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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Proselytes

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Converts to a religion; non-Jews who accepted the Jewish faith and completed the rituals to become Jews. The New Testament attests to the zeal of the first century Pharisees in proselytizing Gentiles (Matthew 23:15 ). The success of the Jewish missionary efforts is indicated by synagogue and grave inscriptions referring to proselytes and by Roman and Jewish literary references. Tacitus (History Matthew 23:5 ) complains, for example, that proselytes despised the gods, disdained their kindred, and abjured their fatherland.

Gentiles were impressed by three features of Judaism. First, the concept of one God who created, sustains, and rules all things was clearly superior to polytheistic views. Second, Judaism stressed a life-style of moral responsibility with its monotheism; and third, it was a religion of ancient and stable tradition in contrast to the faddish cults of the time.

Proselytes usually embraced Judaism gradually because much needed to be learned, such as the proper observance of the sabbath and the careful following of the dietary rules, before one could win acceptance into the Jewish community. Persons attracted to Judaism and keeping the sabbath and food laws were termed fearers or worshipers of God. These terms appear in the New Testament where Cornelius (Acts 10:1-2 ), and Lydia (Acts 16:14 ) are so described (see also John 12:20; Acts 17:4; Acts 18:4 ).

Many God fearers went on to become proselytes or fully accepted and integrated members of the Jewish community. This involved fulfilling the Jewish demands of circumcision (males) which related one to the covenant (see Galatians 5:3 ), baptism (males and females) which made one ritually clean, and an offering (males and females) in the Jerusalem Temple which atoned for sin.

Harold S. Songer

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Proselytes'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/p/proselytes.html. 1991.

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