What does it mean to be Jewish?

When it comes to the Jewish people, nothing is simple. The chosen people of God as found in the Tanach (Deuteronomy 7:6-8), are also the targeted people of Satan. We read repeated biblical accounts of how our enemies wanted to destroy us (Pharaoh, Haman or the Amalekites to name just a few) and also how God promised to never allow for the Jewish people to completely be eradicated (Jeremiah 31:35-37.)

As it stands, God’s plan for mankind really revolves around the Jewish people from start to finish. We shouldn’t ignore that when God defined mankind and set the story in motion, we received 11 Genesis chapters on mankind and 39 on the Jewish people. God is certainly not finished with the Jewish people as we see that His program will culminate when Israel calls upon the Messiah (Zechariah 12:10) and usher in His Second Coming.

It is very obvious that from a biblical standpoint, the Jewish people play a very important role, but the question remains, who is a Jew? To answer this, we first have to define two words, Judaism and Jewishness.

Judaism, on one hand, is a belief system and lifestyle that one chooses, based on the Jewish faith established in the Bible, including some adherence to the 613 mitzvot of the Torah and customs derived from that over time by a myriad of Jewish scholars. So, as a practice, Judaism is within reach of anyone in the world who so chooses to place themselves under the authority of the Mosaic law and to an extent–while not inspired like the Tanach–the Talmud. In other words, Judaism is a choice that one makes. Practicing Judaism doesn’t necessarily make you a Jew as we see in the book of Ruth. After Ruth placed herself under the authority of the Commonwealth of Israel, she continued being called a Moabite. She had simply become a proselyte to Judaism ( Ruth 1:22, 2:2, 2:21, 4:5, 4:10.)

Jewishness, on the other hand, is an ethnic state that one is born with depending on their ancestry. One person is said to have Jewish ancestry if one or both of their parents are Jewish. Jewish ancestry or origins is not something that can be acquired after birth or learned and practiced.  So, Jewishness is in the blood so to speak. As a result, and biblically speaking, one does not have to practice Judaism to be Jewish. To be Jewish one doesn’t have to do anything but be born into a Jewish family.

Understanding the difference between Judaism and Jewishness is key to also understanding that a Jewish person is free to believe in anything or nothing at all without fearing the loss of their ethnic Jewish identity. This unfortunately is contrary to popular mainstream Jewish belief, as a Jewish person who puts their faith in Yeshua is almost always no longer considered Jewish.

Jewish identity is one thing, but the dilemma doesn’t stop here. Many people argue that being Jewish is enough to have a proper relationship with God. In other words, Jewish people would be saved by virtue of being descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, requiring no redeemer, savior or Messiah. This erroneous view is known as Dual Covenant Theology and goes directly against what the Bible says.

Considering Rabbi Nicodemus' night meeting with Yeshua, we understand that he thought he was in, or “saved” by virtue of being Jewish, but Yeshua corrected him by saying that to be part of God’s family, one must be born of water AND born of the Spirit (John 3:1-15.)

As much as Jewish people resist the idea of trusting Yeshua for their eternal destiny, there is no way around the idea of a redeemer coming for Israel's salvation and also for the rest of the world. A myriad of prophecies from the Tanach about the Messiah seem to validate that view (Genesis 3:15, 49:10; Deuteronomy 18:15-19; Psalm 16, 22; Isaiah 7:14, 9:6-7, 52:13-53-12; Zechariah 12:10; Micah 5:2.)

There is actually nothing more Jewish than trusting in Yeshua as the Messiah of Israel and Savior of the world. Our people still await the coming of the Mashiach, but as followers of Yeshua, we have the confidence that He first came as the Lamb of God or as Mashiach Ben Yoseph, to die for His own people (Isaiah 52:13-53:12), and He will return one day as the Lion of Judah, to reign from Jerusalem as Mashiach be David (1 Chronicles 17:10-14.)

