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A Learning Journey – Defining the Term “Jew” – Part 3

I think this will be my concluding remarks regarding the term “Jew”. This is a continuation of a series of posts called A Learning Journey – Defining the Term “Jew” – Part 1 and A Learning Journey – Defining the Term “Jew” – Part 2. It’s not that I’ve come to a definite conclusion, but that I don’t want you to feel this has dragged on. Unless the readers of this thread ask for more, three is probably enough.

You should read some of the Jewish writings outside the Old Testament scriptures. These are not Biblical writings: They have not been God-inspired. But they will give you an impression of some of the legends within Judaism.

Judaism, like Catholicism, has many stories that to the uninitiated, like myself, seem mythological. While I am not here to debate or dispute them, a quick reading will give you an idea of their substance. Rutgers has an example of the Jewish myth regarding the golem.

I bring up these Jewish stories because one of the arguments against the term “Jew” to mean “the children of Abraham” is that many of these Jewish legends come out of the Babylonian captivity.[1] Although the people of Judah returned from Babylon to Jerusalem in 538 BC, they came back with many Babylonian beliefs mixed in. These people gave birth to the Pharisees.

Pharisaism might be considered the form of Judaism that Jesus argued against. Remember, “Jew” in the New Testament is an English translation for the Greek, “Ioudaios,” which actually means “Judean.” The argument is that a Jew is not necessarily a child of Abraham, but could be anyone living in Judea, such as an Idumean. Much like an American can be from any number of countries.

What Do I Think?

So, the question I needed to answer was, “how am I to think about the term Jew?”

To me, the answer would come from understanding what the New Testament writers meant when they used the term “Ioudaios.” John 4:22 has helped me get some clarity on this.

You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.

In this interchange with the Samaritan woman, Jesus claims that salvation is from the Jews.

If the term truly meant “one who was from Judea” and could imply Idumeans and other non-Hebrew peoples, it would seem odd that Jesus is using this term here and says salvation is from them.

In fact, if the term even means “a Hebrew from Judea,” I don’t think this would fit Jesus’ words. Though he was born in Bethlehem of Judea and was of the house of David, he was more typically identified with Galilee. Revelation 5:5 calls him the “Lion that is from the Tribe of Judah,” but that is the only time the term is used in the New Testament. However, “Jesus of Nazareth” is used eight times, and was a term used by the Disciples of Jesus. This does not include Matthew’s “Nazarene” prophecy fulfillment.

So, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only reason for Jesus to accept this term “Jew” for himself would be if it meant exactly what I had originally believed it did: a “Ioudaios” which has been translated to “Jew”, is a Hebrew, from one of the Tribes of Israel.

The Journey

Though I’ve ended where I started, this was a good learning journey. Some things I now understand better:

  • Many of the unbiblical Jewish stories found in the Talmud probably came out of the Babylonian captivity.
  • Jesus came at a time when Jewish beliefs were at a crossroads – they could continue down this path of mixed beliefs or move back to a truer understanding of God, which he gave them
  • Though “Ioudaios” does translate to “Judean,” the English translators properly created a new word to describe the actual meaning of the term. That word is “Jew.”

Your Turn

Thanks for taking this journey with me. I hope it was helpful. I’m curious as to your thoughts. Do you agree or disagree with where I ended? Have you learned anything different during this journey? Please leave me a comment.

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[1] See the Jewish Virtual Library as a Jewish site that recognizes the Babylonian impact. The site dismisses this impact upon modern Judaism and ascribes it to Christianity. I might be concerned if history didn’t prove Jesus rose from the grave. Since He did, we can know His teachings are truth. Matthew 22:23-33