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.
Cush. He and his line most likely lived in the land of Nubia and Ethiopia. . . . Mizraim is the well known Hebrew name for. . . . Upper and Lower Egypt. . . . Put. . . . they were located in North Africa. . . . Canaan [was] the father of the Canaanites.1
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.
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.
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
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.
Origin and Meaning of Israel
We've seen that the designation of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as Israelites began during the lifetime of Jacob, whose name God changed to Israel in Genesis 32:28 after Jacob had persistently and successfully wrestled with a Man, evidently the preincarnate Son of God, for protection from his brother Esau. The NKJV translates the verse thus:
"And He said, 'Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.'"
Noted Hebrew scholars Keil and Delitzsch translate the verse thus: “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel (יִשְׂרָאֵל [Yis-ra-el], God's fighter, from שָׂרָה [sarah] to fight, and אֵל [El] God); for thou hast fought with God and with men, and hast prevailed;” and though a number of commentators point out that sarah means princess, and would even translate Israel as a Prince Who has Prevailed with God, the overwhelming translation consensus may be rendered as One Who has Struggled with God and Prevailed.
Israel's descendants became known as b'nei Yisrael, sons of Israel (Genesis 42:5, 45:21, 46:5, Exodus 1:1, Deuteronomy 23:17, 1 Chronicles 2:1) or, as we say it in English and many other languages, Israel.
1) Many passages indicate that Jews will be present on earth during the future Messianic Age or Millennium. One example is Zechariah 8:23: Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'In those days ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, "Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you."'
2) Isaiah 65:20 indicates that children will be born during the Millennium: No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days.
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.
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).
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.
In all of these passages, representative of more, all those and only those in the covenant line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by natural descent are called Hebrews.
What Does Hebrew Mean?
עִבְרִי [Iv-riy'] in Genesis 14:13 is the word from which we get Hebrew. The consensus is that Ivri means "one who passes over." Brown-Driver-Briggs defines it as "one from beyond," and Keil and Delitzsch say it refers to "an immigrant from beyond the Euphrates." Indeed, the second leg of Abraham's journey from Ur to Canaan was from Haran to Canaan, which required passing over the Euphrates from north to south.
That was the etymology of the word. However, when Hebrew is used today it simply refers to a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or the national language of Israel.
I have been using Israelite and Jew interchangeably. Is that biblically valid?
1. Defining Jew
John 4:9: Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?" (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) In this passage, a Gentile identified Jesus as a Jew, and He did not deny it; and John, an Israelite, refers to Jesus' nation as Jews.
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, still identified himself as a Jew and an Israelite to both 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
Judges 8:33-34: 33. Then it came about, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the sons of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made Baal-berith their god. 34. Thus the sons of Israel did not remember the LORD their God. . . .
Israelites who worshiped Baal were still considered Israelites. This is one of many such passages that bring this out.
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
a. Passages in Question
There are quite a few times in the New Testament, particularly in John and Acts, when the Jews is used in such a way as to cause some to wonder whether Jesus, John and other disciples were distancing themselves from the Jewish nation. Here are four such passages:
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."
We've seen from the "Defining 'Jew'" passages that Jesus and His disciples did not deny their Jewishness nor distance themselves from their Jewish brethren; yet passages like these need clarification.
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?
1) It was the Passover of the Jews simply because God enjoined the keeping of the Passover upon the Jewish nation (Exodus 12).
2) Prior to the cross, Jesus and His disciples recognized themselves as Jews under the Law of Moses and kept the Passover.
17. Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the
Passover?" 18. And He said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, 'The Teacher says, "My time is
near; I am to keep the Passover at your
house with My disciples.'"
John was simply referring to the Jewish nation.
c. Other Evidence and Usages
In Philippians 3:5, Paul identified himself as an Israelite in four different ways: (1) Circumcised the eighth day, (2) of the stock of Israel, (3) of the tribe of Benjamin, (4) an Hebrew of the Hebrews (a Hebrew-speaking Hebrew).
In Galatians 2:11-14, Paul contrasts Peter with Gentiles declaring Peter to be a Jew, referring to the other Jewish believers present as the rest of the Jews. Verse 14: I said to Peter before them all, "If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?"
John 11:31: Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her [Martha]. . . . In this passage, John uses the Jews to identify the nationality of everyday Israelites.
4. Were Gentiles Who
Joined Themselves to Israel Called Jews?
In Ruth 1:16, Ruth said, Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.
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?
In the Ruth passage, not only did Ruth say, Your people shall be my people, but your God, my God. She not only moved from Moab to live in the Land, but also joined herself to the God of Israel, requiring her to come under the Law of Moses. Still she was not called an Israelitess or a Jewess, but a Moabitess.
