Question from a Site Viewer
Hi! I was just wondering if you could explain what a “Jew” is and the difference between Jews and Gentiles? Jews are referred to a lot in the Bible and I don’t quite understand what the difference is or who they are. What do Jews believe? Do Jews believe in Jesus? Please explain. Thanks.
I will attempt to answer your questions without getting into a lot of detail. As you note, the Bible speaks a lot about the Jews. This is because the Old Testament is largely a history of how God interacted with the Jewish people and how that through the Jewish people the Messiah would be born.
Briefly, a “Jew” is a descendant of the patriarch Israel and a “gentile” is any person who is not a Jew (the rest of us). The term “Jew” and “Israelite” are used generally interchangeably in Scripture. When God came to Abraham about 2000 years before Christ was born, as recorded in Genesis 12:1-3, God promised Abraham that he would have descendants through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. This promise was made again to Isaac, Abraham’s son by promise and then to Jacob, Isaac’s son. Jacob later was given the name “Israel.” His descendants became known as the Israelites and later as the Jews.
There is a reason for calling Israelites “Jews.” Approximately 930 B.C., the Israelites split themselves into two countries. The northern country was known as Israel and the southern country (with Jerusalem as its capital) was known as Judah. Judah was a son of Jacob (Israel). The northern country of Israel was captured and taken into exile in 722 B.C. by the Assyrians. This left only the southern country of Judah. The country of Judah continued until around 586 B.C., when it was destroyed by the Babylonians. Because of the predominance of the people from the country of Judah in the exile of the Israelites, slowly all Israelites who were dispersed began to be known as Jews. Thus, Mordecai, though a descendent of Benjamin (a brother of Judah), is called a Jew in the book of Esther. (Esther 2:5). The wise men from the East were looking for the King of the Jews in Matthew 2. The great apostle Paul called himself a Jew, though he also was of the tribe of Benjamin. (Acts 22:3; Phil. 3:4) A Jew is a descendant of Israel. Everyone else was known as gentiles.
You ask what Jews believe. This is a difficult question because not all Jews believe the same thing. In the time of Jesus, some Jews were known as Sadducees and they did not believe in angels or an afterlife. They believed that once you died, that was the end. There were other Jews known as the Pharisees who believed in an afterlife and in angels and in miracles. In addition, there were many other groups with various beliefs among the Jews. Some of the Jews believed in Jesus. Some did not.
So it is today. There are Jews today who are atheists and do not believe in any God. There are Jews today who believe that Jesus is the Messiah. There are Jews today who believe that their Messiah has not yet come. It is as hard to say what Jews believe as it is to say what Americans believe. Belief is individualistic. There are Jews who believe in Jesus. However, the majority of Jews do not believe in Jesus, even as the majority of gentiles do not believe in Jesus.
I trust this has been helpful. May the Lord Jesus bless you and be with you and guide you into His truth.