The word “Apostasy” is from the Greek word “apostasia” and is very much like renouncing or disassociating oneself from a particular religion or certain religious beliefs. It is similar to a rejection of beliefs that were once held and accepting different beliefs and might even be a renunciation of the beliefs that were previously held.
For example, is someone converts to another religion, they reject or turn away from their beliefs from something they once believed and turn to believing in another, much different religion or it might be a falling away from anything to do with religion. Apostasy can also be considered abandonment or defiance of what was previously held to be true and practiced and rebelling against those same beliefs and practices. Someone or some group who does this are considered an apostate.
As an effect of this apostasy, the people divided into groups with varied political, religious, and social agendas. They also differed in their beliefs and traditions about the Messiah. The religious groups tried to live the law of Moses as they understood it, but each group interpreted the scriptures from such varied perspectives that Jewish society became more and more divided. As a result, the true understanding of who the Savior would be became confused.
Once the voices of prophets fell silent, the priests and their fellow temple workers, the Levites, became the most important officials among the Jews and claimed for themselves the right to interpret scripture. However, the office of high priest became corrupted as it was bought and sold during this time.
Many Jews felt that the priests and Levites did not fulfill their responsibility to teach the law correctly (Read Deuteronomy 33:10), so a new group evolved who sought to teach the law. Known as scribes, they modeled themselves on Ezra, who had helped his people feel an urgency to learn and to obey the law (Read Ezra 7:25; Nehemiah 8:1–8).
Alexander the Great conquered the region in 332 B.C. When he died, his kingdom was divided among his generals. In time, Palestine came under the influence of the Greek-speaking Seleucid emperors. In 167 B.C., the Seleucid rulers outlawed the Jewish faith, forbidding circumcision and desecrating the temple by offering swine on the altar. Many Jews resisted, led by a family known as the Maccabees or Hasmoneans.
The revolt—called the Maccabean War—eventually brought freedom to the Jews and created a Jewish nation for the first time since the fall of Jerusalem. At the same time, another religious group formed known as the Hasideans, “the pious.” They showed their devotion to God by trying to live every aspect of the law of Moses as they understood it.
Other religious groups also emerged during the intertestamental period, each claiming the exclusive right to interpret the scriptures. The Pharisees were an independent religious group that came into being soon after the Maccabean War. They became very influential in Jewish society by introducing a narrow focus on food laws and on ritual purity, aspects that were rooted primarily in their oral traditions, not scripture. In their homes, they tried to behave as if they were living in the temple.
The Sadducees, on the other hand, whose origins remain unknown, rejected any appeal to oral tradition and held strictly to the five books of Moses, turning their backs on the writings of other prophets. This group consisted mostly of the elite in Jerusalem society. By the time Jesus was born, they had expanded their power by asserting control over the Jerusalem temple.
Each of these religious groups preserved traditions and doctrines that they believed were essential to lives of devotion. But because they lacked the guidance of a true prophet, they were left to their own interpretations.
Please keep pace with us as we continue our series on Apostasy