One of the most confusing and misunderstood concepts among many Bible students is the definition of the word “Jew”. Most Christian believers today equate the word “Jew” with Israel, Israelite and Hebrew. The word “Jew” has mistakenly become the generic term to refer to all twelve tribes of Jacob/Israel.
Even though just one son was called Judah, whose descendants could rightfully be called Jews, most Bible students stupidly refer to all Israelites as Jews. They even go further in their error when they refer to Judah’s father Jacob as a Jew. Their ignorance extends even further when they refer to Judah’s great grandfather Abraham as a Jew. If Abraham was a Jew, which he was not, because he was a Hebrew, then his father Terah had to be a Jew. Then Terah’s ancestry had to be Jews all the way back to Adam. This would make the whole Adamic race Jewish, which included all the people of the nations listed in Genesis chapters 5, 10 and 11!
When referring to Abraham as a Jew, this would make him a descendant of his own son Isaac’s yet unborn grandson Judah. If Abraham was a Jew, then his son Isaac would be a Jew, which would be the father of two Jewish sons, named Jacob and Esau. This would be a biological impossibility. Therefore, being that Abraham was not a Jew, his son Isaac was not a Jew. Isaac fathered his two sons who also were not Jewish. Isaac’s two sons, Jacob and Esau were Hebrews just like their father and grandfather. Esau was definitely not Jewish, neither was his brother Jacob. This word “Jew” — as a contraction of the name Judah, or as a geographical identifier, i.e., ‘residing in Judea’, or as a religious identifier, i.e., a practitioner of Talmudic Judaism — had not even come into being until hundreds of years later.
In II Kings 16:1-6 is the historical account of a military conflict involving the three nations of Judah, Israel and Syria. Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah, king of Israel went up to Jerusalem, the capital city of Judah, to conquer it. They were unsuccessful in their efforts to overcome the army of Ahaz, the Judean king. As a side result of this battle the king of Syria recovered the city of Elath that had previously been conquered by the Jews. He then proceeded to drive the Jews from that city. The significant information this whole account tells us is that the Jews and the army of Israel were on opposite sides of this battle. This means that the Israelites were not known as Jews, but only the people of Judah were called Jews. This is the first mention of the word “Jews” in the Holy Scriptures, which was approximately one thousand years after the birth of Judah, son of Jacob. The term “Jew” cannot under any scenerio be used to describe the entire family of Israel.
With these facts in mind, it is easy to see how blatant this egregious error has become. In fact, it has moved from the harmless category of error to the most damaging category of heresy. Heresy is the perversion of knowledge. It has clouded the minds of so many Bible teachers that a whole system of prophetic theology has been built upon this false premise. It is a theological castle of crumbling sand.
The foregoing clarification of the difference between the terms Israel and Jew was necessary in order to understand the true identity of the Apostle Paul. It is common for many Bible students to call Paul a Jew, because of his statements in Acts 21:39 and 22:3. But there is a big difference between being born a biological Jew and having acquired Jewishness by learning.
In his Philippian letter, Paul again identifies himself as being a member of the racial family tree of the Hebrews (Phil.3:5). He said he was “Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;” to stress the fact that he could prove his family lineage all the way back to Eber, the ancestor of Abraham (Gen. 11:16). Eber was the descendant of Shem through whom came all the people known as Hebrews (Gen. 10:21). Abraham was called a Hebrew in Genesis 14:13.
By biological descendancy, Paul identifies himself as a Hebrew, an Israelite and of the seed of Abraham (II Cor. 11:22). The word ˜seed” (Strong’s #4690) in this text means “sperma” or male sperm. It is very obvious that Paul is referring to his literal racial bloodline. In his right to boast, Paul declares that he was of the stock of Israel (II Cor. 11:22; Phil. 3:5). By this he means that he was born of the literal earthly family of Jacob/Israel. The word “stock” (Strong’s #1085) means “offspring or kindred”. He then narrows his ancestry to the tribe of Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacob/Israel.
Paul goes on to say that he was a Pharisee as touching the Law. Being a Pharisee was not a racial or biological designation, but a member of a religious sect. As a member of this religious sect he was very zealous, persecuting the body of Christ. As far as his righteousness was concerned, he was blameless in obedience in his law-keeping. When writing to the church of Galatia, Paul recalls his conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion. This word “conversation” denoted his membership and manner of life as a member of the religion of Judaism. He also stated that he “profited in the Jews’ religion” (Galatians Chapter 1, “13 For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: 14 And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.”). In other words, he excelled in his learning and zeal to obey even above many of his companions.
In Acts 26:4-5, Paul clearly declares that from his youth, he publicly lived a life according to the strict rules of the religion of the Pharisees. That religion was Judaism, which would make Paul a Jew by religion only, but not by his bloodline. In his defense before the mob, Paul declares that he was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel. He was taught according to the law of the fathers in religious and cultural matters (Acts 22:3). Paul was a Jew by acquired learning, trained by the famous Rabbi Gamaliel in the “school of Hillel”.
Therefore, the Apostle Paul, before his Christian conversion, was a Jew only by religion. He was not even born in nor was his family home in the land of Judea, but in the city of Tarsus in the region of Cilicia in Asia Minor (see map above). By his bloodline he was a Hebrew and an Israelite of the Tribe of Benjamin.
It is interesting to note that Paul, in his letter to the saints at Rome mentioned some of his natural relatives. Romans 16:11, “Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord.” Romans 16:13, “Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.” Do these references imply a natural or spiritual relationship?
Concerning Rufus and his mother, we are inclined toward a natural relationship. In the Gospel context, a spiritual mother would be one who was instrumental in leading one to Christ. Paul’s conversion was affected by Christ Himself, without any human instrument.
Paul’s use of the word “kinsmen” denotes that he had natural relatives living in Rome and was a part of the body of believers in that city. (Paul affirms the source of his revelations as being directly from Jesus Christ. A denial of Paul’s Gospel is also a denial of the deity of Jesus Christ.)