Some might argue that those who put their faith in Yeshua become “spiritual Jews.” But let us review what the two words mean. Being Jewish is the ethnic state of a person who is a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Being spiritual is the state of someone walking in and yielding to the Spirit of God moment by moment each day. Being spiritual requires an intimate steady relationship with the Holy Spirit. A Jewish person who is walking in the Spirit can be called a spiritual Jew, and a Gentile who is walking in the spirit can be called a spiritual gentile. Let's not blur those lines unnecessarily.

Finally, some have also claimed that according to Galatians 3:28, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua. This interpretation also blurs the lines between Jews and Gentiles claiming that those who believe in Messiah are no longer to be called Jews or Gentiles, as we are all one new man in Messiah.

            Galatians 3:28 speaks of justification, not identity. When Yeshua looks at us all, He doesn’t differentiate between Jew or Gentile, male or female and slave or free. He sees us all as human sinners who fall short of God’s glory and need a redeemer. Once we enter the Body of Messiah through salvation (only by Yeshua’s shed blood on our behalf) we continue to be either Jews or gentiles, males or females. Galatians 3:28 never erases identity or ethnic origins, it simply brings us all on equal footing before a righteous, perfect and just God. Ephesians 2:14-16 further states, 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 hostility, which is the Law composed of commandments expressed in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two one new person, in this way establishing peace; 16 and that He might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the hostility. Once in the body of Messiah, we are redeemed and God looks at us differently as far as sin is concerned, yet we continue to be who we are ethnically.

There seems to be a lack of balance when it comes to defining who is Jewish. Some people in the church want to “replace” the Jews as recipients of God’s promises, as taught by Replacement Theology. Incidentally, this would make God a covenant breaker and a liar, but God cannot lie (Numbers 23:19.)

Others choose to leave Jewish people alone and never tell them about the importance of being followers of Yeshua. This as I mentioned earlier, is what Dual Covenant Theology teaches when it claims that being Jewish is enough in God’s eyes, but, Yeshua disagreed with Nicodemus on that point.

Some Gentiles even believe that they become ethnic Israel when they start following Yeshua. They believe that they are incorporated into ethnic Israel when the Bible only says that they are grafted in (Romans 11:17.)

Perhaps the most important notion about Jewish identity is found in Romans 2:28, For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh.

            In that verse, we are told who a real Jew is. To be considered a real Jew biblically speaking, a Jewish person must be one inwardly. In other words, being circumcised doesn’t guarantee salvation nor would keeping any or all of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah. There needs to be a spiritual rebirth for a Jewish person to be a real Jew from a salvific sense.

The Gospel of Yeshua is the same lifeline for all people, Jews and Gentiles and they remain who they are in Messiah while being together in the Body of Messiah to serve the Master. While being Jewish remain very important, being saved is critical.

Is Replacement Theology a Form of Antisemitism?

There is a theological approach to the Bible that has become increasingly popular within Christendom in general and evangelical circles in particular, that is known as Supersessionism or Replacement Theology. Simply put, Replacement Theology teaches that Israel and the Jewish people have been replaced by the Church in God’s prophetic plan. Some will say that the Christian Church has now become “Spiritual Israel” and is currently the recipient of God’s blessings originally intended for the Jewish people.

Based on that theological approach, Jewish people can still put their trust in Yeshua (Jesus) as their Messiah and become part of the Church or “Body of Messiah”, but God doesn’t have a special plan for them and Israel is no longer part of God’s prophetic program today and in the future.

But Is this what the Bible teaches? How literal do we have to be?

 Genesis 12:1-3 tells us, “the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

We learn that God made a Covenant with Abraham and the Jewish people (the first of five covenants actually). That covenant is eternal and unconditional. It is eternal because it cannot be broken since only God went through the split animals used to seal the covenant as we read in Genesis 15:9-17 and other passages,

Genesis 15:9-17 “He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’ And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. Then the LORD said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward, they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.’ When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.”

