God's Kingdom Ministries is the website of Stephen E. Jones. Dr. Jones boasts a wide range of materials, but I have chosen to review this particular book as I believe it will prove an interesting study in rightly dividing the Word of Truth (2 Tim 2:15) and how we are to understand Paul's epistles and the difference between the Acts Age and the Post-Acts Age (which is very central to this blog's goals).
My intention is not to demean Dr. Jones or to call into question his intentions or his commitment to Christ. I do not know the man and I am not familiar with most of his writings. I will try to limit my commentary to the work noted in our title ("Who Is a Jew"), and if we look at any other works, it will be linked.
For starters, I will go ahead and link the book HERE. Feel free to read it for yourself. If anyone feels I have not been fair or that I've not given proper context, he can make that determination from the original. My goal is to try and be fair to the original intent as I examine it against the witness of scripture.
This series may not cover the entire book if the points being made become redundant. In fact, my goal is to establish what the premises to the overall argument are and examine these. Once a premise is discussed and either affirmed or contradicted, that can then be applied to the rest of the book.
Readers of this blog know full well that I make a clear distinction between the Body of Christ and Israel as well the distinctions among the different hopes and callings in scripture. I will apply these principles to the book in question.
I will simply begin by quickly examining the opening argument of the book.
Man’s definitions of a “Jew” must be taken seriously, but the real issue before us is how God defines a Jew. The clearest statement in the New Testament on this question is found in Romans 2:28, 29,
28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
Here Paul tells us pointedly who IS a Jew and who IS NOT a Jew. He does not base his definition upon men’s views, for most men in his day considered a Jew to be one who followed the leaders of the temple in Jerusalem, who had rejected Jesus.
As always, we want to look at the greater context of the passage in front of us.
For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. -Rom 2:25-29
Note Paul tells us that it is profitable to keep the law. For eternal life? No. We know that Paul argues in Galatians that had there been a law which could give life, surely God would have given it (the gift of life has always been by grace). So what is profitable about circumcision? And is circumcision still profitable? We will keep questions like these in mind as we progress through our study.
Throughout the Book of Romans (as in Paul's other Acts Age epistles) he switches between addressing Jewish Believers and Gentile Believers. Let us quickly look at an example of this in the Acts Age epistle of 1 Corinthians.
Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. -1 Cor 10:1-3
You know that when you were pagans [Greek: éthnos, Gentiles], you used to be enticed and led astray by mute idols. -1 Cor 12:2
In Romans 2 he is addressing the Jewish believer. Paul is not writing to unbelievers ("To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called saints"). We make a mistake of sorts when we speak of the Roman Road to Salvation. Verses can be used to explain our hope, but we must be careful to remember that they are addressed to believers.
- Chapter 1 speaks of the unbelieving nations (gentiles). This is the backdrop for chapter 2 when he turns to the Jews.
- Chapter 2 is directed to Jews, sandwiched by the opening statement of Chapter 3 (remember, there are no chapter divisions in the original texts).
Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar... -Romans 3:1-4a
Note the conclusion here. In that age, there was advantage in both being a Jew (by birth or by proselyte) AND in circumcision. Even if we limit that to the past, it cannot be missed that being a Jew AND being circumcised had an advantage (which we will see later on). Unbelieving Jews (third person, present, "their") tells us they were still Jews, distinct from Gentile, even though they were in unbelief. Paul is distinguishing (as he does elsewhere) between a "true Jew" (inwardly) and the unbelieving Jew. Circumcision was an advantage, but all is predicated on belief.
When Paul frames the gospel of the Acts Age "to the Jew first and also to the Greek [Gentile]" are we at liberty to read this as the gospel being "to the believer first and also to the unbeliever?" It is nonsensical. If we apply Jones' conclusion throughout the Acts and epistles, it falls apart repeatedly. In just our quote from Romans 3 here, are we to read this as "To what advantage has the believer and his circumcision or uncircumcision?" It is confusion. Continuing, to "Gentile believers were entrusted the oracles of God?" Heresy. The single verse Jones takes out of context works nowhere in scripture.
To what does the "faithfulness of God" refer here? The promises made to the fathers which the Lord came to "confirm" to Israel (Rom 15). The promised Kingdom of God, in the land, over which the 12 apostles would sit as rulers (Matt 19) and about which he taught them for 40 days (Acts 1). These are specific to tribes and lineage. We cannot wrestle in "believing Gentiles."
