In the Jewish sense, a foreigner who adopted the Jewish religion, a convert from heathenism to Judaism. The laws of the Hebrews make frequent mention of "the stranger that is within thy gates, " Le 17:8-16; 24:16; Nu 15:14-16, and welcomed him to all the privileges of the people of God. Our Savior rebukes the blind zeal of the Pharisees to make proselytes to ceremonial Judaism, without caring for the circumcision of the heart, Mt 23:15; Ro 2:28-29. According to the later rabbins, there were two species of proselytes among the Jews. The first were called "proselytes of the gate, " and were foreigners, either bond or free, who lived among the Jews and conformed to their customs in regard to what the rabbins call "the seven precepts of Noah;" that is, they abstained from injurious language in respect to God, from idolatry, homicide, incest, robbery, resistance to magistrates, and from eating blood, or the flesh of animals killed without shedding their blood. The other class were called "proselytes of justice;" that is, complete, perfect proselytes, and were those who had abandoned their former religion, and bound themselves to the observance of the Mosaic Law in its full extent. These according to the rabbins, by means of circumcision, baptism, and an offering, obtained all the rites of Jewish citizenship, Ex 12:48-49. This distinction, however, is not observable in the Bible. Proselytes were numerous in our Savior's day, and were found in many places remote from Jerusalem, Ac 2:10; 8:27. Many converts to Christianity were gathered from among them, Joh 12:20; Ac 6:5; 13:43; 17:4.
is used in the LXX. for "stranger" (1Ch 22:2), i.e., a comer to Palestine; a sojourner in the land (Ex 12:48; 20:10; 22:21), and in the New Testament for a convert to Judaism. There were such converts from early times (Isa 56:3; Ne 10:28; Es 8:17). The law of Moses made specific regulations regarding the admission into the Jewish church of such as were not born Israelites (Ex 20:10; 23:12; 12:19,48; De 5:14; 16:11,14, etc.). The Kenites, the Gibeonites, the Cherethites, and the Pelethites were thus admitted to the privileges of Israelites. Thus also we hear of individual proselytes who rose to positions of prominence in Israel, as of Doeg the Edomite, Uriah the Hittite, Araunah the Jebusite, Zelek the Ammonite, Ithmah and Ebedmelech the Ethiopians.
In the time of Solomon there were one hundred and fifty-three thousand six hundred strangers in the land of Israel (1Ch 22:2; 2Ch 2:17-18). And the prophets speak of the time as coming when the strangers shall share in all the privileges of Israel (Eze 47:22; Isa 2:2; 11:10; 56:3-6; Mic 4:1). Accordingly, in New Testament times, we read of proselytes in the synagogues, (Ac 10:2,7; 13:42-43,50; 17:4; 18:7; Lu 7:5). The "religious proselytes" here spoken of were proselytes of righteousness, as distinguished from proselytes of the gate.
The distinction between "proselytes of the gate" (Ex 20:10) and "proselytes of righteousness" originated only with the rabbis. According to them, the "proselytes of the gate" (half proselytes) were not required to be circumcised nor to comply with the Mosaic ceremonial law. They were bound only to conform to the so-called seven precepts of Noah, viz., to abstain from idolatry, blasphemy, bloodshed, uncleaness, the eating of blood, theft, and to yield obedience to the authorities. Besides these laws, however, they were required to abstain from work on the Sabbath, and to refrain from the use of leavened bread during the time of the Passover.
The "proselytes of righteousness", religious or devout proselytes (Ac 13:43), were bound to all the doctrines and precepts of the Jewish economy, and were members of the synagogue in full communion.
The name "proselyte" occurs in the New Testament only in Mt 23:15; Ac 2:10; 6:5; 13:43. The name by which they are commonly designated is that of "devout men," or men "fearing God" or "worshipping God."
1. The character and the history of the proselyte.
The name given to any from among the nations who embraced Judaism. Ac 2:10; 6:5; 13:43. The name may be said to be a Greek word, derived from 'to come to.' It is used by the LXX where the Hebrew has 'the stranger' that sojourneth among you. Ex 12:48-49; Le 17:8,10,12-15; Nu 9:14; etc. Such, if all the males in the family were circumcised, might eat the Passover and offer a burnt offering or sacrifice. The Rabbis say that there were two classes of proselytes.
1. 'Proselytes of righteousness,' such as those mentioned above; and
2. 'Proselytes of the Gate,' those spoken of as 'strangers within thy gates.'
The Rabbis also assert that in N.T. times and later the proselytes were received by circumcision and baptism; but it is very much disputed as to when the baptism was added, there being no mention of it in the O.T. Some hold that it was introduced when the emperors forbade their Gentile subjects to be circumcised, but others think it must have been earlier, which seems confirmed by Joh 1:25.
History shows to what an extent proselytising was abused. The Jews held that on a Gentile becoming a proselyte, all his natural relationships were annulled: he was 'a new creature.' Many became proselytes in order to abandon their wives and marry again. This, with other abuses, caused the emperors to interfere; the stricter Jews also were scandalized, and repudiated such proselytes. The Lord describes such a proselyte as the Scribes and Pharisees would make, as "twofold more the child of hell" than themselves. Mt 23:15.
(a stranger, a new comer), the name given by the Jews to foreigners who adopted the Jewish religion. The dispersion of the Jews in foreign countries, which has been spoken of elsewhere [DISPERSION, THE], enabled them to make many converts to their faith. The converts who were thus attracted joined, with varying strictness, in the worship of the Jews. In Palestine itself, even Roman centurions learned to love the conquered nation built synagogues for them,
See Dispersion, The Jews of the
fasted and prayed, and gave alms after the pattern of the strictest Jews,
and became preachers of the new faith to the soldiers under them.
