Early Christians Called Nazarenes

History of Early Christianity


What do you know about the sect of the Nazarenes?

According to the fourth century Catholic historian Eusebius, during the first century,

James, the first that had obtained the episcopal seat in Jerusalem after the ascension of our Saviour…But the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella.[i]

The faithful who claimed to have fled Jerusalem for Pella were called Nazarenes. This may be because Jesus Himself was prophesied to be called by that name:

Jesus…He shall be called a Nazarene (Matthew 2:1,23).

Seventeen times the Bible (NKJV) uses the expression “Jesus of Nazareth”, probably because Jesus used to live there (Matthew 2:23). The New Testament uses the expression Nazareth, Nazarene, or Nazarene thirty-one times.

Theological scholar James Tabor wrote about some definitions of Nazarene (other than “one from Nazareth” or “separatist/consecrated”):

The Jesus movement was from early on referred to as the “Nazarenes,” which roughly translates as the “the Messianists” or the people of the “Branch”.[ii]

The Protestant historian Philip Schaff noted:

A portion of the Jewish Christians, however, adhered even after the destruction of Jerusalem, to the national customs of their fathers, and propagated themselves in some churches of Syria down to the end of the fourth century, under the name of Nazarenes; a name perhaps originally given in contempt by the Jews to all Christians as followers of Jesus of Nazareth. They united the observance of the Mosaic ritual law with their belief in the Messiahship and divinity of Jesus, used the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew, deeply mourned the unbelief of their brethren, and hoped for their future conversion in a body and for a millennial reign of Christ on the earth. But they indulged no antipathy to the apostle Paul…They were, therefore, not heretics, but stunted separatist Christians; they stopped at the obsolete position of a narrow and anxious Jewish Christianity, and shrank to an insignificant sect. Jerome says of them, that, wishing to be Jews and Christians alike, they were neither one nor the other.[iii]

So there were Christians with Jewish practices that were sometimes called Nazarenes that historians teach claimed to have originated from the original Jerusalem church. And they were different from the more narrow “Jewish Christianity” according to a Protestant scholar—but shrank into being considered to be an insignificant sect.

They were also not popular with the Jews in the first few centuries A.D. The Book of Acts records the following about the Apostle Paul from Jewish authorities:

For we have found this man a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes (Acts 24:5).

Thus, originally the term Nazarenes appears to be applied to all Christians, and not some small part of it, as it is being applied to those that agree with the Apostle Paul.

But apparently some Jews felt that the Christians were a bit secretive according to Harve Lewis:

The title Nazarene was given by the Jews to those strange people outside their own religion that seemed to belong to some type of secret sect…[iv]

Notice how badly some Jews felt about Nazarenes according to a fourth century writing by the Catholic historian Epiphanius:

For not only do the Jewish children cherish hatred against them but the people stand up in the morning, at noon, and in the evening…Three times per day they say: ‘May God curse the Nazarenes.’[v]

The Nazarenes ended up in “synagogues of the East” according to the Catholic priest Jerome.[vi] The “Nazarenes” referred to essentially ended up dwelling in Syria, Asia Minor, and Armenia (while others were in other lands).

The fourth century Catholic historian Epiphanius wrote of this group from the time of 69/70 A.D. until his day, and he starts out with an interesting admission:

All Christians were called Nazarenes once…They were so-called followers of the apostles…they dedicate themselves to the law…However, everyone called the Christians Nazarenes as I said before. This appears from the accusation against Paul…[Acts 24:5]…

For they use not only the New Testament but also the Old…For they also accept the resurrection of the dead and that everything has origin in God…Only in this respect they differ from the Jews and Christians: with the Jews they do not agree because of their belief in Christ, with the Christians because they are trained in the Law, in circumcision, the Sabbath and the other things…

This heresy of the Nazarenes exists in Beroea in the neighborhood of Coele Syria and the Decapolis in the region of Pella and in Basanitis in the so-called Kokabe, Chochabe in Hebrew. For from there it took its beginning after the exodus from Jerusalem and to go away since it would undergo a siege. Because of this advice they lived in Perea after having moved to that place as I said. There the Nazarene heresy had its beginning. [vii]

So Epiphanius states that the remnant who fled to Pella from Jerusalem, while professing Christ, believed the entire Bible, kept the Sabbath, and had other practices that he considered to be Jewish. Hence, here is a historical admission that the original church did keep the Sabbath and that for several centuries were often referred to as Nazarenes. But instead of embracing original Christianity, Epiphanius teaches that it was an early “heresy”.

Modern scholars, like Larry Hurtado, have realized the Christians who claimed to be Nazarene including most considered to be proto-orthodox” held a binitarian view of the Godhead:

…”Nazarene” Christianity, had a view of Jesus fully compatible with the beliefs favored by the proto-orthodox (indeed, they could be considered part of the circles that made up proto-orthodox Christianity of the time). Pritz contended that this Nazarene Christianity was the dominant form of Christianity in the first and second centuries…the devotional stance toward Jesus that characterized most of the Jewish Christians of the first and second centuries seems to have been congruent with proto-orthodox devotion to Jesus…the proto-orthodox “binitarian” pattern of devotion…[viii]

In a binitarian view of the Godhead, the one God Family began with two (for more information, please see the article Binitarian View: One God, Two Beings Before the Beginning). Binitarians believe that the Father is God and Jesus (the Son, also called the Word) is God, and that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. This Godhead, according to the Bible (cf. Romans 8:29; Ephesians 3:15), is a family that others can some day be born into.

