Ariel Ministries' Messianic Bible Study # 007:

Author: Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum

1983, 2005 Ariel Ministries. All rights reserved. This manuscript is for your personal use only. No part of this manuscript may be reproduced in any form, except in brief quotation in a review or professional work, without written permission from the publishers. Email: Website:

This manuscript is herein reprinted by special permission of Ariel Ministries.



     A. Jewishness: Who Is A Jew?
         1. A Public Opinion Poll
         2. The Hebrew Christian or Messianic Jewish   
     B. Gentile: Who Is A Gentile?
     C. Christianity: Who Is A Christian?
     D. Hebrew Christianity or Messianic Jewishness:
          Who Is A Hebrew Christian or Messianic Jew?
     E. Conclusion of Definitions
     A. The False Views
          1. Gentile Believers Are Spiritual Jews
              a. The Meaning of Spirituality
              b. Biblical Passages
          2. No Difference Between Jews and Gentiles             
     B. The Evidence for Distinction
          1. Bond and Free
          2. Male and Female
     C. Conclusion         
     A. The Abrahamic Covenant
     B. The Doctrine of the Remnant
     C. The Doctrine of the Olive Tree
     D. The Doctrine of the Israel of God
     E. Conclusion

Editor's note: Division I is presented herein.
Divisions II and III will be presented in the next two editions of the Shofar.


and I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make
your name great; and you shall be a blessing
- Genesis 12:2


This study is titled "Jews, Gentiles, Christians." We are going to try to carefully define what all these terms mean and try to draw distinctions where the Bible does and erase distinctions where the Bible does. The whole issue in definitions of Jews, Gentiles, Gentile believers, and Jewish believers has a tremendous amount of confusion.


One source of possible confusion is the term "Jewishness." What really constitutes Jewishness? Who is a Jew? Does the term denote a religion, a race, an ethnic group, or a nationality?

In contrast to Jew is the term "Gentile." Who is a Gentile? This, too, needs a clear-cut definition.

Another confusing term is "Christianity." Is a Christian one who is born of Christian parents? Can one become a Christian merely by joining a church or by being baptized?

Then there is the term "Hebrew Christianity" or "Messianic Jewishness." Who is a Hebrew Christian, a Messianic Jew or, as such, a person is sometimes called a "Christian" Jew? How is it possible for a person to be both Jew and a Christian? Can the terms "Hebrew" and "Christian" be reconciled, or should those identifying themselves
by both terms be classed as schizophrenics?

These questions are important especially for those involved in the ministry of Jewish evangelism. In fact, it is almost impossible to convey clearly, what the gospel is all about until there is first a clear conveyance of what these terms mean. As soon as one uses some of these terms to a hearer, and the hearer understands them to mean something different from what the speaker means by them, there is confusion and lack of communication. Many times Jewish people simply turn away from the gospel because of a lack of understanding, or confusion.

A. Jewishness: Who Is A Jew?
We come then to the issue of who is a Jew. There are few topics in the Jewish world that have been more debated than this one. To this day, there is no consistent definition.

1. A Public Opinion Poll
A public opinion poll was conducted in order to try to determine what the definition of a Jew would be as Jewish people understood it. Fifteen hundred Jewish families were canvassed with the following results:
12% declared that a Jew is a person whose father or mother is Jewish or who has a Jewish spouse.
23% claimed that a Jew is a person who considers himself a Jew.
19% held that a man born to a Jewish mother or who converts to Judaism is a Jew.
13% said a Jew is one who lives in Israel or who identifies with the Jewish State.
13% stated that a Jew is one who observes the Jewish religious practices.
11% answered that a Jew is one who is raised and educated as a Jew.
9% said they could not define it.

These results were recorded in the Jerusalem Post of November 25, 1968. Of the definitions listed, only one excludes the Messianic Jew, but at the same time, it also excludes a large number of other Jews who do not observe Jewish religious practices. The other five definitions would by no means rule out the Messianic Jew.

2. The Hebrew Christian or Messianic Jewish Definition
The Messianic Jewish definition has an objective standard; it goes back to the very source of Jewishness, the Scriptures. The further any definition departs from the Scriptures, the foggier it gets. The Messianic Jew is forced to define Jewishness in the biblical sense of the term, for to him, the Scriptures are the source of authority. Hence, the Messianic Jewish definition can also be called the biblical definition.