Such men, drawn by what was best in Judaism were naturally among the readiest receivers of the new truth which rose out of it, and became, in many cases, the nucleus of a Gentile Church. Proselytism had, however, its darker side. The Jews of Palestine were eager to spread their faith by the same weapons as those with which they had defended it. The Idumaeans had the alternative offered them by John Hyrcanus of death, exile or circumcision. The Idumeans were converted in the same way by Aristobulus. Where force was not in their power, they obtained their ends by the most unscrupulous fraud. Those who were most active in proselytizing were precisely those from whose teaching all that was most true and living had departed. The vices of the Jew were engrafted on the vices of the heathen. A repulsive casuistry released the convert from obligations which he had before recognized, while in other things he was bound hand and fool to an unhealthy superstition. It was no wonder that he became "twofold more the child of hell,"
than the Pharisees themselves. We find in the Talmud a distinction between proselytes of the gate and proselytes of righteousness,
1. The term proselytes of the gate was derived from the frequently occurring description in the law the stranger that is within
etc. Converts of thy gates this class were not bound by circumcision and the other special laws of the Mosaic code. It is doubtful however whether the distinction made in the Talmud ever really existed.
2. The proselytes of righteousness, known also as proselytes of the covenant, were perfect Israelites. We learn from the Talmud that, in addition to circumcision, baptism was also required to complete their admission to the faith. The proselyte was placed in a tank or pool up to his neck in water. His teachers, who now acted as his sponsors, repeated the great commandments of the law. The baptism was followed as long as the temple stood, by the offering or corban.
PROSELYTE, ??????????, signifies a stranger, a foreigner; the Hebrew word ??, or ???, also denotes a stranger, one who comes from abroad, or from another place. In the language of the Jews, those were called by this name who came to dwell in their country, or who embraced their religion, being not Jews by birth. In the New Testament they are called sometimes proselytes, and sometimes Gentiles, fearing God, Ac 2:5; 10:2,22; 13:16,50. The Jews distinguish two kinds of proselytes. The first, proselytes of the gate; the others, proselytes of justice or righteousness. The first dwelt in the land of Israel, or even out of that country, and, without obliging themselves to circumcision, or to any other ceremony of the law, feared and worshipped the true God, observing the rules imposed on Noah. These were, according to the rabbins,
1. To abstain from idolatry; 2. From blasphemy; 3. From murder; 4. From adultery; 5. From theft; 6. To appoint just and upright judges; 7. Not to eat the flesh of any animal cut off while it was alive.
Maimonides says, that the first six of these precepts were given to Adam, and the seventh to Noah. The privileges of proselytes of the gate were, first, that through holiness they might have hope of eternal life. Secondly, they could dwell in the land of Israel, and share in the outward prosperities of it. It is said they did not dwell in the cities, but only in the suburbs and the villages; but it is certain that the Jews often admitted into their cities, not only proselytes of habitation, but also Gentiles and idolaters, as appears by the reproaches on this account, throughout the Scriptures.
Proselytes of justice or of righteousness were those converted to Judaism, who had engaged themselves to receive circumcision, and to observe the whole law of Moses. Thus were they admitted to all the prerogatives of the people of the Lord. The rabbins inform us that, before circumcision was administered to them, and before they were admitted into the religion of the Hebrews, they were examined about the motives of their conversion; whether the change was voluntary, or whether it proceeded from interest, fear, ambition, &c. When the proselyte was well proved and instructed, they gave him circumcision; and when the wound of his circumcision healed, they gave him baptism, by plunging his whole body into a cistern of water, by only one immersion. Boys under twelve years of age, and girls under thirteen, could not become proselytes till they had obtained the consent of their parents, or, in case of refusal, the concurrence of the officers of justice. Baptism in respect of girls had the same effect as circumcision in respect of boys. Each of them, by means of this, received, as it were, a new birth, so that those who were their parents before were no longer regarded as such after this ceremony, and those who before were slaves now became free.
Many, however, are of opinion that there appears to be no ground whatever in Scripture for this distinction of proselytes of the gate, and proselytes of righteousness. "According to my idea," says Dr. Tomline, "proselytes were those, and those only, who took upon themselves the obligation of the whole Mosaic law, but retained that name till they were admitted into the congregation of the Lord as adopted children. Gentiles were allowed to worship and offer sacrifices to the God of Israel in the outer court of the temple; and some of them, persuaded of the sole and universal sovereignty of the Lord Jehovah, might renounce idolatry without embracing the Mosaic law; but such persons appear to me never to be called proselytes in Scripture, or in any ancient Christian writer." He also observes that "the term proselytes of the gate is derived from an expression frequent in the Old Testament; namely, 'the stranger that is within thy gates;' but I think it evident that the strangers were those Gentiles who were permitted to live among the Jews under certain restrictions, and whom the Jews were forbidden 'to vex or oppress,' so long as they live in a peaceable manner." Dr. Lardner says, "I do not believe that the notion of two sorts of Jewish proselytes can be found in any Christian writer before the fourteenth century or later." Dr. Jennings also observes that "there does not appear to be sufficient evidence in the Scripture history of the existence of such proselytes of the gate, as the rabbins mention; nor, indeed, of any who with propriety can be styled proselytes, except such as fully embraced the Jewish religion."