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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
is the name of a Jewish Christian sect whose members continued to observe all the obligations and ceremonies of the law of Moses after the mother Church of Jerusalem had abandoned it. The sect was the Pella branch of the Jerusalem Church, which did not join in the change made on the appointment of Marcus, the first Jerusalem bishop of the uncircumcision. (See JUDAIZING CHRISTIANS).
The Nazarenes are not named by the earlier historians and fathers of the Church; Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Origen, Clement, and Eusebius are silent regarding them; and the accounts and notices which we have of them are furnished by Epiphanius, Augustine, Theodoret, Philaster, Jerome, and Isidore; but from these it is clearly apparent, as we shall presently show, that the Nazarenes and Ebionites were identical, and that the former, as has been supposed by some Unitarian scholars, was really composed only of such primitive Christian converts from Judaism who retained their Jewish prejudices despite their conversion; and that their faith respecting Jesus Christ, which is unjustly claimed to have been Socinian — i.e., that Jesus was a mere man-is not to be taken as all illustration and evidence of the faith of the early Church. For the sake of clearing up this question we append a full examination of the early writers of the Church who have furnished us any clew regarding the Nazarenes and their relation to the early orthodox Church. (See NAZAREANS).
1. Of the Church fathers who wrote regarding the Nazarenes, the earliest, Epiphanius, states that the Nazarenes flourished principally in Beroea, in CoeleSyria, in Decapolis at Pella, and in Basanitis, and that from thence, after the retreat from Jerusalem, the sect had its beginning. Epiphanius adds that he could not ascertain the date of the sect as compared with the Simonians, Corinthians. and others — a statement which points to a sect not formed by one leader whose date could not be ascertained, but to a party gradually separating from the Church. Jerome speaks (Catal. Script. Eccl. s.v. Matthaeus) of the Nazarenes who dwell at Beroea using St. Matthew's Hebrew Gospel, and this implies an early formation of the party. Epiphanius, in his prefatory index, defines the Nazarenes as confessing Jesus to be Christ and the Son of God, but as living in all things according to the law. Augustine (Hoeres. 9) describes them as confessing Christ to be the Son of God, but observing the law, which Christians are. taught to keep, not carnally, but spiritually.
From all this it is clear that the Nazarenes were Jewish Christians, forming themselves into a party in Pella and its neighborhood after the retreat from Jerusalem, and passing by degrees into a distinct sect. But there were two classes of Jewish Christians — the one apostolic and orthodox, who did not impose the observance of the law as necessary to salvation, who acknowledged the mission of St. Paul, and recognised the communion of the Gentiles; the other Pharisaic and sectarian, who' maintained the universal obligation of the law, and denounced St. Paul as a transgressor. In inquiring to which of these two classes the Nazarenes belonged, it must be noticed, in the first place, that the community at Pella was composed of those converts who joined the Church of Jerusalem in her exile, of those Hellenistic fugitives whose national feelings and love of their city was not so strong as in the native Jews, and of those native Jews who had formed connections in their new residence which overpowered their national feelings. It was a community predisposed to accept in the spirit as well as the letter the decree of the Council of Jerusalem. In the next place the Ebionites and the Nazarenes are contrasted. But it was the Ebionites (q.v.) who held the universal obligation of the law. When, therefore. we read in Jerome (in Isaiah 1. t. 3, page 4 [ed. 1616]), "Audiant Ebionaei, qui post passionem abolitam legem putant esse servandam. Audiant Ebionitarum socii, qui Judaeis tantum, et de stirpe Israelitici generis haec custodienda decernunt," it can hardly be doubted that the "Ebionitarum socii" are the Nazarenes.
This sect is thus identified as, in its origin at least, a branch of the orthodox Church of Jerusalem. The Church of Jerusalem had been under the apostles of the circumcision, and at the time of the retreat to Pella had "a literature consisting, on the one hand, of most of the New Testament, except the Gospel of St. John, and on the other of works treating of the much-studied old Halachah and Haggadab law, and others largely dependent on poetic fancy;" "with rites wherein Jewish and Christian practices are still found side by side, circumcision and baptism, hallowing of the Sabbath and of the Lord's day, Passover, perhaps, and Eucharist." These are the surroundings amid which we place the sects of the Nazarenes and its origin (Sinker, Testamenta xii Patriarcharun [Camb. 1869], page 124). The last-made quotation, the words of which were used with reference to the author of the Testamenta of the twelve patriarchs, leads us to a remarkable book which proceeded from the school, and probably from the very sect under consideration. This book and the writings of the Ebionite school have been much studied of late, and in the hands of German scholars have thrown considerable light on the history of the early Church. In noticing it as an example of the theology of the Nazarenes, it must be remembered that we are entirely ignorant of its author, of the position he held in the Judaeo- Christian church, and of the degree of acceptance his book met with. In short, we are entitled to assume that it is a representative book. But it is known from other authority that the author was of the Nazarene school, and we are thus entitled to gather from his book the broad and distinctive characters of the school. Finer shades of doctrine, and doctrines that are not distinctive, must be referred to the standard formed by the teaching of the apostles as supervening upon the tenets of the Jewish Church. Lardner's summary of the writer's doctrine may be first given. The writer speaks of the nativity of Christ, the meekness and unblamableness of his life, his crucifixion at the instigation of the Jewish priests, the wonderful concomitants of his death, his resurrection, and ascension. He represents the character of the Messiah as God and man, the Most High God among men eating and drinking with them; the Savior of the world, of the Gentiles and Israel, as eternal High-Priest and King. He likewise speaks of the effusion of the Holy Spirit upon the Messiah, attended with a voice from heaven; his unrighteous treatment by the Jews, and their desolations and the destruction of the Temple on that account; the call of the Gentiles; the illuminating of them generally with new light; the effusion of the Spirit upon believers, but especially and in a more abundant measure upon the Gentiles.
