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
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, " For he is not a Jew,
which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward
in the flesh:  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
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
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
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
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.
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