To be a “Jew” originally means to belong to Judah, one of the twelve tribes of Israel, and thus to be a descendant of Jacob’s son Judah, Abraham’s great-grandson, but it is also used in a broader sense to describe all those who share in God’s promise to Abraham to create a blessed people. Today the term is used to describe Jewish nationality and/or religion. Those peoples who are not descendants of Abraham are called “Gentiles”. A Gentile in Israel did not have the same access to Jewish religiosity, unless he was circumcised and became part of the Jewish people. While God creates and shapes his people in the Old Testament, it is prophesied that one day all peoples will share in God’s promise to Abraham. When Jesus begins to preach, he first addresses the Jews, but commands his disciples to go out to all nations, that is, to the Gentiles, and proclaim the good news that all who believe in Jesus can be saved. Then, when Jesus dies on the cross, the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles that existed before is torn down and now all who believe in Jesus are included in the people of God and thus share in God’s promise to Abraham of righteousness by faith. At first, believing Jews had difficulty accepting that a Gentile could become part of God’s people without being circumcised, keeping the Law of Moses and becoming a Jew, but thanks to the Holy Spirit’s conviction of the apostles, they understood that one becomes part of the people of God by believing in Jesus, i.e., by an inner transformation, not an outer one.
“1Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”” (Ge 12:1–3)
“48If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. 49There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.”” (Ex 12:48–49)
“6he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”” (Is 49:6)
“12remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,” (Eph 2:12–19)
“26for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Ga 3:26–29)
“10Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Pe 2:10)
“28And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.” (Ac 10:28)
“44While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.” (Ac 10:44–48)
“6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” (Ga 5:6)
- Why was this issue so important to Paul that he wrote about it in almost all of his letters?
- How do you become part of the people of God?
- What does it mean to be part of the people of God?
- Why did many Jews find it difficult to accept that Gentiles became part of the people of God simply by believing in Jesus?
- Why did Jesus turn first to the Jews and then, through his disciples, to the Gentiles?
- Why did Paul circumcise Timothy (Acts 16:3) when he refused to allow Titus to be circumcised (Galatians 2:3-5)?
Additional Bible Verses
Gen 18:18, Gen 35:22b-26, Isa 42:1, 6, Rom 1:16, Acts 15:5-31, Gal 2:1-5, John 10:16, Acts 16:3, Isa 11:10, Rom 15:9-12, Matt 28:19-20, Acts 18:6, Acts 11:15-18, Gal 2:12-13, Rev 5:9-10, Col 3:11, Gal 3:6-14, Rom 4:9-12, Rom 4:16, Gal 2:7-9, Rom 3:28-31, Gal 3:8-9