I am a Christian but am not here to proselytize. I have a couple questions about Judaism:
1. Was there (or is there) a Jewish equivalent to the Pope in Judaism?
2. Other than Abraham or perhaps Moses, would Jews in 33 AD even understand the concept of one of their Leaders having authority over all of Judaism (like a Pope)?
If you just want to answer those I’d be more than happy but if you want to read some backstory: I believe Christianity cannot deny it’s Jewish roots. I think the Christian New Testament and historical facts both show that Jesus did not found a specific denomination of Christianity but instead founded a new covenant, a movement established in Judaism.
(I understand Judaism doesn’t recognize a new or revised covenant but I’m speaking from my Christian perspective.)
I believe it’s clear from our New Testament that Jesus did not appoint one apostle to be in authority over the others or over all of Christendom. Personally I think it’s blatantly obvious that the absolute last thing someone claiming to be the Jewish Messiah would do – is start a whole new religion. (Again, speaking from a Christian perspective) what they would certainly consider is to continue the proselytizing of Gentiles into the Jesus followers. The Jesus followers at that time were a sect called “the Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22).
I think it’s obvious that what Jesus left were Jewish apostles. These apostles (literally “sent ones”) worked with a group of presbyters who apparently acted somewhat like the Judean presbyter elders of the Jewish synagogues. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah and viewed themselves as a reform movement, a sect within Judaism.
Within the first few decades after Jesus the followers of the Way were Jews who remained Jews. They continued to go to synagogue, worshiped and followed Mosaic Law and Temple traditions. They observed the Jewish holy days, practiced circumcision of their male children, followed Kosher dietary laws and practiced the teachings of Jesus.
There was no central authority, no standard style of organization at the local level, no dedicated church buildings or cathedrals. Assuming Jesus would come back in their lifetime there was no necessity for authority, organization or dedicated places of worship. The body of believers during the Apostolic Age (basically the time from Jesus to the death of the last apostle) did not entertain the primacy of one apostle, presbyter or bishop.
Nothing in the Apostolic Age even remotely comes close to resembling a Christian Church as we know it today. Up to this point in history, in fact up to almost 20 years after Jesus, Christianity walks, talks and looks very much like Judaism. Up to this time new converts to Christianity, generally speaking, had to in a sense convert to Judaism before following the Way. The Jerusalem Council was called to settle this controversy in 50 AD (Acts 15). Only after that Council did separation from Judaism even begin to become apparent and only after Paul’s missions to Antioch did the body of believers even begin being called Christians.
After the deaths of the apostles, their disciples and other leaders were looked upon for guidance. Even so, these (following the example of James, Peter and the others) leaders remained teachers, presbyters and bishops. Up to this point, biblically and historically, there was no person or group who could speak for the church as a whole.
Peace and thanks.