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Reference: Proselytes


geerim. 1Ch 22:2, "the strangers," in Septuagint "proselytes, i.e. comers to Palestine, sojourners (Ex 12:48; 20:10; 22:21; Le 19:33). In New Testament converts to Judaism, "comers to a new and God-loving polity" (Philo). Israel's religious attitude attracted neighbouring people from the first. The Shechemites are an instance, only that passion and interest were their motive (Genesis 34). Circumcision was required as the condition. At the Exodus "a mixed multitude went up with Israel" (Ex 12:38). "The stranger" was bound by the law of the Sabbath (Ex 20:10; 23:12; De 5:14) and the Passover when he was circumcised (Ex 12:19,48), the feast of weeks (De 16:11), tabernacles (De 16:14), the day of atonement (Le 16:29), prohibited marriages (Le 18:26), and blood (Le 17:10), and Moloch worship (Le 20:2), and blasphemy (Le 24:16).

The city of refuge was open to him (Nu 35:15). Kind treatment in remembrance of Israel's own position as strangers formerly in Egypt (Ex 22:21; 23:9; De 10:18-19; Le 19:33-34), justice (Le 24:22; De 1:16; 24:17,19-21), share in gleanings and tithe of the third year (De 14:29), were the stranger's right. But he could not hold land nor intermarry with Aaron's descendants (Le 19:10; 21:14), he is presumed to be in a subject condition (De 29:11); Hobab and the Kenites (Nu 10:29-32; Jg 1:16), Rahab of Jericho (Jos 6:25), and the Gibeonites as "hewers of wood and drawers of water" (Joshua 9), are instances of strangers joined to Israel. The strangers were assembled with Israel at the feast of tabernacles at the cnd of every seven years, to hear the law (De 31:10-12; Jos 8:34-35).

Under the kings strangers rose to influential positions: Doeg the Edomite (1Sa 21:7), Uriah the Hittite (2Sa 11:3), Araunah the Jebusite (2Sa 24:23), Zelek the Ammonite (2Sa 23:37), Ithmah the Moabite (1Ch 11:46, the law in De 23:3 forbidding an Ammonite or Moabite to enter the congregation to the tenth generation does not forbid their settlement in Israel, the law must have been written in times long before David whose great grandmother was Ruth the Moabtress), Ittai the Gittite (2Sa 15:19), Shebna the secretary of state under Hezekiah (2Ki 18:37; Isa 22:15), Ebedmelech the Ethiopian under Zedekiah (Jer 38:7), the Cherethites and Pelethites. (See CHERETHITES; PELETHITES.) Hezekiah's triumph over Sennacherib was followed by many bringing gifts: unto Jehovah to Jerusalem (2Ch 32:23); this suggested the prophecy in Psalm 87 that Rahab (Egypt) and Babylon (whose king Merodach Baladan had sent a friendly embassy to Hezekiah), Philistia, Tyre, and Ethiopia should be spiritually born (Ps 51:5,10; 22:31; Isa 66:8; Joh 3:3,5; both Old and New Testament teach the need of the new birth) in Jerusalem as proselytes.

Tyre's alliance with David was a prophetic earnest of its future union with the kingdom of God, of which the Syrophoenician woman was a firstfruit (Mr 7:26), as Candace's eunuch the proselyte (Acts 8) was a pledge of Ethiopia's conversion. In times of judgment on Israel for apostasy the stranger became "the head" (De 28:43-44); but under David and Solomon they were made to do bondservice, 70,000 bearers of burdens, 80,000 hewers, 3,600 overseers (1Ch 22:2; 2Ch 2:17-18). In Ps 94:6, as the pagan do not make widow and strangers their chief object of attack, "the stranger" is probably the saint in relation to this world (Ps 39:12), and "the widow" is the widowed church awaiting Christ's glorious epiphany to avenge her on antichrist (Lu 18:3-8).