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
There is one instance, however, where proselytes were called Jews in most translations, including many very good translations, such as the New American Standard: And many among the peoples of the land became Jews. . . (Esther 8:17). The same is also true of commentators of the caliber of Keil and Delitzsch: "to confess oneself a Jew, to become a Jew." Some translations, though, do use such expressions as: accepted the Jewish religion (Contemporary English Version). The same is true of commentator Dr. Charles Ryrie: "embraced the religion of Judaism as proselytes" (Ryrie Study Bible).
It is noteworthy, however, that even in the days of the authorship of Esther (shortly after 465 B.C., when the events take place), Jew also
referred to a descendant of the man Israel: Now there was at the citadel in
Susa a Jew whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite (Esther 2:5).
Which is the best translation? There are two classes of considerations that pull in opposite directions:
1. The root of the Hebrew word in the original, mityahadim, is yhd, the same root as yehudi or yehudim, which are
translated Jew and Jews respectively. This, of course, pulls in the direction of translating mityahadim as Jews.
2. However, several considerations pull in the direction of translating mityahadim as "became proselytes to Judaism":
a. The plain meaning of the passage is that Gentiles converted to Judaism.
b. This philological explanation by Dr. Fruchtenbaum:
The verb lehityaheid [the infinitive form of mityahadim, which is a participle] has the same connotation as lehitnatzer. Neither word focuses on a change of ethnic identity, but of religious identity. Lehitnatzer means to convert to Christianity, and lehityaheid means to convert to Judaism. Thus a more correct translation is to convert to Judaism to become proselytes, but it does not mean to become Jews in the sense of an ethnic identity change.3
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
Theology, a subsequent study in this series.)
d. All of the prior considerations in this study, including the exclusive use of Jews by Jesus, His disciples and their contemporaries in the sense of bloodline Jews.
In consideration of the above, the most reasonable translation is one that focuses on the religious conversion: "converted to Judaism," "became proselytes to Judaism," or a similar rendering. Above all other considerations, the identical construction of lehityaheid and lehitnatzer carries the day. Consistent with that, Jew and Jews will be used in this series solely in reference to the bloodline descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - the way Jesus used it.
7. What Does Jew Mean, and What Is Its Origin?
Jew first appears in Scripture in Esther 2:5: "a certain Jew whose name was Mordecai." The word for Jew in the Hebrew is Ye-hu-diy' and refers to a descendant of Yehudah or Judah, or to a resident of Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel after the unified kingdom split into Israel in the north and Judah in the south in the tenth century BC. It is likely that the term Ye-hu-dim', Jews, was applied to the descendants of Judah long before it appeared in the Book of Esther, which takes place in the fifth century BC. Eventually, as we have seen, Ye-hu-diy,' or Jew, designated any descendant of Abraham Isaac and Jacob.
8. "A Jew Is Not a Jew" - After All We've Been Saying?
There are a couple of passages which, if not studied in context, seem to overthrow all we've been saying about every descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob being a Jew. Let's look at each.
28. For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29. but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.
~ Romans 2:28-29 ~
Paul, who has been speaking of the necessity of inward righteousness for people in general (Romans 1:16 - 2:16) now speaks on the same, but with the Jew specifically in view (you who are called a Jew, 2:17). He chides the generic Jew of verse 17 for thinking that his Law (v. 17), his teaching of the Law to those who don't know it (vv. 18-24) and even the God-ordained sign of the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, circumcision (vv. 25-29), will save them from the righteous judgment of God.
Did he deny the Jewishness of unbelieving Jews in Romans 2:28-29? We have seen in Galatians 2:14 that Paul referred even to unbelieving Jews as Jews: 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 Jews? The Jews in to live like Jews refers to the nation of Israel in general, which obviously contained numerous unbelieving Israelites.
No, he didn't deny the Jewishness of any descendant of the patriarchs. In saying he is not a Jew who is one outwardly . . . but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, he is simply saying that the Jew, called out by God from among the nations to represent Him, must exercise faith in Messiah, thereby have praise from God and thereby be true to his call as a Jew.
6. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, 7. nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, "IN ISAAC YOUR SEED SHALL BE CALLED."
