Category Archives: first century Gentile Christian



Note: this Table of Contents list contains a description of our most recent articles.  Please see to the right for a list of all posts.

  1. Sketches of Jewish Social Life at the Time of Messiah — Jews and Gentiles in Land — the first article in the series, shedding light on Jewish understanding of the Land and the fundamental differences between the Galilean Jews of the North and the Judean Jews of the South
  2. Sketches of Jewish Social Life at the Time of Messiah – Introduction – an intro to a new, extended series of articles that places Jesus and His teachings within their Jewish context and sheds invaluable light on passages that could not be fully understood otherwise.
  3. The Company Dinner – another modern parable
  4. The Talmud – now available in English, free and online – Now available to anyone for free and online, tools include the ability to click on a verse of Scripture, see where it’s quoted in the Talmud, and read it in full in with explanatory notes written in plain language. Most surprisingly, the very passages that today’s rabbis deny as being about Messiah, were understood by the Jewish sages to be about Messiah.
  5. New Years and the Parable of the Ten Virgins – The lighting of the oil lamps for the 8th day of Chanukah on New Years Eve brought to mind the Parable of the Ten Virgins and some thoughts for the Church.
  6. Boundaries of the Land of Israel – as set by God: Christians need to understand that the UN Security Council’s Resolution 2334 which was just passed declares that where David was first crowned king is not Israel, nor is Bethlehem of Judea, where Jesus was born (Matthew 2:1). Yes, the “little town of Bethlehem” that you sing about in Christmas carols as being the birth place of the King of the Jews is not in the land of the Jews. This is a battle for truth.
  7. Questions and Answers about Jews and Christmas: People often want to know what Jews do at Christmas time and some Christians want to know what Messianic Jews do. This article provides some background on “Jews” and some answers to the questions. Everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask.
  8. Gehenna – Jewish Origins of Hell: Some think of “hell” as the one place God is not and to others, it is the place where God pours out His judgment on “those who do not believe”. Is this what the Scriptures teach? Where does this concept of Hell come from? That is the subject of this article.
  9. The New Perspective – second phase of the Reformation? The Reformation restored the Word of God to the ordinary people and called them out of an obligation of submission to the papacy to one of submission to Scripture.  But Was the Reformation all that was required to restore the Scriptures to their first century understanding?
  10. The Last Day of the Great Feast –  Sukkot has two  ” last days” — Hoshanah Rabbah and Shiminei Atsaret. The “last day and greatest day of the Feast” mentioned in John 7:37 is Hashanah Rabbah. This article helps explain why Jesus said what He did that day.
  11. Who is Abraham’s Seed – Understanding who “Abraham’s seed” is, is to understand God’s plan of redemption to ‘all nations of the earth’ since the book of Genesis! This article follows the previous 3 which covered the promises to the Gentiles in the Abrahamic Covenant, the promises to the Jews in the Abrahamic Covenant, as well as Paul’s use of the term “Israel” in Romans.
  12. God’s Promises to the Jews in the Abrahamic Covenant  – What were God’s promises to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (the Jews) and do they still apply?

  13. God’s Promises to the Gentiles in the Abrahamic Covenant; 

    There are those that say that Gentile Christians, along with Jewish believers in Messiah form what is now termed “true Israel” and replace the Jewish people (physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as God’s covenant people. In this article is part of a series of articles, taking a deeper look at God’s promises to the Jewish people and God’s promises to the Gentiles, through Messiah. This article focuses on God’s promises to the Gentiles in the Abrahamic Covenant.

  14. Paul’s Use of the term “Israel” in the Book of Romans –   Some say that Jews who do not accept Jesus as Messiah are not “true Israel” — but rather Gentile Christians and Jewish believers in Messiah form what is termed “true Israel“.  Does the Scripture teach that “Israel” is part Jewish by descent and part Gentile by descent — and if not, what do the passages in question really mean? In this article, we will explore how Paul uses the term “Israel” everywhere else in Romans and then look at what he is saying in Romans 9:6-8.

  15. It’s Time We Had a Talk – another modern parable – It came to pass one day, that the older brother felt that it was a fitting time to share matters of the family with his younger brother. This is that story.

  16. Shavuot – Counting of the Omer from Passover to Pentecost -Today, June 12, 2016 is Pentecost Sunday! Yes, we know that the Church celebrated it on May 15th this year but according to how God commanded the Jews to determine the date of Shavuot (Pentecost). it is today. The Church’s Pentecost falls on a different date than Biblical Pentecost.

  17. Miquedem – Songs from Scripture; Listen free to a brand new album of Jewish music, with songs taken directly from Scripture. Complete lyrics posted in Hebrew, Hebrew-English transliterated phonetics & English.

  18. He Who Believes – Mi Shemaamim; This is a song written by Israeli Eyal Golan which you will probably catch yourself humming later.  It is very catchy!  The lyrics are beautiful, and appear in Hebrew, transliterated Hebrew-English phonetics and English;

  19. What did Paul Mean by “May it never be!” ? – When Paul said in Scripture ‘may it never be” (me genoito / μένα genoito is the Greek equivalent) he was using a very common Hebrew expression as many other Jews of his day would have — not surprising considering Paul was Jew.

  20. Biblical Pentecost and the Church’s Pentecost – few Christians realize that the date that the Church celebrates as “Pentecost Sunday” is different than the day that God established in Scripture. This blog explains how the date of Pentecost (Shavuot) is determined from the date of Passover and how the giving of the Holy Spirit is tied to the day Jesus rose from the dead!

  21. A Jewish Perspective on Counting Days of Lent and Easter Egg Hunts – As we’ve been working on the 3 upcoming posts (Part 2, 3 and 4) that follow Part 1: The Significance of Passover to the Church, we thought we’d take a bit of a divergence and look at two Gentile Christian customs related to the Church’s celebration of “Easter” that we thought our readers might find it interesting to look at through Jewish eyes.

  22. A Jewish Roots Update – More than 11,000 visitors from 212 countries or territories in just 10 months.  Who would have thought.

  23. UNESCO Resolution Erases Jews Connection to Temple Mount – The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has passed a resolution erasing the Jews connection to the Temple Mount.

  24. Passover – Significance to the Church – Most people know “the Last Supper” occurred during Passover, but have never had just two of the Passover elements — the “bread” and the “cup”, explained in that context.  When Jesus took “the bread”, what did the disciples understand it to signify before He spoke? What prior meaning did the cup(s) of wine have to them?  Given it was Passover, what might the Disciples have understood Jesus to be saying?

  25. INTRO: Passover, Pentecost and Booths – significance to the Church : God set apart 3 specific times of commemoration for the Jewish people where they were required to appear before Him in Jerusalem.  These 3 days also coincide to significant days to the Church — namely (1) the day of the “Last Supper” of Jesus and His disciples, where He instituted the New Covenant, (2) the day the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost and (3) the date that many Biblical scholars believe to be the date of Jesus’ birth.

  26. Canadian Prime Minister Ignores Mention of Jews in Holocaust Statement – on January 27 2016,  Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Most notable was the Canadian Prime Minister’s blatant omission of any reference to the Jewish people or to the anti-Jewish ideology which fueled the Nazi’s systematic extermination of 6 million Jews.

  27. Understanding Matthew’s Genealogy – an Old Testament Overview – The genealogy in the Gospel of Matthew starts with Abraham and culminates with the birth of Jesus; which is a uniquely Jewish perspective.  To understand who some of the individuals are that are named in this genealogy requires some understanding of the Old Testament and so in this article, we provide an overview of the Old Testament to lay the framework for our next study. This article is a summary of the first study in a series called the “Gospels from a First Century Jewish Perspective” from our Jewish Roots of Christianity LifeGroup.

  28. Jewish Sects of the Second Temple Period – introduction to the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots and Nazarenes during the Second Temple Period (introduction to Christianity and Judaism – siblings, not parent and child);

  29. Christianity and Judaism – siblings, not parent and child – We’ve often heard it said that Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism; as if Judaism is the parent and Christianity, the child. A more accurate analogy is to see Judaism and Christianity as siblings, twins in fact, born out of the same event.

  30. Christmas and the Coming of the Messiah – Growing up in the Jewish areas we lived in, the expectation of Messiah was all around us. Christmas, however was a “Gentile holiday” which we had no connection to. Jesus, as portrayed by most Christians has no connection to most Jews, as the Jewish Messiah either. The Jesus of Scripture tells a very different story.  Jesus of the Gospels is Jewish.

  31. Holy Days of Israel – with Scriptural References: Jewish Holy Days are observances set out by God in Scripture — more than celebrations. This article describes our main Holy Days and what they commemorate.

  32. Holiday Observance from a Jewish Perspective: The Jewish concept of ‘observance’ of a holiday is quite different than the idea of ‘celebrating’ one and this difference becomes quite apparent to us at Christmas.  It is not as though there is a ‘right’ way and a ‘wrong’ way, but we thought it might be helpful for our readers to understand how we as Jewish believers regard holidays, in particular Christmas.

  33. The Abrahamic Covenant and the 12 Tribes of Israel – In this article, we outline from Scripture who are the people and where is the land belonging to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (the Jews) and whether the covenant God made with Abraham also applies to the descendants of Ishmael.

  34. The 12 Tribes Ishmael and Their Land – We’ve heard people say that since the land of Israel belongs to both the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael and that the solution to the tension in the region is to divide the land between them.  But few people realize that the land of the 12 Tribes of Ishmael is northern Saudi Arabia and the south-eastern part of Assyria (Iraq) — far from the 12 Tribes of Israel! In this article we outline from Scripture who are the people and where is the land belonging to the descendants of Ishmael (with maps).

  35. Objections to a Religious Ideology or Doctrine is not Xenophobia – We hear a lot these days about xenophobia — with people being accused of being xenophobic or being a xenophobe when they object to a religious ideology or to the doctrine of another’s religion or belief system. That is not Xenophobia.  Xenophobia is to show fear or contempt towards a person because they hold to a specific ideology or holds to a given religious doctrine. There is a difference.

  36. How Israel Came to Possess the Land it Currently Occupies – Israel is often portrayed in the media as ‘land-grabbing’, so we want to clear up where the land that Israel currently occupies came from.

  37. Where is Ancient Palestine and Who are the Palestinian People? Does the idea of an ancient Palestinian homeland belonging to the Palestinian people have any basis in history? There were 3 such places with that name, none of them belonging to Arabs; one belonging to the Romans, one a province of the Byzantine Empire and one under British administration.  So what is “Palestine” and who are the “Palestinian” people?

  38.  1948 – The Fullfillment of the Second Gathering of the Jews to the Land of Israel – When God promised the land of Israel to the Jewish people, was it conditional on their obedience? If so, how would we explain that the Jews have been returned to the land not once, but twice — and the most recent time was in 1948? What do the Scriptures have to say about God’s covenant with the Jewish people with regard to obedience to His commands and how that related specifically to the Land?

  39. Montreal Bagel and Smoked Meat – [a break from our usual articles]. Sometimes, the world is all too serious and what we need is a little distraction — such as food or music.  For Jews, both food and music are integral to who we are.  There is the food and music of home; not our ancestral home, but the Jewish community in which we grew up and for us, as Montreal Jews that food is epitomized by bagel and smoked meat.

  40. Jesus born at Sukkot / Festival of Booths / Feast of Tabernacles – People have asked us why we believe that Jesus was born at Sukkot (the Festival of Booths / the Feast of Tabernacles) and this article is about how theologians have arrived at this conclusion.  It is also about how Sukkot has already been set apart by God to be the only Feast of Israel that all the nations of the world will one day celebrate.

  41. Remembering and Preparing to Remember – Jews are a people called to remember and with that remembering comes preparation. This article elaborates on the the Jewish concept of preparing to remember which has been passed down to the Church in the observance of The Lord’s Table.

  42. The High Holy Days and the Ten Days of Awe – The ten days starting with Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and ending with Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) are commonly known as the Days of Awe or the Days of Repentance. These are the holiest days on the Jewish calendar. Yom Kippur, and the requirements of God in observing this day have important significance to New Testament believers today, both Jews and Gentiles.

  43. God’s Calling on Gentiles, His Calling on Jews – We have pondered writing this article for a while and the reason is simple. How can the (predominantly Gentile) Church fulfill God’s specific calling on them mentioned in both the Old Testament and the New Testament if they don’t know and understand what it is?’s_calling_on_Gentiles/

  44. ‘The Parable of the Vineyard Workers’ in Matthew 20 is part of Jesus’ reply to Peter’s question given Matthew 19:27 but without understanding the reference Jesus is making to Old Testament concepts that would have been very well known to the disciples, one can easily miss what Jesus is saying.  This article elaborates on those concepts so that the meaning of the parable becomes clear.

  45. New Testament Dietary Laws – Different for Jews and Gentiles’ – Most have heard of Jewish dietary laws but not what made foods ‘unclean’ or what role these laws served but few are aware of the dietary laws set out for Gentile Christians in the New Testament. How did these differing food laws impact social interaction between Jewish believers and Gentile Christians in the first century? What about today?

  46. ‘A Visit from the Mormons’ – It’s not every day that the Mormons come knocking and find a mother and son engaged in Scripture study in their living room; with a four volume Hebrew-English Interlinear and Strong’s Concordance at the ready. Talk about catching a couple of Mormon missionaries off guard! Daniel answered the door and invited our visitors in.