Here little notice is taken of Christ's miracles; however, he speaks of the Messiah as a "man who renews the law in the power of the Most High," in which expressions the working of miracles seems to be implied. Here are also passages which seem to contain allusions to the Gospels of St. Matthew, St. Luke, and St. John, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistle to the Ephesians, the First to the Thessalonians, the First to Timothy, the Epistle to the Hebrews, the First Epistle of St. John, and the Book of Revelation. As far as was consistent with his assumed character. the author declares the canonical authority of the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of St. Paul (Credibility, etc. 2:363). Here the recognition of St. John's Gospel and Epistles, and of St. Paul's Epistles, shows that the Nazarenes, at the later period of this book, were not without the teaching of full catholic Christianity. The question will arise again, with regard to a still later period, "What was Nazarene doctrine respecting the divinity of our Lord?" At the period we have now before us it is just to the Nazarenes, as Jewish Christians, to assimilate their confession, that Jesus is Christ and the Son of God, with St. Peter's confession, without attributing to them any limited meanings of the term, such as were devised at a later time. The passages may be seen quoted and commented upon in the third chapter of Sinker's work, in which Dorner's remark is quoted, "that the words," from Levi, 18:" imply that the relation of Christ to the Father is as close as is that of a human son to his father." Christ's birth of a virgin is referred to in Joseph, 19; his pre-existence in Daniel 6; Simeon, 6. On these points we may believe the Nazarenes to have been orthodox. The ethics of the " Testaments" are sufficiently characterized in the remark, "that the view held as to the law of God is the same which we find in St. James's Epistle, the old Mosaic law completed and developed by Christ, and that thus the author recognises the moral bearing of Christianity, not as a contrast, but as a continuation of the old religion" (Sinker's Testam. xii Patriarch. Page 121). The subject of priesthood — the priesthood of our Lord primarily, of the ministers of the Gospel secondarily — requires a more distinct notice. Judah (sec. 21) is made to say, "God gave Levi the priesthood, to me the kingdom, and subjected the kingdom to the priesthood.
To me he gave things of earth, to him things of heaven. As heaven surpasses earth, so God's priesthood surpasses an earthly kingdom." The "Testaments" represents Christ as combining in himself the offices of High-Priest and of King, and states consequently that he is to spring from the tribe of Levi as well as from the tribe of Judah (Sim. 7; Daniel 5). This identifies, or at least tends to identify, Christ's priesthood with the priesthood of Aaron, contrary to the teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews. This opinion of the descent of the Virgin Mary from both Judah and Levi might doubtless be held bv men of piety and catholicity, who might further repudiate the inference to which it seems naturally to lead; but, on the other hand, it is certain that the opinion, made to rest, as it must, upon much legendary matter, would connect itself with heresy more readily than the historical Davidic genealogy. It would suit the purpose of those who denied that the Word was made flesh to represent the genealogy as a myth, setting forth a transmission of office. It would be more complete if it set forth a transmission of priesthood as well as the royalty of our Lord. The Gnostics were all of them Docetae (Iren. 111:77), and there is nothing unreasonable in the supposition that Docetic teachers in later times laid hold of this opinion, if it were current in the community of the Nazarenes, and endeavored through it to instil their heresy. In that case we should have a reason for the disquisition regarding the priesthood and the royalty, with which Epiphanius introduces his account of the Nazarenes, the relevancy of which is not otherwise very clear. The opinions of the author of the "Testaments" regarding the ministry of the Church are stated clearly in the Testament of Levi. In sect. 3 the universe in the times of the Gospel is described as of seven spheres. Three represent the outer world — the world of unbelievers; the third containing the encampments of the ministers of retribution on the ungodly. The fourth, fifth, and sixth represent the Church, taking the word church in its widest sense; the fourth being the sphere of the saints, the fifth of the ministry, the sixth of ministering angels of intercourse. The fifth is occupied by angels of the face of God. They minister and make atonement before the Lord for all the ignorances (ἀγνοίαις ) of the just.