1 Samuel 15:29 “And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.”
Malachi 3:6 For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.
Hebrews 13:8 Yeshua the Messiah is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Additionally, it is unconditional because God simply said “I will” with no preconditions (Gen 12:2-3, 15:18), except maybe for Abraham to start walking towards the Land of Canaan, which of course he did.

Genesis 12:2-3 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

The Abrahamic Covenant contains several provisions. Some were fulfilled in the days of Abraham, some later and some are still unfulfilled!

So when did God change His mind? Or did He?

Well, that’s the point, He never did! Only a very creative approach to God’s Word can substantiate such a view. Any literal approach will not allow for Replacement Theology. The problem is that within 200 years after the closing of the Biblical canon, theologians and early Church fathers had a very allegorical approach to the Bible. A passage could have more than one meaning and it could just be symbolic. They established the foundation for Replacement Theology even though the name for it came much later.

Additionally, to substantiate Replacement Theology, God would have to be a liar and a covenant breaker.

The idea that God was done with ethnic Israel and that Christians were now “spiritual Jews” was very appealing. That, joined with human nature and anti-Semitism, grew into the monster that is Replacement Theology today. Yes, I do believe that Replacement Theology is a form of what I call soft anti-Semitism

Along with Replacement Theology, we also need to define Preterism. The word Preterism comes from the latin praeter which means “past”. Preterists believe that all prophecies of the Bible were fulfilled in A.D. 70, at the time the Temple was destroyed. Thus, they teach that Yeshua’s prophecies in Matthew 24-25, Mark 13 and Luke 21) were fulfilled in A.D. 70.

This view, among other things, also requires that the book of Revelation would have been written by 70 A.D, about 20 years or so before the date accepted by most Bible scholars. This is a  view was that was not seriously considered until the mid-1600 when it was popularized by Dutch Protestant Hugo Grotius (1583-1645).

Preterists are proponents of Replacement Theology simply because they see absolutely no prophetic future for Israel; yet they cannot dismiss the promises made by God to Israel in the Tenach. Thus the logical step of “replacing” Israel as recipients of God’s promise. Note that they are always willing to receive God’s blessings promised to ethnic Israel…as to the curses, well…not so much (another inconsistency).

But didn’t Israel’s constant disobedience disqualify her from God’s blessings?

That is exactly what Preterists and Replacement Theology proponents would have you believe. Again, they present their views in total ignorance of God’s immutability.

They are the ones who decided that God must have changed His mind. A passage often quoted is Leviticus 26:40-43, trying to prove that God’s blessings to Israel are contingent on their confession and repentance.

Leviticus 26:40-43 But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. But the land shall be abandoned by them and enjoy its Sabbaths while it lies desolate without them, and they shall make amends for their iniquity, because they spurned my rules and their soul abhorred my statutes.

But they totally ignore the rest of the passage in Leviticus 26:44-45, where God clearly says that he will never renegue on the Covenant made with their forefather.

 Leviticus 26:44-45 Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the LORD their God. But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the LORD.”

A text without a context is a pretext!

As a matter of fact, if one tries to replace all the occurrences of the word “Israel” in the New Testament with the word “Church” and see if the text remains coherent and contextual, it really doesn’t work. If you indeed try that exercise, you will find out that it requires quite a bit of exegetical gymnastics to arrive at that faulty conclusion.

Replacement Theology or even “Fulfillment Theology” as it is also called, is nothing but a faulty approach to God’s Word based on a human agenda blurred by anti-Semitism. I actually believe that Replacement Theology can both stem from and breeds anti-Semitism

God is far from being finished with Israel and He is not done with the Church either as we can read,

1 Corinthians 10:32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God,

If He had really changed His mind about His promise to Israel, what makes you so sure that He won’t change His mind about the promises He made to you…..like let’s say…..salvation by faith alone in the shed blood of Yeshua?

