We’ve all heard of “Jews for Jesus.” But is there really such as a thing as a Jew for Jesus? Does a Jew cease to be Jewish when he or she becomes a Christian?
I was recently rebuked by a YouTube viewer for claiming to be a Jewish follower of Jesus. He wrote, “Paul, the apostle and the first christians were not jews. They were christians. I assume you read the books of Josephus; he even said the jews are the ones coming back from the Exile. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc were not jews. Our faith comes from Abraham. YOU Dr. Brown are not Christian. You are still a jew, therefore not with us. The protocol of zion might be a forgery, but it does not mean what it says is not true. Unless you get baptized, and become Christian, you will be part of the enemies of the whole human race.”
Did you get all that?
Paul and the first disciples were not Jews.
I am not a Christian, despite coming to faith in Jesus in late 1971 and being baptized February 4, 1972. But I do remain a Jew, and therefore “part of the enemies of the whole human race.”
And the notorious, antisemitic document The Protocols of the Elders of Zion may be a forgery but it tells the truth.
You might say to me, “Hey, there are all kinds of crazy people out there. Why even give them the time of day?”
Unfortunately, I’ve seen scores of similar comments from professing Christians in recent days, all of them stating clearly: If you are a Christian you are no longer a Jew! If you claim to be a Jew you are not a Christian!
So, rather than dismiss them all as loonies, let’s see what’s written in the New Testament.
In John 4:22, Jesus stated that “salvation is from the Jews.”
It would seem odd, then, that salvation is from the Jews, yet when a Jew comes to the knowledge of salvation through Jesus the Messiah, he is no longer a Jew.
But let’s put that aside for a moment and look at the evidence of Acts. Did the apostles continue to identify as Jews?
In Acts 10, we learn that Peter, the leader among the apostles, had never eaten any unclean food, even though he had been following Jesus for more than a decade at that point. But why would he? Who said following Jesus meant you were supposed to break the dietary laws?
In Acts 10:28, Peter explains why he was reticent to enter the home of a Gentile to tell him about Jesus, without divine prompting to do so: “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.”
So, the Lord instructed Peter, a Jew, to enter the home of a Gentile. But clearly, Peter still identified as a Jew, since he was speaking of himself when he said that it was unlawful “for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation.” Not only so, but in Galatians 2:14, Paul says to Peter “you are a Jew,” then refers to himself and Peter as “Jews by birth.”
Acts 16:1 tells us that Timothy was “the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek.” So, Timothy’s mother is identified as a Jewish woman who was a believer, not a former Jewess who now believed.
In Acts 16:20, Paul and Silas are accused of being troublemakers, which was false. But they were rightly identified as Jews, which was true: “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city.”
In Acts 18, Aquila and Apollos, both believers in Jesus, are identified as Jews (Acts 18:2, 24).
In Acts 21:20-21, the Jewish believers in Jerusalem said to Paul, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.”
Notice two things carefully: First, these zealous Jesus followers are still identified as Jews. Second, they are concerned that Paul is teaching other Jews who believe in Jesus to forsake the laws and customs of their people. In the verses that follow, Paul makes clear that these rumors are false.
That’s why Paul could elsewhere identify as a Hebrew of the Hebrews, the offspring of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin, circumcised on the 8th day (2 Corinthians 11:22; Philippians 3:5) – although he put no confidence in the flesh at all. In fact, in Acts 23:6, he actually said to the Jewish leadership, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees.” Yes, a Pharisee!
And you’re telling me that Paul was not a Jew? Seriously?
You might ask, “But why not just say you’re a Christian?”
Actually, I’m quite happy to identify as a Christian, meaning a follower of Jesus the Messiah, especially when that term has meaning. And I’m quite happy to take whatever reproach or mockery or persecution comes with that name.
The problem is that the word “Christian” has changed in meaning from New Testament times (it occurs just three times in the New Testament) until today. First, almost anyone can claim to be a Christian these days, regardless of what they believe. Second, the word has come to speak of a different religion, rather than a valid expression of Jewish faith (as it was in the first century).
In other words, the question in Paul’s day was not, “Are you still Jewish?” but rather, “Is Jesus the Jewish Messiah?” A “Christian” (or, a “Messianic”) was one who believed that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah.
Since then, the meaning of “Christian” has changed, to the point that most Jews believe that to become a Christian means to convert to a foreign religion rather than to embrace Jesus as Messiah.
Not only so, but more than 15 centuries of “Christian” antisemitism has given the name a bad reputation, because of which many Jews believe that to become a Christian means to deny the God of Israel.
Also, Paul makes clear that, in every generation, there is a remnant of true believers in Israel, and this remains part of their identity (see Romans 11:1-7). We function as the elect within Israel, the Israel within Israel (Romans 9:6), and this is part of our calling.
That’s why Paul gave these instructions: “Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision” (1 Corinthians 7:18).
So, are Jews who believe in Jesus still Jews? Absolutely.
It does not mean we practice traditional Judaism. It does not mean we submit to traditional rabbis. And it does not mean that we find salvation in being Jews. To the contrary, we find salvation in being in Jesus-Yeshua.
But it does mean that we remain connected to our people and that this is part of our calling in the Lord.
We might identify as Messianic Jews or Jewish Christians or Jewish believers or something else. But what matters most is this: Jesus is our Lord and Messiah, He is our all and all, and we follow Him as loyal Jews.