Jews or Israelites?

Question from a Site Viewer
Your statement that “The term ‘Jew’ and ‘Israelite’ are used generally interchangeably in the Scripture,” is wrong. The Old Testament does not refer to all people who practiced Judaism as Jews — only those who were from Judea. Judaism did not start until the exile. Until then, Israelites were following, to the best way they could, the Mosaic religion. Israelites were named Jews by the Jews in relatively modern times and nobody objected. They even called Abraham a Jew. Judah was not even born yet. We should correct our forefathers’ mistakes and tell history as it was not as some people would like to see it.

Tim’s Answer
The confusion comes when one tries to interchange Judaism (the religion) with Jews (the race). I see Scripture using the term “Jew” generally to reference a people, not a religion. While one can argue that Judaism did not arise until the exile (I am not sure that the present day rabbis would all agree with this position), this truth has no relevance in my mind to the meaning of the term “Jew” in Scripture. There were Jews in the Old Testament, as you note. I believe each of the usages of the term in the Old Testament may be a reference to people from the land of Judea, although the term was not restricted to those from the tribe of Judah. See Mordecai, the Jew, who was of the tribe of Benjamin (Esther 2:5; 10:3). But in each of the cases, the term “Israelite” could be substituted without changing the meaning of the text in any way.

When we come to the New Testament, the terms “Israelite” and “Jew” seem fully interchangeable. In Paul’s mind, there were Jews and Gentiles. There was not a third class of people called Israelites who were not Jews or Gentiles. Paul referenced himself as a Jew (Acts 21:39) though he was not from Judea (he was from Tarsus) and an Israelite (Rom. 11:1; 2 Cor. 11:22). In Romans 9:1-24, Paul uses the term “Israelite” and “Jew” to reference the same people (verses 4 and 24; see also 9:31; 10:1, 12). There is no sense in passages where the two terms are used in the New Testament that the different terms reference different groups of people. I do not see the Biblical distinction between the terms that you suggest.

I do not know what mistake you are referencing in your statement. If it is the mistake that some so-called followers of Jesus made in holding the Israelite peoples solely responsible for the death of the Messiah, I think that grave sin can be addressed in other ways other than artificially creating a difference that does not exist in Scripture. The Jews who delivered Jesus up were a small minority of those living at that time, and a very small minority of all those who have lived. This is like saying that Americans mistreated the Native Americans. While some have, not all have and though the statement is true, it should never be read as being all-inclusive. I can say that the Germans were responsible for the Holocaust, but this does not mean that all Germans were so responsible. We can address the wrongful view of some towards the Jewish people by pointing them back to the One who told us to love and pray for all peoples, to be good witnesses of the power and character of God even with those who disagree with us. But to do so on the basis of a distinction between the term “Jew” and “Israelite,” that does not exist in Scripture, is unprofitable, or so it seems to me.

In following the terms through Scripture, I continue to find that they are used interchangeably.

But thanks for the note. I know, if the context is as I surmise, that this is an attempt to undo past ills of the church, I join in your motivation. Christians, of all people, should never be anti-Semitic. We have a faith that is grounded in the Jewish people. Our exposure to the gospel was given us by Jewish missionaries. And our ultimate rejoicing and glory will be when both Jews and Gentiles can worship before God’s throne in harmony, through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. But while we desire to see unsaved Jews come to know Jesus, as we do with all of mankind, it must be their free choice. God does not want service from compulsion, but worship from free choice.

May the Lord Jesus direct you as you seek Him.


One thought on “Jews or Israelites?”

  1. @ Tim , I am seeing that Jews , or being jewish is a man made religion, coming out of Babylon with their Babylonian TALMUD , and they abide by mans oral traditions . Jews are not a race . They have no Jewish language . Although people seem to use the labels of Jew and Israelites, and Hebrews interchangeably, I would not see this being the case at all. Even Jesus referred to Nathaniel in John 1 :47 as a true Israelite. Then , he makes a distinction and calls the Jews ,in John 8:44 that they are of their father ,the devil . So I see a huge difference there.

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