The True Followers of Jesus
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One of the early Christian sects eventually denounced as a heresy was a group called the Nazarenes.Their crimes included denying the divinity of Jesus and rejecting the doctrine of the virgin birth. Also, the Nazarenes clung to the traditional law of Moses that Paul so vehemently refuted. The Nazarene heresy never grew terribly large, and faded into extinction by the fourth century.
So what is so interesting about the Nazarenes? They were a group Paul spent a lot of time railing against in his letters. The Nazarenes told the Gentiles that they needed to be circumcised before they could be followers of Jesus. The Nazarenes so angered Paul that he wished they would castrate themselves in the act of circumcision (Galatians 5:12; some versions soften Paul’s language for example, the NIV translates “castrate” as “emasculate”). Even though the Nazarene heresy eventually failed and died out, it obviously had a big influence on the development of early Christianity.
But there is more. Just who were these Nazarenes? They were the Jews who followed Jesus in his lifetime, including the apostles. Their leader was James, brother of Jesus. These were the people who heard the teachings of Jesus straight from his own mouth, and they rejected the doctrines of Jesus’ divinity, the virgin birth, and salvation by faith. Each of the Nazarenes was convinced that one had to be a Jew to follow Jesus.
Modern Christianity descends from Paul. He disagreed considerably with the Nazarenes, who included Jesus’ original followers. Paul, by contrast, never actually met Jesus in the flesh. Which side is more credible?