THE BIBLE STUDY PROJECT
The broad range of Bible knowledge
TO ALL STUDIES
PART 1: WHO IS ISRAEL? WHO ARE THE JEWS?
by Norman Manzon
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Israel is part of an extensive and detailed biblical exposition of the doctrinal statement of The Association of Messianic Congregations. It has been adapted here for broader readership.
Tiny Israel is the central nation of history and prophecy. It is the focus and hub of the world's news. Its contributions to civilization and world history are far out of proportion to its size. How it relates to God has a direct effect on eschatological (end-time) events. How nations and individuals relate to her affects their destinies. It is therefore of great importance for all to study what Scripture has to say about Israel, particularly those who hold the Bible to be the Word of God. God promised Israel's patriarch, Abraham, I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse (Genesis 12:3. Cf. Matthew 25:40,45; Romans 1:16): He holds us accountable for our actions, words and witness in regard to her, and toward her. This is especially true of the Jewish believer as he has a particular responsibility to those of his own household (1 Timothy 5:8).
We will therefore undertake a careful study of Israel. May God give us grace and insight as we do, and bear fruit through our lives because of it! We'll begin with the AMC's Statement on Israel, and then cover every point in it, though not in the same order.
We must begin by identifying the subject of our study, especially because many ideas abound on the matter. Who is Israel? Who are the Jews? Who are the Hebrews?
In Scripture, nations are determined by natural descent through male lineage. Every genealogy in Scripture reflects this. For example, Genesis 10:5 says, From these the coastlands of the nations were separated into their lands, every one according to his language, according to their families, into their nations; and the verse is preceded and followed by passages designating nations by male descent. For example, verse 6: The sons of Ham were Cush and Mizraim and Put and Canaan.
The sons of Ham were the patriarchs of the aforementioned nations, all of which are named by the names of their patriarchs elsewhere in Scripture as well as here.
Though "nation" is often used in reference to a country, in this study it will primarily be used with the meaning of a people descended from a common patriarch.
The nation of Israel is likewise determined by male descent. God singled out Abraham and covenanted to form a great nation through him (Genesis 12:1-2). Out of all of Abraham's sons, God passed on the covenant solely through Isaac (Genesis 26:2-5); and out of Isaac's sons, Jacob and Esau, God passed on the covenant solely to Jacob (Genesis 28:13-15). Subsequently, Jacob's name became Israel (Genesis 32:28), and all of the descendants of the man Israel by male lineage became known as Israelites, which is reflected in one of the designations of the nation: b'nei Yisrael, sons of Israel (Genesis 42:5, 45:21, 46:5, Exodus 1:1, Deuteronomy 23:17, 1 Chronicles 2:1); and the nation became known as "Israel" even in the man Israel's lifetime (Genesis 34:7).
But what of the one whose mother is an Israelite and whose father is a Gentile? Normally, that person would be reckoned as part of the father's nation. However, if such a person properly identifies with the nation Israel, then that person is considered an Israelite in God's eyes. Timothy was such a one.
Acts 16:1-3: 1: Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. 2. and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. 3. Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
Paul freely circumcised Timothy because Timothy had a Jewish mother, and circumcision was a requirement of the covenant that God made with Abraham. Genesis 17:12-14: 12. And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations. . . . 14. But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant. (The Mosaic Covenant, rendered inoperative at the cross, did not come into play here. The Abrahamic Covenant, still standing today, did.) In contradistinction, Paul refused to circumcise Titus, a man who did not have a Jewish parent (Galatians 2:1-5, esp. v. 3). Thus, if one has a Jewish mother and a Gentile father, he or she may join their hearts with the Israelite nation as the one nation they identify with more than any other, and thereby be considered an Israelite in God's eyes. In the case of the male, that joining must be confirmed by circumcision. If he or she does not so join themselves, then he or she is considered a Gentile by virtue of the male parent.
To bring it all home, one is an Israelite if he or she is a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through male lineage; and if one has a Gentile father and a Jewish mother, then that person is also an Israelite in God's eyes if proper identification is made. These are the sole requirements that Scripture presents for being considered an Israelite.