  47. What does Paul mean that he became “as a Jew to the Jews and to the Gentiles, a Gentile”: In this article we look at what Paul meant by being “under” the Law, “outside” the Law and “within” the Law and what that meant in terms of the call to be “all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9).

  48. Status quo  in the First Century Church vs Today – There was no need for the Gospel writers or Paul to explain Jewish practice because the vast majority of believers at the time were Jews and Jewish practice was understood.  But two thousand years later, most Gentile readers of the New Testament have little understanding of these Jewish practices. In this article we discuss the implications of this.

  49. Historic Perspective Affects New Testament Interpretation – This article looks at how the historical perspective of the Church after the death of the Apostles has shaped understanding of Israel and the Jewish people.

  50. Jesus – a Prophet like Moses – what does it mean for Jesus to be ‘a prophet like Moses’? What would the implications be for Jesus to have taught something different than what the Law of Moses taught?

  51. Creation of a Palestinian State – the “Two State” Solution – the idea of a “two state” solution is often proposed as a means to resolve the ongoing tensions between Israel and the ‘Palestinians’, but few realize there have already been two “two state” solutions. This article documents those.

  52. Different Sects of Jews – from the Pharisees and Sadducees to the Sects of Today – to understand what Jesus was saying to the Jewish leadership and why, one needs to understand who the Jewish leadership was and what they believed. What are the Jewish sects of today and how are they related to those of the first century?

  53. The Keymaker’s Sons – A Modern Parable – This story was written with the desire to help Gentile Christians understand how Jewish believers perceive our relationship with Gentile Christians within the Church.

  54. Is there a Difference between Jewish Believers and Gentile Christians – and if so, what is it?  This article seeks explores the ways in which Jewish believers look at their faith and the Scriptures from a slightly different perspective than Gentile Christians.

  55. Shavuot (Pentecost) and Jesus being the “firstfruits from the dead” – this article explains from Scripture the timing of the events related to the crucifixion of Jesus and the Jewish holiday of Passover and how the timing of the Feast of Pentecost (Shavuot) is tied to the timing of Passover.

  56. “A partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in” – the Apostle Paul has much to say about whether God has rejected the Jews and in Romans 11:14–25 he speaks directly to Gentiles about the unbelief of much of physical Israel. Paul exhorts the Gentiles not to brag (:18), not to be arrogant (:20), not to be conceited (:25) and not to be unaware (:25) of God’s plans of redemption of physical Israel. Why Paul said this and what the Scriptures say with regards to the future salvation of the Jews is elaborated on in this article.

  57. The Early Church [including Polycarp] continued to celebrate Passover – few Gentile Christians realize that both Jewish believers and Gentile Christians in the early Church at Jerusalem and Antioch including Polycarp, a Church Father (80-167 CE) continued to celebrate the Passover according to the Biblical requirement (on the 14th of Nisan) and did so for the first two centuries, possibly until the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.  This article is fully referenced for the more scholarly and skeptical reader.

  58. The Temple and Synagogue in the Early Church – is an article about the role of the Temple and the synagogue in the life of Jesus and the early Jewish believers at the beginning of the Church as we know it.

Sketches of Jewish Social Life at the Time of Messiah – Jews and Gentiles in the Land

While it is common for Gentile Christians to refer to it as the Holy Land, this term (“Adama HaKodesh”) appears only once in the Tanakh (the Hebrew “Old Testament”), in Zechariah 2:12 (Zechariah 2:16 in the Hebrew original):

טז  וְנָחַל יְהוָה אֶת-יְהוּדָה חֶלְקוֹ, עַל אַדְמַת הַקֹּדֶשׁ; וּבָחַר עוֹד, בִּירוּשָׁלִָם.

16 :2 זְכַרְיָה / Zechariah 2:16

To the people of the day, it was simply “the Land” — and all other countries were “outside the Land”.  It didn’t need the addition of the term “holy”.

The Rabbis of the time believed that there were ten degrees of sanctity from the bare soil of the Land, up to the Most Holy Place (“Holy of Holies”) in the Temple.  In  their eyes, “outside the Land” represented darkness and death – in fact, the very dust of a heathen country was viewed as unclean, and was considered to defile by contact. It was regarded like the grave, or the rotting of death. They even said that if a spot of heathen dust so much as touched an offering, it must at once be burnt. This, of course is not in Torah, but was the teaching of the Rabbis. They taught that all contact with pagans (non-Jews) must be avoided, and all trace of it shaken off.  

It was into this cultural context, that Yeshua (Jesus)  spoke to His Disciples about those that will not accept the news of the coming of the Kingdom, in Matthew 10:14;

“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that house or town.”

It is also in this context that He spoke about restoration of a brother – that if he refuses to listen to us and to the Community that “he should be to us as a pagan and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17).

Although the way the Rabbis of various eras classified the Land vary, the earliest Rabbinic source, the Mishnah, describes different areas of the Land primarily based on religious obligation or privilege. For example, it would specify which Omer offering needed to be taken from the Land, and which did not.

The North-East border of the Land, which is now the modern country of Syria, was loosely defined by the Rabbinic institutions of the day under the term Soria. Unlike other borders of the Land, which had more clear definition of where Israel ended and the Gentile world began, the border region of Soria was less explicitly defined. It was a ‘soft border’: a strip of land in between Israel and the Gentile world, but not considered part of either.  The Mishnah states that if a man buys a field in Soria that lies close to the Land of Israel, he can treat its soil as of it were part of the Land.

The only clear geographical point in Soria where one would know that they had entered the Gentile world was the Syrian city of Antioch. The city and everything Northward was considered the Gentile World. It was in this city where the first Gentile Church was formed (Acts 11:20-21) and also where the Gentile disciples were first called “Christians“.

The Jews who lived in the Land were surrounded by many foreign nationalities, religions and cultural customsthe majority of which were favored and privileged by the Romans, who occupied the area.

Edersheim describes it as follows;

“If anyone had expected to find within the boundaries of the Land itself, one nationality, one language, the same interests, or even one religion publicly professed, he would have been bitterly disappointed.”

Among the Jews of the Land at the time, two main factors divided them; geography and religious sect.  In a nutshell, geography was an influencing factor in that the local culture, Aramaic dialect and political inclinations of the North and the South developed differently.

Galilee in the North was influenced more by the large Roman trading routes that went through it while Judea in the South, with Temple at Jerusalem became the center of religious scholarship and debate. The region of Samaria which was in between the two, served to keep them separate, because the Samaritans were despised by both. As found in the Gospels, Jews from both Galilee or Judea did not associate with Samaritans.

These differences will be expanded on in later articles – suffice to say that the main differences between the Jews in the North and the Jews in the South, in general are that the Galileans of the North tended to be more socially warm and welcoming to both Jews and non-Jews. Language-wise, their dialect of Galilean Aramaic did not have what was considered at the time to be ‘proper’ pronunciation of guttural letters. This not only made them an object of ridicule by the Judeans of the South, it also made them easily identifiable as being from the North. This sheds light on the passage in the Gospels where Peter is confronted by a little girl and denies knowing Messiah and then some bystanders are able to easily identify him as being from Galilee, by how he spoke;

“A little while later, some of the bystanders approached Peter and said to him, “Surely you’re one of them, too—your accent gives you away.

Matthew 26:73

Politically, the North, although being warm and welcoming of Jews and non-Jews, had a more violent attitude towards the Roman occupation. Chronologically, Galilee was annexed by the Romans in 6 CE, which was before Judea was annexed.  This may explain why most of the violent rebel leaders during the first of the Jewish-Roman Wars, also called “the Great Revolt” (66-73 CD) were from Galilee. Even the famous Jewish historian, Josephus, who participated in the Revolt, was from Galilee.

On the other hand, the culture of the Jews in the South in Judea had a profound intellectual and religious ‘snobbery’.  Religious education was prioritized above everything else, and treatment as an individual drastically differed depending on whether the person was taught, and by whom they were taught.  Among “learned men”, there was a contempt for those they regarded as ‘the country people“; who was anyone untaught. The “country people” were viewed with contempt because of their lack of understanding of the rigorous traditionalism of the dominant sect of the day, the Pharisees. 

Language-wise, the Judeans were considered to have better pronunciation of gutterals in their distinct Judean Aramaic dialect. In their institutions, the Judean Jews who studied, also learned Hebrew and could read Biblical texts in their original language. This fueled their sense of elitism and superiority over the Galilean Jews.

Politically, despite their arrogance, the Judean Jews tended to be more willing to cooperate with the Romans in matters of business and governance. Some even got rich in their dealings with the Romans, and the Jewish Sanhedrin, because of its willingness to cooperate with the Romans, was given an ‘ear’ before the Roman officials. This is why members of the Sanhedrin, when seeking to kill Yeshua, were able to go before Pontius Pilate and be heard.

Religiously, there were four major sects or movements. The dominant sect were the Pharisees, who controlled the local institutions of learning (e.g. synagogues).  There were the Sadducees who were almost exclusively made up of Priests – both inside and outside of the Temple, the Essenes who former scribes who became a separate sect primarily as isolationists, and based in Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were later found.  The last sect, which wasn’t an official sect, was what would later be called the Zealots.  They only developed the title “Zealots” during the Great Revolt.

All of these sects disagreed vehemently with each other on almost every theological and political issue. The idea that the term “the Jews” could be applied to members of all four of these groups is a generalization that can contribute to significant misunderstanding. When the term “the Jews” is used in Scripture, it is essential to “read up” in the passage, to determine who is being referred to.

Despite the Judaism of the day being so bitterly divided, there was one thing that united all Jews, and even Samaritans, from North to South and that was observance of some kind, to the Five Books of Moses.

To the Romans, these deep differences between sects of Jews were not appreciated. We were all Galileans or Judeans, to them.  To say they did not have an appreciation for the profound complexities of our culture and religion, would be an understatement.

Edersheim described it like this;

“Circumcision, the Sabbath-rest, the worship of an invisible God and Jewish abstinence from pork formed a never-ending theme of merriment to the heathen.”

Sketches of Jewish Social Life at the Time of Messiah – Introduction


Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ  was written by Alfred Edersheim, a Vienna-born Jewish Biblical scholar (1825-1889) who came to faith Messiah.

The book was first printed in 1904, after Edersheim's death and also appears in print as as Sketches of Jewish Social Life at the Time of Christ.

Edersheim’s book cites Scripture, Rabbinic sources and the works of Josephus and Philo to place Yeshua (Jesus) and His teachings, within their Jewish context – shedding invaluable light on passages that cannot be fully understood otherwise.

This article is the first in an extended series which we’ve titled Sketches of Jewish Social Life at the Time of Messiah and which is based on Edersheim’s work.

Note: Edersheim's lived prior to the Balfour Declaration (1922), the division of the geographic region of Palestine into the Arab-Palestinian state of Jordan (1921),and the modern State of Israel (1948).  In this series, we use the term the Land - one Edersheim uses himself, as the equivalent term.

It was in the Land’s sacred boundaries that the prophets saw their visions and psalmists composed their songs. The Land had Jerusalem for its capital, and on its highest hill stood the Temple, around which clustered Jewish history, sacred worship and far-reaching hopes.

“There is no religion so strictly local as that of Israel. Heathenism was indeed the worship of national deities, and Judaism that of YHVH, the God of heaven and earth.”

Christianity was from the first, universal in its character and design, the religious institutions and the worship set out in the first five books of Moses, the Torah (“Pentateuch”) and as they concerned Israel, strictly of the Land and for the Land.

“They are wholly incompatible with the permanent loss of the Land.”

A Judaism without the Land is a Judaism without Priesthood, altar, Temple, sacrifices, tithes, first-fruits, Sabbatical and Jubilee years, and outside the Land, the people are no longer completely Israel – in view of the Gentiles they are Jews; in their own view, “the dispersed abroad.”

After the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, the Rabbis set to  reconstruct their broken commonwealth on a new basis.  The Land, was the Mount Sinai of Rabbinism.  It was from this place the spring of Halachah (the collection of Jewish religious laws derived from both the Written Torah and “Oral Torah”) flowed in ever-widening streams.

For the first centuries, it was in Jerusalem, that the learning, the influence, and the rule of Judaism centered.  Attempts at rivalry by the Babylonian schools of Jewish learning were keenly resented and sharply put down. Later, only the force of circumstances of the day drove the Rabbis to voluntarily seek safety and freedom in the ancient seat of their captivity, Bablyon – where, in political freedom, they could give the final development to their religious system. It was their desire to preserve the nation and its learning in the Land which inspired them.

“Centuries of wandering and of changes have not torn the passionate love of this land from the heart of the people.”

Almost every prayer and hymn breathes the same love of the Land.

The lie of land and water, of mountain and valley, are the same; Hebron, Bethlehem, the Mount of Olives, Nazareth, the Lake of Gennesaret, the land of Galilee, are still there, but all changed in form and appearance  and with no definite spot to which one could  with absolute certainty attach the most sacred events.

When Messiah walked the Land, the country had already undergone many changes. The ancient division of tribes had given way; the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel existed no longer; and the varied foreign domination and the brief period of absolute national independence under the Hasmoneans, had likewise ceased.

Yet, with the characteristic tenacity of the East for the past, the names of the ancient tribes still attached to some of the districts formerly occupied by them (Matt. 4:13, 15).

A comparatively small number of the exiles had returned to the Land with Ezra and Nehemiah, and the Jewish inhabitants of the country consisted either of those who had originally been left in the Land, or of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.

