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> Christianity F.A.Q. > When did Christianity become a separate religion from Judaism?

When did Christianity become a separate religion from Judaism?

As best we can determine, the Jesus Movement began as a sect within Judaism and spread throughout the Mediterranean region largely by being passed from one Jewish community to another. Jesus, of course, was a Jew, as were his original disciples. He apparently saw his ministry as leading his people to higher ground, as it were, not launching a competing movement.

His followers believed Jesus to be the Messiah promised by the Hebrew Scriptures. The Jewish religious establishment was at least somewhat threatened by Jesus' teaching, although the extent of their opposition might have been overstated by early Christian writers such as the authors of Matthew and John.

As the Jesus Movement spread and came into contact with other influences, such as Greek philosophy and Roman cultural centers outside Judea and Syria, the movement felt a growing need to differentiate itself from other religions and philosophies. They did so in the time-honored practice of declaring their views true and other views false. At the same time, Rome was engaged in ruthlessly repressing Jewish revolts. Some Jesus people interpreted those devastating attacks as further signs of their rightness.

By the time the followers of Jesus thought of themselves as “Christians,” they were at odds with their former Jewish brethren, at odds with imperial Rome, and at odds with various movements within their own circle. A hierarchy of power emerged, justified itself as ordained of God, continued the work of self-differentiation, and began branding as heresy any view or practice that contradicted the hierarchy. In time, as Christianity launched its own empire, repression of Jews became standard practice, as it had been for imperial Rome.

As time went on, Europe's Jews came to be seen as entirely different from Christianity, a convenient scapegoat for embattled leaders. That perceived gap remains wide. And yet Christians study the Hebrew Scriptures and consider them authoritative, Christian worship employs standard elements of ancient Jewish practice (book, cup, bread, stole, oil, candle, priest), and except where anti-Semitism is virulent, Christians understand pogroms and the more recent Holocaust as evil.

Tom Ehrich

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