The biblical basis for defining Jewishness lies in the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 12:1-3: Now Jehovah said unto Abram, Get you out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father's house, unto the land that I will show you: and I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and be you a blessing; and I will bless them that bless you, and him that curses you will I curse: and in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

It is further described in two other passages.
Genesis 13:15-16: for all the land which you see, to you will I give it, and to your seed for ever. And I will make your seed as the dust of the earth: So that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then may your seed also be numbered.

Genesis 15:4-5: And, behold, the word of Jehovah came unto him, saying, This man shall not be your heir; But he that shall come forth out of your own bowels shall be your heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and number the stars, if you be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall your seed be.

Later, the Abrahamic Covenant is confirmed through Isaac in Genesis 26:2-5: And Jehovah appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt. Dwell in the land which I shall tell you of. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you, and will bless you. For unto you, and unto your seed, I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I sware unto Abraham your father. And I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and will give unto your seed all these lands. And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed. Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.
Verse 24 states: And Jehovah appeared unto him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you, and will bless you, and multiply your seed for my servant Abraham's sake.

After Isaac, it is reconfirmed through Jacob in Genesis 28:13-15: And, behold, Jehovah stood above it, and said, I am Jehovah, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. The land whereon you lie, to you will I give it, and to your seed. And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south. And in you and in your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with you, and will keep you, whithersoever you go, and will bring you again into this land. For I will not leave you, until I have done that which I have spoken to you of.

From the Abrahamic Covenant a simple definition of Jewishness can be deduced. It lies in the repeated statement that a nation will come through the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and thus defines Israelis, this nationality is not confined to the State of Israel alone; it includes all the Jewish people no matter where they are. It is a nationality based on descent.

Biblically speaking, the Jewish people are a nation. Today we are a scattered nation but we are, nevertheless, a nation. We are a nation because we are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The implication of this definition is that no matter what a Jew does, he can never become a non-Jew; no matter what the individual Jew may believe or disbelieve, he remains a Jew. A Negro who is a believer, Moslem, or Buddhist remains a Negro. A Chinaman who becomes a believer remains Chinese; a Chinaman who remains a Buddhist also remains Chinese. The same is true of the Jew, whether Orthodox, Reform, atheist, or communist. If a Jew chooses to believe that Yeshua is his Messiah, he, too, remains a Jew. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can change the fact that he is a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!

At this point, the problem comes up of children of mixed marriages. These children are usually designated half-Jewish and half-Gentile. The theology of Judaism teaches that Jewishness is determined by the mother: if the mother is Jewish, then the children are Jewish. But again, this is a departure from the biblical norm and is therefore
rejected by Messianic Jewishness. In the Scriptures, it is not the mother who determines Jewishness but the father; consequently, the genealogies of both the Old and New Testaments list the names of the men and not of the women, except in cases where a mother was notable in Jewish history. Thus, if the father is Jewish, the children are
Jewish. King David was definitely Jewish although his great-grandmother, Ruth, and his great-great-grandmother, Rahab, were both Gentiles.

B. Gentile: Who Is A Gentile?
If the Scriptures are used as the objective standard, then the definition of a Gentile is equally simple. A Gentile is simply anyone who is not a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In short, a Gentile is anyone who is not a Jew. The implication again is that no matter what a Gentile does, he can never become a non-Gentile.

But this raises the question of Gentiles who have converted to Judaism: can they properly be called Jews? On the basis of Scripture, the answer is, "No." The Jew is the nationality; the religion is Judaism. Acceptance of Judaism by a Gentile does not make him a Jew, but a proselyte. We see the distinction between Jews and proselytes in
Matthew 23:15: Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he is become so, ye make him twofold more a son of hell than yourselves.
It should be noted that these evangelists for Judaism are not said to seek to make one a Jew, but to make one a proselyte.

A second passage is Acts 2:10, which is at the end of a list of place-names, showing the origins of the multitude that had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. The list ends with the phrase both Jews and proselytes. Again, there is that same distinction.

Acts 6:5 provides us with a third example: And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus a proselyte of Antioch.
In this passage, a distinction is made between Nicolaus and the rest. The others were all Jews who had accepted Yeshua as the Messiah, but Nicolaus was a proselyte, a Gentile convert to Judaism who had accepted Him.

The final example is found in Acts 13:43: Now when the synagogue broke up, many of the Jews and of the devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas; who, speaking to them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.
The same distinction is clearly made again; Gentile converts to Judaism are never given the title of Jews.

