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Don’t Call Them Judaizers!

June 13, 2010

On a recent post Jubilees, Circumcision, and Judaizers, two Mikes, Bird and Koke, informed me that I should not identify the opponents of Paul as “Judaizers.” Of course, they are NT guys and I am not, so I thought I would listen to them, and investigate why I thought Judaizer was an appropriate term to describe Paul’s opponents who wished to supplement his gospel with the demand for circumcision.

First, from my NT Introduction textbook:

Following a general admonition (3:1), Paul turns to an attack on some people who have evidently been urging the Philippians that they must be circumcised and hence become true Jews if they want to be true Christians… Paul concludes this discussion (3:17-4:1) with a harsh characterization of the Judaizers, those whom he opposes. (Achtemeier, et al., Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology, p. 397)

And from a different section:

Were the “Judaizers” in Philippi?

It is difficult to determine whether the opponents Paul has in mind in 3:2 are currently in Philippi… (p. 398)

From my Philippians class:

… who the following sentences imply are Jewish Christian itinerants promoting the circumcision of Gentiles… that the warning against “Judaizers” in verses 1b-6… very likely one of these women was urging that the community go the way of the Judaizers. (Fee, Philippians, pp. 128-29).

From the New Oxford Annotated Bible:

Despite the best efforts of scholars to identify and reconstruct the arguments of paul’s opponents, they remnain a shadowy group. Most commentators describe them as Judaizers because they insit on circumcision (310, New Testament)

However, in the comments to my recent post on Jubilees and circumcision Mike Bird wrote,

One point of order: Don’t call Paul’s opponents “Judaizers”. Only Gentiles can judaize, Jews proselytize. The infinite Ioudaizein is never used with Jews as the subject!!! Minor point, but it affects the grammar of the debate!

Then Mike Koke chimed in:

I second what Mike Bird says about Ioudaizein referring to Gentiles going over to Jewish practices and way of life (ioudaismos, usually translated Judaism) which Jews or Jewish Christians may have been compelling them to do. Shaye Cohen in the Beginnings of Jewishness (preview on Google books, see chapter 5) has an interesting discussion about the various ways and degrees Gentiles could cross the boundaries and even how there a number of examples of words that begin with an ethnos & end in izein that speak about giving political support, adopting another language or customs but they are almost always negative (to cilizize is to be cruel and treacherous, to egyptize is to be sly and crafty, to cretize is to lie, etc). Greco-Roman writers such as Juvenal or Tacitus are not too impressed when people Judaize and abandon their ancestral traditions to cultically worship one god alone and adopt what seemed to be strange practices like Sabbath or not eating pork.

Sarcasm on: pedantic NT guys and their insistence that we use terms “correctly”. Sarcasm off.

Now I had never in my life stopped to think about the label “Judaizer.” It was used to describe the group; good enough for me. But the Mikes are right: if we assume that those promoting circumcision for the Gentiles are Jewish then it’s pretty difficult for them to be Judaizers… they’re already circumcised and Jewish!

So there you go. From now on, if by some happenstance I find myself in a NT conversation, I will refer to Paul’s opponents in Galatians and Philippians as the “Judaizing Faction” or the “Circumcising Party” (though that doesn’t sound like a very fun party to me) or some such, and their Gentile converts as “Judaizers”.

As an aside, this is part of what I like about “biblio-blogging”: I interact with those whose field of expertise is different than mine, read material that I would never, ever read in my own studies, and every once in awhile, I even learn something new!

Except from Tilling of course…

7 Comments leave one →
  1. June 13, 2010 12:45 pm

    If I can’t nitpick and criticize for the smallest of reasons, where is the fun in that? 🙂 To be more pedantic, a good case has been made by Steve Mason, “Jews, Judaeans, Judaizing, Judaism: Problems of Categorization in Ancient History” JSJ 38 (2007): 457-512 or Paula Fredriksen, “Mandatory Retirement: Ideas in the Study of Christian Origins whose Time has Got to Go” SR 35 (2006): 231-246 for rethinking a whole bunch of our nomenclature and how modern understandings of categories such as religion, ethnicity, Judaism, Christianity distorts our historical vision.

