Rom 15:25 — I am going to Jerusalem serving the holy ones.

1 Cor 6:1 — Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the holy ones?

Judah 3 — . . . I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the Faith which was once for all delivered to the holy ones.

Rev 20:9 — They came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the holy ones and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them.

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"Brethren" (lit. brothers, but includes females) [Grk, adelphoi; Heb, achim] — the most common name for Yeshua's followers in NT

Examples:
Acts 7:3 — Brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.

Acts 9:17 — Brother Saul, the Lord Yeshua, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Acts 11:1 — Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judah heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.

Acts 15:23 — "The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings."

Acts 16:40 — They went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.

"Brethren" is also used for nonbelieving, fellow-Jews:
Acts 2:29 Jerusalem crowd
Acts 3:17 Jerusalem crowd
Acts 7:2 Sanhedrin
Acts 13:38 Synagogue at Antioch
Acts 22:1 Temple square
Acts 23:1 Sanhedrin
Acts 23:6 Sanhedrin
Acts 28:17 Leaders in Rome

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