So, what was the physical Jew's advantage? That advantage is clearly seen in the Lord's ministry:
- The "Gospel of the Kingdom" was forbidden to be preached outside of Israel (Matt 10)
- The Lord affirmed that "salvation is [now "was"] of the Jews" (John 4)
- The Jew had his request answered immediately (Matt 9 and Matt 20 versus Matt 15)
The condition was always faith (“Do you believe that I am able to do this?” Matt 9:28). But we are working within the realm of Israel. So among the Jews were believers and unbelievers. That is part of the context of Romans 2 where Paul is addressing Jews ("to the Jew first"). And behind all this is the central point that post-Pentecost, there were still Jews and Gentiles, and they were under different conditions (we've covered this in other studies). We cannot impose the understanding of this present age on the previous age.
Paul speaks that among the national Jews, there is a believing remnant. The "true Jew" is one who is both a child of Abraham by birth and also a believer. This the "Israel of God." In the Acts Age, gentiles were grafted in. Grafted in to what? Into the root, Israel. Israel was still at the center of God's plan in the Acts Age. And that plan is where we started: the promise of the establishment of the Kingdom of God in Israel, on earth, in the land (Acts 1:6).
Gentiles were included in that promise by faith as we note three truths foreign to our age:
- Gentiles were brought in to make Israel jealous (Rom 10, Rom 11)
- Gentiles could be "cut off" from the root if they became haughty against Israel (Rom 11)
- Gentiles had to keep "four necessary things" (Acts 15, Acts 21)
None of these things are true in the present age. If I came to your assembly and tried to teach that, you'd accuse me of legalism. But it was not legalism in the Acts Age, it was the condition for enetring the Kingdom (not for life). When the Lord states that keeping the commandments is a condition for entrance into the kingdom, he is not lying or playing game.
Dr. Jones then applies this argument:
Paul did NOT say that a Jew was one with outward circumcision, while a Christian was one with the inward circumcision. Not at all. He said clearly, “he is a Jew who is one inwardly.”
Is he attempting to say that all believers are thus "real Jews?" The argument seems to be these "inward" Jews are the true Jews (nothing else applying). But what is the distinguishing mark of the "inward" Jew according to Paul? He "keeps the righteous requirements of the law." Is that truth for today? Has that ever applied to the Gentile?
Paul speaks of the Gentile who is obedient gentile earlier in Chapter 2:
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
Two quick thoughts:
- Note that Gentiles do not have the Law. Ephesians teaches us that Gentiles NEVER had the Law. All the Law was to the Gentile was an exclusion. A Gentile could not be an "inward" Jew.
- So what does the conscience tell the Gentile? It tells him that stealing is wrong. It tells him that murder is wrong. It will even tell him that adultery is wrong. It will never tell him that he should be circumcised if he wants to keep the Passover. That was the realm of the children of Abraham.
Dr. Jones continues:
We do not expect such “Jews” then or today to accept Paul’s definition. But Christians who claim to believe the New Testament ought not to disagree with Paul. We understand that Paul’s definition was based purely upon biblical law—the very law that the temple priests claimed to believe, but which, in fact, they had violated. But before we can understand how the divine law itself defines a biblical Jew, we must again give the background material that Paul had studied.
When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And his servant was healed that same hour. -Matt 8:10-13
The "many" are from among the nations (see Matt 25, Sheep and Goats, Gentiles) and they are set against "the sons of the kingdom," that is, Jews who were heirs of the promise who lose their inheritance by being unprofitable servants (see Parable of the Talents). Would we ever call an unbeliever a "son of the Kingdom?"
So, before Gentiles were "grafted in" (starting in Acts 10, not at Pentecost) for the stated reason to make Israel jealous, no gentile could be called a "Jew" merely because he had faith. In the Law itself, Gentiles were welcome to live among Israel, but they could not partake in Israel's (earthly) feasts unless they were circumcised. No time, in any age, in any scripture is a Gentile referred to as a Jew (or an Israelite). There was only one way for that to be true, become a proselyte and be circumcised.
Gentiles were welcome to live in Israel, and could even have faith unto life, but they could not participate in the Law. There was no "inward" Jew. He could have faith. He could be more righteous than some Jews. But the Law forbade him from participating as a jew, even if his heart desired to.
And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. For no uncircumcised person shall eat it. -Ex 12:48
What advantage was there in circumcision? "Much in every way." Not sufficient on its own (you had to come by faith), but it allowed a certain access to God which was forbidden to the Gentiles (the uncircumcised). Exodus 12 is dealing with physical circumcision. Paul, in Romans, is noting that faith is superior to circumcision, but he does not discount it as worthless.
The fact that most Jews were unbelievers and still uncircumcised in their hearts did not, and could not, nullify the promises God made to national Israel (the promise of the Kingdom on earth as stated in the Old Covenant and affirmed in the New). CERTAINLY NOT! And as a Gentile who was never under the Covenant, I make no claims to its promises (my blessings are in "the far above the heavens" where Christ sits as the right hand of the Father).
For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. -Rom 3:3-4
Having laid the ground work for the context of Romans, we will move on to other assertions in the book under scrutiny.