Israel and the Nations: A Theological Opinion, Part 1
Often, well-meaning, Israel-loving people will say to me, “I am Jewish now. I am grafted in.” I never, ever say anything close to, “No, you’re not Jewish.” I focus more on how grateful I am that they love God and pray for the Jewish people. However, it is interesting that the Church went from saying, “You can’t be Jewish and believe in Jesus,” to, “All believers are Jewish.”
Which is it? What does the Bible actually say? I will make six statements and then seek to back each one up with Scripture, one blog post at a time:
Jews who receive Yeshua remain Jews, just as a females remains female or a male remains a male, after coming to faith.
Gentile simply means a member of the nations. When a member of the nations comes to faith, he does not become Jewish, but continues to be a member of his or her nation.
However, Jewish and Gentile believers are equal in the sight of God. Jews are neither favored above Gentiles nor discriminated against, in regards to non-Jews.
Salvation is free, but rewards in the kingdom are based on merit, not ethnicity. Intimacy with God is based on the desire and passion of the individual believer, not whether they are Jew or non-Jew, male or female, etc.
Jewish and non-Jewish believers make up the One New Man—a mystery that was hidden in times past. Paul calls this the household of God. In this household, the Gentile believers become joint-heirs with Jewish believers—without losing their own ethnicity and without replacing the Jewish people.
Ethnicity is important to God, which is why non-Jewish believers do not become Jews or Israelis (Israelites) after coming to faith. They are called to stand in the gap for their nation.
Blog One: Jewish believers are still Jews
The early believers clearly had zero issues with the idea of being Jewish and believing in the Jewish Messiah. The question with which they wrestled was, “Can a Gentile believe in Jesus, without converting to Judaism?” The apostles, through their lives and teaching, give no hint of leaving Judaism. In fact, rumors were being spread about Paul teaching Jewish believers “to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs” (Acts 21:21). Paul, upon the advice of the Jerusalem apostles, went to the Temple to make a sacrifice so that, “everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law.” (Acts 21:24)
Church Fathers turn against Jews
However, the Church Fathers in the second century began to teach that once a Jew comes to faith, he is no longer a Jew. Many were vicious in their accusations against the Jewish people. Peter the Venerable wondered about the humanity of Jews: Truly I doubt whether a Jew can be really human.
Ignatius Bishop of Antioch (98-117A.D.) – Epistle to the MagnesiansFor if we are still practicing Judaism, we admit that we have not received God’s favor…it is wrong to talk about Jesus Christ and live like Jews. For Christianity did not believe in Judaism, but Judaism in Christianity.
They lined up to accuse the entire Jewish nation of killing Yeshua (forgetting that He laid down his life by His own free will for them.) Another, Justin Martyr taught that Christians were the true “Israelite race” and that the Hebrew Scriptures now belonged to the church exclusively. He did not believe you could be both Christian and Jewish. He also taught that circumcision was for judgement (as opposed to being there mark of the covenant of Abraham).
The purpose of [circumcision] was that you and only you might suffer the afflictions that are now justly yours; that only your land be desolated, and your cities ruined by fire, that the fruits of you land be eaten by strangers before your very eyes; that not one of you be permitted to enter your city of Jerusalem.
Apostles continued to live as Jews
However, it was not like this a century before. Paul continued to identify as a Jew, preaching the Jewish Messiah to the Jew first in every city he went. We never see Paul inviting Jews to enter into another religion. To the Jewish leaders in Rome, he shares, “For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain” (Acts 28:20). Certainly the hope of Israel was not a new religion, but the fulfillment of the Hebrew prophets.
We find Jacob (James) the brother of Yeshua, 30 years after the resurrection, praying daily in the Temple. It was said that he was the most respected Jew in Jerusalem from all the sects of Judaism. He was called the “camel-kneed” for the hours that he spent in prayer for Israel. The evidence is clear that he remained a part of the people of Israel till his death.
When Peter preached on Shavuot (Pentecost), he did not present a new religion, but proclaimed to his exclusively Jewish crowd, salvation and forgiveness through Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah.
Paul says in Romans that the gift and calling of God to Israel is “irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). He says, in Romans 3, that there is “much value” in being Jewish (Romans 3:1-4). Clearly, Jewish believers in Yeshua are still Jewish and part of Israel.
Neither Jew nor Gentile?
What, then, do we make of the oft-quoted Galatians 3:28?
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua.”
Bible teachers have used this statement to say that Jewish believers are no longer Jews. But they miss one major issue. If that is true, then male and females no longer have distinctions, and yet, I have never been able to get pregnant!
So, what then is the point of his passage? That being in Messiah overshadows our other roles and callings. I live in Israel. We have many Jewish immigrants from all over the world. Suppose I brought all the Jewish people together from so many nations and said, “Today, we are not Americans, Ethiopians, Russians or Argentinians, but we are Israelis!” Technically, that is not true. I am still American even though I am also Israeli. But anyone with common sense would understand my intention—that I am focusing on what unites us.
While our roles/callings are important, none of them bring any special favor with Messiah. In other words, God doesn’t reward me for what he made me. He rewards me according to faithfulness to that calling (Matt. 25:14-30)
Any person—Jew, non-Jew, slave, female, etc., can freely come to Messiah. This was a major difference between the Old and New Covenants and what Paul was so excitedly shared with his Gentile audience: “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Eph. 3:12), no matter what your background, race, class, ethnicity or gender.
So, in Galatians 3, he is not saying something negative about Jews, but something positive about non-Jews—that there are no restrictions keeping them from Messiah. As Peter said, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:34-35).
In the second part, we will address are second statement: Gentile simply means a member of the nations. When a member of the nations comes to faith, he does not become Jewish, but continues to be a member of his or her nation.