The controversy about the Ten Tribes raged in the time of Messiah. “Will He go unto the dispersed among the Gentiles?” asked the Jews, when unable to fathom the meaning of Messiah’s prediction of His departure.

At the time of Messiah’s birth, the Land was governed by Herod the Great  and was a nominally independent kingdom, but under the rule of Rome. On the death of Herod the Great, and  very close to the opening of the Gospel account, a fresh, though temporary, division of his kingdom had just taken place.  A few days before his his death, Herod the Great altered his will and nominated Archelaus his successor in the kingdom; Herod Antipas – the Herod named in the Gospels, was named tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea; and Philip was named tetrarch of Gaulonitis, Trachonitis, Batanaea, and Panias.

Each of the brothers had his own maneuvering to try to influence the  emperor, Caesar Augustus, who was inclined from the beginning towards Archelaus.

Note: Archelaus only ruled for two years, between 4 and 6 CE, and with the reference to his rule in Matthew 2:22, enables us to approximately date the birth of Messiah under Herod the Great. This simply demonstrates the birth account of Messiah, not in an abstract tale, but in the center of classical history.

Meanwhile, a Jewish delegation appeared in Rome, entreating that none of the Herod Ian’s  might ever be appointed king on the grounds of their past deeds, which they related, and that they (the Jews) might be allowed to live according to their own laws, under the rule of Rome.

Caesar Augustus decided to carry out the will of Herod the Great, but gave Archelaus the title of “ethnarch” instead of “king”, promising him the higher grade if he proved deserving of it.

“But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned in a dream, he withdrew to the region of Galilee”

Matthew 2:22

The division of the Land at the time of Messiah, politically speaking, consisted of Judaea and Samaria, under Roman procurators Galilee and Peraea (which lay on the other side Jordan) which were subject to Herod Antipas, the murderer of John the Baptist.

The Jews did not regard Samaria as belonging to the Holy Land, but saw it as a foreign strip, as the Talmud designates it (Chag. 25 a.) “a Cuthite strip,” or “tongue,” intervening between Galilee and Judaea.    From the Gospels we know that the Samaritans were not only ranked with Gentiles and strangers (Matt. 10:5; John 4:9, 20), but that the very term Samaritan was one of reproach (John 8:48).

The Samaritans attitude towards the Jews was one of equal hatred and contempt. At every turn, the Jews had a no more determined or relentless enemy than the Samaritans, who claimed to be the only true representatives of Israel’s worship and hopes.

Coming next: Jews and Gentiles in the Land

God’s Promises to the Jews in the Abrahamic Covenant

This article is Part 3 of 3 where we look at what God promised the physical descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob (the Jews) in the Abrahamic Covenant.

The Calling of Abraham

The first mention of Abraham is in Genesis Chapter 11 where we learn that Abram (his name at first) is from Ur of the Chaldees, and is the son of Terah, has two brothers named Nahor and Haran and that Haran’s son (Abram’s nephew) is Lot and that Abram’s wife is Sarai (later changed to “Sarah“). It seems apparent that Abram knew God’s voice because when He spoke to him at the beginning of Chapter 12, Abram knew it was God. In verse 1 of Chapter 12 of Genesis, God speaks to Abram for the first time recorded in Scripture of two specific promises;

(1) that He will make him and his descendants into “a great nation” — a people

(2) that he will give this people a very specific land. 

As we will demonstrate below, God specifies throughout the book of Genesis that the “great nation” is a people of physical descendants of Abraham  — and not just any physical descendants of Abraham! God is very specific who can and cannot be Abraham’s “heir” and thus, who Abraham’s descendants will be.  For example, as we outline below, God specifies that Abraham’s heir cannot be through his servant Eliezer and cannot be through Hagar’s son Ishmael, even though Abraham is his father. Furthermore, God foretells in advance that Isaac’s heir will be though Jacob, and not Esau (Isaac’s firstborn son).

God is very particular that Abraham’s descendants i.e. “seed” (plural) are a very specific nation who are descended from very particular Patriarchs.

A Land and a People

The very first time God speaks to Abraham as recorded in Scripture, it is of of the two promises concerning a people and a land, in Genesis 12;

“The Lord said to Abram:

Go out from your land,
your relatives,
and your father’s house
to the land that I will show you.

Genesis 12:1

Then God spoke to Abraham of His promises, God says;

I will make you into a great nation,
I will bless you,
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
I will curse those who curse you,
and all the peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.

Genesis 12:2-3

In Genesis 12: 1-3, God is contrasting the promises made to Abraham pertaining to two groups of people 

(1) to the “great nation” (singular) — a specific physical people, the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — the “great nation” (singular) with whom He makes an “everlasting covenant”. This group is a physical nation, the people  of Israelthat is derived from Abraham’s “seed” (plural).


(2) “all the nations (literally families) of the earth” (plural— The word for “nations” is the word in Hebrew מִשְׁפְּחֹת meaning “families” refers to the Gentiles that will be blessed through a specific physical descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — a Jew, the Messiah.


God leaves no room for doubt that the “great nation” He will make of Abraham is a physical nation that would come through very specific physical offspring or “seed” (plural) of Abraham (i.e. through Issac and Jacob and in Genesis 22:15-18, He repeats the exact SAME promises  to the exact  SAME two groups of people as in Genesis 12:1-3! After Isaac was born and after Jacob became Isaac’s heir, God reaffirmed His covenant with  BOTH the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (the ‘great nation’) as well as His covenant with “all the families / nations of the earth”;

Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By Myself I have sworn,” this is the Lord’s declaration: “Because you have done this thing and have not withheld your only son, I will indeed bless you and make your offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your offspring will possess the gates of their enemies.

And all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring because you have obeyed My command.”

Genesis 22:15-18

Furthermore, God also reaffirmed the covenant He made with Abraham concerning his physical descendants to Isaac in Genesis 26:1-5 and to Jacob in Genesis 28:13-15 and in Genesis 35:9-12.

God’s Promises to Abraham were “a people” and “a land”

God made two specific promises to the physical descendants of Abraham in Genesis Chapter 12:1-3; that He will make of Abraham’s descendants into a great nation and that He will give this great nation a specific the land (verses 5-7) ;

“He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated, and the people he had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the site of Shechem, at the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, I will give this land to your offspring.”

Genesis 12:5-7

The term “offspring” is also translated “seed” (Hebrew זֶרַע), and is used here in its plural form and as we will demonstrate, refers to the physical descendants of Abraham, through Isaac and Jacobthe Jews. In this verse, God is speaking of a specific land (the land of Israel) that He will give to the Jewish people.

When Abram leaves Ur of the Chaldees, he takes Lot, his brother’s son, with him.  Things get tense between Lot’s herdsmen and Abram’s herdsmen, so Abram gives Lot his choice to go one way and he goes the other.

After Lot  separated from Abram, God said to Abram to look as far as he could see, looking north, south, east and west for He was going to give Abram and his offspring (“seed”, Hebrew זֶרַע)  all the land that he sees, forever. In this case too, the word “seed” is in its plural form and refers to the physical descendants of Abraham, through Isaac and Jacob;

“After Lot had separated from him, the Lord said to Abram, “Look from the place where you are. Look north and south, east and west, for I will give you and your offspring forever all the land that you see. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust of the earth, then your offspring could be counted. Get up and walk around the land, through its length and width, for I will give it to you.”

Genesis 13: 14-17

The beginning of Chapter 15 of Genesis reads

After these events, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision“.

God says to Abram;

Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield;
your reward will be very great.”

Genesis 15:

Abram was frustrated because anything that God would give him would only be for his lifetime, because Abram didn’t have an heir and everything he had at that point, or would receive from God in the future, would become the property of his head servant, Eliezer.

Abram complains to God (:3);

“But Abram said, “Lord God, what can You give me, since I am childless and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” Abram continued, “Look, You have given me no offspring, so a slave born in my house will be my heir.”

Genesis 15: 2-3

The Lord answered Abram clearly and said that Eliezer will not be his heir but one who comes from his own body will be his heir.

God knew that He was going to bring Abram’s heir through his wife Sarai and that He would make His covenant with his physical descendants:

“This one will not be your heir; instead, one who comes from your own body will be your heir.

Genesis 15:4

Then God took Abram outside and said to him (:5);

“Look at the sky and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then He said to him, “Your offspring will be that numerous.”

Genesis 15:5

In this case, the Hebrew word for “offspring” or “seed” is in its plural form and refers to the physical descendants of Abraham — and as we shall see, specifically through Isaac and Jacob.

In Genesis 15:6-8, when it came to having physical descendants, Abram believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness (:6) but when God spoke to him about the physical land they would inherit, Abraham wanted proof (:7)!

“Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.

He also said to him, “I am Yahweh who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.

”But he said, “Lord God, how can I know that I will possess it?

Genesis 15:6-8

God’s asks Abram to bring Him specific animals, split them down the middle and lay them opposite one another. This act is how covenants were made.

God’s Covenant with Abraham

God’s responds to Abram’s request for proof that his physical descendants would inherit the land by asking Abram to bring Him specific animals, split them down the middle and lay them opposite one another. This is how covenants were made, and the term in Hebrew for making a covenant is literally “to cut a covenant” (וַיִּכְרְתוּ בְרִית).

A covenant is an agreement between at least two parties where the terms of the agreement are set out and both parties accept them. In this case the covenant is made between YHVH and Abram but looking at another example of the covenant cut between Zedekiah and the people of Judah (Jeremiah 34:8–22) — in both cases at least one animal was killed, cut into two pieces and someone passed between the divided pieces.

The killing of an animal in making a covenant signified that those that entered into the covenant could expect the same fate as the animals if he violated his oath. The slaughtered animal(s) was both a ratifying sacrifice and symbolic of the curse for violating the covenant.

It is important to note that God alone ratified the covenant with Abram – and Hebrews 6:13 refers to this saying, He swore by Himself and furthermore, says why God swore by Himself;

For when God made a promise to Abraham, since He had no one greater to swear by, He swore by Himself:

I will indeed bless you,
and I will greatly multiply you.

And so, after waiting patiently, Abraham obtained the promise. For men swear by something greater than themselves, and for them a confirming oath ends every dispute. Because God wanted to show His unchangeable purpose even more clearly to the heirs of the promise, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us.”

Hebrews 6:13-15

God swore by Himself to demonstrate that His promises were unchangeable, and these are His promises were to both the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (the Jews) and to the “nations”, the Gentiles;

(a) to the Gentiles that the “seed of the woman” and the “seed” (singular) of Abraham (Jesus) would be a blessing to “all the families of the earth”


(b) to the Jews that He would have an “everlasting covenant” with them and that the land was their “eternal possession”.

God alone ratifying the covenant (i.e. Abram did not have to walk through the cut pieces of animals as is normally the case) signified that if either side broke the covenant, God Himself would die! 

We all know the story of what happened next…

Abraham was getting old and his wife Sarai was resolved she was not going to conceive, so she tells Abram to sleep with her handmaiden, Hagar so that he would have an heir to the promise of ‘the land’ and to bring forth ‘a great nation’. Abram obliges and Hagar conceives Ishmael.  After Ishmael’s birth, at the very beginning of Genesis 17, God appears to Abram and reiterates the covenant he made with him when He passed through the animal part— including the certainly of the Land as an eternal possession that He was giving to Abram’s descendants through a son that Sarai, Abram’s wife will bear;

“I am God Almighty. Live in My presence and be blameless. I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you greatly.”

Then Abram fell face-down and God spoke with him: “As for Me, My covenant is with you: you will become the father of many nations. Your name will no longer be Abram, but your name will be Abraham, for I will make you the father of many nations. I will make you extremely fruitful and will make nations and kings come from you. I will keep My covenant between Me and you, and your future offspring throughout their generations, as an everlasting covenant to be your God and the God of your offspring after you. And to you and your future offspring I will give the land where you are residing—all the land of Canaan—as an eternal possession, and I will be their God.”

Genesis 17:1-8

Abraham Through Isaac – not Ishmael

Abraham was hoping God would simply recognize Ishmael as the heir to the covenant and the son of promise, saying to God “If only Ishmael were acceptable to you”(Genesis 17:18) but after Ishmael’s birth (Genesis 17:1-8), God appears to Abram and reiterates the promises He made with him when He passed through the animal parts — including the promise of the Land and in verse 15, God tells Abraham that his wife Sarai, whose name He will change to Sarah, will bear a son and that nations will come through her.

 God said to Abraham, “As for your wife Sarai, do not call her Sarai, for Sarah[e] will be her name. I will bless her; indeed, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she will produce nations; kings of peoples will come from her.

Who are these “nations” (plural) that will come through Sarah?

Sarah bore only one son, Isaac and the “nations” that God foretold come through him.

God specified that Abraham’s physical offspring or “seed” (plural) would be through Isaac and NOT Ishmael (Genesis 17:19) and that it was through Isaac that God would confirm His covenant with Abraham;

“But God said, “No. Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will name him Isaac. I will confirm My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his future offspring. As for Ishmael, I have heard you. I will certainly bless him; I will make him fruitful and will multiply him greatly. He will father 12 tribal leaders, and I will make him into a great nation.  But I will confirm My covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this time next year.”

