is a Jew?
The Bible talks about a people known as “the chosen people” Who
are they? Does God choose one group of people for a certain amount of time and
when they don’t work out, switch to another group? If not what is he doing? Is
Christianity part of God’s plan? If so, how does it fit into end time prophecy
found written in the prophets? In a future chapter we will discus how these
seemingly contradictory positions are all working together. In this chapter,
however, we will focus on the question: “Who is a Jew”?
From: The American
Heritage Dictionary of the English Language,
under the word Jew it says:
1) An adherent to Judaism.
2) A descendant of the Hebrew people.
To be "a descendant of
the Hebrew people" in simple terms would mean that your mother was
A Jew Without a Choice
If your mother is
Jewish, you are a Jew. There is no way to reverse your Jewishness.
You cannot "convert" to another faith and stop being Jewish. You
would simply be a Jew with different beliefs. However, regardless
of what your belief is, you are still bound by the laws that God gave
your ancestors on Mount Sinai. You would still be expected to
observe the Sabbath, eat kosher, and do many other things which are not
required of someone who is not born to a Jewish mother.
A Jew By Choice
Beyond being born to a
Jewish mother, there is another way to be Jewish. When a non-Jew
accepts upon himself all the requirements of the law that are on the
Jewish people, he can become a Jew. Today we call this process
"conversion", yet it is much more than merely accepting certain beliefs.
This process has
existed from the beginning of the Jewish people, when they left Egypt. Those
who wanted to follow God were welcomed to do so. They were considered to
be a part of Israel because of the belief system that they adopted, even
though they were not originally part of the “family” of Israel.
"An alien living among you who wants to
celebrate the Lord's Passover must have all the males in his household
circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No
uncircumcised male may eat of it.
49 The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among
"alien" who wants to become a part of the Jewish people may do so, and
be "like one born in the land". This means much more than changing
your beliefs. It is as if you were actually "born again" as a Jew,
with a Jewish history and ancestry.
Once a non-Jew
decides to become part of the Jewish people and goes through the process to do
so, he can never go back to being a non-Jew. So, by design, the
"conversion" process is not a quick and easy one. There must be certainty
of the individuals commitment.
This is the only
method to become part of God's people or "kingdom". Yeshua
confirms this in
answered and said to him, Surely, I say to you, Except a man be born again
he cannot see the kingdom of God.
examples of the mixed multitude that came out of Egypt
with the Israelites, Rahab, and later
Ruth and many others who were not born as Israelites and yet BECAME
Israelites, shows us that from the very beginning belief is how someone
who is not a “Jew” can become a “Jew.”
refers to this in Romans 2:28.
For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly …but he is a Jew which is
Paul is pointing out that being a “Jew” is not confined to
ethnic identity, but is also tied to a belief system that (if an
individual is willing to commit) is available for
anyone to adopt no matter what your national or ethnic origins are.
Beyond the basic
understanding of what in means to be part of the "Jewish people", there
are other definitions, or actually sub-categories, of being a "Jew".
understanding, and putting into context, these distinctions it will be
impossible to understand; how the Jews could possibly be fighting a war
against Israel (1Kings 15:17). We could not know to whom a particular
prophecy is directed (the nation of Israel or the nation of Judah). And
parts of the New Testament would make no sense at all (like why the
disciples of Yeshua, who were all Jewish, were hiding because they feared
the meaning of of the word "Jew", we must understand the context in which it is
said or written.
Bloodline or Tribal
probably the truest sense of the word, a Jew is someone who is a
descendant from Judah, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, and a grandson of
Abraham. To explain the story of Judaism or Christianity you have to go
back to Abraham. Abram (his name was changed to Abraham later) is
identified as a Hebrew,* meaning he was a descendant of Eber (his great,
great, great, great grandfather).
*Although the term “the Hebrew people” has
become synonymous at times with the term “Jew,” it would not be accurate
to say that the terms mean the same
thing. All Jews are Hebrews, but not all Hebrews are Jews.
God told Abram to move to
another place. From this time on Abraham lived in a tent, never again having a permanent home.
Because of Abraham’s obedience to God and His laws,* God blessed Abraham.
5 Because that Abraham
obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes
and my laws*.
