What Religion Was Jesus (Christ Before Christianity Began

By Paul King •  Updated: 10/22/23 •  13 min read

As Christianity has grown and evolved throughout the centuries, its origins often become lost in time. However, we can gain insight into what religion Jesus followed before Christianity began by examining his Jewish roots and the cultural context in which he lived.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago, fulfilling the prophecy of the Messiah. He was raised in a devout Jewish family and was circumcised on the eighth day, as was the custom for Jewish boys. Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph, adhered to the Jewish laws and traditions, including presenting him at the temple and offering sacrifices.

Throughout his life, Jesus demonstrated a deep knowledge and understanding of Jewish scripture. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them’ (Matthew 5:17). This shows that Jesus saw himself as part of the Jewish religious tradition and sought to fulfill the prophecies found in the Hebrew Bible.

Jesus often quoted from the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Old Testament, to support his teachings. For example, when he was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, Jesus responded by quoting scripture, saying, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4). This highlights Jesus’ deep connection to Jewish scripture and his reliance on it for guidance.

While Jesus followed the Jewish faith, it is important to note that he also challenged certain religious practices and interpretations of the law. He criticized the religious leaders of his time for their hypocrisy and emphasized the importance of love, mercy, and justice. Jesus’ teachings often focused on the heart and the spirit of the law rather than strict adherence to rituals.

As Christianity began to take shape after Jesus’ death and resurrection, it incorporated elements from various religious traditions, including pagan influences. This was a common practice during the spread of Christianity, as the new faith adapted to the cultural context of different regions.

However, it is important to recognize that Jesus himself did not practice paganism or endorse it. In fact, he explicitly stated, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’ (Matthew 4:10). Jesus’ teachings were rooted in monotheism and the Jewish faith.

In the early Christian community, there were also various sects and interpretations of Jesus’ teachings. One such sect was the Nazarenes, who were followers of Jesus in his hometown of Nazareth. The Nazarenes believed in Jesus as the Messiah and sought to live according to his teachings.

The apostle Paul, who played a significant role in spreading Christianity, also had a Jewish background. He was a Pharisee before his conversion to Christianity and drew upon his knowledge of Jewish law and scripture to explain the significance of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

In conclusion, Jesus followed the Jewish faith before Christianity began. He was deeply rooted in Jewish scripture and teachings, and his life and ministry were centered around fulfilling the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible. While Christianity incorporated elements from other religious traditions over time, Jesus’ own religious identity was firmly grounded in Judaism.

Key Takeaways

Jesus’ Jewish Roots

Jesus was born and raised in a Jewish family, which is evident in his teachings and actions throughout his life. The Bible tells us that Jesus himself said, ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them’ (Matthew 5:17). This statement clearly shows his deep connection to the Jewish religion and his desire to uphold its teachings.

One example of Jesus’s Jewish roots can be seen in his observance of Jewish customs and traditions. In the Gospel of Luke, we read about how Jesus’s parents took him to Jerusalem every year for the Passover festival (Luke 2:41). This demonstrates his family’s commitment to following Jewish practices and participating in important religious events.

Furthermore, Jesus’s teachings often drew upon Jewish scripture and tradition. In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus referenced the Ten Commandments and expanded upon them, emphasizing the importance of following God’s laws (Matthew 5:21-48). He also frequently quoted from the Hebrew Bible, using passages from the Psalms, Isaiah, and other books to support his teachings.

Moreover, Jesus’s role as the Messiah was deeply rooted in Jewish messianic expectations. The Jewish people had long awaited the coming of a savior who would bring redemption and establish the Kingdom of God. Jesus fulfilled these expectations through his life, death, and resurrection, as foretold in numerous prophecies from the Old Testament.

One such prophecy is found in Isaiah 53:5, which states, ‘But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.’ This verse foreshadows Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, a central theme in Christian belief.

In addition to his teachings, Jesus’s miracles were also a testament to his Jewish heritage. The Bible recounts numerous stories of Jesus healing the sick, casting out demons, and even raising the dead. These miracles not only demonstrated his divine power but also mirrored the miracles performed by Jewish prophets such as Elijah and Elisha.

Overall, Jesus’s Jewish roots are crucial to understanding his life and mission. His teachings, actions, and fulfillment of prophecies all point to his deep connection to the Jewish faith. As Christians, it is important to recognize and appreciate this heritage, as it provides a solid foundation for our own beliefs and practices.

Early Christian Beliefs

Early Christian beliefs were centered on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, who was considered to be a Jewish prophet. As stated in Matthew 16:16, Jesus’ disciples recognized him as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. His teachings, such as the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7, emphasized love, forgiveness, and the importance of faith.

During this time, the Jewish people were under Roman rule and faced many challenges in maintaining their customs and beliefs. However, Jesus himself acknowledged the Roman authority when he said in Matthew 22:21, ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’ This shows that Jesus encouraged his followers to respect both Roman laws and their own religious practices.

The relationship between the Jewish people and the Romans was complex, and the influence of Hellenistic Judaism further shaped the development of early Christianity. Hellenistic Judaism was a result of Jewish contact with the Mediterranean world, and it introduced Greek language and culture to the Jewish community. This can be seen in the writings of the New Testament, which were primarily written in Greek.

The early Christians, being rooted in the Jewish faith and culture, understood the significance of Jesus within the context of their own scriptures. They saw Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, such as Isaiah 53:5, which states, ‘But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds, we are healed.’ This verse highlights the belief that Jesus’ crucifixion was a sacrifice for the sins of humanity.