Genesis 17:19-21

Abraham through Isaac and Jacob – not Esau

God was very specific that Abraham’s physical offspring / “seed” (plural) would be through Jacob and not Esau (Genesis 25:23) and foretold this;

“These are the family records of Isaac son of Abraham. Abraham fathered Isaac. 20 Isaac was 40 years old when he took as his wife Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan-aram and sister of Laban the Aramean.  Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife because she was childless. The Lord heard his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. But the children inside her struggled with each other, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?”So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her:

Two nations are in your womb;
two people will come from you and be separated.
One people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.

Genesis 25: 19-23

Isaac’s wife Rebekah had twin sons; Esau and Jacob and God said (Genesis 25:23) that “two nations” were in her womb and that the “older shall serve the younger“. The first born son was Esau, who under ordinary circumstances would have been the heir to Isaac, but God foretold that he would serve his second born twin brother, Jacob. As God said would happen, Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, effectively making Jacob as if he were the “first born son” — fulfilling the promise that the “older would serve the younger.

The “two nations” that Isaac’s wife Rebekah bore were:

(1) Jacob’s descendants, the 12 Tribes of Israel. This is the nation of “Israel”. 


(2) the descendants of Esau. The descendants of Esau are listed in Genesis 36 and verse 6 says that Esau moved some distance away from his brother Jacob to another land called Se’ir, also known as Edom (or Idumea). The nation which came from Esau are the Edomites.

The Physical Descendants of Abraham – a “people” forever


God promised through the prophet Jeremiah that Israel, the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would always exist before Him.  In Jeremiah Chapter 31, immediately after promising to give the Jews the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-33) because they broke the Mosaic Covenant (the Law) that He gave them at Sinai, God promised in Jeremiah 31:35-37 that as long as the sun shines in the day and the moon and the stars shine at night, that Israel will be a nation before Him.  He promised that only if the heavens above and the foundations of the earth below can be measured, will He reject Israel’s descendants because of all they have done;

This is what the Lord says:

The One who gives the sun for light by day,
the fixed order of moon and stars for light by night,
who stirs up the sea and makes its waves roar—
Yahweh of Hosts is His name:
If this fixed order departs from My presence—
this is the Lord’s declaration—
then also Israel’s descendants will cease
to be a nation before Me forever.
This is what the Lord says:

If the heavens above can be measured
and the foundations of the earth below explored,
I will reject all of Israel’s descendants
because of all they have done
this is the Lord’s declaration.”

Jeremiah 31:35-37

We know that both of these promises still exist because “it is impossible for God to lie”;  

“Is God a man who lies, or a son of man who changes His mind? Does He speak and not act, or promise and not fulfill?”

Numbers 23:19

Final thoughts…

It is our belief that only reason that the Jews still exist and that they are back in the land is because of His faithfulness to His word — to keep the covenant that He made and swore by Himself to uphold, even if the Jews broke it, which they did.

God was clear in Scripture, that the penalty for the Jew’s disobedience (even the rejection of His Messiah) was exile from the land (Leviticus 26: 30-33).


The Jews were exiled in 70 CE after the death of Jesus and for more than 2000 years were in exile from the land He gave them as an “eternal possession”, but as He promised, the Jews would never cease to be a people before Him.  Even though in WWII 2/3 of the Jewish people were wiped out), God promised (Jeremiah 31:35-37) that as long as the sun shines in the day and the moon and the stars shine at night, that Israel will be a nation before Him and He has been faithful to His word. He returned the Jews to the land He gave them because He is faithful to His word and said that it was their “everlasting possession” (Genesis 17:7-8).

Israel is still Israel.  

God's eternal promises to Israel

Part 2 on God’s Promises to the Gentiles in the Abrahamic Covenant can be found here:

Part 1 on Paul’s use of the term “Israel” in the book of Romans can be found here:

God’s Promises to the Gentiles in the Abrahamic Covenant

Introduction – There are those that say that Gentile Christians, along with Jewish believers in Messiah form what is now termed “true Israel” and replace the Jewish people (physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as God’s covenant people.

This article is Part 2 of 3 in a series of articles, taking a deeper look at God’s promises to the Jewish people and God’s promises to the Gentiles.

The first article in the series can be found here:

Beginning at the Beginning

The first two chapters of Genesis recount the creation of the earth and man and the beginning of Chapter 3 recounts the fall.  In response, God doesn’t waste time,  He does not leave the situation hopeless but immediately after the man and woman eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God speaks of the solution that He will someday bring and in speaking to the serpent, God says:

“I will put hostility (enmity) between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed.
He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.”

Genesis 3:15

Immediately, God speaks of His solution; that someday, He will put an end to the hatred and hostility that Satan (the serpent) has for man by sending “the seed of the woman” who will strike the serpent’s head.  He promises here that He will send the Messiah, the “seed of the woman” who will incapacitate the enemy — signified by striking his head, even though it will not be without a minor wounding to God’s Messiah — signified by the enemy striking His heel.

Paul, in the New Testament, relates back to this promise of “the seed of the woman” in Galatians 3:16 when he speaks of “the seed” in the singular and that “seed” being Messiah;

“Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say “and to seeds,” as though referring to many, but referring to one, and to your seed, who is Christ”

Galatians 3:16

Paul makes the differentiation because readers of his letter (who were predominately Gentiles) would know that he was referring to the singular form of the word “seed” in Greek, because”seed” in Greek as well as Hebrew, could be used in two ways; in the singular and in the plural.

Understanding the word “seed”

The word “seed” in Hebrew (Strong’s H2233) and in Greek (Strong’s 4690) is a collective singular noun and can be used in two ways;  to  refer to (a) one person or (b) numerous, related people.

In Genesis 3:15, (“I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.”), the collective singular noun “seed” (Hebrew זֶרַע ), refers to one person, the Messiah.

In Gen 12:7, the collective singular noun “seed” (same Strong’s word H2233) is used to refer to the land that God promised to Abraham’s “seed” and applies to numerous, related descendants, the physical descendants of Abraham, the Jews.

What were God’s promises to the Gentiles?

Speaking to Abraham of His promises, God says;

“I will make you into a great nation,
I will bless you,
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
I will curse those who curse you,
and all the peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 12:2-3

As we’ll develop in the next article, God lays out in detail who this “great nation” is and His “everlasting covenant” with them as a people, and the land He promises to give them as an “eternal possession”. He leaves no doubt that He is speaking of the physical descendants of Abraham, because He later repeats the same promises He gave Abraham to his son, Isaac and then repeats the same promises He gave Abraham to Abraham’s grandson, Jacob (whose God later changes his name to Israel — and from whom the 12 tribes of Israel, the Jews, come).

But before God goes into all that detail, He speaks of His promise of the inclusion of the Gentiles!

The “all nations clause”

The book of Genesis from Chapter 12 to Chapter 50 pertains to the physical nation of Israel, the Jews — yet from the first time God begins to speak His promise to Abraham’s physical descendants, God speaks of His promise to the Gentiles!

The inclusion of the Gentiles is no afterthought – but is spoken of from Genesis Chapter 12, in the “all nations clause” ;

“…and all the peoples (nations) on earth
will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 12:3

From the very first time that God promises Abraham that he will be the father of “a great nation” — a specific nation (Hebrew: לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל) though Isaac and Jacob, He promises (Genesis 12:3) that through a physical descendant of Abraham, a Jew, “all the peoples (nations) of the earth will be blessed“!

The word for “peoples” (sometimes translated “nations”) in Hebrew is the word “families” (Hebrew מִשְׁפְּחֹת) — so there is a contrast being made between (1) the promises being made to this “great nation” (singular) and (2) the promises begin made to “all the families of the earth” (plural) (Hebrew: מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה).

Paraphrasing, God is saying;

‘while there is the great nation that I will bless, and I make Abraham’s name great as a result of this nation, and that this nation will be a blessing, and I will bless the nations that blesses them and curse the nation that curse them — everybody, all the families of the earth will be blessed through a physical descendant of Abraham — a Jew, the Messiah.

This is how the “blessings of Abraham” come to the Gentiles in Jesus (Galatians 3:14)!

That One is the “seed of the woman” that God also spoke of in Genesis 3:15 — the One that will crush Satan’s head. He is the “seed” that all nations of the world are blessed though — the “great nation” and “all nations“.

Paul speaks of the inclusion of the Gentiles in Galatians 3:6-9, when he says;

“Just as Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness, then understand that those who have faith are Abraham’s sons. Now the Scripture saw in advance that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and told the good news ahead of time to Abraham, saying, All the nations will be blessed through you. So those who have faith are blessed with Abraham, who had faith.”

…and Paul continues with the theme of the inclusion of the Gentiles in Galatians 3:14-16, when he refers to the “seed” singular, meaning the Messiah — in contrast to “the seeds” (plural) which are the Jews.

The purpose was that the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles by Christ Jesus, so that we could receive the promised Spirit through faith.  Brothers, I’m using a human illustration. No one sets aside or makes additions to even a human covenant that has been ratified. Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say “and to seeds,” as though referring to many, but referring to one, and to your seed, who is Christ.

Galatians 3:16

Since “seed” can be used to refer to a single person or a group of related people, Paul in this passage is quite specific that he is suing the singular of “seed”, because he is referring back to the promise given to Abraham regarding the inclusion of the Gentiles — the “all nations clause” in Genesis 12:2-3; “…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” which points to the original promise of the “seed of the woman” in Genesis 3:15 (“I will put hostility between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel”).

Paul specifies that he is using the singular form of the term “seed” because he is referring to the “seed of the woman” (Genesis 3:15)  — which is One person, the Messiah. In Galatians 3:16, Paul is saying “this is that“!

This Jesus is that “seed”.

He is the descendant of Abraham, through which all the nations of the world are blessed!

Inclusions of the Gentiles is anything but an afterthought to God. He spoke of His promises to “all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:3) when He first spoke about His promises to the “great nation” (Genesis 12:1-2). He then repeats the exact same promises to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob i.e. the “great nation” in Genesis 25:16-7 and to “all the families of the earth” in Genesis 25:18!

It should not be missed, that just before Paul refers to Jesus being that one “seed“, in Galatians 3:15, he emphasizes in Galatians 3:15 that he is using a human illustration and that “No one sets aside or makes additions to even a human covenant that has been ratified“.

What Paul is saying here is that even when people make a covenant with other people, no one sets aside or makes addition to a covenant after it has been ratified. The implication is ‘how much more will God not set aside or make addition to a covenant He makes, after it had been ratified?

Paul is saying is that inclusion of the Gentiles in no way alters God’s covenant with the physical descendants of Abraham (the Jews) and that likewise, God’s promise to the Gentiles, in no way supersedes God’s promises to the Jews.

God made promises to both the Jews and the Gentiles and He will keep His promises to both;

“Is God a man who lies, or a son of man who changes His mind? Does He speak and not act, or promise and not fulfill?”

Numbers 23:19

God said to Moses (Deuteronomy 32:16-21) that because the Jews made Him jealous and angered Him by serving worthless idols, that He would make them envious and angry by choosing the Gentiles. (Deuteronomy 32:16-21, esp. verse 21)

“They made Me jealous by what is no god

and angered Me with their worthless idols.

I will make them envious by those who are not a people;

I will make them angry by a nation that has no understanding.”

Deuteronomy 32:21

God did exactly as He said He would by calling those from the Gentiles;

And what if He did this to make known the riches of His glory on objects of mercy that He prepared beforehand for glory—on us, the ones He also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?  As He also says in Hosea:

I will call Not My People, My People,
and she who is Unloved, Beloved.
And it will be in the place where they were told,
you are not My people,
there they will be called sons of the living God.

Romans 9:23-25

Note: There are other related in articles in this current series, including;

God’s Promises to the Jews in the Abrahamic Covenant 


Paul’s Use of the term “Israel” in the Book of Romans


Paul’s Use of the term “Israel” in the Book of Romans

Introduction:  There are those who will say that Jews who do not accept Jesus as Messiah are not “true Israel” — but rather Gentile Christians and Jewish believers in Messiah form what is termed “true Israel“.  Does the Scripture teach that “Israel” is part Jewish by descent and part Gentile by descent — and if not, what do the passages in question really mean?

In this article, which is Part 1 of 3, we explore how Paul uses the term “Israel” in the book of Romans and then consider what he is saying in Romans 9:6-8.

What Does Paul Say in Romans 9: 1-8?

Those that claim that Gentile Christians, along with Jewish believers in Messiah are part of something termed “true Israel” point to two verses in Romans 9 as a major “proof text”;

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants.”

Romans 9:6-7

…so before examining these two verses, let’s look at the term “Israel” and how it is used to elsewhere in Scripture to refer to the ethnic nation / national covenant people of the Old Testament (the Jews).

“Israel” is used more than 2500 times in all of Scripture (both Old and New Testaments) and more than 70 times in the New Testament, alone.

Paul uses the term “Israel” 12 times in ten verses of Romans — as well as once in 1 Corinthians, twice in 2 Corinthians, once each in Galatians, Ephesians and Philippians and 3 times in Hebrews, so before considering what Paul is saying in Romans 9:6-7, let’s look at how he uses this term in the other 10 verses of Romans.