~ Romans 9:6-7 ~
The passage is similar to the Romans 2 passage. In Romans 2, Paul contrasts not a Jew with a Jew who is one inwardly. Here he says, "they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham" Also, in a similar manner, whereas in the Romans 2 passage Paul contrasts an unbelieving Jew with a believing Jew, here he contrasts the seed of Abraham who are not in the covenant line (Ishmael is implied in verse 2, and Esau is named in verse 13) with the seed of Abraham who are in the covenant line (Isaac is named in verse 7, and Jacob [Israel] is named in verse 13.) Similar to Paul's point in Romans 2 where he does not deny the national Jewishness of the unbelieving Jew, but concludes that the Jew who lives up to his calling by exercising faith in Messiah is the true Jew, in this passage he does not deny that the unbelieving descendant of Abraham in not a natural descendant of Abraham or that the unbelieving Israelite is not of the nation of Israel, but that the true seed of Abraham and the true Israelite is the Israelite who has faith in God.
In all of this it must be noted that the natural Jewishness of unbelieving Jews is never denied. Paul's statements here do not contradict the definition of Jew that we had previously established. A Jew is a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob no matter what he or she does or does not believe.
C.I. Scofield makes this comment on Romans 9:6, which he also directs the reader to in Romans 2:29: "The distinction is between Israel after the flesh, the mere natural posterity of Abraham, and Israelites who, through faith, are also Abraham’s spiritual children. Gentiles who believe are also of Abraham’s spiritual seed; but here the apostle is not considering them, but only the two kinds of Israelites, the natural and the spiritual Israel. (Rom_4:1-3; Gal_3:6; Gal_3:7; Joh_8:37-39.)"
Sequence of the Introduction of the Terms Hebrew, Israelite and Jew
Abram was called a Hebrew, his grandson Jacob's name was changed to Israel, and Jew was first used in reference to a descendant of Judah, a son of Israel. Obviously, then, the historical entry of these terms was in the sequence: Hebrews, Israelites, Jews.
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 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 his or her national 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.
2. The Body of Messiah Differs
from Local Congregations
There have been countless local congregations or churches through the centuries, and any of them might have been comprised solely of believers, solely of non-believers, or a combination of both; but the body of Messiah is different. There is only one body, and it is composed solely of believers, and of all believers, from Pentecost to the Rapture (Romans 7:4; 1 Corinthians 10:16; 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 4: 4-6,12). Thus, the body of Messiah is also referred to as the universal church. It is also called the invisible church because its total and exact membership, though visible to God, is invisible to men.
The body is composed of Jews and Gentiles made one in Messiah.
11. Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in
the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called "Circumcision," which is
performed in the flesh by human hands - 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. 14. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15. by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace.
~ Ephesians 2:11-15 ~
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
The merging of Jewish and Gentile believers by the blood of Christ into one new man cannot result in that new man's being either Israel or the Gentiles because each of those groups is composed of both unregenerate and regenerate people. The new man is quantitatively and qualitatively different from either Israel or the Gentiles. It is a completely new and different entity as is brought out unmistakably in 1 Corinthians 10:32: Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God. Three distinct groups: Jews, Greeks and the church of God.
6. How Were the Gentiles, Who Were Excluded From the Commonwealth
of Israel, Brought Near?
The Ephesians 2 passage says that the Gentiles were excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, but were brought near by the blood of Christ. What does it mean?
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
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).
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, nor 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).
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:
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.
~ Acts 1:1-5 ~
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.
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.
~ Acts 2:1-4 ~
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.
In Acts 10, Peter was summoned to the home of Cornelius, a Gentile, at which time the Spirit fell on all those hearing the word (v. 44). In Acts 11:15-16, Peter described his experience to the church council in Jerusalem: 15. And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, as on us at the beginning. 16. And I remembered the Word of the Lord, how He said, John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Peter's declaration shows that what Cornelius and his household experienced was Spirit baptism.
6) Peter identified the Spirit baptism of Cornelius' household with that which occurred on the first Day of Pentecost 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 (as well as filling).
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?
Beginning with the Gentile proselytes to Judaism who were baptized by the Spirit along with Jews on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10), God has been calling Gentiles out of the world and adding them to Messiah's body to be a people for His Name (Acts 15:14). This will continue until the fullness of the Gentiles has comes in (Romans 11:25). God will continue adding Jews and Gentiles to the body until the full number of Gentiles that He had foreordained has been reached. When the last Gentile has been added, the body of Messiah will be fully formed.
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
Once Messiah's body is fully formed, God will resurrect all deceased members of the body and remove them and all living members from the earth in an event known as the Rapture (1 Corinthians 15:12-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18); and so shall [they] ever be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Only those in Christ will be included (1 Corinthians 15:18,19,22; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). In Christ is a designation that is used exclusively of believers in Messiah's or Christ's body. Old Testament saints (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2) and deceased Tribulation saints (Revelation 20:4) will be resurrected immediately or very shortly after the Great Tribulation.
