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Did the Churches Compete with Cult Groups?

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Chapter Summary

It is equally clear that the New Testament (NT) churches were not likely to be mistaken for a cult-group. They were far too argumentative or intellectual, far too socially activist for that. The churches as such at first practised no cult (though individuals might do so as Jews, or for that matter Greeks). At the most there was a quasi-cult inasmuch as they transposed the ritual approach to the divine into a studied reconstruction of social relations. Ancient observers, both Christian and others, sometimes found associational life a convenient short-hand for categorizing the churches, though their scale, membership, structure and activities were very different. Yet although the churches insisted on the legacy of Israel, Roman observers did not confuse church with synagogue. No amount of subsequent assimilation to cultic or cultural patterns fully swamped these sources of social and intellectual transformation.

Keywords: cult-group; Israel; Jews; New Testament (NT) churches; Roman observers; synagogue

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