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Bible Dictionaries

Fausset's Bible Dictionary

Proselytes

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geerim . 1 Chronicles 22:2, "the strangers," in Septuagint "proselytes, i.e. comers to Palestine, sojourners (Exodus 12:48; Exodus 20:10; Exodus 22:21; Leviticus 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" (Exodus 12:38). "The stranger" was bound by the law of the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10; Exodus 23:12; Deuteronomy 5:14) and the Passover when he was circumcised (Exodus 12:19; Exodus 12:48), the feast of weeks (Deuteronomy 16:11), tabernacles (Deuteronomy 16:14), the day of atonement (Leviticus 16:29), prohibited marriages (Leviticus 18:26), and blood (Leviticus 17:10), and Moloch worship (Leviticus 20:2), and blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16).

The city of refuge was open to him (Numbers 35:15). Kind treatment in remembrance of Israel's own position as strangers formerly in Egypt (Exodus 22:21; Exodus 23:9; Deuteronomy 10:18-19; Leviticus 19:33-34), justice (Leviticus 24:22; Deuteronomy 1:16; Deuteronomy 24:17; Deuteronomy 24:19-21), share in gleanings and tithe of the third year (Deuteronomy 14:29), were the stranger's right. But he could not hold land nor intermarry with Aaron's descendants (Leviticus 19:10; Leviticus 21:14), he is presumed to be in a subject condition (Deuteronomy 29:11); Hobab and the Kenites (Numbers 10:29-32; Judges 1:16), Rahab of Jericho (Joshua 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 (Deuteronomy 31:10-12; Joshua 8:34-35).

Under the kings strangers rose to influential positions: Doeg the Edomite (1 Samuel 21:7), Uriah the Hittite (2 Samuel 11:3), Araunah the Jebusite (2 Samuel 24:23), Zelek the Ammonite (2 Samuel 23:37), Ithmah the Moabite (1 Chronicles 11:46, the law in Deuteronomy 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 (2 Samuel 15:19), Shebna the secretary of state under Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:37; Isaiah 22:15), Ebedmelech the Ethiopian under Zedekiah (Jeremiah 38:7), the Cherethites and Pelethites. (See CHERETHITES; PELETHITES.) Hezekiah's triumph over Sennacherib was followed by many bringing gifts: unto Jehovah to Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 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 (Psalms 51:5; Psalms 51:10; Psalms 22:31; Isaiah 66:8; John 3:3; John 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 (Mark 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" (Deuteronomy 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 (1 Chronicles 22:2; 2 Chronicles 2:17-18). In Psalms 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 (Psalms 39:12), and "the widow" is the widowed church awaiting Christ's glorious epiphany to avenge her on antichrist (Luke 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" (Ezekiel 47:22; Isaiah 2:2; Isaiah 11:10; Isaiah 56:3-6; Micah 4:1), and meantime plead their cause (Jeremiah 7:6; Ezekiel 22:7; Ezekiel 22:29; Zechariah 7:10; Malachi 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 (Nehemiah 10:28). Many, in Esther's time (Esther 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 (Acts 13:42-43; Acts 13:50; Acts 17:4; Acts 18:7), come up to the feasts at Jerusalem (Acts 2:10). Roman centurions, a class promoted for military good conduct, were noble specimens of these proselytes (Luke 7:5; Acts 10:2; Acts 10:7; Acts 10:30), 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 (Matthew 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 (Matthew 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 Isaiah 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 (Esther 8:17).

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

(5) Lion proselytes, through dread of judgments: 2 Kings 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 Exodus 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 Exodus 19:10), followed by his presenting the corban offering of two turtle doves, as after a birth (Leviticus 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?" (John 1:25) and John 3:5; John 3:10, 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 Matthew 23:15; Acts 2:10; Acts 6:5; Acts 13:43. The common phrase is" devout men," "fearing" or "worshipping God" (Acts 10:2; Acts 10:7; Acts 13:16; Acts 13:26; Acts 13:43; Acts 13:50; Acts 16:14; Acts 17:4; Acts 17:17; Acts 18:7; John 12:20). From them came the largest accession to the Christian church.

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Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Proselytes'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/fbd/p/proselytes.html. 1949.

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