Scholar Ray Pritz noted:

The Nazarenes were distinct from the Ebionites and prior to them. In fact, we have found that it is possible that there was a split in Nazarene ranks around the turn of the first century. This split was either over a matter of christological doctrine or over leadership of the community. Out of this split came the Ebionites, who can scarcely be separated from the Nazarenes on the basis of geography, but who can be easily distinguished from the standpoint of Christology.[ix]

It should be also noted that in early Jerusalem, there were apparently two groups professing Christ. One that the Apostle Paul referred to as “the circumcision” (Titus 1:10) (often known as early Ebionites) was not truly faithful, while the other group was composed of true and faithful Jewish Christians (also called Nazarenes, but later also sometimes called Ebionites).

Now while most people understand that the early Christians were called Nazarenes, most simply do not realize that the Nazarenes had Judaeo-Christian practices that dated from the original apostles that they never changed.

This is the major difference between the Living Church of God and those who call themselves Catholics, Orthodox, or Protestant–those groups simply no longer hold to many of the early documentable beliefs of the original Christian church.

Several articles of possibly related interest may include:

The History of Early Christianity Are you aware that what most people believe is not what truly happened to the true Christian church? Do you know where the early church was based? Do you know what were the doctrines of the early church? Is your faith really based upon the truth or compromise?
Nazarene Christianity: Were the Original Christians Nazarenes? Should Christians be Nazarenes today? What were the practices of the Nazarenes.
What Do Roman Catholic Scholars Actually Teach About Early Church History? Although most believe that the Roman Catholic Church history teaches an unbroken line of succession of bishops beginning with Peter, with stories about most of them, Roman Catholic scholars know the truth of this matter. This eye-opening article is a must-read for any who really wants to know what Roman Catholic history actually admits about the early church.
Location of the Early Church: Another Look at Ephesus, Smyrna, and Rome What actually happened to the primitive Church? And did the Bible tell about this in advance?
Apostolic Succession What really happened? Did structure and beliefs change? Are many of the widely-held current understandings of this even possible? Did you know that Catholic scholars really do not believe that several of the claimed “apostolic sees” of the Orthodox have apostolic succession–despite the fact that the current pontiff himself seems to wish to ignore this view?  Is there actually a true church that has ties to any of the apostles that is not part of the Catholic or Orthodox churches?  Read this article if you truly are interested in the truth on this matter!
Hope of Salvation: How the Living Church of God differ from most Protestants How the Living Church of God differs from mainstream/traditional Protestants, is perhaps the question I am asked most by those without a Church of God background.
The Similarities and Dissimilarities between Martin Luther and Herbert W. ArmstrongThis article clearly shows some of the doctrinal differences between in the two. At this time of doctrinal variety and a tendency by many to accept certain aspects of Protestantism, the article should help clarify why the Living Church of God is NOT Protestant. Do you really know what the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther taught and should you follow his doctrinal example?
Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Living Church of God? Do you know that both groups shared a lot of the earliest teachings? Do you know which church changed? Do you know which group is most faithful to the teachings of the apostolic church? Which group best represents true Christianity? This documented article answers those questions.
Some Similarities and Differences Between the Orthodox Church and the Living Church of God Both groups claim to be the original church, but both groups have differing ways to claim it. Both groups have some amazing similarities and some major differences. Do you know what they are?
Similarities and Differences Between the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Living Church of God Both groups claim to represent the original Christian faith.  Do you know much about them? Both groups have some interesting similarities, but many major differences. Would you like information on how to deal with Jehovah’s Witnesses?
SDA/LCG Differences: Two Horned Beast of Revelation and 666The Living Church of God is NOT part of the Seventh-day Adventists. This article explains two prophetic differences, the trinity, differences in approaching doctrine, including Ellen White.
Five Dissimilarities Between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Living Church of God The Living Church of God is not related to the Mormons and this article explains five differences.
Being Separate: What Did Herbert W. Armstrong and the Bible Teach About Where Not to Fellowship? Some believe that it is acceptable to attend groups called COG, but who are not actually. What did Herbert W. Armstrong and the Bible teach about this.


[i] Eusebius. The History of the Church History, Book III, Chapter V, Verses 2,3. Translated by A. Cushman McGiffert. Digireads.com Publishing, Stilwell (KS), 2005, p. 45

[ii] Tabor, James D. The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity. Published by Simon and Schuster, 2007, p.133

[iii] Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1997. This material has been carefully compared, corrected¸ and emended (according to the 1910 edition of Charles Scribner’s Sons) by The Electronic Bible Society, Dallas, TX, 1998

[iv] Lewis, Harve Spencer. The Mystical Life of Jesus. Published by Rosicrucian press, AMORC college, 1929. Original from the University of California. Digitized Dec 3, 2007, p. 61

[v] Epiphanius. Panarion 29, 9,3 as cited in Pritz. Nazarene Jewish Christianity. Magnas, Jerusalem, 1988, p. 35

[vi] Jerome. Translated by J.G. Cunningham, M.A. From Jerome to Augustine (A.D. 404); LETTER 75 (AUGUSTINE) OR 112 (JEROME). Excerpted from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series One, Volume 1, Chapter 13. Edited by Philip Schaff, D.D., LL.D. 1886. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody (MA), 1999 printing, p. 339

[vii] Epiphanius. Panarion 29 as cited in Pritz, pp. 30-34

[viii] Hurtado LW. Lord Jesus Christ, Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. William B. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, 2003, pp. 560-561,618

[ix] Pritz, R. Nazarene Jewish Christianity. Magnas, Jerusalem, 1988 p. 108.

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