Gentiles, Jews, Israelites, and Hebrews
Lord willing, the next two Sundays will deal with prophecy as it relates to current events. What is God doing now? A primary text for these sermons will be Romans 9 – 11. This passage speaks repeatedly of Israel and Gentiles. This morning I received a great list of questions seeking clarification on the terms Jew (Israelite) and Gentile. Given the topics for the next couple of weeks here is some simple information that may help.
Q: What is the difference between Jews and Gentiles?
A: Technically the Bible only distinguishes two ethnic races, Jews and Gentiles. Jews are descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. Everyone else, regardless of nationality, skin color, or modern ethnicity is Gentile.
Q: What is the origination of the name “Israel?”
A: Jacob’s name was changed to Israel in Genesis 35:10
Q: What is the difference in the terms Jew, Israelite, and Hebrew?
A: The answer is yes and no. Most commonly, people do not make a distinction. Yet, strictly speaking there is a difference which would explain the existence of the three. From an Old Testament sense the term Hebrew refers to the ethnic race of people (Jews) that were involved in the Exodus from Egypt. It is the most proper sense of referring to the ethnic nation of Israel. Because of the divided kingdom the tribes in the Southern nation (Judah) were known as Jews, while the tribes of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) became known as Israelites. Yet there are many texts in which the term Israel (ie. Rom 9-11) is used to refer to the entire ethnic nation.
Q: What are the tribes of Israel?
A: The tribes of Israel are derived from the lineage of every Hebrew (Jewish) person as it is traced through the 12 sons of Jacob (Gen. 29:31ff). Each tribe carries the name of a brother. However, there is no tribe of Joseph. In Genesis 48 Jacob (Israel) passed on the family blessing to Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh.
Q: Can one be “Jewish” without being born “a Jew?”
A: Yes and no. Some people mistake ethnic “Jewishness” with the religion known as Judaism. Judaism is a religion that worships the Creator God (the same God referred to in what Christians call the Old Testament). This God chose and redeemed the nation of Israel. The Christian Old Testament is derived from the Hebrew Scriptures which are commonly called “Torah” but are technically known by Jews as the “Torah – Law”, “Prophets”, and “Writings.” Many ethnically born Jews do not subscribe to Judaism. Some people who are not ethnically born Jews convert to Judaism and become in a sense “Jewish.”
Q: Do Jews go to church?
A: It can be very offensive to a worshipping Jew to refer to their attendance of “church.” The term “church” is most commonly used to refer to Christians who gather to worship Jesus. Religious Jews (Judaism) do not worship Jesus. Those who hold to Judaism gather together for worship in synagogues. However, some ethnically Jewish people do recognize Jesus as Messiah. They believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of The Law, Prophets, and Writings. In this sense, Christianity is technically an expression of Judaism.
Because of the deep roots of the New Testament Christianity in Judaism and the nation of Israel, it is sinful for people who claim to follow Christ to despise or discriminate against Jews. The gospel would forbid this of any people, but especially the Jews. Romans 9-11 condemns Gentile Christians who would despise Jews. Romans 9 – 11 would encourage Gentile Christians to marvel at how God relates to Israel and respond to these truths with humility toward the Jew and worship of the sovereign God through Jesus Christ.