As Christianity spread, it incorporated elements of pagan beliefs and practices. This can be seen in the celebration of Christmas, which coincides with the pagan festival of Saturnalia. However, Christians interpreted these practices in a way that aligned with their faith. For example, the birth of Jesus was celebrated as the coming of the light into the world, as stated in John 8:12, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’

Pagan Influences on Early Christianity

As Christianity spread, it underwent a transformation influenced by elements of pagan beliefs and practices. This transformation had a significant impact on the spiritual landscape of the ancient world. The early Christian doctrines and practices were undeniably shaped by the religions that preceded Christianity, such as Hellenistic Judaism and Ancient Gnosticism.

One aspect that influenced early Christianity was Hellenistic Judaism. Jewish scripture, including the Hebrew Bible, began to be interpreted in a more allegorical fashion. This allowed for a deeper exploration of the spiritual and symbolic meanings within the text. As the Jewish community interacted with the Hellenistic culture, they also adopted certain pagan rituals and beliefs. However, it is important to note that these influences were not embraced uniformly by all Jewish communities, and there were varying degrees of acceptance and resistance.

In addition to Hellenistic Judaism, Ancient Gnosticism also played a role in shaping early Christian doctrines and practices. The Gnostics held a dualistic view of the universe, recognizing two opposing forces of good and evil. They emphasized the importance of personal experience and knowledge as the path to salvation. This emphasis on individual spiritual exploration had an impact on early Christian thought, which sought to integrate these ideas into their own teachings.

An example from the Bible that illustrates the incorporation of pagan influences is the story of the Apostle Paul’s encounter with the Greeks in Athens. In the Book of Acts, it is mentioned that Paul noticed an altar dedicated to an ‘unknown god’ among the many idols in the city. He seized this opportunity to introduce the Athenians to the true God, whom they unknowingly worshipped. Paul proclaimed, ‘What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you’ (Acts 17:23). By utilizing the existing cultural context and beliefs of the Athenians, Paul aimed to make Christianity more accessible to them.

The incorporation of these pagan influences into early Christianity allowed the faith to reach a wider range of people. It helped to bridge the gap between different cultures and religious backgrounds, making Christianity more relatable and understandable to those who were unfamiliar with its teachings. This, in turn, contributed to the rapid spread of Christianity and its eventual establishment as a major religion.

Other Early Christian Sects

Though the religion of Christianity emerged from Judaism, there were other early Christian sects that emerged, deviating from traditional Christian teachings. One such sect was Messianic Judaism, which placed great emphasis on the Jewish law. This can be seen in Matthew 5:17, where Jesus says, ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.’ Messianic Judaism sought to honor Jesus’ teachings by adhering closely to the Jewish law.

Another sect that emerged was Gnostic Christianity, which focused on the acquisition of secret knowledge as a means of attaining salvation. However, it is important to note that Gnostic Christianity was considered heretical and not recognized by the mainstream Christian community. In Colossians 2:8, the apostle Paul warns against being deceived by ’empty philosophy’ and ‘human tradition’ that goes against the teachings of Christ. This can be seen as a rejection of the Gnostic belief in secret knowledge.

While these sects had their own unique beliefs, they shared a common desire to understand and incorporate the teachings of Jesus into their faith. They sought to interpret Jesus’ teachings in ways that aligned with their own beliefs and backgrounds. However, it is important to remember that the true teachings of Jesus can be found in the Holy Bible, and it is through studying and understanding the scriptures that we can gain a deeper understanding of his message.

One story from the Bible that illustrates the importance of staying true to Jesus’ teachings is the parable of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7:24-27. In this story, Jesus teaches that those who hear his words and put them into practice are like the wise builder who built his house on a solid foundation. However, those who hear his words but do not put them into practice are like the foolish builder who built his house on sand. When the storms of life come, only the house built on a solid foundation will stand.

Just as the wise builder followed Jesus’ instructions, these early Christian sects sought to honor Jesus’ teachings in their own unique ways. While they may have had different interpretations and practices, their common goal was to understand and incorporate the teachings of Jesus into their faith. This diversity of perspectives provided a unique lens through which to view the teachings of Jesus and the development of Christianity.

In the next section, we will further explore the relationship between Jesus and early Christianity by examining the Nazarene sect and its significance in understanding the early followers of Jesus.

The Nazarene Sect and Jesus

The Nazarene sect, a distinct group of early followers of Jesus, firmly believed that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, sent by God to save humanity from sin. Their conviction was deeply rooted in relevant facts and quotes from the Bible.

One of the fundamental beliefs of the Nazarenes was that Jesus possessed divine power, enabling him to perform miracles and other extraordinary acts. As the Gospel of Matthew states, ‘And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people’ (Matthew 4:23). This verse clearly showcases Jesus’ divine power, which the Nazarenes held in utmost reverence.

Furthermore, the Nazarenes believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s plan to redeem the world. In the book of Isaiah, it is written, ‘Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel’ (Isaiah 7:14). The Nazarenes saw Jesus as the fulfillment of this prophecy, as he was born of a virgin and named Immanuel, meaning ‘God with us.’ This belief in Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s plan was central to the Nazarene sect.

To illustrate the depth of meaning in their beliefs, let us look at the story of Jesus calming the storm. In the Gospel of Mark, it is narrated, ‘Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm’ (Mark 4:39). This story exemplifies the divine power that the Nazarenes attributed to Jesus. They saw this event as a demonstration of Jesus’ authority over nature, further solidifying their belief in his divine power.

Paul King

I post written versions of my powerful sermons exploring topics like prayer, praise, biblical truths, and more expressions of faith. My church has a deeply spiritual culture, which I try to convey through vivid storytelling and applications in our everyday life. I spread the Good Word with lots of conviction and passion.