The Sect of the Nazarenes
Yes, the original Jewish followers of YAHSHUA of Nazareth were a sect of Judaism known as the Sect of the Nazarenes. Who were these Nazarenes? The fourth century Church Father Jerome wrote of them The Nazarenes, who accept Messiah in such a way that they do not cease to observe the old law. (Jerome; On. Is. 8:14).Another fourth century Church Father, Epiphanius, writes a more detailed description of the sect of the Nazarenes:But these sectarians… did not call themselves Christians–but “Nazarenes,” … However they are simply complete Jews. They use not only the New Testament but the Old Testament as well, as the Jews do… They have no different ideas, but confess everything exactly as the Law proclaims it and in the Jewish fashion– except for their belief in Messiah, if you please!
For they acknowledge both the resurrection of the dead and the divine creation of all things, and declare that ELOHIM is one, and that his son is YAHSHUA the Messiah. They are trained to a nicety in Hebrew. For among them the entire Law, the Prophets, and the… Writings… are read in Hebrew, as they surely are by the Jews. They are different from the Jews, and different from Christians, only in the following. They disagree with Jews because they have come to faith in Messiah; but since they are still fettered by the Law — circumcision, the Sabbath, and the rest– they are not in accord with Christians…. they are nothing but Jews…. They have the Good-news according to Matthew in its entirety in Hebrew. For it is clear that they still preserve this, in the Hebrew alphabet, as it was originally written.
(Epiphanius; Panarion 29)
From this description we learn that the Nazarenes did not consider themselves Christians but were in fact Torah Observant Jews, accepting the Torah in the Jewish fashion and differing from other Jews only in accepting YAHSHUA as the Messiah. We also learn that they had and used at least the book of Matthew in its original Hebrew. Also we learn that the Nazarenes were considered apostates by gentile Christianity, as this description appears in a book by Epiphanius which was a catalog of groups regarded as apostates by the Church.
Jerome again mentions the Nazarenes in a letter he wrote in correspondence with Augustine. In this letter Jerome says to Augustine:
The matter in debate, therefore, or I should rather say your opinion regarding it, is summed up in this:
That since the preaching of the gospel of YAHSHUA, the believing Jews do well in observing the precepts of the law, i.e. in offering sacrifices as Paul did, in circumcising their children, as Paul did in the case of Timothy, and keeping the Jewish Sabbath, as all the Jews have been accustomed to do. If this be true, we fall into the heresy of Cerinthus and Ebion, who, though believing in YAHSHUA, were anathematized by the fathers for this one error, that they mixed up the ceremonies of the law with the gospel of Christ, and professed their faith in that which was new, without letting go what was old. Why do I speak of the Ebionites, who make pretensions to the name of Christian? In our own day there exists a sect among the Jews throughout all the synagogues of the East, which is called the sect of the Minans, and is even now condemned by the Pharisees. The adherents to this sect are known commonly as Nazarenes; they believe in YAHSHUA the Son of ELOHIM, born of the Virgin Mary; and they say that He who suffered under Pontius Pilate and rose again, is the same as the one in whom we believe. But while they desire to be both Jews and Christians, they are neither the one nor the other. I therefore beseech you, who think that you are called upon to heal my slight wound, which is no more, so to speak, than a prick or scratch from a needle, to devote your skill in the healing art to this grievous wound, which has been opened by a spear driven home with the impetus of a javelin. For there is surely no proportion between the culpability of him who exhibits the various opinions held by the fathers in a commentary on Scripture, and the guilt of him who reintroduces within the Church a most pestilential heresy. If, however, there is for us no alternative but to receive the Jews into the Church, along with the usages prescribed by their law; if, in short, it shall be declared lawful for them to continue in the Churches of YAHSHUA what they have been accustomed to practice in the synagogues of Satan, I will tell you my opinion of the matter: they will not become Christians, but they will make us Jews.
(Jerome; Letter 75)
Before examining this letter in detail, a few definitions are needed. The Ebionites and Cerenthians were also early apostate Jewish sects related to the Nazarenes. The Ebionites differed from the Nazarenes in rejecting Paul, rejecting the virgin birth, rejecting the Deity of Messiah (as well as some other matters, for more on this see: http://www.wnae.org/notebionites.htm ). The Cerenthians had also split off from the Nazarenes following after Gnostic doctrines. Jerome classes Nazarenes, Ebionites and Cerenthians as believing Jews.