The chief Old Testament example of a Gentile convert to Judaism is Ruth. Many Gentiles have tried to claim Jewishness on the principle of conversion based on Ruth's story. But Ruth is consistently called "a Moabitess" both before and after her acceptance of the God of Israel. This can be seen in Ruth 1:22; 2:2, 6, 21; 4:5, 10. The conclusion is that a Gentile cannot do anything to become a non-Gentile.

C. Christianity: Who Is A Christian?
We next attempt to find out who is a Christian. The Messianic believer is forced to go to the Scriptures again to determine the true definition. The New Testament divides the world into three groups of people: Jews, Gentiles, and Christians according to I Corinthians10:32. It plainly teaches that no one can ever be born a Christian; everyone is either born a Jew or born a Gentile. A Christian, however, is either a Jew or Gentile who has made a personal decision to become a believer in Yeshua the Messiah. He is not one who merely holds a church membership or is baptized. These may follow the personal decision, but they cannot be the cause of one's becoming a Christian.

A Christian is a Jew or a Gentile who has come to realize that a man is born in a state of sin, and, for this reason, is separated from God. Thus, the penalty for sin must first be paid if he is to come to know God in a personal way. However, being a sinner, an individual Jew or an individual Gentile cannot by himself pay the price or penalty for
sin. This was the purpose of the Messiah, whom many Jews and Gentiles know to be Yeshua. At His death, the Messiah became the substitute for sin and, thus, paid the penalty for it. Both the Old and New Testaments teach that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.

For example, in the Old Testament Leviticus 17:11 says: For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that makes atonement by reason of the life.

In the New Testament, this is stated in Hebrews 9:22: And according to the law, I may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and apart from shedding of blood there is no remission.

The clear teaching of both the Old and New Testaments is this: without the shedding of blood there cannot be any forgiveness of sins. Under the Law there was a temporary provision made by the shedding of animal blood. But the Messiah was to be the final blood sacrifice for sin. It is those who believe in the Messiahship of Yeshua, among the Jews and among the Gentiles, who are biblically to be classed as Christians in Acts 11:26. Again, it is not a matter of baptism and it is not a matter of church membership. There is nothing else anyone can or must do to become a Christian except to believe on Yeshua.

The basic content of faith, that is, what one must believe to be a Christian, is found in I Corinthians 15:1-4: Now I make known unto you ye brethren, the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye received, wherein also  stand, by which also ye are saved, if ye hold fast the word which I preached unto you, except ye believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: that Messiah died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he has been raised on the third day according to the scriptures. The content of faith is the gospel, involving the substitutionary death, burial, and Resurrection of the Messiah. What is the gospel? The
gospel is three very simple and basic points: first, Yeshua died for our sins; secondly, He was buried; and thirdly, He rose again on the third day. There is nothing more to the gospel than this. That which determines whether or not a person is a Christian is his willingness to place his faith, or belief, in Yeshua as the substitute for sin.

What he must do is described in John 1:12: But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name. A person who, at some point in his life, personally received the Messiah as the One who made atonement for sin, experienced what it is to become a Christian. Thus, if anyone says that he was born a Christian, this is an obvious sign, according to the New Testament, that he is not.
Becoming a Christian is an experience by which one comes to know God through Yeshua the Messiah and by which the sin separating the individual from God is removed. Christians are made, not born.

In summary: the New Testament teaches that everyone is born either a Jew or a Gentile; and Christians are Jews and Gentiles who believe in the Messiahship of Yeshua.

D. Hebrew Christianity or Messianic Jewishness: Who Is A Hebrew Christian or Messianic Jew?
We finally come to the point toward which we have been working: defining Hebrew Christianity or Messianic Jewishness. In the common view, the term "Hebrew Christianity" is a contradiction. One can be either a Jew or a Messianic believer; but to be both at once is, in that view, an impossibility.

One Jewish writer stated that the term "Jewish Christian" challenges logic. Another writer limited the title to Jewish believers in the Messiah during the first century but not thereafter. This view was held by a number of my former professors at the American Institute of Holy Land Studies. They used the term "Jewish Christians" in relation to Jewish believers during the first century but did not recognize the term as valid for Jewish believers today. But they never explained what they considered to be the difference between the first century Jewish believers and those of the twenty-first century.

