Most people do not know what a Jew is. Unbelievers do not know; many professing Christians do not know. Many who call themselves Jews are not Jews and some who do not call themselves Jews are Jews.
Some will respond, “Surely those who believe the Jewish religion, Judaism, are Jews?” But there are Jewish sceptics and atheists. Are not Jews those who live in Israel? But there are almost as many Jews living in America as in Israel and many in the country of Israel are Palestinians. Is not a Jew someone who has descended physically from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? But if an Eskimo converts to Judaism (of whatever variety), he becomes a Jew, and around the ninth century a significant number of Khazars became Jews. “What is a Jew?” is not a simple question. Wearing a skull cap or circumcision (what about females?) or having a commitment to education is not decisive.
There is, however, a widely-used definition of a Jew in the world today: one with a Jewish mother (not necessarily a Jewish father) and/or one who has officially converted to Judaism. But many would exclude Messianic Jews, arguing that those born to Jewish mothers are no longer Jews if they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
We have been speaking about the common understanding of “Jews.” What about the spiritual and theological meaning of a Jew? Whom does God see and identify as a true Jew? This is a gospel issue, involving saving doctrine about Jehovah and His covenant people.
Romans 2:28-29 proclaims, “ For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:  But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” Notice the structure of the verses. Both speak, first, about Jews and, second, about circumcision. Verse 28 is negative, telling us what a Jew and circumcision are not, while verse 29 is positive.
Being a Jew has nothing to do with hairstyle (e.g., long sideburns, known as payot harosh), name (e.g., Cohen), going to a synagogue, Bar Mitzvah or filling in “Judaism” as one’s religion in a census form. “For,” as inspired Scripture says, “he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly” (28). None of these things, individually or collectively, makes one a Jew, spiritually speaking.
What, perhaps more than anything else, might be thought of as constituting one as a Jew? Answer: circumcision, that initiatory rite, laid down by God to Abraham for his (male) descendants and followers in the covenant. But God’s Word states, “neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh” (28).
All this can be applied, by analogy, to professing Christians: “he is not a Christian who is one outwardly.” Going to church does not make a man a Christian, any more than spending a night in a stable would make him a horse; likewise, listening to preaching, carrying a Bible, attending catechism classes or saying prayers. These things, rightly understood, have their place and function for Christians, but they do not make one a Christian. Do not be deceived!
“Neither is that baptism which is outward in the flesh.” Water comes upon a person in the name of the Triune God by an ordained minister. But this is only a sign and seal of real baptism, the washing away of our sins by the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ. Water baptism does not make one a true Christian.
Romans 2:29 makes four positive points about what a Jew really is, spiritually speaking. First, “he is a Jew, which is one inwardly” (29), for it can never be a matter merely of externals since God knows one’s inmost thoughts. Second, “circumcision is that of the heart” (29). This was always the reality to which physical circumcision pointed, even in the law of Moses (Deut. 30:6). Third, “in the spirit, and not in the letter.” Whether “spirit” here means the new nature or the Holy Spirit makes no essential difference for our purposes, since the two are intimately related. He is a Jew who has a new nature or is indwelt by the Spirit. Fourth, “whose praise is not of men, but of God.” This is a play on words, for “Jew” comes from “Judah,” which means “praise” (Gen. 29:35; 49:8). So being a true Jew is about praise. Man’s praising you does not make you a Jew. It is a matter of God’s praise. Since the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ is reckoned to our account, Jehovah approves of believers and proclaims His delight in us.
This is a real, spiritual Jew, according to God’s Word, a Jew of the heart, whom God praises and commends. Are you such a person, an inward Jew, by the grace of God?
It should be understood that Romans 2:28-29 “unJews” many physical Jews, such as the Pharisees of Jesus’ day who sought the praise of men (John 12:43), for instance, in their alms-giving, prayers and fasting (Matt. 6:1-18). Thus they made broad their phylacteries and loved the “chief seats in the synagogues,” etc. (23:5f.).
According to Romans 2:28-29, those whose carcases fell in the wilderness wanderings and did not enter into Canaan through unbelief (Heb. 3:17-19) were not really Jews either. What about Absalom who usurped the throne of Israel and sought to kill David, his father, the man after God’s own heart? Absalom was circumcised outwardly but not inwardly. The same applies to traitorous Ahithophel, idolatrous Jeroboam and Judas Iscariot who betrayed the Son of man with a kiss. The Old Testament itself taught this; see, for instance, Ezekiel 13:9. Asaph declares, “Truly God is good to Israel,” who are defined in the next part of the verse: “even to such as are of a clean heart” (Ps. 73:1); this is stated over against the wicked, the wicked in Israel.
Thus most physical Jews are not truly Jews at all, according to the Bible: “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly ... But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Rom. 2:28-29). Do you believe this Word of God?
- Volume: 11
- Issue: 20
Rev. Angust Stewart (Wife: Mary)
Ordained - 2001
Pastorates: Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland - 2001Website: www.cprf.co.uk/
Address7 Lislunnan Road
State or ProvinceCo.Antrim
Zip CodeBT42 3NR
Telephone(01144) 28 25 891851