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Not every Jew is a true Jew

I have elected to deal here with two key texts from the letter of Romans that will help us to see the simple arguments Apostle Paul directed to dissuade the Roman Christ-followers from ways that would sabotage the cosmic plan of God for redemption of both Jews and the Nations through their unity in Christ Jesus.

In Romans 1-2, Paul goes through a series of arguments where he talks about both the Jews and the Nations being in the same predicament with the effects of sin in their one broken world. In Romans 2 he confronts the believers in Rome who act in judgmental ways against their Jewish (weaker) brethren who have not come to believe in the Jewish Christ, as they themselves rightfully did (2:1-4). He spares no words or emotion to show how the wrong behavior of some anti-Jewish Christ-followers in Rome, will surely be visited by the judgment of God. God’s justice, like everything else, applies to both Jews and Greeks alike. Here is how Paul put it in Romans 2:5-11:

Because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.  There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek, for there is no partiality with God.

Paul continues his Pharisaic Shema-centered argument about God being the God of both Israel and the Nations, who not only visits wrath and judgement upon the wickedness of the covenant-breaking Jews (as the Romans seem to think), but will surely do the same upon those of the Nations as well. We read Paul’s points in 2:12-16:

For all who have sinned without the Torah will also perish without the Torah, and all who have sinned under the Torah will be judged by the Torah; for not the hearers of the Torah  are just before God, but the doers of the Torah will be justified. For when Nations who do not have the Torah do instinctively the things of the Torah, these, not having the Torah, are a Torah to themselves, in that they show the work of the Torah written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.

[/text_output][share title=”Share this Article” facebook=”true” twitter=”true” google_plus=”true” linkedin=”true” pinterest=”true” reddit=”true” email=”true” id=”” class=”” style=””][text_output]Apostle Paul, using his powerful rhetorical arguments, is seeking to convince the Romans of this simple fact – not everyone who claims to be a Jew is truly so before God. He will repeat the same argument later in Romans 9, where he will argue that not all descendants of Israel constitute the true Israel. His argument is not how most Christians today understand it – i.e. “The real Jews today are the Christians”, and “Jews are no longer truly Jews”. Paul argues quite the opposite. He argues for the enduring validity of Jewish Jewishness, because he sees (much like the prophets did) that Israel has always consisted of “the faithful remnant” and “the rest”. Not all those who claimed to be Jews were really Jews, neither were all who claimed to be Israel, truly such.

He exhorts the Romans believers in the Jewish Christ to think this matter through with him. “Think about it”, says the great Apostle in Romans 2:17-25:

But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely upon the Torah and boast in God,  and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Torah,  and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness,  a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Torah the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth,  you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?  You who boast in the Torah, through your breaking the Torah, do you dishonor God?  For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Nations because of you,” just as it is written.

His point here is that Jews who disobey the Torah should not be viewed by Roman Christ-followers as real Jews. The argument is simple – don’t take the “bad apples” and build your anti-Jewish theology on them. Look at the other kinds of Jews as well, especially the Christ-following and Torah-obedient Jews around you.

Apostle Paul will continue to argue that, if a Jew does not walk orderly according to the Torah, he is no different than someone who is uncircumcised. Although ages separate Apostle Paul and Mark Twain, and the two did not write about the same thing, a great quote by the famous American writer comes to mind: “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man that can’t read them”. That is, in essence, Paul’s point here as well. A Jew who does not live according to the spirit and letter of the Torah is simply not a Jew at all, and certainly should not be considered as such by the Roman Christ-followers, who argue against the Jews because those they have in mind, do evil, don’t believe in the Jewish Christ, and persecute them through the machinery of the Roman Government.

…indeed (his) circumcision is of value if you practice the Torah; but if you are a transgressor of the Torah, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Torah, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Torah, will he not judge you who though having the letter and circumcision are a transgressor of the Torah? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh.  But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. (Rom. 2:25-29)

“The upshot of this quote (Rom. 2:25-29) is quite simple: A true Jew, according to Apostle Paul, is one who has both the circumcision of the flesh and the circumcision of the heart – not of the flesh only and conversely not of the heart only! A member of the Nations, if obedient to all the Torah requirements for non-Israelites, is considered as righteous before God. Why is it important not to claim that, in Christ, “Gentiles become spiritual Jews”? Simply because this is not what happens – the Nations in Christ become circumcised in the heart. They become spiritual Nations who worship Israel’s God along with the Jews! This is a high calling indeed. There is non that can be higher.”Paul is very serious about the Nations and Israel worshiping God together, but not changing identity. The Shema is at stake. The Torah must be proven right, God is not the God of the Jews only, but the God of the entire world.[/text_output]

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The faithful remnant and Israel’s glorious future

A significant part of Paul’s argument in Romans is that the Roman Christ-followers must understand that God, just as he promised, preserved “a faithful remnant” – Christ following Jews. In Romans 9 he argues this very point about the “true Jews”, because ‘it is to them belongs the adoption as sons, the glory and the covenants, the giving of the Torah, God’s service, prophetic ministries, promises, the merits of the fathers, even Christ according to the flesh’ (Rom. 9:4-5). Paul claims that the logic that allegedly justifies Roman Christian disengagement from the Jews, is faulty. We read in Romans 9:6:

But not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants

In Romans 11:1-2 Paul presents a very important summary to his letter:

I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. … There has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to a gracious choice.

When writing to the Roman Christ-followers, Paul uses an analogy which would have been very familiar to any resident of Rome – that of “running a race” – wherein he shows that the Jewish people stumbled but did not fall. They will one day finish the race. Their slowing down in this race was governed by God, who, in his mysterious plan, factored that in as a way to bring millions in the Nations to himself, with an expressed goal to produce a holy jealousy in the hearts of all of Israel. He writes in Romans 11:11-15

11 I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. 12 Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! 13 But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be, but life from the dead?

Apostle Paul writes something that most English translations change somewhat to fit their largely supersessionist Christian theology. For example, this is how the NASB translates Romans 11:17-18a:

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches.

However, the Greek that Paul actually wrote in can be translated somewhat differently.  Prompted by Mark Nanos’ insight and his gracious mentoring in this matter I provide the following suggested translation:

But if some of the branches were bent (or partially broken), and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in the midst of them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches.

The language here is not the replacement of the old branches with the new, but the engrafting of the new branches among the older, with the need to bind up and heal the broken and bent ones which still remain. There is a world of difference in thinking between Jews who “don’t believe in Christ Jesus” as branches that are “broken off”, as most translations would have it, and branches that are hurt/damaged and needing the attention of a caring gardener.

Paul continued to argue that the reason the acts of disassociation from the Jewish community among the Roman Christ-followers was not justified, was because this phenomena of “Jewish rejection” of Jesus as Christ was temporary in nature. Apostle Paul stated in Romans 11:25:

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery – so that you will not be wise in your own estimation – that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved.

Of course, hundreds of excellent commentaries have been written on this topic, but please allow me to briefly summarize the points of this short introductory treatment of the Jewish Apostle Paul:

Roman Christ-followers must not continue to disassociate themselves from the Jews, as they have been doing because of political pressures. This trend is based upon ignorance of prophetic insights, and justified by faulty theological perceptions, and is not based on the reality on the ground.  Instead, they need to develop healthy relationships with the physical sons of Israel, so that together they can bear witness to the rest of the world of the greatness of the One True God. It is through the outworking of the Jews and the Nations worship and testimony of the One God, that God’s wisdom, glory and power will one day be made manifest to the entire world.[/text_output][line id=”” class=”” style=””]

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