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The biblical term "proselyte" is an anglicization of the Koine Greek term προσήλυτος (proselytos), as used in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) for "stranger", i.e. a "newcomer to Israel";[1] a "sojourner in the land",[2] and in the Greek New Testament[3] for a first century convert to Judaism, generally from Ancient Greek religion. It is a translation of the Biblical Hebrew phrase גר תושב (ger toshav).[4]

"Proselyte" also has the more general meaning in English of a new convert to any particular religion or doctrine.

History of the proselyte in Israel

The Law of Moses made specific regulations regarding the admission into Israel's community of such as were not born Israelites.[5]

The New Testament makes mention of proselytes in synagogues.[6] The name proselyte occurs in the New Testament only in Matthew and Acts.[7] The name by which they are commonly designated is that of "devout men", or men "fearing God", or "worshipping God", or "Godfearers".

On the historical meaning of the Greek word, in chapter 2 of the apocryphal gospel Acts of Pilate (roughly dated from 150 to 400 CE), Annas and Caiaphas define "proselyte" for Pilate:

And Pilate, summoning the Jews, says to them: You know that my wife is a worshipper of God, and prefers to adhere to the Jewish religion along with you. ... Annas and Caiaphas say to Pilate: All the multitude of us cry out that he [Jesus] was born of fornication, and are not believed; these [who disagree] are proselytes, and his disciples. And Pilate, calling Annas and Caiaphas, says to them: What are proselytes? They say to him: They are by birth children of the Greeks, and have now become Jews.

— Roberts Translation [1]

In Judaism

There are two kinds of proselytes in Rabbinic Judaism; ger tzedek (righteous proselytes, proselytes of righteousness, religious proselyte, devout proselyte) and ger toshav (resident proselyte, proselytes of the gate, limited proselyte, half-proselyte)

A "righteous proselyte" is a gentile who has converted to Judaism, is bound to all the doctrines and precepts of the Jewish religion, and is considered a full member of the Jewish people. The proselyte is circumcised as an adult (milah l'shem giur), if male, and immerses in a mikvah to formally effect the conversion.

A "gate proselyte"[8] is a resident alien who lives in the Land of Israel and follows some of the customs. They are not required to be circumcised nor to comply with the whole of the Torah. They are bound only to conform to the Seven Laws of Noah (do not worship idols, do not blaspheme God's name, do not murder, do not commit fornication (immoral sexual acts), do not steal, do not tear the limb from a living animal, and do not fail to establish rule of law) to be assured of a place in the world to come.

In early Christianity

The "religious proselytes" spoken of in Early Christian writings[9] were likely righteous proselytes rather than gate proselytes.[10] There is some debate however as to whether proselytes known as Godfearers (Phoboumenoi)[11] and/or Worshippers (Sebomenoi),[12] who were baptized but not circumcised, fall into the righteous or gate category. A dispute over this subject is recorded in the Council of Jerusalem c. 50. (See also Circumcision in the Bible.)

See also


  1. ^ 1 Chronicles 22:2
  2. ^ Exodus 12:48; 20:10; 22:21
  3. ^ Strong's G4339[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ Strong's H1616[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Exodus 20:10; 23:12; 12:19; 12:48; Deuteronomy 5:14; 16:11-14, etc.
  6. ^ Acts 10:2-7; 13:42-50; 17:4; 18:7; Luke 7:5
  7. ^ Matthew 23:15; Acts 2:10; 6:4; 13:43
  8. ^ bible verse Exodus 20:9-10, Deut 5:13-14, Deut 14:20-29 Deut 16:10-14, Deut 24:13-14, Deut 26:11-12, Deut 31:11-12
  9. ^ Acts 13:43
  10. ^ The Bauer lexicon calls it a "mixed expression"
  11. ^ Luke 1:50,18:2-4; Acts 10:2,10:22,10:35,13:16,13:26; 1 Pet 2:17; Rev 14:7, 19:5
  12. ^ Acts 13:43,13:50,16:14,17:4,17:17,18:7; Josephus Ant. 14.7.2

External links

  • Catholic Encyclopedia: Proselyte
  • Jewish Encyclopedia: Proselyte
  • - United Noahide Academies
  • Jewish Encyclopedia: Noachian Laws
  • - Institute of Noahide Law
  • - The Responsibilities of the Gentiles
  • - Noachide Resource Center
  • - Bnai Noach in the UK
  • Free Online Book: 'The Path of the Righteous Gentile'
  • Gentiles and Circumcision
  • Proselyte in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica
  • Godfearers in the City of Love Biblical Archaeology Review
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