What, then, is a Hebrew Christian? If a Jew is a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, which we believe to be the proper, biblical definition; and if a Christian is one who has personally, by his own decision, accepted Yeshua of Nazareth as his Messiah; then a Hebrew Christian is a Jew who believes that Yeshua is the Messiah. By faith, Jewish believers align themselves with other believers in the Messiah, whether Jews or Gentiles, but nationally they identify themselves with Jewish people.

A Messianic Jew, therefore, must acknowledge that he is both a Jew and a believer in the Messiahship of Yeshua. If a Jew accepts baptism solely to lose his identity as a Jew, he is by no means to be considered a Messianic Jew; he is a renegade, a traitor, and an apostate.

A Messianic believer is proud of his Jewishness. He is also proud of his faith in the Messiahship of Yeshua. The experience by which a Jew becomes a believer is just as much a mystery as that by which a Gentile becomes a believer. The experience can be described, but it cannot be explained. The center of this experience is the person of Yeshua the Messiah, although the causes, which brought it about, may differ. Perhaps it was the testimony of another Messianic Jew, the printed word, preaching, or the reading of the New Testament. The causes vary, but the results are always the same: Yeshua the Messiah becomes the object of faith and trust.

E. Conclusion of Definitions
It is clear from the Scriptures that Messianic believers never lose their Jewishness. Jewishness and Messianic Jewishness are not contradictory terms; each complements and fulfills the other. This is one of the reasons Jews often prefer to call themselves "completed Jews" rather than "converted Jews." The term "converted" means "you were this, but you are no longer that." When we use the term "converted Catholic," usually we mean that the person used to be Catholic, but he is no longer Catholic. Or we say that he is a "converted alcoholic" and mean that he used to be a drunk, but he is no longer a drunk. However, we cannot properly use the term converted Jew. This implies that a believer used to be a Jew, but he is no longer a Jew. Jewish believers always remain Jews without exception. Jewish believers do not refer to themselves as converted Jews; we are converted sinners. We are completed Jews because belief in the Messiahship of Yeshua completes our Jewishness; it does not negate it.

The best evidence of this is the great Apostle Paul who affirmed both his Jewishness and his faith in the Messiahship of Yeshua. Let us look at three examples from his own writings on this.

First, in Romans 11:1, Paul says: I say then, Did God cast off his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. In Romans 11:1, Paul clearly affirms himself to be both a Jew of the
seed of Abraham,
and an Israelite of the Tribe of Benjamin. In subsequent verses, he also clearly affirms himself as being a member of the Remnant according to the election of grace.

Another verse in which Paul clearly affirms both his Jewishness and his faith in Yeshua the Messiah is II Corinthians 11:22: Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I.
Whereas in Old Testament times the terms Hebrews, Israelites, the seed of Abraham, and Jews were kept distinct, by the time of the New Testament, these terms were synonymously used. That is why Paul called himself a Jew, a Hebrew, and an Israelite. Notice that even after he became a believer, he does not say: "used to be" an Israelite; "used to be" a Hebrew; "used to be" of the seed of Abraham. He uses the present tense.

The third place where he clearly reaffirms this is in Philippians 3:4-8: though I myself might have confidence even in the flesh: if any other man thinks to have confidence in the flesh, I yet more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; as touching zeal, persecuting the church; as touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless. Howbeit what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Messiah. Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Messiah Yeshua my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuse, that I may gain Messiah.
In this passage, more extensive than the other two, again Paul clearly affirms himself to be both a Jew and a believer in the Messiahship of Yeshua. What Paul did, Jewish believers must still do. We must reaffirm both our faith in the Messiahship of Yeshua and confirm our Jewishness as well.

In conclusion, we would say that Jewishness and Messianic Jewishness are in full agreement. This concludes our discussion on the definitions of Jews, Gentiles and Christians. We have not exhausted the topic itself because we have not yet clearly shown that there is a continuous distinction between Jewish believers and Gentile believers as well.


If you enjoyed this Bible study, Dr. Fruchtenbaum recommends these Messianic Bible Studies, which may be obtained from Ariel Ministries:

mbs-003 The Basis of the Second Coming of the Messiah
mbs-011 The Suffering Messiah of Isaiah 53
The Messiah of the Old Testament
What the New Testament Says about Yeshua
mbs-014 Why Did Messiah Have to Die?
Nicodemus, A Rabbi's Quest
Zionism: What It Is and What It Is Not
The Book of Romans and the Jews

*      *      *
Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Th.M., Ph.D., is founder and director of Ariel Ministries.

Return to Home Page