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:
Israel has been increasing in numbers from the days of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and will continue to do so until the end of the Millennium. In contrast, the body of Messiah began to form on the Day of Pentecost, and will increase in number only until the Rapture, which is prior to the Great Tribulation and Millennium. Those who believe that there is no literal Millennium or that the Rapture will take place subsequent to it still need to reckon with the fact that the beginnings of Israel and the church are separated by 2000 years.
The body is not identical with Israel any more than it is identical with the Gentiles. It is quantitatively and qualitatively a new and different entity pictured figuratively as a new man.
Israel is a nation by natural generation, whereas the body of Messiah is a new man by regeneration, which is of the Spirit.
No Gentile who joined himself to Israel was ever called an Israelite or Jew, but all Jews and Gentiles who join the body of Messiah are called by the same designations: believers, Christians, saints, etc.
There were Israelite believers in the promised Messiah before the Day of Pentecost, and there will be new Israelite believers during the Great Tribulation and Millennium. They will all experience the blessings of the Messianic Kingdom (Millennium) and the eternal ages to follow, but they did not or will not live during the Church Age, and cannot be considered part of the church.
Israel is pictured as the married, then divorced, and yet to be remarried Wife of Jehovah (Jeremiah 3:1,20; Ezekiel 16:15), whereas the body of Christ is pictured as the betrothed and yet to be married Bride of Christ. There is no way to combine the two metaphors.
Only a small handful of Israelites under the Dispensation of the Law had the Spirit with them (rare exceptions had Him in them, as well), whereas all believers from Pentecost to the Rapture have the Spirit in them. Furthermore, the Spirit did not always rest on those few Israelites permanently (e.g., 1 Samuel 16:14; Psalm 51:11), whereas the Spirit is said to remain with all members of the body of Messiah forever. The contrasts are three: a few - all; with - in; temporarily - forever. (John 7:37-39; 14:16-17; Numbers 11:17-25; 27:18; 2 Kings 2:9-12; 1 Samuel 16:14; Psalm 51:11).
The commonwealth of Israel was destroyed by Rome in the mighty military blows of 70 and 135 A.D., and the modern State of Israel has existed only since 1948, leaving a gap in Israel's political existence of eighteen hundred and thirteen years. The church, however, has had an unbroken existence since the Day of Pentecost in 29 A.D.
The ancient commonwealth was under Mosaic Law, and the modern State of Israel is not governed by the Mosaic Law, the Law of Christ (Galatians 6:2), or any other rule of Law for the believer. The church is distinct from the ancient commonwealth in that is not under the Mosaic Law, and is distinct from modern Israel because it is under the Law of Christ. The body of Messiah, the church, is distinct from both ancient and modern Israel.
The deceased in the body will be resurrected at the Rapture, which will take place before the Great Tribulation (1 Thessalonians 5:2-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:8-13, etc.), whereas all Old Testament Israelite and other saints will be resurrected after the Great Tribulation (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2).
The entire body of Christ will be with the Lord in Heaven during the Great Tribulation (1 Corinthians 15:51-52), but only those Israelites saved between Pentecost and the Rapture will be in Heaven during the Great Tribulation.
The entire body of Messiah will spend an eternity in the blessed presence of the Lord, but only a minority from among Israel, a remnant (Isaiah 1:9, 10:22; Romans 9:27), will be saved.
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.
2. Membership in the body does not obliterate one's national identity. Jews remain Jews, Gentiles remain Gentiles.
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 the visible church followed followed quickly on its heels.
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:
Israel began with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but the visible church began two thousand years later at Pentecost.
Israel is made up solely of Israelites, but the invisible church is made up of Jews and Gentiles.
The Gentile who joined the commonwealth of Israel was never called an Israelite. Similarly, the visible church, which contains Gentiles, cannot be called Israel or a part of Israel.
There has been a gap in Israel's political existence for eighteen hundred and thirteen years. The visible church, however, has had an unbroken existence since the Day of Pentecost in A.D. 29.
Whereas the ancient commonwealth was under Mosaic Law and the modern State of Israel is not governed by any such system of Law, the visible church differs from both in that it professes to be under of the Law of Christ.
The visible church cannot be identical to Israel for the reasons given. Just as the invisible church and Israel are distinct entities, so the visible church and Israel are distinct entities.
In a future study in this series, we will examine whether the church has replaced Israel, or may be considered Israel in any spiritual or figurative sense. We'll also discuss the unique case of those who are Jews and members of the body simultaneously.