To help clarify matters, there is another valid definition of Jewishness which must be distinguished from the biblical one. It is the sociological one, and it defines Jewishness as an ethnicity. Jewishness as an ethnicity includes all who identify with the Jewish people so closely as to consider themselves part of the Jewish nation and culture. This identification may be the result of conversion to Judaism, marrying into a Jewish family, adoption as a child into a Jewish family, and the like. An important distinction between the two is that the biblical definition is a sharply defined one, whereas the sociological definition is not. According to Scripture, one who is a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is a Jew. As to the sociological definition: Suppose a man of Irish descent marries into a Jewish family, converts to Judaism, and identifies equally with his Irish heritage and culture and the Jewish heritage and culture he married and converted into. Is he, sociologically, an Irishman or a Jew? Well, that depends on who you ask!
The key point that must be noted here is that, whereas the sociological definition of Jewishness is valid in sociological studies, biblical studies of Jewishness must be based on the biblical definition, and it is the biblical definition that will be adhered here. There are things that God says is true of bloodline Jews that do not apply to anyone else, even to sociological Jews who do not carry the bloodline of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
1. When Did Israel Begin to Form?
2. When Will Its Formation Cease?
From these points we can conclude that Israelites will be born until the very end of the Messianic Age.
The nation of Israel began to form about 2000 B.C., and will continue to form through the end of the Millennium.
I have been using "Israelite" and "Jew" interchangeably. Is this biblically valid?
1. Defining "Jew"
John 18:35: Pilate answered, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?" Here again a Gentile identifies Jesus' nation as Jews, and He does not deny it.
In Acts 21:27-28, Luke identifies Jews as Israelites: 27. Jews from Asia, upon seeing him in the temple, began to stir up all the crowd and laid hands on him, 28. crying out, "Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people. . . .
In an attempt to gain the ear of that hostile crowd, Paul identified himself as one of the men of Israel by crying out, I am a Jew; (verse 39); and in Philippians 3:5, he described himself as circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel. . . .
It is clear from these passages that Jews were identical to Israelites in the minds of Gentiles, unbelieving Jews, Jesus' disciples, and Jesus Himself. It is noteworthy that Paul, a post-cross believer and apostle to the Gentiles, identified himself as a Jew and an Israelite to Jews and Gentiles alike.
A Jew is a member of the nation of Israel, and "the Jews," used in its broadest biblical sense, is identical to the nation of Israel.
Jews who lived outside the Land were still considered Jews.
b. Idolatrous Jews
Nowhere in Scripture is there a teaching or example of the national identity of one born of Israelite parents forfeit for any reason.
3. "The Jews" as Used by Jesus and His Disciples
John 2:18,20: 18. The Jews then said to Him, "What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?" . . . . 20. The Jews then said, "It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?"
John 5:16,18: 16. For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. . . . 18: For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him. . . .
John 11:55: Now the Passover of the Jews was near. . . .
In John 13:33, Jesus said, Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, "Where I am going, you cannot come."
What did Jesus mean by the Jews in John 13:33 where He said, I said to the Jews? John 7:32-34 shows that he was referring to the Pharisees and chief priests, the latter group of whom were Sadducees. The Pharisees and Sadducees constituted the highest religious and judicial authorities among the Jews. In other words, by the Jews, Jesus was referring to the Jewish authorities in Israel. This also clarifies what John meant by the Jews in 2:18,20 and 5:16,18.
What did John mean by the Jews in 11:55, where he used the phrase, the Passover of the Jews?
John was simply referring to the Jewish nation.
c. Other Evidence and Usages
In Galatians 2:11-13, Paul contrasts Peter with Gentiles, thereby declaring Peter to be a Jew. He also refers to the other Jewish believers present as the rest of the Jews, and to Barnabas as a Jew.
In the very next verse, Paul addresses Peter directly as a Jew:
If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles
and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like
d. Summing Up
4. Were Gentiles Who Joined Themselves to Israel Called Jews?
Ruth was a Moabitess, but moved into the Land and placed herself under the government of Israelite judges; yet, she is never called an Israelitess or Jewess, but a Moabitess, even just six verses later (Ruth 1:22; 2:2, 21; 4:5; 4:10).
5. Were Gentile Converts to Judaism Called Jews?
Biblically, Gentiles who converted to Mosaic, Pharisaic or any other form of Judaism were called proselytes. Ruth was simultaneously a Moabitess by birth, and a proselyte to Mosaic Judaism.
