In recent years throughout the Messianic Movement, there has been much discussion regarding the basis for Jewish identity. Believers in Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) from both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds have felt the desire to strongly identify with the larger Jewish community and to be accepted by that larger Jewish community. These feelings are normal and understandable, as we see the Scriptures giving many examples of the positive benefit of standing in solidarity with the Jewish people.
For Gentile believers, we have the famous example of Ruth as she declared: “Your People shall be my People, and your God shall be my God.” These believers have embraced the very words of Messiah as he stated: “Salvation is of the Jews” in John 4:22. In their desire to identify with the Jewish people, Gentile believers in Messiah have turned to various sources of authority as to what constitutes “Jewish”. Some are active in good, healthy Messianic Jewish Congregations where they are valued members of the community. Others have formed “new winds of doctrine” that somehow identifies Gentile believers as members of one of the Tribes of Israel. Exactly which tribe seems to change every few years! Still other Gentile believers look to the mainstream Rabbinic Jewish community for their sense of “what is Jewish”, and grant them final authority in these matters.
For Jewish believers, there is a strong imperative to remain identifiable as Jews. After all, if God created us as Jews surely He knew what He was doing! Through the years we’ve seen Satan’s attempts to destroy the Jewish people, and so we are more determined than ever to say: “AM YISRAEL CHAI” THE JEWISH PEOPLE LIVE ON!
We are proud of our Jewish identity. As we resolve to be identifiable as Jewish believers in Messiah Yeshua, we still come face to face with the question of the basis of Jewish identity and authority. Some Jewish believers do all they can to make themselves acceptable to mainstream Rabbinic Judaism, believing that if they just wear Tzitsit, keep Kosher and follow other forms of Rabbinic Halacha, they will eventually be accepted as a branch of Judaism. Even though some Rabbi’s have begrudgingly allowed that Jewish believers are still Jews, we are still seen as being ignorant traitors who need to renounce Yeshua and return to Rabbinic Judaism. Sadly, some Jewish believers who have become completely enamored of Rabbinic approval have eventually done just that, backing away from central teachings of the Messiah in order to make themselves acceptable to Rabbinic Judaism.
All of this goes to the heart of the question: What is the basis for Jewish identity?
We hereby submit that the Lord God of Israel Himself has set the standard for Jewish identity. When God called Avraham Avinu (Abraham our Father) to be the first “Hebrew”, He made a covenant with him and his descendants Isaac & Jacob which clearly outlines the true basis for Jewish identity. That sacred Covenantal Promise is known as the “Abrahamic Covenant”. This Covenant is much older than the ‘Mosaic Covenant” and is actually the written form of the statement and promise of God whereby he creates the nation of Israel, the Jewish people, starting with Avraham. The Bible largely uses the terms “Israel” and “Jewish” interchangeably. They’re the same people in spite of what some “new winds of doctrine” might mistakenly teach.
In the next couple of postings on this website we will introduce seven main features which identify the Abrahamic Covenant as ‘THE’ statement that God uses to establish His foundation of Jewish identity and authority:
1. The Abrahamic Covenant is the set of unconditional, unbreakable, irrevocable promises God made to Abraham, Isaac & Jacob that begins His relationship with the Jewish people. It is found in Genesis 12:1-3, 15:1-21, 17:1-21.
Question: Was Avraham Jewish or Gentile?
You see, Abraham was the first Jewish person because God decreed that it was so. “Gentiles” are NOT a race of people, it is simply a term for those who are not Jewish. You only have Gentiles once you have Jews. The set of Scriptures in Genesis where God speaks His eternal promises to Abraham, Isaac & Jacob, bringing into existence the Jewish people form what we might think of as a ‘legal incorporation’ of the Nation of Israel. The Covenant was ‘unconditional’, in that no conditions of obedience were required from the Jewish people for it to continue in full force. This Covenant continues to be cited throughout the entire Bible as the basis for God’s relationship with Israel. While Abraham had a number of children, the Covenant line ran through Isaac alone.
In the same way, the line was through only one of Isaac’s sons, Jacob, and not through Esau (Gen 28:13-15). Jacob had 12 sons, and the Biblical definition of a Jew is a person who is a biological descendant of one of those 12 sons. While the Hebrew Scriptures encouraged Gentiles to forsake paganism and turn to the God of Israel in faith, those “God-fearers” or proselytes are not called Jews, and they did not become Jews, even though they had an honored position in the Community of Israel. In the same way today, Gentiles who place their faith in Yeshua, the Messiah of Israel, do NOT become “Spiritual Jews” (a Replacement Theology invention), instead, they are “Spiritual Gentiles”, Gentiles in whom the Holy Spirit resides. They should have a co-equal place of status and function in a healthy Messianic Congregation alongside the “Spiritual Jews”, ethnic Jews in whom the Holy Spirit resides.
The Gentile believers DO become co-heirs of SPIRITUAL blessings from the Abrahamic Covenant (Galatians 3:14, 29). The Scriptures which support all this and bear witness to the distinction are Romans 2:17 & 29, which teaches that the true Jew is the one is BOTH Jewish Physically (v. 17) and has the circumcision of the heart (v. 29). Galatians 3:28 teaches that there is one way of atonement for all, Jew and Gentile, Male and Female, even though these physical distinctions remain within the Body of Messiah.