1. Romans 9:27, Paul says that “Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved”.

2. Romans 9:30-31: Paul says What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.

3. Romans 10:1: Paul says “Brothers my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.

4. Romans 10:19: Paul referring how the Gentiles would make Israel jealous says “But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”

…and continuing along in his thought, Paul says;

5. Romans 10:21: “But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”

6. Romans 11:2: “I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel?

…and continuing along Paul says;

7. Romans 11:7-8: “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.”

8. Romans 11:25 “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.

…and the next verse;

9. Romans 11:26 “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob”.

In the above 9 verses of Romans, Paul uses the term “Israel” as it is used elsewhere in the New Testament — to refer to the national covenant people of the Old Testament.

Does Paul suddenly redefine who Israel is in Romans 9:6-7?

What is Paul saying in Romans 9:6-7?

The entire discussion of Romans 9 up until verse 6 is only about physical Israel. There isn’t anything mentioning or alluding to Gentiles.

Paul introduces the chapter by sharing his heart-felt desire for “my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh”, who he defines as Israelites;

“I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience is testifying to me with the Holy Spirit that I have intense sorrow and continual anguish in my heart. For I could almost wish to be cursed and cut off from the Messiah for the benefit of my brothers, my own flesh and blood. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple service, and the promises. The ancestors are theirs, and from them, by physical descent, came the Messiah, who is God over all, praised forever. Amen.”

Romans 9:1-5

It is clear here that Paul is speaking about the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Jews.

If there is any doubt, Paul says that;

to them [the people of Israel] belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ (Messiah).

Romans 9:4-5

Clearly, Paul is not talking about Gentiles here, because he is speaking of specific things that only belong to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Jews:

Paul says that the adoption belongs to the Jews — that is, God having chosen the Jewish people as His own possession (Deuteronomy 7:6: For you are a holy people belonging to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be His own possession out of all the peoples on the face of the earth” and in Exodus 19:5 Now if you will listen to Me and carefully keep My covenant, you will be My own possession out of all the peoples, although all the earth is Mine”). The adoption of the physical descendants of Abraham refers to the Abraham Covenant where God chose the descendants of Abraham, and through Isaac and Jacob and as we’ll elaborate on below, the Abrahamic Covenant was ratified by God alone and the penalty for it being broken rested on Him.  As a result, The Abrahamic Covenant is an “everlasting covenant” and the Land which He promised the Jewish people is theirs as an “everlasting (or eternal) possession” (Genesis 17:7-8). 

While the nation as a whole did break God’s Law — and as a result, broke the Mosaic Covenant, God promised the New Covenant to the “House of Israel” and the “House of Judah” in Jeremiah 31:31-34. As well, God’s dealings with the nation of Israel was always in light of the “faithful remnant” that He said would always exist.  Even in the midst of exile from the Land for our sins, God promises that He would always leave a remnant;

“Yet I will leave a remnant when you are scattered among the nations, for throughout the countries there will be some of you who will escape the sword.

~Ezekiel 6: 8

Even though we broke the covenant (the Mosaic Covenant) that He gave us when He lead us out of Egypt, God promised the Jewish people a New Covenant to the people of Israel — to the Jews. As shocking as it may seem to those who have not heard it before, the New Covenant, ratified at the cross, was promised to the Jews;

“Look, the days are coming”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. This one will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant they broke even though I had married them”—the Lord’s declaration. “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days”—the Lord’s declaration. “I will put My teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “For I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sin.”

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Paul continues in Romans 9 to list things that only pertain to the people of Israel.

He says that the [Shekinah] glory belongs to the Jews and that the “covenants” (plural) belong to the Jews.  Here, Paul is referring to the Abrahamic Covenant (which we will discuss below) and the Mosaic Covenant.   Paul says that God gave the Law to the Jewish people as well as the specifics on how He was to be worshiped.  He speaks of the promises (plural) — so many promises!  God promised that we’d always be a people, that the Land was ours as an everlasting possession (even when we were exiled from it for our sin!), that we were to be a light to the Gentiles and that the One whom would ultimately redeem both the Gentiles and the Jews, and that the Light of the World, the Messiah, would be born a Jew. God gave promises about the future salvation of the nation of Israel beyond the “faithful remnant” that we see now (i.e. “when the “times of the Gentiles are fulfilled”) and of the “faithful remnant” itself!  He promised us the New Covenant by which He would redeem us from our disobedience. So many promises! The  Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — from whom the whole nation of Israel comes are the Jewish people’s and as we covered in Part One of this article, the Messiah Himself would be born to a physical descendant of the Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Jews (Genesis 12:3).

There is no doubt that In verses 1-5 of Romans 9, Paul is speaking about the physical nation of Israel — so this is context of verse 6. In fact, it is not until verse 22 of Chapter 9 that Paul even mentions Gentiles!

What is Paul saying in Romans 9:6?

Paul has just itemized the blessings that belong only to the people of Israel; the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises, the patriarchs, and according to the flesh, the Messiah and in verse 6, Paul is reflecting that he could not imagine ‘Israelites’ who do not belong to physical Israel. 

The point that Paul is making in Romans 9:6 is that while the promises of God to Israel may have appeared to have ‘failed’ — in that Israel is predominantly unbelievers, there is still “the faithful remnant” within Israel – the ‘Israel’ within ethnic Israel.

“But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants. On the contrary, your offspring will be traced through Isaac. That is, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but the children of the promise are considered to be the offspring.”

Romans 9:6-8

Paul is NOT distinguishing here between something supersessionists* call “spiritual Israel” (the Church, both believing Jews and Gentile Christians) and “physical Israel” — but is saying that the promises made to physical Israel are fulfilled through the faithful remnant — even though some of Israel’s descendants are not included.

*Note: Supersessionists are those that hold to what is commonly called  "Replacement Theology"; believing that the Church is the "new Israel".

So who are “Abraham’s children” and the “children of promise”?

What Paul is saying in Romans 9:7-8 needs to be understood in the context of what Paul is saying in verse 6.  He has just said that the promises made to physical Israel are fulfilled through the faithful remnant, even though some of Israel’s descendants are not included — and then makes a distinction between “Abraham’s natural children” and the “children of promise”;

“But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants. On the contrary, your offspring will be traced through Isaac. That is, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but the children of the promise are considered to be the offspring.”

Romans 9:6-8

Paul is saying in this passage that while the promises of God to Israel may appear to have ‘failed’, in that Israel is predominantly unbelievers — there is still the faithful remnant. This is supported by the fact that just a few verses down in verse 27, Paul refers to the faithful remnant; “

“Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved”.

Romans 9:27

Paul uses the term “Abraham’s children” and “children of promise” to refer to both Gentile Christians and Jewish believers. For example, in Romans 4:9-17, Paul refers to Gentiles as having Abraham as their “father” (i.e. Gentiles are also “Abraham’s children”) and as “children of promise”.

In Romans 9:1-5, Paul is only talking about physical Israel so based on the context, Paul is speaking only about physical Israel in verses 6-8, as well.

Paul does not redefine “Israel” as being “part Gentile” as supersessionist assert. In Romans 9:6-8, Paul is referring to the Israel within ethnic Israel — the faithful remnant (Jewish believers), who are a subset of physical Israel.

In conclusion, Paul used term “Israel” used in Romans 9:6-8 no differently than the way he uses “Israel” in the other 9 verses of the book of Romans — and no differently than it is used throughout the New Testament.

“Israel”, whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament refers to the ethnic nation / national covenant people of the Old Testament, the Jews.

Some thoughts…

It should be noted that in Romans 9, where Paul lists the blessings that belong to the physical nation of Israel (the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, the promises, the patriarchs, and the coming of Messiah as a Jew) that the verb tense used by Paul is the present tense. That is, these blessings belonged to physical Israel when Paul wrote his letter to the Romans — and still belong to Israel, as there is nothing in Scripture which indicates any change has since Paul penned those words.

In the list of blessings, Paul refers to the Abrahamic covenant (which God said was an “everlasting covenant” in Genesis 17:7-8) in the present tense, signifying that the Abrahamic Covenant belonged to physical Israel in the first century — and still belongs to them today. 

Part 2 of this series of 3 articles can be found here:

Shavuot – Counting of the Omer from Passover to Pentecost

Today is Pentecost Sunday! Yes, we know that the Church celebrated it on May 15th this year (2016) but according to how God in Scripture commanded the Jews to determine the date of Pentecost (called Shavuot for “weeks”), it is today, June 12th.  For us, it began at sundown on Saturday night.

The timing of Shavuot, is determined from when Passover falls, and as covered in an earlier article, Passover’s Significance to the Church (, the date that Passover falls each year wasn’t known until the “new moon” appeared that month.

[Orthodox Jews have since replaced the Biblical way of determining when the new moon is, with a fixed calendar however Karaite Jews still use the Biblical method of sighting the new moon.]

Passover is the first holiday following the start of the first month of the Biblical calendar, and falls 14 days after the sighting of the “new moon”.

new moon over Jerusalem April 9 2016
new moon over Jerusalem April 9 2016

Once the new moon is sighted, the first month is said to start. The date of Passover is on the 14th day of that first month, which is called Nisan [or Aviv, in the parts of Scripture from before the Babylonian exile].

Note: The 'fixed' Rabbinic Calendar, was developed in the 4th century CE, by Rabbi Hillel so that the beginning of each month (and the beginning of the first month by which all other dates are determined)  was pre-set. This meant that Jews that were scattered from the Land after the destruction of the Temple in 30 CE and the expulsion of the Jews under the Romans in 135 CE, would know when to celebrate the Passover and all other holidays. This is the so-called "Jewish Calendar" that is followed by most Jews, today. According to this fixed calendar, every month of the year has a set number of days, except for three (that have a pattern for determining how many days they have).

Biblical Pentecost is not simply 50 days after Passover on the Biblical lunar calendar, as some people think. In fact, when Pentecost began was one of the most fiercely contested matters between the Pharisees and Sadducees. More on that below…

"Christian Pentecost" does not fall on the same date as "Biblical Pentecost". Christian Pentecost falls 50 days after "Easter Sunday", on a 'fixed' solar calendar -- adopted by the Church at Rome around the time of Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, or just before. At this point in time, the Church abandoning the Biblical calendar established by God in Scripture; a lunar calendar of 354 days -- in favour of a solar calendar of 365 days.  Their reasons for doing so were much the same as the reasons for the adoption of the 'fixed' Jewish Calendar, adopted in the 4th century; so that the date of all the holidays was known in advance. 

Church records document that the believers, including the early Church father Polycarp (80 – 167 CE) commemorated the death of Jesus on the Passover on the 14th day of Nisan according to the Jewish (lunar) calendar, as he maintained he had been taught by the Apostle John to do.  Polycarp and many other bishops were almost excommunicated from the Church of Rome because they wouldn’t adopt the new practice of commemorating of the death of Jesus on the Sunday following Passover on this new ‘fixed’ Roman (solar) calendar — a day the Church now calls “Easter Sunday”. With the adoption of the Roman solar calendar, the date of “Easter Sunday” is ‘fixed’ and “Christian Pentecost” was set as falling 50 days after “Easter Sunday”. [see]

At first glance, determining when Biblical Pentecost is to start seems fairly straight forward, however when to start counting is not agreed upon by all sects of Jews. 

“You are to count 50 days until the day after the seventh Sabbath and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord. Bring two loaves of bread from your homes as a presentation offering, each of them made from four quarts of fine flour, baked with yeast, as firstfruits to the Lord.”

Leviticus 23:16-17

Jews start counting 7 sets of “weeks” from “the day after the seventh Sabbath (following Passover)“.  The 7 sets of weeks totals 49 days and the “day after the seventh Sabbath” adds 1 more day, totalling 50 days until Pentecost, but “which Sabbath” do we start counting from?

“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, so that you may be accepted. On the morrow (day) after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.’”

Leviticus 23:10

The Pharisees (who wrote the Mishnah and the Talmud and from whom today’s Orthodox rabbis descended) argued that Pentecost is to be counted from the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which they designated a “Sabbath.”

The Essenes who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls began the 50-day count to Pentecost on a different Sabbath from the Pharisees. The Essenes had a 364-day solar calendar which began every year on a Wednesday and had fixed lengths for each month, so being a solar calendar, Pentecost always fell on the 15th day of the third Hebrew month. The Essenes began their count to when Pentecost started on the Sunday after the seven-days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

The Sadducees who made up the Temple Priesthood, believed the 50-day count to Pentecost began on the weekly Sabbath that falls during the seven-days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. 

We know from Josephus that the Pharisees interpretation was the one that prevailed as he writes that “all prayers and sacred rites of divine worship are performed according to their [the Pharisees’] exposition” (Antiquities 18:15), and that the Sadducees “submit to the formulas of the Pharisees, since otherwise the masses would not tolerate them” (Antiquities 18:17).

Orthodox Jews today also count the Omer the same way the Pharisees did, by starting on the second day of Passover. Karaite Jews (a very small sect) do not recognize the authority of what the Pharisees and today’s Orthodox Jews call “Oral Torah” (i.e. of the Talmud or Mishnah) and follow only the teachings in the Old Testament (Tanakh).  Karaites count the Omer is accordance with a clear reading of the text (which was the same as the understanding of the Sadducees) which is also the way by which we determine when Shavuot falls.

“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, so that you may be accepted. On the morrow (day) after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.’”

Leviticus 23:10

“You are to count 50 days until the day after the seventh Sabbath and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord. Bring two loaves of bread from your homes as a presentation offering, each of them made from four quarts of fine flour, baked with yeast, as firstfruits to the Lord.”