Matthew 23:15: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. Jesus did not call Gentile converts to Pharisaic Judaism Jews, but proselytes.
In Acts 13:43, God-fearing Gentile synagogue attendees were not called Jews, but proselytes: Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas. Note how the God-fearing proselytes are differentiated from the Jews.
Acts 2:10 names different groups who kept the Mosaic injunction to be in Jerusalem for Pentecost (cf. Exodus 34:18-23), and the same distinction is made: and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes.
In Acts 6:5, a Gentile who had previously converted to Judaism and subsequently became a believer in Jesus was not called a Jew, but a proselyte: The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose. . . Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.
6. Esther 8:17
Which is the best translation? There are two classes of considerations that
pull in opposite directions:
2. However, several considerations pull in the direction of translating
mityahadim as "became proselytes to Judaism":
c. Among the two hundred and fifty-six times in which "Jew" or
"Jews" appear in the New American Standard translation, Esther 8:17 is the
only instance in which the concept of proselytes is translated "Jews." (New
Testament passages that appear to say otherwise at first glance actually do
not. These passages are examined in
a subsequent study in this series.)
In consideration of the above, this author is persuaded that the clearest, most unequivocal translation is one that focuses on the religious conversion: "converted to Judaism," "became proselytes to Judaism," or a similar rendering. Consistent with that, "Jew" and "Jews" will be used in this series solely in reference to bloodline Jews - the way Jesus used it.
The first biblical use of the word "Hebrew" is in Genesis 14:13, where Abram was called a Hebrew. The next number of times "Hebrew" was used was by Egyptians in reference to Israelites (Genesis 39:14, Exodus 1:16, etc.). Joseph said that he was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews (Genesis 40:15); Jonah called himself a Hebrew (Jonah 1:9); and God called the Israelites Hebrews (e.g., Exodus 21:2). In Acts 6:1, two Israelite groups are named: Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews. In 2 Corinthians 11:22, Paul declares, Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. In Philippians 3:5, Paul called himself a Hebrew of the Hebrews.
All those and only those in the covenant line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by natural descent are called Hebrews.
Notwithstanding extrabiblical definitions, every man and woman who is a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by male lineage is an Israelite, a Jew and a Hebrew; and if a person has a Gentile father and Jewish mother, that person may choose to make a genuine, heart-felt identification with Israel, confirmed by circumcision if male, and then be considered an Israelite. Inversely, no one who does not fit into these categories is an Israelite, Jew or Hebrew even if he be circumcised, a Chassid (adherent to Ultra-Orthodox Judaism) or an adherent to Messianic Judaism. Also, the Jewish nation began forming by natural generation in the days of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and will continue to so form until the end of the Millennium.
"I was born a Jew and I'll die a Jew" is a declaration that is sometimes heard from the lips of Jews when the Gospel is presented to them; yet it is impossible for one who is a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to lose one's Jewishness. Thus, when Messianic Jews are accused of rejecting their Jewishness or are said to have somehow been magically transformed into a non-Jew, they, along with every other descendant of the man Israel may say, "I was born a Jew and I'll die a Jew!" - with the understanding, of course, that they will not die at all if the Rapture intervenes while they are alive! Furthermore, if an Israelite Baal worshiper retained his Jewish identity, then surely the Jewish believer in the Jewish Messiah and King of the Jews retains his! Though others consider his identity forfeit, God does not.
Our Statement reads, "Israel. . . is distinct from the body of Messiah."
There are many who believe that the church, the body of Messiah or Christ, has become Israel, or has been joined to Israel, or has replaced Israel, or is Israel spiritually or figuratively. It is therefore essential that we examine the substance, parameters and relevant designations of the church just as we have of Israel, and this we will do.
1. "The Body of Messiah"
2. The Body of Messiah Differs from Local Congregations
The body is composed of Jews and Gentiles made one in Messiah.
4. The Body Is a "New Man"
According to the passage, believing Jews and believing Gentiles have been brought together in Christ Jesus to form one new man.