They offer to the Lord the reasonable service of a sweet-smelling savor and an unbloody offering. Again, in sect. 8, after the robing of Levi, it is said that Levi's offspring shall be divided into three ranks of office. Two appear to belong to the body of Levites and to the Aaronic priesthood; the third clearly belongs to the Christian ministry. For the third possesses a new name; a King arises from Judah and creates a new priesthood, which is κατὰ τὸν τύπον τῶν ἐθνῶν εἰς πάντα τὰ ἔθνη . The ethnic type is the priesthood of Melchisedek. A passage in Theophilus of Antioch makes this designation easier: "Melchisedek was the first priest of all the priests of the Most High God. From his time priests were found in all the earth" (To Autol. 2, cap. 31). This new priesthood shall set in order the table of the Lord, and of it shall be priests, judges, and scribes; i.e., priests in ministering, judges in discipline, scribes in teaching. The only objection which can be made to this description is that the Christian ministry is made to descend from Levi. If the newness of their priesthood were lost sight of, the Christian ministry would be at once identified with the Aaronic priesthood. From this affiliation of the ministers of the Gospel to Levi we are inclined to coitend, supposing that the "Testaments" justly represent the belief of the Jewish Christians, that the lower or spurious sacerdotalism which has found place in the Church is of Judaic, not of Gentile, origin. That the Hebrews found a difficulty in appreciating a true import of the history of Melchisedek is clear from the Epistle to the Hebrews. A sense of this difficulty may have led the author of the "Testaments" to refrain from an explicit mention of Melchisedek. Of another author of this school, Aristo of Pella, we have very short fragments (Routh, Reliquice, pages 93-97). One fragment is important. Aristo speaks of Jesus as the Son of God, the Creator of the world (see Wescott, On the Canon, pages 105-107; and Prof. Lightfoot, St. Paul and the Three, page 294, n. 2).
II. It may next be inquired whether the Nazarenes in later times fell into heresy. Augustine accuses them only of Judaizing (De Haeres. 9; Conte. Faust, 19:4; Contr. Crescon. 1, 31:36, Epist. ad Hieron. 82; 2:16; De Bapt. contr. Donat. 7:1). Epiphanius having briefly defined them in the prefatory index as Judaizers, begins in the work itself (Haeres. 29) with stating that they hold the same opinions as the Corinthians, but in his seventh chapter he professes his inability to say whether they did or did not hold Corinthian doctrine regarding Christ. This quite sets aside his previous statement, which may be referred to his wellknown proneness to make charges of heresy. In hisCommentary on Isaiah Jerome calls the Nazarenes the Hebrews that believe in Christ (in Isaiah cap. 9, t. 3, page 33 [ed. 1616]), giving the Nazarene explanation of the prophecy that Christ's doctrine delivered the land of Zebulon and Naphtali from... Jewish traditions, that by St. Paul's preaching the Gospel shone among the Gentiles, and at length the whole world saw the clear light of the Gospel (see also Ad August. Ep. 89, t. 2, page 266 [ed. 1616]). Accordingly Lardner writes, "It might easily be shown that the Nazarean Christians did not reject St. John's Gospel, nor hold any principles that oblige them to reject or dislike it" (Jewish Testimonies, cap. 1, volume 6, page 387 [Kippis's ed. 1861]). On the other hand, Theodoret (De Haer. fab. 2:2) accuses the Nazarenes of denying Christ's divinity; but the later authority of Theodoret cannot outweigh the mass of earlier testimony in their favor.
III. Adopting, then, the conclusion that the Nazarenes retained their orthodox creed, it remains to be asked whether they retained their position in the Church, or whether, while free from heretical error, they were yet sectarian. There is no historical information to enable us to answer this question; but there does not appear to be any sufficient reason why the Church of Jerusalem, when it renounced Judaism, should exclude the Church of Pella from communion simply for its retention of national customs; and certainly there was no reason why the Church of Pella should renounce communion with Jerusalem. The general observance for sorpe centuries of the decree of the Council of Jerusalem (Judaizers), enforcing on Gentiles abstinence from things strangled and from blood, implied also (it may fairly be argued) a liberty to the Jews to continue in the observance of their national law; while canons intended to prevent Gentile churches from adopting Jewish customs do not apply to the Nazarenes. On the other hand, the strong condemnations of the Nazarenes as heretics by Epiphanius and Augustine can be fully explained only on the supposition that the Nazarenes had become the authors of a schism by renouncing communion with the Church. Augustine states in several places that the Nazarenes were called by some Symmachians (q.v.). See Gieseler, Von den Nazariern u. Ebioniten (in Studlin u. Tschirner's Archiv, volume 4, James 2); Schwegler, Das Nachapostolische Zeitalter, page 179 sq.; Schliemann, Die Clenentinen nebst d. verwandten Schriften, etc. (Hamb. 1844); Haag, Histoire des dogmes Chretiens, 1:109; 2:22; Tayler, Hippolytus and the Christian Church, page 70; Hagenbach, History of Doctrines, 1:55, 56, 170; 2:328, 344; Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 1:212; Mosheim, Eccles. Hist. 1:222, 400; Riddle, Christian Antiquities, pages 182, 185; Neander, Ch. Hist. 1:349 et passim: Pressense, Heresy and Christian Doctritne, page 78; Church Rev. volume 20; and especially the article in Blunt, Dict. Of Sects, Heresies, etc., s.v.
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Nazarenes'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​n/nazarenes.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.