Leviticus 23:16-17

Counting from Passover until Pentecost — beginning on the day after the Sabbath

The way the Sadducees and today’s Karaite Jews (and the way we do), determining the timing of Pentecost is based on a straight forward reading if the text; Since Sabbath is on Saturday, the “morrow after the Sabbath“, is a Sunday.

In Temple times, the “wave offering” of the first stalks for grain cut during Passover is called the Feast of First fruits, and in Jesus’  day, would have fallen the day after the weekly Sabbath.

The timing of Pentecost, as God commanded the Jews to observe it, has profound implications to the Church and in retrospect, we know that the Sadducees had the correct interpretation for determining it’s date, because exactly 50 days after the Feast of Firstfruits, the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost. 

The year that Jesus celebrated “the Last Supper” (more accurately the “Last Seder” with His disciples), Passover fell on a Thursday night. Remember that Biblically the new day begins at sundown the evening prior, so Thursday night after sundown is the beginning of Friday.  The day Jesus was crucified (called “Good Friday” by the Church) was the day of the Passover. The next day was Saturday, the Sabbath.

Jesus rose from the dead on the Sunday (“Resurrection Sunday”) – which was the “morrow after the Sabbath” of Passover — the day of the wave offering, the “Feast of Firstfruits” and Scripture says that He is the “first fruits from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:23).

“But now Messiah is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Messiah all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Messiah the firstfruits, afterward those who are Messiah’s at His coming.”

1 Corinthians 15:20-23

The night of Jesus’ last Seder with His disciples, the Feast of Passover fell on Thursday night, which by the Jewish reckoning of days is the beginning of Friday (days begins at sunset, the night before). Jesus was crucified later that day (by Jewish reckoning) which is the “next” day by the way the days are determined by non-Jewish custom. This Friday is what the Church has called “Good Friday“. So the “Sabbath of Passover” was the one between Jesus’ crucifixion and Resurrection.

Now here is where it gets very interesting…

It was that Sabbath — the Sabbath during Passover from which is the “morrow after the Sabbath of Passover” (a Sunday) was determined.  It is that Sunday of the wave offering, on the Feast of Firstfruits — from which the “counting of the Omer” began that year. When one adds one day to the 49 days (7 weeks of weeks) in accordance with Leviticus 23:15 — on the year that Jesus went to the cross and rose — that year, Pentecost fell on a Sunday… Pentecost Sunday!

It is important to remember that the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, so the year following Jesus’ death, Pentecost would have fallen on some other day than Sunday i.e. it was not “Pentecost Sunday” the year after, or even the year after that.

Pentecost (Shavuot) in Judaism has come to be associated with the giving of the Law to Moses at Sinai although this is not explicit in the Biblical text.  While Shavuot was one of the three Pilgrim festivals — one of the three times a year that every Jewish man was commanded to ascend to Jerusalem and present himself before the Lord in the Temple, the reason for this festival is not stated by God, in Scripture.  He simply commanded us observe it as outlined above, and that it is a Sabbath.  It is only with the coming of God’s Messiah. that we understand the significance of the day — as the one in which the Holy Spirit was given, as recorded in the New Testament book of Acts.


What did Paul mean by “may it never be!” ?

When Paul said in Scripture ‘may it never be” (me genoito / μένα genoito is the Greek equivalent) he was using a very common Hebrew expression as many other Jews of his day would have — not surprising considering Paul was Jew.

This common expression in Hebrew is “הל’לה” also spelled “הללה” (pronounced “chalilah” —  guttural ‘ch’) is found 21 times in the Tenakh (Old Testament).  The Strong’s word is H2490 and literally means “to be profane, and thus forbidden“.  It is used (interjectionally) in the KJV as “God forbid”, “far be it” (4x), “Lord forbid” (3x) and in other translations as “by no means”, “absolutely not”, “let it not be”, “certainly not”, “far be the thought”.

The first occurrence of this phrase is in Genesis 18 where Abraham is pleading with God in the form of a man on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah (incidentally yes, the tetragrammaton YHVH (יהוה) is used twice to describe the Man) :

“You could not possibly do such a thing: to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. You could not possibly do that! Won’t the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

Genesis 18:25

The last occurrence of the 21 passages in the Tenakh where this word is used is in Job 34, where Job says:

“Therefore listen to me, you men of understanding. It is impossible for God to do wrong, and for the Almighty to act unjustly.”

Job 34:10

The Greek phrase me genoito / μένα genoito  occurs 15 times in the New Testament and is translated at “may it never be” and means the same as הל’לה (also spelled הללה) — “God forbid that such a thought should be allowed in any one’s mind”, “let the thought be abhorred”)

When Paul speaks of God never rejecting the Jewish people, he uses this SAME phrase; “may it never be“.

For example;

“Did God forsake His people? May it never be! “

Romans 11:1

“I ask, then, have they stumbled in order to fall? Absolutely not!”

Romans 11:11

When Paul speaks in Romans 9 – 11 of God never forsaking the Jewish people, he meant the phrase just as strongly as Abraham and Job; God could never possibly do that! It is impossible for God to do wrong or act unjustly. Won’t the Judge of all the earth do what is just?

“What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.”

Romans 9:14


Christianity and Judaism – siblings, not parent and child


We’ve often heard it said that Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism; as if Judaism is the parent and Christianity, the child. We believe a more accurate analogy is to see Judaism and Christianity as siblings, twins in fact, born out of the same event.

The belief that Christianity was born out of Judaism fails to take into account that the Judaism of the Second Temple period (i.e. right up to the time of Jesus and the Apostles) was not a single, uniform faith. There was the Judaism of the Pharisees, of the Sadducees, of the Essenes, of the Zealots and of the Samaritans, and numerous smaller sects, as well. Then at the beginning of the 1st century CE, there were the Nazarenes; Jews that believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah.

[see article Jewish Sects During the Second Temple Period]

Jewish Sects; a Matter of Identity, Purity, and Boundaries

Of the three main sects of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes each maintained their individuality by meticulously erecting walls around itself to separate itself from members from other sects, ordinary Jews and Gentiles. This social separation was rigorously mandated in a variety of ways; one of which was a strict defining of identity; which defined who members of the group were — and what defined those who were not members.

For example, the Essenes living in Qumran had very strict guidelines for entry into this sect, as well as the harsh punishment for those who failed to keep its rules. They were determined to maintain what they viewed as their ‘pure’ communal standards at all costs.

The Pharisees separated themselves from the ‘ordinary Jews’ and other sects by means of laws defining the havurah i.e. the community; with the stringent of rules for both membership and separation from ‘am haaret’ – the ordinary Jew.

Another means both of these groups had for separating themselves from others was through the strict observance of purity regulations which were very important to both the Essenes and the Pharisees. These purity regulations served to restrict any kind of social contact with those outside one’s group, including Jews of other sects and of course, Gentiles (who were viewed as idolaters, and thus impure).

When one became ‘defiled’ by a dead body, a discharge such as blood or by other means outlined in the (Written) Law of Moses (Essenes) or for the Pharisees, by a breach of either Oral Law or Written Law, ritual purification was necessary.  This need for constant purification in both communities is evidenced by the ritual of mikvah (ritual immersion) that was accomplished through large constructed ‘baths’ used for the purpose of ritual immersion. (These baths are the origin of the ‘baptistery tanks’ seen in many denominations of churches). All around the Temple in Jerusalem were a multitude of miqva’ot (plural of mikvah) that were used for purification rituals as well as throughout Qumran, where the Essenes were centered. In fact the Essenes at Qumran practiced daily immersion in a mikvah before the communal meal and there was even an entire liturgy that accompanied it.

This segregation naturally prevented the groups from assimilating.  They didn’t have contact with each other, except under proscribed circumstances therefore there was no point in time in which these groups “merge”. During the time of Jesus and the Apostles, there was no one single group which can be spoken of as “the Jews”.

Destruction of the Temple – the turning point

In 66 CE, the Jewish community as a whole, initiated by the Zealots protested Roman taxation which resulted in the Romans plundering the Temple and killing of 6,000 Jews.  This was the start of the first Jewish-Roman war (66-73 CE).

At this time, the Nazarenes were seen as a Jewish sect by the Romans and fared no better than non-believing Jews. As a result of the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the Jews fled Jerusalem.  Since the Temple was the place of God’s presence, its destruction was seen as His defeat, both by the Romans and later on, by the largely Gentile Church.

After the destruction of the Second Temple, Rome governed Judea through a Procurator at Caesarea and a Jewish Patriarch. The first Patriarch was a former leading Pharisee (Yohanan ben Zakkai) and he re-established the Sanhedrin (Jewish court of judges) at Jamnia under Pharisaic control. Instead of giving tithes to the priests and sacrificing offerings at the Temple, the rabbis instructed the Jews to give money to charities and to study in local synagogues.

With the Temple destroyed, the Nazarenes who were accustomed to attending synagogue to hear the Law and the Prophets read continued to do so until changes in the synagogue liturgy made by Gamaliel II (grandson of the Gamaliel referred to in Acts 5) in 72-73 CE made it impossible.

In 132 CE, the Emperor Hadrian threatened to rebuild Jerusalem as a pagan city dedicated to Jupiter. Some of the leading members of the Sanhedrin supported a rebellion led by Simon bar Kochba – which became known as “the Bar Kochba Revolt”.

The revolt ended in 135 CE when Bar Kochba and his army were defeated.

Pharisees – the last group standing

At the end of the Jewish-Roman wars and the Bar Kochba Revolt, the Zealots were wiped out.

Many of the Sadducees came to faith in Jesus (Acts 6:7) as did some of the Pharisees (Acts 15:5) and along with the thousands of Jews that became Nazarenes (Acts 21:20) soon found themselves to be considered heretics by the only surviving sect, the Pharisees.

Changes in the Jewish liturgy were designed to expose what Gamaliel II considered “minim” or heretics, including the Essenes and Nazarenes and was accomplished by adding a prayer to the Amidah (the central prayer of the liturgy) cursing the “mimin” (heretics); which the Nazarenes could neither say, nor respond ‘amen’ to it.

It is important to understand that heresy from a rabbinic perspective is not seen primarily as incorrect theology but a separation from the community. Unlike the Qumran community, which was a minority group setting laws of seclusion or in their own words of separating themselves from the rest of society, the rabbinic laws of minim are those of a majority and are the laws of exclusion.

The rabbinic authorities drew boundaries and defined deviance from those they viewed as infidels; setting out they defined as right and wrong.

Forty years after Jesus’ death, the synagogue was no longer open to Jewish believers. Nazarenes, Jewish believers in Jesus as the Messiah were now excluded from the Jewish community.

Biblical Support for the banning of the Nazarenes from the Synagogue

It is thought by scholars that there are two clear references in the Gospel of John regarding the Jewish believers “being put out of the synagogue” by the Jewish leadership and that this was a reference to the introduction of the “blessing” (cursing) of the heretics during the early second century.

“His parents said these things because they were afraid of the Jews, since the Jews had already agreed that if anyone confessed Him as Messiah, he would be banned from the synagogue.”

John 9:22

“Nevertheless, many did believe in Him even among the rulers, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, so they would not be banned from the synagogue.”

John 12:42

Jesus Himself also warned the Jewish believers that they will be made “outcasts from the synagogue”, but there was coming a day when there will be those that will kill them, thinking they are offering service to God;

These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling. They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. “These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me”.

John 16:1-3

Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism – the birth of twins

For the first two or three centuries of their common lives, Judaism in all of its forms (including the Nazarenes) coexisted with the emergence of Gentiles coming to believe in Jesus – the birth of Christianity.

Rabbinic Judaism and (Gentile dominated) Christianity were twins in a womb — contending with each other for identity and precedence. Both emerged out of the same event; the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE — as much a reaction to each other and to Rome as defined by themselves.

Emergence of Rabbinic Judaism – the first twin

After the suppression of the Bar Kochba Revolt, the vast majority of Jews were sent into exile.

In an effort to preserve the Oral traditions of the elders, around 200 CE Judah haNasi edited together judgements and traditions of the Oral Law into an authoritative code, called the Mishnah. This was the final transformation of the Judaism of the Second Temple period into Rabbinic Judaism – a form of Judaism that is centered on the belief that the Written Law of Moses cannot be properly understood without the Oral Law (the Mishnah).

The Rabbinic midrashim (plural of Midrash) refers to many groups they viewed as deviants of various types; Samaritans, Gnostics, Sadducees, Boethusians, and other sects. Out of 30 passages in these midrashim, only one is said to refer unequivocally to Nazarenes, the Jewish believers in Jesus.

The interpretation of this Rabbinic literature focuses on what behavior is deemed to be sanctioned by the Law; and this body of interpretations is called “halakha” (the way).

Christianity and Abandonment of Jewish Practice – the second twin

The decision of the Jerusalem Counsel (Acts 15) that Gentile Christians did not need to be circumcised seemed inconsequential when the bulk of the believers were Jews, but when Gentiles Christians outnumbered Jewish believers (Nazarenes), not being circumcised delineated Christianity as being “not Jewish”.

Rabbinic Judaism wasn’t alone in its declaring of “heretics”.

The now largely Gentile Church formally rejected the Jewish practices of the Nazarenes and adopted decidedly “Christian” practices.  Sabbath observance on the 7th day of the week (Saturday) was changed to Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead, as early as 110 CE by Ignatius of Antioch.