  2. June 13, 2010 4:07 pm

    I think you may be missing the more substantive point, Scott, which is that the English word in Paul’s letters is used to render a Greek word which means “to adopt Jewish customs” and not “to promote the adoption of Jewish customs”. And so if the word “Judaizers” is widely understood to mean the latter, then we need to stop using it in translations of Paul’s letters.

    The question then becomes what we should put in its place…

    • June 13, 2010 7:55 pm


      What I was trying to demonstrate above (obviously rather poorly) was where I had heard and seen the term used in my undergrad and then below after the Mikes comments how I was only going to use it to refer to Gentiles adopting Jewish customs.

      My suggestions for what to call those promoting the adoption were: “Judaizing Faction” or “Circumcision Party” but upon further reflection I think we could give it a more Christian distinction: The Circumcision Denomination. Or maybe “Conservative Early Christians”. Or “The Just in Case the First Covenant is Still in Effect Party”

      Or we could just follow Paul and call them “The Mutilating Dogs!” 😉

      • June 13, 2010 9:08 pm

        I may not have worded my comment that clearly either, but my central point was that where you find a word like “Judaizers” in the text of some English translations, the Greek word used is referring to people who adopt Jewish customs. And so the danger is that people will read such verses and misunderstand them.

        Your point about how widespread the misuse of the term is is of course crucial.

        But my point was slightly different, namely that to the extent that the English word is understood to refer to people promoting conversion to Judaism and adoption of Jewish customs, presumably it should be omitted from English translations of Galatians altogether. And where it has appeared in the past, the word should be replaced not with something else like “those who promote Jewish customs” but “Gentile converts who get circumcised and in other ways adopt the requirements of Torah.” But that’s quite a mouthful!

        Then again, there’s the grammatical solution in which everyone is a winner (except perhaps clarity of comprehension of the New Testament): Judaize can be both a transitive and intransitive verb and refer to both the adoption of Jewish customs and the causing of others to do so:

        And so where the verb has an object, the meaning is what you encountered in the examples you cited:

  3. June 13, 2010 5:21 pm


  4. June 14, 2010 7:44 am

    QUOTE: “But my point was slightly different, namely that to the extent that the English word is understood to refer to people promoting conversion to Judaism and adoption of Jewish customs, presumably it should be omitted from English translations of Galatians altogether.”

    The people who I encounter in the local church don’t know what the word means until someone explains it to them, anyway. This is true for much of the terminology they encounter in the Bible. It is not a term in common usage, and should not be assumed to have some sort of fixed meaning.

  5. June 14, 2010 11:21 am

    (le-havdil), A analysis (found here: (that is the only legitimate Netzarim)) of all extant source documents and archaeology using a rational and logical methodology proves that the historical Ribi Yehosuha ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) from Nazareth and his talmidim (apprentice-students), called the Netzarim, taught and lived Torah all of their lives; and that Netzarim and Christianity were always antithetical.

    Judaism and Christianity have always been two antithetical religions, and thus the term Jewish Christianity is an oxymoron.

    The mitzwot (directives or military-style orders) in Torah (claimed in Tan’’kh (the Jewish Bible) to be the instructions of the Creator), the core of the Judaism, are an indivisible whole. Rejecting any one constitutes rejecting of the whole… and the Church rejected many mitzwot, for example rejecting to observe the Shabat on the seventh day in the Jewish week. Examples are endless. Devarim (“Deuteronomy”) 13.1-6 explicitly precludes the Christian “NT”. Devarim 13:1-6 forbids the addition of mitzwot and subtraction of mitzwot from Torah.

    Ribi Yehoshuas talmidim Netzarim still observes Torah non-selectively to their utmost today and the research in the previous mentioned Netzarim-website implies that becoming one of Ribi Yehoshuas Netzarim-followers is the only way to follow him.

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