There was no such thing as Judaism, Christianity in the first century
Q. There seems to be several groups that contended for the religious attention of the people in the New Testament. Is this right and who were they?
A. Just like today, there was not one group that made up the religious ‘conscience" of the Jewish people in the first century.
There was a diverse and very often violent opposition to one group by another.
No one group spoke for all Jews, unless they got into some sort of political or highly powerful religious position of authority and could force their beliefs on others.
Much like politics in the United States, if you can get enough of "your side" in power you can make things happen.
There was no such thing as "Judaism" in the first century but "Judaisms" due to many different groups (sects), beliefs and teachings.
Here is a basic rundown of just some of the varying groups and beliefs that made up the collective belief system in Israel that Yeshua was confronted with and had to "straighten" out, starting with His select group during His ministry, but what the first century believers had to contend with once they were sent out.
That is only within the borders of Israel, among the people.
This doesn’t even include what was waiting for them once they got outside the borders of Israel into the rest of the world.
* Pharisee’s – they had two main groups, but there were others:
* School of Hillel- first born was president (or Nasi) of the religious Sanhedrin , they were mainly based from the north, were more into the spirit of the law, wanted converts, Jewish halakah today is decided on their teachings, very eschatological, Paul was from this group.
* School of Shammai- based mainly in the south, strict, had one of their number as "Av Beit Din" (father of the house of judgment) as a "balance" to the Nasi from Hillel on the religious Sanhedrin, believed in the letter of the law, discouraged converts, very eschatological, would contend with School of Hillel over halakah
* Sadducees’s-opposite of the Pharisee’s,believed very little(no resurrection,angels, Messiah etc), accepted only the books of Moses, non-eschatological’
* Boethucians- rich Sadducees, upper class, many were High Priests, rejected the Oral law, non –eschatological
* Sicari- most radical, "cutthroat", would assassinate anyone who helped Rome
* Zealots- politically opposed Rome, for the most part torah observant, could belong to other groups
* Chasidim- "pious ones," in the north mainly but not like the Pharisee’s, very eschatological
* Essenes- confusion still exists as to who they were exactly, had many priests who were fed up with the Temple system and priesthood, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, very eschatological
* Theraputae- "healers," related to the Essenes and may have been the same group, very eschatological
* Am ha Eretz- "people of the land," common folk, uneducated in the yeshiva’s, either not interested in Torah study or something else, followed the Pharisee’s mainly.
* Hellenists- goes back to the time of the Maccabee’s (Approx. 165 B.C.), influenced by Greek culture and were looked at with distrust by the more traditional groups.
* Judean- not real eschatological or Torah observant.
* Asia Minor-very eschatological and Torah observant.
* Alexandrian-Torah observant,
* Babylonian- Torah observant, did not have these other sects to contend with now, knowing this and knowing what these groups believe will help you understand many of the debates and controversies seen in the New Testament. For instance, in Acts 15.1 it says that certain believers came from Judea and taught other believers that a gentile had to get circumcised to be saved. Well, they were from the School of Shammai and we see that Paul, taught in the School of Hillel, opposed them. We’ll see the same argument in Galatians (Chapter 2) were the same doctrine was trying to be taught, and Paul opposed them again. Another example id in Mark 7 and the discussion over halakah and hand-washing. We know from what was being discussed that these Pharisee’s were from the School of Shammai who believed very strongly in ritual hand-washing, but the Scriptures never commanded it and Yeshua makes that point. Anyway, it helps to know who believes what when you read the Scriptures. When it says "Pharisee" it doesn’t mean all the Pharisee’s believed the same thing. Yeshua’s apostles came from some of these groups and had a diverse range of beliefs to deal with. Even after salvation, they still clung to some of these beliefs and you can see how God had to change them in order to receive the truth so they could effectively teach others. The same thing happens today. Just because someone becomes a believer doesn’t mean he automatically discards the belief system he has known. It takes time and good teaching from God to do that, so, patience is needed with believers without compromising the truth they need to know. So, there is nothing new under the sun. Even though we don’t have the same groups today as the first century, we still have many denominational beliefs that have to be discarded and replaced. Being called of God and teaching the Word is not to be done by novices. This comes through the revelation of the Holy Spirit and good teachers placed in the body to help guide these believers to the truth the Lord would have them to know in order to make their life a true testimony and a true light to the world, rightly dividing and handling the Word of Truth.