As discussed in an earlier article, the continued observance of the death of Jesus (in what was known as the “Paschal feast”) by Church Father Polycarp and the Church at Jerusalem and Antioch continued on 14 of Nisan (the same day as the Passover for Jews) until it was disputed by Bishop Victor (who later became Pope Victor I between 189–199 CE. Polycarp and several other bishops came very close to being excommunicated by the Church simply for continuing to observe the Lord’s death on the Jewish Passover, as they maintained the Apostle John had taught them.

The dominantly Gentile Church formally rejected any Christian celebration on Passover at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 CE.  From that time onward, the observance of the death of Jesus was exclusively to be on the first Sunday following Passover — and was renamed “Easter”. Conversation and fellowship with Jews was also forbidden.

Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel were forced to “convert” to Christianity and to be baptized as “Christians” and to assimilate into the Gentile-dominated Church and in the 4th century, Jews that tried to obstruct the conversion of other Jews to Christianity incurred the death penalty.

The “discourses of heresy” of both Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity eventually led to the two becoming separate entities, with the Jewish believers being welcome in neither.

Anti-Jewish Sentiment in the Church

Anti-Jewish sentiment started early and continued through the centuries.

Here are but a few examples from the early Church;

In ~135 CE, Justin Martyr, said that the Jews defeat in the Jewish Roman Wars and the destruction of the Second Temple were God’s visitation and a deserved punishment “For ye slew the Just One and His prophets before Him, and now ye reject, and … dishonor those who set their hopes on Him and God Almighty and Maker of the universe who sent Him”.

In 240 CE, Origen of Alexandria wrote that the Jews “have committed the most abominable of crimes” in conspiring against Christ and for that reason “the Jewish nation was driven from its country and another people was called by God to the blessed election“.

In 248 CE, St. Cyprian wrote that the Jews “have fallen under the heavy wrath of God because they have departed from the Lord and have followed idols”.

Anti-Jewish sentiment continued in Christian Byzantine society (529-553 CE), where Jews were forbidden to read the Torah in Hebrew in synagogue, and the Mishnah and other rabbinic literature were banned. In the third Council of The Council of Orleans, synods held in the Frankish kingdom (538 CE), decreed that Jews could not be seen in the streets during Passover Week. In 681 CE, The Synod of Toledo ordered the burning of the Talmud and other books.

The history of anti-Jewish sentiment in the Church did not end with the Reformation.

The leader of the Reformation, Martin Luther initially hoped that the Jews would be enthusiastic at the prospect of his reformed version of Christianity but when they did not convert, Luther denounced the Jewish people and called for their persecution and destruction. In a paragraph from his “On the Jews and Their Lies”, Luther wrote “What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews“. If that were not enough, Luther made a horrific list of what Christian should do to Jews;

“First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools … This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians …”

“Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed.”

“Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them.”

“Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb …”

“Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. For they have no business in the countryside …”

“Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them …”

“Seventh, I recommend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow … but if we are afraid that they might harm us or our wives, children, servants, cattle, etc., … then let us emulate the common sense of other nations such as France, Spain, Bohemia, etc., then eject them forever from the country …”

Actions flow from Beliefs

The Church not only held anti-Jewish sentiments, it persecuted the Jewish people – in fact, often treating us worse than the Muslim Arabs that ruled before or after the Christians.  For example, when the Arabs conquered Jerusalem in 638 CE, the majority of the population was Christian.  Umar, the first Caliph (Islamic representative) lifted the almost 500 year ban against Jewish residence that had been imposed by the Christians under the Byzantine Empire and invited the Jews to return, live and worship once again in Jerusalem. Muslims permitted Jews access to Jerusalem, yet the Christians banned us.

Christians, regained control of the Holy Land in 1099 CE and once again prevented the Jews from living in Jerusalem.

When Jerusalem fell to the (Muslim) Ottomans in 1517 CE, Jews were allowed once again to practice their religion and the Holy Land became a refuge for Jews fleeing persecution of the Christian Crusaders in Europe.

In fact, it was under Ottoman rule of the early 1900’s, that the first waves of Jewish immigrants from Russia were permitted to build a better life for themselves in the Holy Land – yet how many so-called “Christian” nations closed their doors to Jews fleeing the Nazis – including Canada.

What people believe about Jews affects how they treat them.

What the Church today believes about Jews also determines how they treat them now and in the days ahead.

Some Final Thoughts

While many Gentile Christians now would distance themselves from the virulent anti-Jewish sentiment and actions of the past, how inclusive is the Church for Jews today?

The Jerusalem Counsel of Acts 15 established that Gentiles did not have to convert to Judaism, be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses to follow Jesus, but does the Church of today expect Jews to “convert” to Christianity, renounce the everlasting Covenant God made with their forefathers at Sinai and abandon the Law and the Prophets that Messiah Himself taught and explicitly upheld?

What would Paul think of a church that teaches that they replace the Jews as God’s chosen people – while using his own letters to the early Church for justification?

What would Jesus have to say about Jewish believers keeping Torah being referred to as having “fallen from grace” — when He Himself taught that he who keeps these things will be called “great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:17-19).

The Reformation was intended to bring the Church back to its roots, but how is that possible devoid of its Jewish context?


Brothers Estranged: Heresy, Christianity, and Jewish Identity in Late Antiquity, by Adiel Schremer. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010

McIver, Robert K., Roennfeldt, Ray C. W. Text and Interpretation: Christian Understandings of Authoritative Texts in the Light of Social Change, Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 2009; 20(3):257-276

Peter J. Tomson – review of Brothers Estranged: Heresy, Christianity, and Jewish Identity in Late Antiquity, (2012), Review of Biblical Literature, Society of Biblical Literature, Judaism: Rabbinic and Medieval

Tomson, Peter J, Jewish Food Laws in Early Christian Discourse, Semeia,1999; Issue 86, p193


New Testament Dietary Laws – Different for Jews and Gentiles


Most Gentile Christians know of Jewish dietary laws in the Old Testament but not what made foods ‘unclean’ or what role these laws served.  Few are aware that there are dietary laws set out for Gentile Christians in the New Testament that are not simply a matter of individual ‘conscience’.  What are these and how did differing food laws for Jewish believers and Gentile Christians impact social interaction between us in the first century? Are these still in effect and if so, what are the implications for social interactions today. That is the topic of this article.

Is that Kosher?

The only time most people encounter the expression “is that kosher?” is as a euphemism for “is that ‘legit’ “ but the word kosher has a very specific meaning in the Tanakh (Old Testament). The term kosher comes from the Hebrew word כָּשֵׁר (kasher) meaning “fit” – as in ‘fit for consumption’ and refers to food that is fit to eat according to Jewish dietary law.

The Torah (the Law of God as recorded by Moses) outlines the Jewish dietary laws in Leviticus 11:1-47 and Deuteronomy 14: 3-20, with the passage in Deuteronomy beginning and ending with the underlying reason for them;

“…you are a holy people belonging to the Lord your God. The Lord has chosen you to be His own possession out of all the peoples on the face of the earth.”

Leviticus 14:2

The Jews were called over and over again throughout the Old Testament to live in a manner that distinguished them from the nations [Gentiles] around them; not to go after their gods and not to practice their customs that God described as abominations.

The Jewish dietary laws, along with circumcision and the practices involving Sabbath and the Feasts delineate the Jews as a people. Jews were to be distinctive so that the nations around us would see us as set apart as a holy people.

The laws associated with how we as Jews conduct ourselves are  collectively known as halakha and are divided into laws of diet, purity and idolatry.  Much of the confusion by the early Church Fathers in interpreting texts to do with Jewish dietary laws had to do with a failure to understand that in the Jewish mind of the first century there was a distinction between laws of purity and dietary laws and the laws of idolatry and dietary laws. We will elaborate on this further on in this article as well as a future article on whether Christianity evolved from the Judaism of the second Temple period.

For Jews, not eating certain foods was never a matter of salvation; eating foods that were unclean was not a sin requiring atonement.

Leviticus 11 refers to the foods the Jews were not to eat not as unclean or detestable – but as “unclean for you” (Lev 11:8) or “detestable to you” (Lev 11:12, 13a, 20 & Deut 14:7, 14:10, 14:19).  In the construct of the phrase “detestable to you” (l’chem hem t’meh-im), the l’ denotes purpose, intention or result. These animals did not possess an objective property called “impurity”; they were not in and by themselves unclean – they were to be considered unclean to us, as Jews – to be considered detestable to us, as Jews. The purpose, intention or result was to delineate us from the nations around us.

In case we missed it, the reason why were to not eat these foods is repeated again at the end of the lists of animals, fish, birds and insects in Deuteronomy 14:21a.

“…For you are a holy people belonging to the Lord your God.”

Deuteronomy 14:21a

We know these foods were not unclean in and by themselves, because it says in Deuteronomy 14:21b that we can give them to a “temporary resident living within your gates and he may eat it or you may sell it to a foreigner [a Gentile]”.  The Law was abundantly clear that we were not to mistreat Gentiles in any way; if these creatures were unclean in themselves and unfit for people to eat, God would not have permitted us to give them or sell them to Gentiles to eat.

Does the New Testament abolish the Jewish Dietary Laws?

There are two passages in the New Testament that are commonly raised as ‘proving’ that the Jewish Dietary Laws were abolished, so we will address ourselves to these;

  1. Peter’s Vision in Acts 10
  2. “Nothing going into a man from the outside can defile him” from Mark Chapter 7

1. Peter’s vision in Acts 10

The scene opens with Cornelius, a Roman centurion and a man described as devout and God-fearing having an angel of the Lord appear to him.  The angel told Cornelius to send men to Joppa and call for Simon, who is also called Peter and so he did.

Independently, Peter who was staying with Simon the tanner went up on the housetop around noon the following day to pray.  He became hungry and wanted something to eat and while Simon the tanner’s household was preparing the food, Peter had a vision. Peter saw something that resembled a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners. In the sheet were all the four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth and the birds of the sky.  Peter heard a voice say to him “Get up, Peter; kill and eat!” Peter replied, “no!” insisting that he has “never eaten anything common and ritually unclean!

Peter heard the voice a second time, this time saying “what God has made clean, you must not call common.” This happened three times, and then the object was taken up into heaven.

People who say this passage refers to God declaring that foods that were considered ‘unclean’ (unkosher) to Jews were now considered ‘clean’ (kosher) and God was saying Peter and the Jews could eat them, haven’t read the rest of the story.

The text says that “Peter was deeply perplexed about what the vision he had seen might mean” (10:17) and was thinking about the vision (10:19) when the Spirit told him to go downstairs and let the men Cornelius had sent in. The next day Peter set out with them for Cornelius’ house and when he arrived, Cornelius met him. Given how perplexed he was and that he had been reflecting on it while at Simon the Tanner’s house, Peter probably continued to ponder the meaning of the vision as he traveled to Cornelius’ house. When they had arrived and walked into Cornelius’ house, Peter noticed that there was a huge crowd of Gentiles already there and Peter said to them;

You know it’s forbidden for a Jewish man to associate with or visit a foreigner [Gentile] but God has shown me that I must not call any person common or unclean.

Acts 10:28

It’s at this point it is clear that Peter understood the vision and that it had nothing to do with food, but people.

On a side note, when Peter said that it was forbidden for a Jewish man to associate with or visit with a Gentile, he was speaking from the standpoint of the Pharisees interpretation of the Law. There is no commandment in the written Torah forbidding Jews from visiting with or associating with Gentiles but what made it forbidden by the rabbis according to their Oral Law was that Gentiles were associated with idolatry — something Jews were not to associate with.

Something that is very important to keep in mind is that the laws of idolatry are an entirely different area of halakha than the dietary laws.

If there was any doubt from the passage in Mark that it was people the vision was referring to and not food, in Acts 11 Peter retells the whole event again and in verse 11 and 12 says;

“At that very moment, three men sent to me from Caesarea arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make distinction between them and us”.

Acts 11:11-12

Interestingly, in Acts 15:8-9, Peter uses this same phrase again.  He speaks of the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles as them having had their hearts ‘cleansed’ by faith and that He [the Holy Spirit] made no distinction between them [Gentiles] and us [Jews].

“And God, who knows the heart, testified to them by giving the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.”

Acts 15:8-9

Note here that Gentiles Christians were no longer “unclean” because they were no longer idolaters. That is what ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ in these passages refers to.

  1. Mark Chapter 7 – “Nothing going into a man from the outside can defile him”

As we did above, let’s set the scene.

The Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Him. They observed that some of His disciples were eating their bread with unclean—that is, unwashed—hands. (For the Pharisees, in fact all the Jews, will not eat unless they wash their hands ritually, keeping the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they have washed. And there are many other customs they have received and keep, like the washing of cups, jugs, copper utensils, and dining couches. Then the Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why don’t Your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders, instead of eating bread with ritually unclean hands?

Mark 7: 1-5

This is where Jesus replies and quotes a passage in Isaiah and applies it to the Pharisees;

the people honouring Me with their lips but their heart is far from Me.  They worship Me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commands of men

Mark 7: 6-7

As if there was any doubt what Jesus was saying to the Pharisees, Jesus elaborates;

Disregarding the command of God, you keep the tradition of men.” He also said to them, “You completely invalidate God’s command in order to maintain your tradition!

