When Did Judaism and Christianity Part Ways?

When Did Judaism and Christianity Part Ways? February 9, 2021

When did Christianity officially part ways from Judaism? Early Christianity and Judaism were incredibly diverse communities in the first century, which a variety of theological beliefs and practices. As a result, it is hard to pinpoint an exact time when the early Christians emerged as a distinct and separate community from Judaism. What we do know is that almost every Jesus follower from the first century was Jewish. What this means is that, at least in the first century, the followers of Jesus were invested in making radical changes to Judaism–which included inviting others into the Abrahamic promise–and not necessarily in starting a new religion all together.

One of our first indications of growing independence comes from the Church Father Ignatius, who is one of the first writers to use the term Christianity in opposition to Judaism. By defining the terms as distinct identity markers, Ignatius implies that in his lifetime, the two were considered two separate religions. This would mark the parting of ways at around the year 160 CE. And yet, scholars argue that we cannot at face value assume this mention indicates a full-blown concept of separate religions. After all, Ignatius seems to be defining orthodoxy and heresy, speaking more about true and correct belief than about a separate religion. This was a time when varieties of early Christianity competed with one another, and it was common for scholars of the time to denounce sects they found to be outside of correct belief.

Another thing to remember is that belief was emerging, perhaps, as a new concept around which to organize religious identity. In late antiquity, it was language, history, or geographical location that often defined someone’s religious identity. But for early Christians, the question of “who’s in and who’s out” became the primary way to think about their group identity. Whether you believe or practice the right stuff was a defining question. 

But is the privileging of belief over practice a modern lens through which to ask the question about when Judaism and Christianity diverged? After all, in antiquity, religious identity came just as much from religious practice as it did from belief. A practicing Jew who believed Jesus was the Messiah doesn’t yet have a clear identity in late antiquity, but he was not clearly not Jewish. Belief in Jesus cannot be the only criteria for how Jews and Christians split in the first centuries. Rather, the growing differentiation between the communities was a slow and gradual process, and even into the third and fourth centuries we find Christian sects with deep ties to Jewish communities. 

Religion For Breakfast launched as a video series in 2014, and now has over 200,000 subscribers on YouTube and over 7 million views. It is commonly used as an education tool in the classroom. Written and produced by religion scholar Andrew Henry, Religion For Breakfast covers a wide range of introductory videos on religion and religious practices around the world, from the rise of Christianity to the role of Japanese religion in the development of Pokemon, to the world of myth and apocryphal literature.

About Andrew Henry
Andrew M. Henry has a PhD from the Graduate Division of Religious Studies at Boston University specializing in Ancient Christianity. Andrew’s research focuses on magical ritual in the late antique Mediterranean with a particular interest in the material evidence of these practices such as ritual space, “magical” artifact assemblages, amulets, and apotropaic inscriptions. You can read more about the author here.

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