5. The Body Is Neither Israel Nor the Gentiles
6. How Were the Gentiles, Who Were Excluded From the Commonwealth of Israel, Brought Near?
This needs to be viewed in the broader context: 12. remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
The central issue of the passage is not that the Gentiles were excluded from the commonwealth [theocratic community] of Israel, but that they were separate from Christ.
In every age, salvation is only by faith, and this was true in the Dispensation of the Law. It was under the Law that Habakkuk wrote, the righteous will live by his faith (2:4); yet, God provided a code of laws to be followed: the Law of Moses. If a Gentile had genuine faith in the God of Israel, he would become a proselyte to Mosaic Judaism and take upon himself the full burden of the Law, which would require him to live as a Jew would in the commonwealth of Israel: He would worship in Jerusalem on Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, bring sacrifices to the temple, et al. Taking on the burden of the Law without faith would not save him (nor would it save an Israelite); but if he had true faith, he would take upon himself the burden of the Law. In the context of the Christian life, James said, But someone may well say, "You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works" (2:18). The same principle applied in the days of the Law. The Gentile with true faith in the God of Israel would take upon himself the burden of the Law; but since the cross, joining in the Mosaic activities of the commonwealth of Israel is a dead issue because the Mosaic Law, which constituted the barrier of the dividing wall, was rendered inoperative at the cross. This is the seed thought in what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman in John 4:21,23: 21. "Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. . . . 23. "But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.
What Paul is saying is that, since the cross, Gentile believers are brought near to the blessings of salvation - not in the commonwealth of Israel - but in Christ Jesus and in His body, by virtue of the new birth, For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks (1 Corinthians 12:13).
7. Members of the Body Retain Their National Identities
The new man is distinct from Israel and the Gentiles, but becoming a member of the new man does not obliterate one's Jewish or Gentile identity. Membership in Israel or in a Gentile nation is based on natural generation. Membership in the new man is based on regeneration, which is of the Spirit. There is no conflict between membership in the two, nor mutual exclusion. The apostle Paul identified himself as being of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews (Philippians 3:5), and he addressed Roman believers as you Gentiles (Romans 11:13).
When passages that seem to say otherwise are scrutinized in their contexts, it is seen that they do not contradict this. For example, when Galatians 3:28 says that there is neither Jew nor Greek, it is simply saying that national distinctions have no bearing on, and do not constitute a fissure within, the unity inherent in the body. Galatians 3:28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. All one in Christ is the context in which the passage must be understood. In fact, all indicates that there is more than one kind among whom the unity exists.
The body of Messiah is one new man composed of Jews and Gentiles who remain Jews and Gentiles forever (Revelation 21:24,26). Even the ascended Messiah in His glorified, spiritual, heavenly body (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:43,44,48) is called the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5).
8. During What Historical Span Is the Body Formed?
1) Previous to Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension, He declared that His church was still future: I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). According to Dr. Fruchtenbaum, the statement is constructed in "a tense that cannot be interpreted as referring to a church already in existence."5
2) 1 Corinthians 12:13 indicates that the body was formed when the first believers were baptized by the Holy Spirit: For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slave or free, even all were made to drink into one Spirit.
By combining the above points we see that Spirit baptism, which initiated the formation of the body of Christ, was future to Jesus' declaration prior to His death, resurrection and ascension.
3) After Jesus' ascension, He commanded His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they were baptized by the Spirit: Acts 1:1-5: 1. Truly, O Theophilus, I made the first report as to all things that Jesus began both to do and teach 2. until the day He was taken up, having given directions to the apostles whom He chose, through the Holy Spirit; 3. to whom He also presented Himself living after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them through forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. 4. And having met with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to await the promise of the Father which you heard from Me. 5. For John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now.
Spirit baptism had not yet occurred even at this point in time after Jesus' ascension. The formation of the body was still future.
John 7:38-39 also declares the futurity of Spirit baptism after Jesus' ascension. Though Spirit baptism is not specifically mentioned here, it should be clear after our sequence of points that it is included in the giving of the Spirit spoken of here: 38. He who believes on Me, as the Scripture has said, "Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." 39. (But He spoke this about the Spirit, which they who believed on Him should receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.)