*Many believe that
all of the laws of God were first established at the time of Moses. This
is not accurate. We know this because Abraham is blessed for keeping
Before Sinai, God
established laws for all mankind to live by known as "Noahide" laws. I
will discuss this further in the next chapter.
Abraham followed God, there were some important promises made. It is
through those promises that God will carry out the redemption of mankind.
2 And I
will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great;
and you shall be a blessing.
3 And I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you: and
in you shall all families of the earth be blessed.
had a son named Isaac and Isaac’s son was named Jacob. Eventually God
changed Jacob’s name to Israel. Jacob (or Israel) had 12 sons who became
the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel. One of those sons was named Judah.
All of those who are descendents of Judah are known as Jews, just as the
descendents of Levi are known as Levites. The descendents of Judah have
specific blessings, recorded in Genesis 49:8-12.
"Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of
your enemies; your father's sons will bow down to you.
9 You are a lion's cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a
lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness--who dares to rouse him?
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from
between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of
the nations is his.
11 He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch;
he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk.
From this prophecy we see that
the kings of Israel were to come from the descendents of Judah, and the Messiah
would also come from this line.
All of the 12 tribes of Israel
in time became slaves in Egypt.
Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their
Then God used Moses to lead the
children of Israel out of Egypt.
the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are
in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows;
8 And I am come out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out
of that land to a good land, unto a land flowing with milk and honey.
Upon leading them out of
slavery in Egypt, God gave the Israelites the Torah, or His written and oral
instructions on how they should live their lives. (Exodus 20)
In time they settled in the
land that God had promised them, and they became a kingdom.
King Solomon was the last king
to reign over the entire Israelite people. Because King Solomon did not follow
God in his old age, and built holy places for the foreign gods of his many
wives, God told Solomon that he would lose the kingdom.
1 Kings 11:11
11 Wherefore the LORD
said to Solomon, For as much as this is done of you, and you have not kept my
covenant and my statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely rend the
kingdom from you, and will give it to your servant.
Upon Solomon’s death the
kingdom split in two.
1 Kings 12:19
19 So Israel
rebelled against the house of David unto this day.
northern kingdom was called Israel (it comprised 10 of the tribes), and
the southern kingdom was called Judah (it was comprised of Judah, Levi, and Benjamin). The Northern kingdom (from the
start) was not faithful to God’s instructions.
1 Kings 12:31
he made a house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the
people, which were not of the sons of Levi.
32 And Jeroboam ordained a feast
in the eighth month, on the
fifteenth day of the month, like the feast that is in Judah, and he
offered upon the altar. So did he in Bethel, sacrificing unto the calves
that he had made: and he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places
which he had made.
began to adopt the customs of the nations around them; something God had
specifically told them not to do.
the LORD your God shall cut off the nations from before you, whither you
go to possess them, and you succeed them, and dwelt in their land;
30 Take heed to yourself that you
be not snared by following them,
after that they are destroyed from before you; and that you inquire not
after their gods,
saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do
31 You shall not do so to the LORD your God: for every abomination to the
LORD, which he hates, have they done to their gods; for even their sons
and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.
32 What thing so ever I command you, observe to do it:
you shall not
add thereto, nor diminish from it.
the conditions had become so bad that the prophet Elijah believed that he
was the only one in all of Israel that was not worshiping other gods.
he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: because the
children of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars,
and slain your prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and
they seek my life, to take it away.
God made the decision to send the northern kingdom (Israel) into exile.
Because their idolatry was so great, their punishment was to be dispersed
throughout the entire earth and to lose their identity.
they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with
their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified against them; and
they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen
that were round about them, concerning whom the LORD had charged them,
that they should not do like them.
16 And they
left all the commandments of the LORD their God, and
made them molten images, even two calves, and made a grove, and worshipped
all the host of heaven, and served Baal.
17 And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the
fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil
in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.
18 Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel, and
removed them out
of his sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only.
The northern kingdom, sometimes
called "the House of Israel" or "the Lost Ten Tribes", disappeared. It
is one of the great mysteries of history. To this day there is no
definitive answer to the question of their location. It appears
that they have assimilated into the societies around them; never to return.