Differences Between the Church and Israel - Part 1

At a time when nearly two-thirds of all Christians believe that the Church has replaced Israel in God's program, it is very important to define who is Israel and what makes the Church or Body of Messiah. Are they the same? Does one eventually replace or supersedes the other? Are they the same but during two different eras of humankind? First, let's look at a few definitions before we can explore the topic because our conclusion will depend greatly on how we view the Bible and how we read it AND interpret it.

Exegesis is of great import. Exegesis means “exposition or explanation.” Biblical exegesis involves the examination of a particular text of Scripture in order to properly interpret it, and as such, is a part of the process of hermeneutics.

Biblical hermeneutics is the study of the principles of interpretation concerning the books of the Bible. One can have a literal approach to the Scriptures or a more allegorical approach, leaving room for different interpretations over time, by various people. I don't understand how one could possibly look at the Bible and allegorize passages right and left, simply because at first glance they don't seem to make sense. If the Bible is God's love letter and instruction to us, it has to mean the same thing to all people, otherwise, the relative truth found on its pages will vary greatly and chaos will proceed from that confused approach. The key is in our interpretation and good interpretation requires study–something that many people are not properly equipped to do or simply do not want to take the time to do. This being said, there is still room in the Bible for figures of speech as long as they are interpreted methodically and consistently.

Years ago, theologian David L. Cooper (1886-1965) came up with a definition that has become known as "the golden rule of interpretation." He said, "When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise."

From that, we can safely say that A TEXT WITHOUT A CONTEXT IS A PRETEXT. Furthermore, it is when we look at the Bible out of its historical/grammatical context that we derive this faulty theological approach to the Scriptures known as Replacement Theology, transferring all blessings and promises made by God to physical, ethnic Israel to the Christian Church, often seen as the “New Israel.” Keeping the proper approach, we must ask ourselves some fundamental questions about the Church and Israel: Is there biblical proof that the Church has replaced Israel? Are the Church and Israel two separate entities? If so, what are their individual purposes? Is Replacement Theology Dangerous? How different are the Church and Israel?

Let’s look at 5 differences between the Church and Israel, found in the Bible. Let's allow the word of God to speak for itself.

1a. Israel is the Wife of Jehovah
Isaiah 54:5-6, 17 For your husband is your Maker, Whose name is the Lord of hosts; And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Who is called the God of all the earth. 6 “For the Lord has called you, like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even like a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected,” … No weapon that is formed against you will prosper.

1b. The Church is the Bride of Messiah
Ephesians 5:22-25, 32 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Messiah also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Messiah, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Messiah also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, …32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Messiah and the church.

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2a. Israel Gave Birth to the Messiah
Revelation 12:1-5 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; 2 and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth. …5 And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne.

2b. Messiah Gave Birth to the Church
Matthew 16:18 I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

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3a. Messiah Rescues Israel at the End of the Tribulation
Matthew 23:39 For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

 Zechariah 12:10 “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.

3b. Messiah Rescues the Church at the Rapture

John 14:1-3 “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.

1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 For if we believe that Yeshua died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.

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4a. God's Program with Israel Started in Genesis 12
Genesis 12:1-3 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; 2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

4b. God's Program with the Church Started in Acts 2
Acts 2:1-4 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

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5a. Israel is a Nation
Deuteronomy 4:6-8 So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ 7 For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him? 8 Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?

5b. The Church is Made of many Nations
Acts 2:5, 9-11 5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven....9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.”

These are five biblical reasons why we must keep the Church and Israel separate in the Bible and in God's program. Doing otherwise is not doing justice to the Scriptures, and when we start looking at Israel and the Jewish people as having been replaced by the Church, it is a very short road to anti-Israel sentiment, and it ends up making believers feel like they are justified in ostracizing and even demonizing Israel. A non-literal approach to God's counsel leads to Replacement Theology which is very fertile soil for antisemitism. Christians beware!

Next week we will look at five more biblical reasons.