4) The believers were filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Acts 2:1-4: 1. And when the day of Pentecost was now come, they were all together in one place. 2. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3. And there appeared unto them tongues parting asunder, like as of fire; and it sat upon each one of them. 4. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
The Spirit filled the believers on this first Day of Pentecost after Jesus' ascension - but were they baptized by the Spirit? The terms are not synonymous. Let's look further.
5) About twelve years subsequent to that Day of Pentecost, the believers in Cornelius' household were baptized by the Spirit.
6) Peter identified the Spirit baptism of Cornelius' household with that which occurred on the first Day of Pentencost after Jesus' ascension. He said that what happened to them, the Gentiles, was what happened to us [Jews] at the beginning, which he identified with the event prophesied by the Word of the Lord in Acts 1:5: John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit. As Acts 1 is preparatory to Acts 2, we can conclude that the beginning was the events of Acts 2. What happened to Cornelius' household was Spirit baptism. Thus, what happened to the Jews on the first Pentecost after Jesus' ascension was Spirit baptism.
The body of Messiah, the universal or invisible church, began to form on the first Day of Pentecost after Jesus' ascension, for that is when believers were first baptized by the Holy Spirit.
b. When Will Its Formation Cease?
The body began to be formed on Pentecost, and its formation will cease when the fullness of the Gentiles has comes in.
c. Until When Will the Body Remain On Earth?
Having identified Israel and the body of Messiah, we are now in a position to see that they are distinct entities.
It can readily be seen that the body of Messiah, the universal church, is distinct from Israel for these reasons, and more:
Acts 7:38 refers to Israel under Moses as the church in the wilderness, and 1 Corinthians 10:2 describes it as being baptized (immersed) unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea. If Israel is distinct from the church, why is it called a church here?
According to Smith's Bible Dictionary, "Ecclesia, the Greek word for church, originally meant an assembly called out by the magistrate, or by legitimate authority."
The Greek word translated church simply means an assembly. The "legitimate authority" that called out Israel from among the nations, and the body of believers from the world system, is the same: the Lord. However, the Israelites in the wilderness were an assembly by virtue of natural birth and physical location, and the body of Messiah is an assembly by virtue of the Spirit's call and organization. Sharing the word assembly in no way indicates that they are part of the same group any more than Jehovah's Witnesses and the Jewish Defense League can be considered part of the same group because they can each be called a group. Furthermore, the idea behind baptism is identification. No Israelite needed to be immersed to be identified with Israel or Moses, and they weren't. They were Israelites by birth, and became distinctly identified with the leadership of Moses when they made a clean break from Egypt by passing through the Red Sea. They were not immersed in the Red Sea. They passed through the Red Sea on dry ground. It was the Egyptians who were immersed in the Red Sea (Exodus 14:16-29). The pillar of cloud also identified the Israelites with Moses as it was only they whom the cloud guided and protected, which is illustrated beautifully when the cloud guided the Israelites to the Red Sea, and then moved from in front of them to behind them to shield them from Pharaoh's army (Exodus 13:21-22; 14:19).
Israel and the body of Christ or body of Messiah are on two different tracks in the plan of God with a multitude of differences in the details. They are not one and the same, though there is some overlap. Jewish believers from Pentecost to the Rapture are simultaneously members of Israel and the body of Messiah.
1. The body of Messiah, the church, is not Israel, nor has it been added to Israel. It is distinct from it.
We have seen that the invisible church is distinct from Israel, but what about the visible church?
The visible church is the visible counterpart of the invisible church, and contains it. Whereas the invisible church is composed solely of believers, the visible church is composed of believers and unbelievers. Whereas only God can see the heart and know with perfect accuracy who the members of the invisible church are, even unsaved people can see and hear who attends church and claims to be a believer. Hence, the designation "visible church." Also, as the invisible church had its beginnings on the Day of Pentecost, so did the visible church.
It can be seen that the visible church is distinct from Israel for some of the same or similar reasons that the invisible church is:
Scripture does not say that the visible church is identical to Israel or has been united to Israel, and indeed it cannot be for the reasons given. Just as the invisible church and Israel are distinct entities, so the visible church and Israel are distinct entities.
1. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Dr., Genesis, pdf, (ariel.org: Ariel Ministries Digital Press, 2008), 241.
Concerning Israel - a messianic Bible study.
Norman Manzon is a Bible teacher in Hawaii
and may be reached