Q — If the first Christians were saying that Jesus was both Messiah and God, why did the strictly monotheistic Jews allow them to remain a sect in the Jewish Temple? Why were the Christians then expelled from the synagogues as apostates in about 85 A.D.?

A — One of the things that is most frustrating to historians of early Christianity is that we do not possess a total and detailed historical narrative of the church from its earliest beginnings, and especially so in the 1st century A.D. A few remarks may help to provide something of an answer to this very fine question. First of all, it is important to point out that Judaism in the 1st century of the Christian era was not entirely homogeneous. There was a variety of groups or parties: most obviously the Pharisees, the theological teachers; the Sadducees, the ruling and priestly class in Jerusalem; the Zealots who sought political liberation from Roman domination; the Essenes, in all probability the community that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran; and then the Christians or the Nazarenes, as they were sometimes called. Each of these parties had its own particular emphases and teachings. In the beginning, it is extremely likely that mainstream Judaism did not see in the Christian movement any great threat.

However, as the divinity of Christ came to more articulate and explicit expression, first in the letters of St. Paul, the realization gradually emerged that they were expanding the traditional Jewish monotheism so as to encompass the person of Jesus. The Jewish Synod of Jamnia, probably in the mid-80s of the 1st century, was responsible for excommunicating the Christians/Nazarenes from mainstream Judaism for two reasons: first, this expansion of monotheism, and second, the repudiation of Torah dietary laws and circumcision that came with the embrace of the Gentiles. Many Jewish Christians in the late 1st century found themselves aposunagogos, literally, “cast out from the synagogue.” We see hints of this both in the gospel of St. Matthew and in the gospel of St. John. It is better to see the separation of the ways between Christianity and Judaism as a process over time rather than something that took place exclusively at one point in time.