In verse 11-13, Jesus talks about the practice that the Pharisees had of encouraging men to give money to the Temple that was supposed to be to care for their parents — thereby overlooking God’s command to ‘honour your father and mother’.  Then Jesus said to the Pharisees;

“You revoke God’s word by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many other similar things.” Summoning the crowd again, He told them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: Nothing that goes into a person from outside can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him. [If anyone has ears to hear, he should listen!]” When He went into the house away from the crowd, the disciples asked Him about the parable. And He said to them, “Are you also as lacking in understanding? Don’t you realize that nothing going into a man from the outside can defile him? For it doesn’t go into his heart but into the stomach and is eliminated.” (As a result, He made all foods clean. Then He said, “What comes out of a person—that defiles him. For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, promiscuity, stinginess, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness.  All these evil things come from within and defile a person.”

Two theologians, James D.G. Dunn (Jesus, Paul and the Law, 1990, pg 51) and E.P. Sanders (Jewish Law From Jesus to Mishnah, pg 28) make the same point that this passage is contrasting two issues and that the “not…but” contrast is not to be taken literally. That is the phrase “not what goes in but what comes out” (Mark 7:15) could well mean that “what comes out – the wickedness of a person’s heart is what really matters, leaving the food laws untouched.

Mark S. Kinzer (Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism, 2005, pg 54) says that the passage in Mark 7:15 would be similar to the quotation from Hosea 6:6 that Jesus quotes in Matt 9:13 and 12:7 “I desire mercy not sacrifice”. Kinzer says that in both passages “sacrifice” is associated with restrictions; on eating with sinners (Matt 9:13) and plucking and eating grain on the Sabbath (Matt 12:7).  Jesus’ quotation from Hosea in the context of Matthew is Jesus saying that ‘mercy is the more important when compared to ritual restrictions”.  Jesus isn’t nullifying all ritual restrictions but in this passage and in the one in Mark 7:15, He is emphasizing the ‘weightier matters of the Law”. Kinzer understands the Mark 7:15 passage to be taken to make a prioritization of categories of impurity, rather than a denial of physical impurity.

Personally, we see an additional factor. When we look back at the passages in Leviticus and Deuteronomy that define foods as fit for consumption for Jews or not, the foods were not unclean in and by themselves.  Both the passages in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 refers to the foods the Jews were not to eat as “unclean for you” (Lev 11:8) or “detestable to you” (Lev 11:12, 13a, 20 & Deut 14:7, 14:10, 14:19).  In the Hebrew it is even more clear that the very construct of the phrase “detestable to you” (l’chem hem t’meh-im), the l’ denotes the purpose, intention or result.

As mentioned earlier, these animals did not possess an objective property called “impurity”; they were not in and by themselves unclean – they were to be considered unclean to us, as Jews – to be considered detestable to us, as Jews with the purpose, intention or result being to delineate us from the nations around us.

More importantly,  when Jesus said that “nothing that goes into a person from outside can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him”. Jesus was speaking about defilement and defilement is a matter related to Jewish purity laws and not Jewish dietary laws.  Purity laws, like laws related to idolatry are a different area of halakha from dietary laws.

Another thing that is needed to understand this passage is that under the Law, most cases eating a food that was considered unclean was not a sin in need of atonement but was rectified by washing and waiting until sunset.

In this passage, Jesus was saying that eating an unclean food DID NOT defile someone but that even thoughts of these DID; evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, promiscuity, stinginess, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness. The first matter (of eating an unclean food) never needed atonement even in the Old Testament.  Jesus is teaching here that the second matter (of unclean thoughts and desires) does.

Isolating the New Testament from the Old Testament results compartmentalization which is at its heart is a failure to see that the New Testament is contiguous with the Old and that the teachings of Jesus are entirely consistent with the teachings of the Old.  It also often results in people appropriately interpreting and understanding what is being spoken of in the New.

These two passages are only two examples where people think the passage is referring to something entirely different than would be understood from a first century Jewish perspective.

With regards to Jesus declaring all foods clean (vs 19), some scholars say this verse is a later textual addition, made to try and make sense of what Jesus just said.  Even if we assume this is in the original text neither food nor the Gentiles are unclean in and by themselves — certain foods were to be considered unclean and this served as a social delineator. Likewise, under Jewish law it is the practice of idolatry that made Jews forbidden to associate with Gentiles [something that was no longer an issue for Jewish believers when Gentiles become Christians].

These social delineators set the Jews apart from the nations around them in much the same way as the Church being called to bein the world not of the world (John 17:16).

Gentile Dietary Laws in the New Testament – say what?

Most people have some idea of Jewish dietary laws (at least in the Old Testament) yet have no idea there are explicit dietary laws for Gentiles in the New Testament.

In Acts, when the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles,  some of the Jewish believers who were Pharisees (Acts 15:5) thought it was necessary for the Gentile Christians to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses. Paul and Barnabas and some others went to the Apostles and Elders in Jerusalem and after there had been much debate, settled the matter. Gentiles did not need to be circumcised, observe the Sabbath, keep the dietary laws or any of the other commands of the Law but were to ;

“(1) abstain from things polluted by idols, (2) from sexual immorality, (3) from eating anything that has been strangled and (4) from blood”

Acts 15:20

As covered in a previous article, these four laws were the same laws set out in Leviticus 17 & 18 for Gentiles living amongst Jews in the Old Testament;

(1) abstain from things polluted by idols; (Leviticus 17:7-8) “They must no longer offer their sacrifices to the goat-demons that they have prostituted themselves with. This will be a permanent statute for them throughout their generations. Say to them: Anyone from the house of Israel or from the foreigners who live among them who offers a burnt offering or a sacrifice but does not bring it to the entrance to the tent of meeting to sacrifice it to the Lord, that person must be cut off from his people.

(2) abstain from sexual immorality; (Leviticus 18:1-26) “Do not profane the name of your God; I am Yahweh. You are not to sleep with a man as with a woman; it is detestable. You are not to have sexual intercourse with[f] any animal, defiling yourself with it; a woman is not to present herself to an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion….You must not commit any of these detestable things—not the native or the foreigner who lives among you.(Leviticus 18:21, 26)

(3) abstain from eating anything that has been strangled (Leviticus 17:15) “Every person, whether the native or the foreigner, who eats an animal that …was mauled by wild beasts is to wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will remain unclean until evening; then he will be clean. 16 But if he does not wash his clothes and bathe himself, he will bear his punishment.”

(4) abstain from eating blood (Leviticus 17:10,12) “Anyone from the house of Israel or from the foreigners who live among them who eats any blood, I will turn against that person who eats blood and cut him off from his people…Therefore I say to the Israelites: None of you and no foreigner who lives among you may eat blood

Three of these four laws for Gentile Christians are dietary food laws and two of the four were explicitly dietary laws for Gentiles living amongst Jews in the Old Testament;

  1. abstain from eating anything that has been strangled
  2. abstain from eating blood

As for the third law, the matter of

3. abstaining from things polluted by idols, the issue as to whether food could be polluted by idols and therefore unfit for Gentile Christians to eat (as well as Jews) was raised by Paul in 1 Corinthians 8 -10. Paul teaches that Gentile Christians should abstain from eating as soon as another’s conscience appears to be directed to idolatry. As long as no idolatrous consciousness is signaled, Gentile Christians could eat what is being offered “without asking” (1 Cor 10:25, 27).

So yes, Gentile Christians under the New Testament had dietary food laws.

Something to consider…

Why would the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 have needed to meet to decide whether Gentiles had to undergo circumcision and follow Jewish dietary customs if the Jewish believers in the first century no longer did so? It makes no sense.

Gentile Dietary Laws Today

As with the Jewish dietary laws, there is nothing in the New Testament that indicates the the dietary food laws for Gentile Christians were abolished.  As a result, it seems to us that these same three dietary laws still apply to Gentile Christians now.

As far as we can see, Gentile Christians should still;

  1. abstain from eating anything that has been strangled
  2. abstain from eating blood; which would include foods commonly available in many European cultures such as “boudin” (blood sausage) and a food commonly eaten in Chinese culture, pork blood.
  3. abstaining from things polluted by idols may not  seem like it could be much of an issue today, but a matter of conscience may still be raised for Gentile Christians with regard to food being offered to idols in many South East Asian grocery stores and restaurants.  Having a look around in many Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai restaurants one can find food being offered in front of a Buddha idol.  Whether Gentile Christians want to eat  or buy food in such places can still be a matter of conscience. We have also heard of Gentile Christians (and Jewish believers) not wanting to purchase or eat ‘halal’ meat which has been slaughter while pronouncing Islamic blessings.

Were Jewish Dietary Laws a Barrier to Fellowship with Gentiles in the First Century

We’ve heard it said that Paul and the other disciples must have had to ‘ease up’ on observance of the dietary laws when they went on journeys, especially when amongst Gentiles; failing to realize that keeping Jewish dietary laws in the first century was fairy easy.

The list of foods from the Law of Moses that Jews are to consider unclean is so small and is limited to pork and shellfish and meat from clean animals if they were killed in a way that made them unkosher (e.g. strangled or killed by another animal). But Gentile Christians weren’t to eat meat that had been strangled either!  If the meat had been offered to idols then Jewish believers would not eat it and Gentile Christians would not eat it, if doing so was a matter of conscience.

What is important to know is that by and large, meat was not central to the diet during this time and most of the calories in the diet came from vegetarian sources.  Besides, it took a long time to raise any animal for food and without any refrigeration, all of a large animal would need to be eaten so it was not something that was regularly consumed.

What Foods were Commonly Eaten in the First Century?

We know that 70% of daily calories in the first century diet came from grains (emmet wheat, barley and millet) and most common protein sources were legumes (like chickpeas, lentils, etc). Goat milk cheese or sheep’s milk cheese was made as was fermented milk products such as yogourt.  Fresh leafy vegetables were eaten with vinegar and olive oil and cured olives were available even to those on a very limited budget and figs, dates and pomegranate were available in season as were a variety of nuts.

Jewish believers in the first century could eat most foods that would have commonly had been offered by Gentiles to visitors; that of bread, legumes [chickpeas, lentils], fresh greens, yogourt, cheese, fruit [such as pomegranate, figs and dates].

Chicken, beef, lamb and goat were animals commonly raised throughout the Roman Empire as well as pork but as mentioned above, meat was not central to the diet.  It was easy for Jewish believers to avoid pork or for Gentile Christians or Jewish believers to avoid meat if there was a question of it having been offered to idols.

As we have demonstrated, for a Jew to follow Jewish dietary laws according to the written Law of Moses in the first century did not pose a barrier to fellowship with Gentiles.

Food Laws as a Barrier to Fellowship – today

We’ve heard it said that Jewish believers observing the dietary laws today “divides the body” and puts a strain on having fellowship together.

We don’t see that Jewish believers observing Jewish dietary laws divides the Body of Messiah any more than those that abstain from meat.  If it is okay for people to be vegetarians within the body of Messiah then it should be just as okay for us as Jews to not eat pork or shellfish.

If anything, Gentile Christians expecting Jewish believers not to observe Jewish dietary laws is dividing the Body; for the same reason as Judaizing was in the first century — except that it is in reverse.  Gentiles “Gentilizing” Jews is no different than Jews Judaizing Gentiles.

What would Paul have to say about Gentile Christians expecting Jewish believers to act like Gentiles in the Church?

Here is something that may help understand what we are getting at; the next time you are reading a passage from Paul dealing with the first century issue of Judaizing, take out the term “Judaizing” and replace it with “Gentilizing” and swap Jew for Gentile.  This should provide some helpful insights.

Imposing our cultural distinctions on the other is wrong regardless which side it comes from.

Should the Church not be a place where the Jew feels welcome — not needing to assimilate?

So why should we continue to observe these Dietary Laws?

If neither Jesus nor Paul nor any other of the Apostles abolished the dietary laws then why as Jews should we?

Furthermore, as we taught in a previous article (on Jesus as a prophet like Moses),  Jesus said in speaking to Jews in the preamble to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) that those Jews that practice and teach the commands to other Jews would be called great in the kindgom and those that do not practice and teach other Jews to practice them and teach other Jews to do so would be called least in the kingdom.  Clearly both those that do and those that do not are “in the kingdom” so the practice of these things has nothing to do with salvation.  Jesus said we would be called great in the kingdom if we practice the commands and teach other [Jews] to. Who are we to overrule Jesus’ exhortation?

As it was in Biblical times, the practice of the dietary laws by Jewish believers today delineates us as the people with whom God made an everlasting covenant in Genesis 17:7-8 and marks us as ones set apart for the purposes of God.  We don’t see this as any different than being called to be “in the world, not of the world“.  Whether Jewish believers or Gentile Christians, we are to be a people set apart.

Neither Jew Nor Greek

We often hear people saying to us that we should not keep the dietary laws because “there is neither Jew nor Greek [Gentile] now”.  If there is neither Jew nor Gentile then there is neither male nor female (Gal 3:28)!  As Daniel says sarcastically: “then cut it off gentlemen”.

Is there still male and female?  Yes. Then there is still Jew and Gentile.

Equal but Different

We want to be very clear that we believe without question that Gentile Christians and Jewish believers are absolutely equal before God, we are equal but different.

Let’s let’s not confuse equality with uniformity

In the first century, the Jerusalem Counsel in Acts 15 came to the conclusion that Gentiles didn’t have to act like Jews to be in the Church and were fully equal with Jews without keeping the Law of Moses.

Why is it that today, Jewish believers are expected to act like Gentiles?