Nazarenes (4th Century)

A Judeo-Christian sect that maintained Jewish laws and customs while accepting Christ’s divinity.

Background and Origins

The Nazarenes were an early Jewish Christian sect that emerged in the first-century Judaism. By the 4th century, they had developed into a distinct group within the Christian community. The sect is believed to have included Jewish converts of the Apostles who fled Jerusalem due to Jesus’ prophecy of its coming siege, eventually settling in areas like Pella and Beroea. This migration happened during the First Jewish–Roman War in 70 CE, after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

Beliefs and Practices

The 4th-century Nazarenes were noted for their strict observance of Jewish laws and customs alongside their acceptance of the divinity of Christ and his supernatural birth. This adherence to Jewish tradition set them apart from the majority of Jewish Christians who had abandoned these practices. The Nazarenes considered themselves Jews and maintained a commitment to the Law of Moses. Unlike the Ebionites, another early Jewish Christian sect, the Nazarenes accepted the Virgin Birth and considered Jesus as a prophet.

Relation to Other Sects and Mainstream Christianity

The Nazarenes shared similarities with the Ebionites, but the two groups had distinct beliefs regarding Jesus’ nature. The Nazarenes’ acceptance of Christ’s divinity and the Virgin Birth was a significant theological divergence from the Ebionites, who rejected these doctrines. The Nazarenes were considered orthodox in their beliefs about Jesus but were distinguished by their adherence to Jewish law. By the 4th century, as orthodoxy began to dominate Christian thought, the Nazarenes, along with other Jewish Christian groups, faced exclusion from both the Jewish community and the broader Christian community.

Decline and Legacy

By the 11th century, the Nazarene sect was still referenced as a Sabbath-keeping Christian group. However, modern scholars believe that references to the Nazarenes during this period might actually be to the Pasagini or Pasagians, suggesting that the Nazarene sect persisted well beyond the 4th century. The movement’s beliefs and practices had a lasting impact on the development of early Christian thought and the complex relationship between Jewish and Christian identities in the ancient world.