Over the past few weeks I've been called a Judaizer. Most people are like "huh?"
In 21st century Christianity, a Judaizer is someone who believes the law of Moses should be followed in the life of the Christian, and then seeks to encourage others to follow the law of Moses in their lives. So, for instance, if I abstain from eating shrimp and pork, and teach others to do the same... I'm a Judaizer. If I believe the Sabbath should be honored, and I teach others to do the same... I'm a Judaizer. If I wear tassels on the four corners of my garment, and teach others to do the same... I'm a Judaizer.
The question is this: is this what the term Judaizer meant in its original, Biblical context?
The term originates from a text in the book of Galatians (which I will exegete in detail in part 3 of this post) in which Paul is rebuking Peter. It stems from the Greek word: ιουδαιζω which is transliterated into English as Ioudaizo, or Judaize. Literally translated it means "to live or become as a Jew." But what did living as or becoming a Jew mean in the 1st century?
For starters, let me explain what the term doesn't mean. The term cannot mean to live according to the law of Moses. The reason this isn't an option is because that following the example and lifestyle of the Messiah himself would mean that you were observing the law of Moses. Why? Because Yeshua observed the law of Moses and taught others to do so. In the famous "do not think" text of Matthew 5:17, Yeshua goes on to conclude that whoever of his listeners that day followed even the least of the commandments and taught others to do so would be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:19). He never said that if you observed Mosaic law that you were a "Ioudaizo" or Judaizer.
This point alone shows that following the law of Moses = making the life of Yeshua the exemplary style of life for yourself. This certainly doesn't mean we observe Mosaic law perfectly (we can't), nor do we attempt to be justified by the law (which is impossible). It just means that we look at how Christ lived, and we seek to do the same in our own life. Quite simple.
So what did the term Judaize originally mean? It had to do with those who lived according to the customs and traditions and interpretations of 1st century Judaism, particularly Pharisaism. The Pharisees (literally "separatists") considered themselves to be the strictest sect in the Hebrew faith. They would quote the law of Moses and then interpret it according to what they believed to be long-standing tradition. The problem here was that oftentimes, their interpretations actually added to or took away from the original intent of the law of Moses. They had concocted a religious system that they judged everyone by. They went around attempting to Judaize others, i.e. compel them to live according to the customs of Judaism.
Yeshua, on the other hand, was hated by the Pharisees, because while they claimed to have the proper view of law in the 1st century, he basically went around telling them, "Nope, you've got it all wrong." Yeshua would then go behind them and explain the true intent of the law Yahweh gave to Moses, highlighting the weighty matters of the law like mercy, justice, and faith (Matthew 23:23).
I'd like to continue to share more, but I've gotta' run this morning. Hopefully, I'll get to post part 2 tomorrow morning, so stay tuned.
~ Matthew Janzen
Blog by Matthew Janzen. Lover of Yahweh, Yeshua, my wife and 5 children. All else is commentary.