A central event, however, in prophecy
IS the redemption of the northern
kingdom (at the end of the age) and its reunification with the southern kingdom.
meantime, Judah (the southern kingdom) would, also go into captivity.
that time the servants of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up against
Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. ...
he carried away all Jerusalem, and all the princes, and all the mighty men
of valor, even ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths:
none remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land.
of Judah, however, retained its identity and returned back to the land
after being exiled for a period of time in Babylon.
says Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven has given me all the
kingdoms of the earth; and he has charged me to build him a house at
Jerusalem, which is in Judah.
3 Who is there among you of all his people? His God be with him, and let
him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD
God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem.
first century (at the time of Yeshua) the southern kingdom had populated
both the territory of the nation of Judah, and part of the territory formerly belonging to Israel (the northern kingdom).
Also they were dispersed to other regions that were outside of this
area, known as the diaspora.
One of the
most misunderstood definitions of the word “Jew” is that of region. To
understand this, look at a map of Israel. The region around and below
Jerusalem was the general area of the southern kingdom, Judah. This was
known (in the first century) as the region of Judea. People who lived in
this region were called Judeans. Above the region of Judea was the region
known as Samaria, and above the region of Samaria was the region of
Galilee. The people in Samaria were knows as Samaritans, and the people in
Galilee were known as Galileans.
these things, Yeshua walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry,
because the Jews sought to kill him.
important to note the distinction mentioned here is NOT between Christian
and Jew, but between Galilean and Judean. So, the “Jews” that are
mentioned here are people from the region of Judea, and not those who
simply had “Jewish beliefs.”
the Jews' feast of tabernacles was at hand.
is a regional distinction. The area of Samaria lies between Galilee and
Judea. The Samaritans also kept the Feast of Tabernacles. However, having adopted the practices of the northern kingdom of Israel, their
feast was often a month later, as it is to this day.
the Jews sought him at the feast, and said, “Where is he’?
12 And there was much murmuring among the people concerning him: for some
said, He is a good man: others said, No; but he deceives the people.
13 Howbeit no man spoke openly of him
for fear of the Jews.
is important to realize that these visitors to Jerusalem were religiously
Jewish. They had traveled to Jerusalem in accordance to the command in
Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the LORD thy God
in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and
in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles.
also nationally Jewish. They were descendents from those who returned from
the exile in Babylon. In addition, many of them were from the tribe of
Judah. The “fear,” however, was of certain people who lived in the region
in the region of Judea? Judea was where the spiritual center of Jewish
people was located. The Temple in Jerusalem was the focal point of
worship. The sect that had control of Temple worship was the Sadducees;
a group who
the oral tradition, (including the belief in a coming messiah).
The area of Judea was, to be sure, a
place of much friction and unease. Even among the leaders of the general
masses (known as the Pharisees) there was much division, especially when it
came to the association with gentiles. It had only been a short time
before this point in history that the Jewish people were threatened with
assimilation. One of the prominent Rabbis
to stand up against both assimilation and the ruthlessness of King Herod was
Rabbi Shammai. Around the year 8 CE Shammai passed 18
edicts specifically meant to force separation between Jews and Gentiles.
Many of Shammai's views, however, were
rejected by the followers of Hillel, another prominent rabbi of the time who
was much more inclined to both associate with gentiles and accept them as
The diminishing influence of the
School of Shammai and the disappearance of the Sadducees happened when the
revolt of 66-70 CE failed, and a "heavenly voice" in 70 CE was heard in
Yavneh instructing the Jews to follow the rulings of Hillel.
The "school of Hillel" became the accepted view
of Judaism (very similar to the early followers of Yeshua), while the
leaders of what would become the Christian church became heavily influenced
by paganism and their perspective grew more anti-Semitic as time went on.
in his article "What you never knew about the Pharisees" writes:
tragedy has been in Christianity's failure to realize who the true
enemies of the Gospel really were, and thus Jews throughout the ages
have suffered persecution by "Christians" who did not realize the real
enemy died out in the 1st century.
As you can see, the tendency for us
to generalize about people and circumstances has caused us to misunderstand
much of the history and conditions that led to our modern perspective and
There is much more that we could
discuss on the issue of "who is a Jew", but for now, we must ask an
equally important question: “Who is a Gentile?”