All the prophets anticipate the future sharing of proselytes in the kingdom of God, and even in the Holy Land as "sojourners" (Eze 47:22; Isa 2:2; 11:10; 56:3-6; Mic 4:1), and meantime plead their cause (Jer 7:6; Eze 22:7,29; Zec 7:10; Mal 3:5). After the return from Babylon many "had separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the law of God" with their families (Ne 10:28). Many, in Esther's time (Es 8:17), "of the people of the land became Jews, for the fear of the Jews fell upon them." In New Testament times these appear in the synagogues (Ac 13:42-43,50; 17:4; 18:7), come up to the feasts at Jerusalem (Ac 2:10). Roman centurions, a class promoted for military good conduct, were noble specimens of these proselytes (Lu 7:5; Ac 10:2,7,30), and were most open to gospel truth.

But Jewish fanaticism sought proselytes also by force and fraud, as John Hyrcanus offered the Idumeans the alternative of death, exile, or circumcision (Josephus, Ant. xiii, 9, section 3). Casuistry released the proselyte from moral obligations admitted before; and superstition chained him anew, hand and foot, e.g. the korban (Mt 15:4-6); and circumcision, canceling all previous relationships, admitted of incestuous marriages. Any good in paganism was lost, and all that was bad in traditional Judaism was acquired. Thus the proselyte became "twofold more the child of hell" than the scribes themselves (Mt 23:15). Considering that the end justified the means, the scribes "compassed sea and land to make one proselyte," yet, when made, the Jews despised the proselyte as a "leprosy cleaving (in perversion of Isa 14:1) to the house of Jacob"; "no wise man would trust a proselyte to the 24th generation" (Jalkuth, Ruth f. 163 a). They classed them into

(1) "Love proselytes," wishing to gain the beloved one.

(2) Man for woman or woman for man, where one embraced the married partner's Judaism.

(3) Esther proselytes, to escape danger (Es 8:17).

(4) King's table proselytes, seeking to gain court favor, as under Solomon.

(5) Lion proselytes, through dread of judgments: 2Ki 17:26 (Gem. Hieros., Kiddush 65, section 6). Simon ben Gamaliel said: "when a pagan comes to enter the covenant we ought to stretch out, our hand to him and bring him under the wings of God" (Jost, Judenth. 1:447).

The distinction between "proselytes of the gate" (from Ex 20:10, "the stranger that is within thy gates") and "proselytes of righteousness" was minutely drawn by the talmudic rabbis and Maimonides (Hilc. Mel. 1:6). The proselytes of the gate were not bound to circumcision, only to the seven precepts of Noah, namely, the six said to have been given to Adam:

(1) against idolatry,

(2) blasphemy,

(3) bloodshed,

(4) uncleanness,

(5) theft,

(6) the precept of obedience to authorities, and

(7) that given to Noah against "flesh with the blood"; but he had not the full Israelite privileges, he must not study the law nor redeem his firstborn.

But all this is rabbinical systematizing theory; in fact, the New Testament only in a general way recognizes two degrees of converts to Judaism. The eunuch of Candace was a sample of the full convert, circumcised and baptized at his admission (Otho, Lex Rabb., Baptism, for which the rabbis quoted Ex 19:10), followed by his presenting the corban offering of two turtle doves, as after a birth (Le 12:8). The presumed existence of this proselyte baptism for males and females throws light on John's baptism and the priests' question, "why baptizest thou then?" (Joh 1:25) and Joh 3:5,10, the Lord's words to Nicodemus, "art thou a master (teacher) of Israel, and knowest not these things?" Nicodemus ought to have understood the deeper sense to which Christ applied the familiar phrase "new birth" in connection with "baptism" of proselytes.

However, there is no mention of baptism of proselytes in the Bible, the Apocrypha, Philo, Josephus, or the older targums. The centurion Cornelius was a proselyte of a less strict kind, which the rabbis would call a proselyte of the gate; otherwise a special revelation would not have been needed to warrant Peter's opening the gospel kingdom to him, as it had not been needed to open the gospel to Candace's eunuch (Acts 8; 10). "Proselyte" occurs in New Testament only Mt 23:15; Ac 2:10; 6:5; 13:43. The common phrase is" devout men," "fearing" or "worshipping God" (Ac 10:2,7; 13:16,26,43,50; 16:14; 17:4,17; 18:7; Joh 12:20). From them came the largest accession to the Christian church.

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