Who were the first apologists? Believe it or not, the first apologists were all Messianic Jews. You may say “Well, what are Messianic Jews?” Messianic Judaism is not new at all. All the authors of the New Testament were Jewish (with the possible exception of Luke). For many years the early faith in Jesus was strictly Jewish in both orientation and practice. Hence, the early Church was 100% percent Jewish! We see the growth of Messianic Judaism in The Book of Acts: (Acts 2:41) 3000 Jewish people come to faith at Pentecost after Peter’s Sermon (goes up to 5000 in Acts 4:4);(Acts 6:7) “The number of disciples increased rapidly and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith”; (Acts 21:20) Within twenty years the Jewish congregation said to Paul- “You see how many thousands (in Greek, it is literally “myriads” or “ten thousands” or “countless thousands.” Hence, we see at least 100,000 Jewish believers in Jesus. The apostles approach to spreading the message of the Good News is characterized by such terms as “apologeomai/apologia” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15), which means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” “dialegomai” which means “to reason, speak boldly” (Acts 17:2; 17; 18:4; 19:8), “peíthō” which means to persuade, argue persuasively” (Acts 18:4; 19:8), and “bebaioō” which means “to confirm, establish (Phil 1:7; Heb. 2:3).
Obviously, we see our first Gentile convert in Acts 10 (Cornelius). It was only over a long period where the Church become a predominately Gentile based phenomena. To read more about this, see The Ways That Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages by Adam H. Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed. Isn’t it nice that we as Gentiles are no longer “excluded from the commonwealth of Israel” (Eph .2:11-13), and “without hope.” May we thank God for allowing us to participate in His redemptive plan for the entire world. To see the historical basis and background of Messianic Judaism, Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations by David J. Rudolph.
Today, there are thousands of Messianic Jewish believers in the United States alone and across the world. Of course, the Apostle Paul (a Pharisee and a Jewish Believer himself) showed he had a tremendous burden for the Jewish people (Rom. 9:1-5; Rom. 10:1), and calls upon the Church to provoke Israel to jealousy (Rom. 11:11). Paul understood that since Gentiles (I am one of them), have received the blessing of knowing the Jewish Messiah, they have the responsibility to take the message of salvation back to Israel. Therefore, Christians of all denominational backgrounds should show interest in learning about how to share the good news of the Messiah with the Jewish people.
Messianic Judaism pertains to those who are Jewish and have come to faith in the promised Messiah of Israel. Yeshua is the Hebrew name for Jesus, and means “Salvation.” Jesus was actually called Yeshua, a Jewish man living in the land of Israel among Jewish people.
But with acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah comes much opposition and objections from within the Jewish community. Also, it should not be surprising that the Jewish community has formed its own set of objections to Jesus and the claims of His followers. Many Jewish people who come to faith in Jesus can be ostracized by their own communities. I even know some who have been disowned by their own families.
Dr. Michael Brown
The most well-known Messianic apologist at the present time is Dr.Michael Brown. Dr. Brown has a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He has debated many rabbis on shows such as Phil Donahue, and Faith Under Fire. Dr. Brown is a Jewish believer in Jesus and is visiting professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Fuller Theological Seminary. His website is at http://askdrbrown.org. You can see him walking down the streets of New York discussing the Messiah issue here:
Dr. Brown has written a five set volume called Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus:
Vol 1 is called General Objections/Historical Objections
Vol 2 is called Theological Objections
Vol 3 is called Messianic Prophecy Objections
Vol 4 is called New Testament Objections
Vol 5 is called Traditional Jewish Objections
What was the Message of the first Messianic Jewish Apologists?
1. The promises by God made in the Hebrew Bible/The Old Testament have now been revealed with the coming of Jesus the Messiah (Acts 2:30;3;19;24,10:43; 26:6-7;22).
2. Jesus was anointed by God at his baptism (Acts 10:38).
3. Jesus began his ministry at Galilee after his baptism (Acts 10:37).
4. Jesus conducted a beneficent ministry, doing good and performing mighty works by the power of God ( Acts 2:22; 10:38).
5. The Messiah was crucified according to the plan of God (Acts 2:23).
6. He was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples (Acts 2:24; 31-32; 3:15-26;10:40-41;17:31;26:23).
7. Jesus was exalted and given the name “Lord” (Acts 2:25-29;33-36;3:13;10:36).
8. He gave the Holy Spirit to form the new community of God (Acts 1:8;2;14-18;33,38-39;10:44-47).
9. He will come again for judgment and the restoration of all things (Acts 3:20-21;10:42; 17:31).
10. All who hear the message should repent and be baptized because of the finished work of Jesus (Acts 2:21;38;3:19;10:43, 17-48; 17:30, 26:20).
After reading this, we can see that there wasn’t much appeal to personal testimony nor “Accept Jesus into your heart and he will make your life better.”
Perhaps we can conclude with the words of J.P. Moreland:
“Today, we share the gospel as a means of addressing felt needs. We give testimonies of changed lives and say to people if they want to become better parents or overcome depression or loneliness, that the Jesus is their answer. This approach to evangelism is inadequate for two reasons. First, it does not reach people who may be out of touch with their feelings. Second, it invites the response, “Sorry, I do not have a need.” Have you noticed how no one responded to Paul in this manner? In Acts 17-20, he based his preaching on the fact that the gospel is true and reasonable to believe. He reasoned and tried to persuade people to intelligently accept Jesus.”–J.P Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress. 1997, pg 30