Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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June 2009 • Volume XII, Issue 14


What is a Jew? (1)

Most people do not know what a Jew is. Unbelievers do not know; many professing Christians do not know. Many who call themselves Jews are not Jews and some who do not call themselves Jews are Jews.

Some will respond, "Surely those who believe the Jewish religion, Judaism, are Jews?" But there are Jewish sceptics and atheists. Are not Jews those who live in Israel? But there are almost as many Jews living in America as in Israel and many in the country of Israel are Palestinians. Is not a Jew someone who has descended physically from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? But if an Eskimo converts to Judaism (of whatever variety), he becomes a Jew, and around the ninth century a significant number of Khazars became Jews. "What is a Jew?" is not a simple question. Wearing a skull cap or circumcision (what about females?) or having a commitment to education is not decisive.

There is, however, a widely-used definition of a Jew in the world today: one with a Jewish mother (not necessarily a Jewish father) and/or one who has officially converted to Judaism. But many would exclude Messianic Jews, arguing that those born to Jewish mothers are no longer Jews if they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

We have been speaking about the common understanding of "Jews." What about the spiritual and theological meaning of a Jew? Whom does God see and identify as a true Jew? This is a gospel issue, involving saving doctrine about Jehovah and His covenant people.

Romans 2:28-29 proclaims, "[28] For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: [29] But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God." Notice the structure of the verses. Both speak, first, about Jews and, second, about circumcision. Verse 28 is negative, telling us what a Jew and circumcision are not, while verse 29 is positive.

Being a Jew has nothing to do with hairstyle (e.g., long sideburns, known as payot harosh), name (e.g., Cohen), going to a synagogue, Bar Mitzvah or filling in "Judaism" as one’s religion in a census form. "For," as inspired Scripture says, "he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly" (28). None of these things, individually or collectively, makes one a Jew, spiritually speaking.

What, perhaps more than anything else, might be thought of as constituting one as a Jew? Answer: circumcision, that initiatory rite, laid down by God to Abraham for his (male) descendants and followers in the covenant. But God’s Word states, "neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh" (28).

All this can be applied, by analogy, to professing Christians: "he is not a Christian who is one outwardly." Going to church does not make a man a Christian, any more than spending a night in a stable would make him a horse; likewise, listening to preaching, carrying a Bible, attending catechism classes or saying prayers. These things, rightly understood, have their place and function for Christians, but they do not make one a Christian. Do not be deceived!

"Neither is that baptism which is outward in the flesh." Water comes upon a person in the name of the Triune God by an ordained minister. But this is only a sign and seal of real baptism, the washing away of our sins by the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ. Water baptism does not make one a true Christian.

Romans 2:29 makes four positive points about what a Jew really is, spiritually speaking. First, "he is a Jew, which is one inwardly" (29), for it can never be a matter merely of externals since God knows one’s inmost thoughts. Second, "circumcision is that of the heart" (29). This was always the reality to which physical circumcision pointed, even in the law of Moses (Deut. 30:6). Third, "in the spirit, and not in the letter." Whether "spirit" here means the new nature or the Holy Spirit makes no essential difference for our purposes, since the two are intimately related. He is a Jew who has a new nature or is indwelt by the Spirit. Fourth, "whose praise is not of men, but of God." This is a play on words, for "Jew" comes from "Judah," which means "praise" (Gen. 29:35; 49:8). So being a true Jew is about praise. Man’s praising you does not make you a Jew. It is a matter of God’s praise. Since the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ is reckoned to our account, Jehovah approves of believers and proclaims His delight in us.

This is a real, spiritual Jew, according to God’s Word, a Jew of the heart, whom God praises and commends. Are you such a person, an inward Jew, by the grace of God?

It should be understood that Romans 2:28-29 "unJews" many physical Jews, such as the Pharisees of Jesus’ day who sought the praise of men (John 12:43), for instance, in their alms-giving, prayers and fasting (Matt. 6:1-18). Thus they made broad their phylacteries and loved the "chief seats in the synagogues," etc. (23:5f.).

According to Romans 2:28-29, those whose carcases fell in the wilderness wanderings and did not enter into Canaan through unbelief (Heb. 3:17-19) were not really Jews either. What about Absalom who usurped the throne of Israel and sought to kill David, his father, the man after God’s own heart? Absalom was circumcised outwardly but not inwardly. The same applies to traitorous Ahithophel, idolatrous Jeroboam and Judas Iscariot who betrayed the Son of man with a kiss. The Old Testament itself taught this; see, for instance, Ezekiel 13:9. Asaph declares, "Truly God is good to Israel," who are defined in the next part of the verse: "even to such as are of a clean heart" (Ps. 73:1); this is stated over against the wicked, the wicked in Israel.