The term “Minans” is apparently Latinized from Hebrew MINIM (singular is MIN) a word which in modern Hebrew means “apostates” but was originally an acronym for a Hebrew phrase meaning “Believers in YAHSHUA the Nazarene”.
Now what can we learn from Jerome s letter to Augustine?
Well one interesting fact is that Jerome acknowledges that since the preaching of the gospel of YAHSHUA, the believing Jews do well in observing the precepts of the law. In other words, Jerome does not claim that these Jewish believers fell from grace and turned back to the law, he readily admits that the Jewish believers had always been observing the precepts of the law ever since the Gospel of YAHSHUA had begun. In fact Jerome admits that the Nazarenes were emulating Paul offering sacrifices as Paul did, in circumcising their children, as Paul did in the case of Timothy, and keeping the Jewish Sabbath.
Jerome knows and admits that The Nazarenes were Torah observant from the time the Gospel was first proclaimed, and that their roots in doing so go back to Paul who also did so. This is no surprise because according to Acts 24 Paul was a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.
Jerome says that these Nazarenes are a sect among the Jews throughout all the synagogues of the East but that they are condemned by the Pharisees [i.e. Rabbinical Jews]. Jerome described their beliefs with what appears to be a summary of the oldest form of the so-called Apostles Creed: they believe in YAHSHUA the Son of ELOHIM, born of the Virgin Mary; and they say that He who suffered under Pontius Pilate and rose again, is the same as the one in whom we believe.
Jerome then expresses that anyone who tried to introduce Nazarenes into the Christian Church, in his own words: reintroduces within the Church a most pestilential heresy. This is very interesting wording. Why reintroduces instead of introduces? Jerome had earlier admitted that he Jewish believers had been Torah observant going back to Paul (and his Torah observance) and before. It was Gentile Christianity which had departed from Paul and from the Torah Observance of the Nazarenes, and such a belief could only be reintroduced not introduced to the Gentile Christian Church. To Jerome, the Nazarene heresy of Torah Observance was a heresy dating back to the beginning, which the Gentile Christian Church had purged itself of, and which he did not believe should be reintroduced! Jerome plainly states his fear that if Nazarenes were added to the Gentile Christian church, the ultimate result would not be the Christianizing of Nazarenes (they would not give up Torah and Judaism) but that Christians would end up becoming Torah Observant Jews! As a result Jerome was staunchly opposed to any voices who wished to reintroduce the Nazarene heresy to Gentile Christianity.
Ultimately the Nazarenes were squeezed out of organized existence by oppression from both sides.
Rabbinic Jews declared them apostates because they accepted YAHSHUA as Messiah as far as they were concerned, the Nazarenes were not Jews. On the other hand the Christians also declared them to be apostates because they continued to embrace Torah observance.
In 358 C.E. the Nazarene Sanhedrin, like the Rabbinic Sanhedrin was dissolved when a Roman decree made such Jewish gatherings illegal. Remember, the Nazarenes did not call themselves Christians, identified themselves as Jews, and were identified by Rome as complete Jews. Nazarene Judaism lost its organizational structure until our relatively recent reorganization. Of course there have always been individual Torah observant Jews who accepted YAHSHUA as the Jewish Messiah of Judaism without any organization.
Today the Sect of the Nazarenes has been restored and reorganized. We are back.
Nazarene Judaism is neither Christianity nor Rabbinical Judaism. Just as in the fourth century we as Nazarenes are attacked by both sides. To many Christians we are too Jewish and in bondage to the law.
Meanwhile by many Rabbinical Jews we are wrongly dismissed as Christians simply because we believe YAHSHUA is the Jewish Messiah of Judaism.
However this time, Nazarene Judaism is here to stay!
If you are looking for the truth. If you realize that Gentile Christianity is missing the truth of Torah. If you realize that Rabbinical Judaism is missing the Messiah, come join the original followers of YAHSHUA as the Messiah: Nazarene Judaism