Thus most physical Jews are not truly Jews at all, according to the Bible: "For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly ... But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God" (Rom. 2:28-29). Do you believe this Word of God? Rev. Stewart

The Eternal Sonship of Christ (1)

Question: "Why is it so important that Jesus was God’s only Son? God could have had thousands of sons. Are not the angels His sons also? And what about Hebrews 2:10? ‘For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.’"

The point of the quotation from Hebrews 2 is that the people of God who are led to glory are called in the text "sons."

Before I go any further with the discussion of this issue, I am going to quote the Heidelberg Catechism, which answers this very question. The Catechism is explaining here the phrase in the Apostles’ Creed: "I believe … in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son." "Why is Christ called the only begotten Son of God, since we are also the children of God? Because Christ alone is the eternal and natural Son of God; but we are children adopted of God, by grace, for His sake" (Q. & A. 33).

Because the question suggests the possibility that our Lord Jesus Christ is not the natural and eternal Son of God, I want to be sure that all our readers understand and confess this fundamental truth. It is a truth established by the church of Christ very early in its history. It is no wonder that this truth was set down in creedal form so early, because the absolute divinity of Christ is the fundamental confession of the church and the foundation on which the church rests. When, in Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked His disciples their opinion as to who He was, Peter spoke for them all: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16:16). After, strikingly, Jesus told the disciples that they could not have known this of themselves, but only through the revelation of God to them (17), the Lord said, "Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (18).

Jesus makes the point that His absolute divinity is the rock on which the church is built. As long as the church confesses that truth and maintains it, hell cannot prevail against it. But when the church denies that truth, the gates of hell have destroyed that church. It is well to pause here and be sure of our membership in the church against which the gates of hell cannot prevail!

It is no wonder that this truth has been the object of bitter attacks since the beginning of the New Testament era. These attacks have their origin with Satan who hates God and God’s Christ and who does all in his power to destroy the church. He knows, better it seems than many churches know today, that if he can eliminate the confession of the deity of Christ from the church, he has destroyed it.

The immediate occasion for the early defence of this truth at Nicea (AD 325) was the heresy of Arius. Arius, originally from Alexandria in Egypt, taught that Christ was indeed the greatest of all the sons of God; that, in fact, he was the eternal son of God; but that he was created, not begotten, and was not, therefore, true God, but only another son of God, though the greatest of all His sons.

Following Nicea, the so-called semi-Arians took a slightly different position from Arius. They taught that Christ was the eternal son of God, but was not of the same essence as the Father. This attack too, though subtle and confusing and calculated to befuddle the minds of God’s people, was repudiated by the church.

It seems to me that there has never been a single moment in the history of the New Testament church when the divinity of our Lord has not been attacked. Even at the time of the great Reformation of the sixteenth century, there were many who attacked this doctrine. The most notable was Servetus, who was willing to say that Christ was a son of God, but who refused to say that Christ was the Son of God. He was a blasphemous man and was burned at the stake in Geneva for his blasphemy.

The attacks go on today, principally among the Unitarians. However, there are most subtle ways to deny this great truth. It can be and is denied today in many churches who claim to hold to the Reformed creeds—all of which teach emphatically the absolute divinity of Jesus Christ—but who, in fact, deny His deity. Within apostate Reformed churches, the virgin birth of Christ is open to question and denied. Christ’s bodily resurrection from the grave is said to be only a myth invented by the disciples to establish firmly their claim to preach the gospel of Christ. Let it be clearly understood that any denial of Christ’s virgin birth and bodily resurrection is also a denial of His propitiatory sacrifice for sin on the cross of Calvary, and thus a denial of Christ’s divinity.

Moreover, any person or church or organization that denies the sovereignty of God in the work of salvation and ascribes salvation in some measure to man and his own free will also is guilty of disparaging the atonement of Christ and stands on the brink of denying His deity. The Heidelberg Catechism is speaking especially, but not exclusively, against the Roman Catholic Church in question and answer 30: "Do such then believe in Jesus the only Saviour, who seek their salvation and welfare of saints, of themselves, or anywhere else? They do not; for though they boast of Him in words, yet in deeds they deny Jesus the only deliverer and Saviour; for one of these two things must be true, either that Jesus is not a complete Saviour, or that they who by a true faith receive this Saviour must find all things in Him necessary to their salvation."

Arminianism is incipient Modernism.

The subject is important enough to devote another article to it. Prof. Hanko

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