n recent years throughout our Messianic Movement, there has been much
discussion regarding the basis for Jewish identity. Believers in Messiah Yeshua
(Jesus) from both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds have felt the desire to
strongly identify with the larger Jewish community, and to be accepted by that
larger Jewish community. These feelings are normal and understandable, as we see
the Scriptures giving many examples of the positive benefit of standing in
solidarity with the Jewish people.
For Gentile believers, we have the famous example of Ruth as she declared:
"Your People shall be my People, and your God shall be my God."
These believers have embraced the very words of Messiah as he stated:
"Salvation is of the Jews," John 4:22. In their desire to identify with the Jewish
people, Gentile believers in Messiah have turned to various sources of authority
as to what constitutes "Jewish". Some are active in good, healthy Messianic
Jewish congregations where they are valued members of the community. Others have
formed "new winds of doctrine" that somehow identify Gentile believers as
members of one of the tribes of Israel, exactly which tribe seems to change
every few years! Still other Gentile believers look to the mainstream rabbinic
Jewish community for their sense of "what is Jewish", and grant them final
authority in these matters.
For Jewish believers, there is a strong imperative to remain identifiable as
Jews. After all, if God created us as Jews surely He knew what He was doing!
Through the years we've seen Satan's attempts to destroy the Jewish people, and
so we are more determined than ever to say:
"AM YISRAEL CHAI!"
"THE JEWISH PEOPLE LIVE ON!"
We are proud of our Jewish identity
As we resolve to be identifiable as Jewish believers in Messiah Yeshua, we still
come face to face with the question of the basis of Jewish identity and
authority. Some Jewish believers do all they can to make themselves acceptable
to mainstream Rabbinic Judaism, believing that if they just wear tzitsit1, keep
kosher and follow other forms of rabbinic Halacha2, they will eventually be
accepted as a branch of Judaism. Even though some Rabbis have begrudgingly
allowed that Jewish believers are still Jews, we are still seen as being
ignorant traitors who need to renounce Yeshua and return to rabbinic Judaism.
Sadly, some Jewish believers who have become completely enamored of rabbinic
approval have eventually done just that, backing away from central teachings of
the Messiah in order to make themselves acceptable to rabbinic Judaism.
All of this goes to the heart of the question, What is the basis for Jewish
identity? We hereby submit that the Lord God of Israel Himself has set the
standard for Jewish identity. When God called Avraham Avinu (Abraham our Father)
to be the first "Hebrew", He made a covenant with him and his descendants Isaac
and Jacob which clearly outlines the true basis for Jewish identity.
That sacred covenental promise is known as the "Abrahamic Covenant". This
covenant is much older than the "Mosaic Covenant" and is actually the written
form of the statement and promise of God whereby He creates the nation of
Israel, the Jewish people, starting with Avraham.
(The Bible largely uses the terms "Israel" and "Jewish" interchangeably, they're
the same people in spite of what some "new winds of doctrine" might mistakenly
SEVEN MAIN FEATURES OF THE ABRAHAMIC
Here are seven main features which identify the Abrahamic Covenant as 'THE'
Statement that God uses to establish His foundation of Jewish identity and
1. The Abrahamic Covenant is the set of unconditional, unbreakable, irrevocable
promises God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that begins His relationship with
the Jewish people. It is found in Genesis 12:1-3, 15:1-21, 17:1-21.
Here's a 'trick question'; "Was Avraham Jewish or Gentile?". Answer: "Neither".
You see, Abraham was the first Jewish person because God decreed that it was so.
"Gentiles" are NOT a race of people, it is simply a term for those who are not
Jewish. So, you only have Gentiles once you have Jews. The set of scriptures in
Genesis where God speaks His eternal promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
bringing into existence the Jewish people, form what we might think of as
a 'legal incorporation' of the Nation of Israel. The Covenant was
'unconditional', in that no conditions of obedience were required from the
Jewish people for it to continue in full force. This Covenant continues to
be cited throughout the entire Bible as the basis for God's relationship
with Israel. While Abraham had a number of children, the Covenant line ran
through Isaac alone. In the same way, the line was through only one of
Isaac's sons, Jacob, and not through Esau (Gen 28:13-15). Jacob had twelve
sons, and the Biblical definition of a Jew is a person who is a biological
descendant of one of those twelve sons. While the Hebrew
Scriptures encouraged Gentiles to forsake paganism and turn to the God of Israel
in faith, those "God-fearers" or proselytes are not called Jews, and they did
not become Jews, even though they had an honored position in the Community of
Israel. In the same way today, Gentiles who place their faith in Yeshua, the
Messiah of Israel, do NOT become "Spiritual Jews" (a Replacement Theology
invention), instead they are "Spiritual Gentiles", (Gentiles in whom the Holy
Spirit resides) and should have a co-equal place of status and function in a
healthy Messianic Congregation alongside the "Spiritual Jews" (ethnic Jews in
whom the Holy Spirit resides). The Gentile believers DO become co-heirs of
SPIRITUAL Blessings from the Abrahamic Covenant (Galatians 3:14, 29). The
Scriptures which support all this and bear witness to the distinction are Romans
2:17 and 29, which teaches that the true Jew is the one who is BOTH Jewish physically
(v. 17) and has the circumcision of the heart (v. 29), and Galatians 3:28 which
teaches that there is one way of atonement for all, Jew & Gentile, male and
female, even though these physical distinctions remain within the body of
2. The Abrahamic Covenant establishes a unique bond between Israel and God.
When Isaiah 49:16 says, "Behold I have engraved you on the palms of my hands",
his immediate hearers were a Jewish nation that had broken the Mosaic Law as
Isaiah so dramatically testifies to (Isa. 1:1-4), and were not entitled to the
blessing of God (Leviticus 26:14-39) as far as the Mosaic Covenant was
concerned. Yet, in the next few verses (Lev. 26:40-42) God does promise to bless
them, NOT because of any obedience to the Mosaic Covenant, but rather because of
His relationship to them through the ABRAHAMIC COVENANT. It is the covenant to
Abraham that secures the unique bond between God and Israel, NOT the Mosaic
Covenant, as the foregoing scriptures show. If this fact alone were understood
by believers, we would see far less confusion in some sectors of our Messianic
3. The Abrahamic Covenant promises God's protection
for the Jewish people. Gen.
Back in my old neighborhood in Brooklyn, there used to be what was known as a
"Protection Policy". If you thought you were going to be 'bothered' by the 'bad
guys', you made an agreement with even 'badder guys' to watch your back. Anyone
who dared 'touch' you, was in turn 'touched' by your new friends. Well, God knew
that lots of 'bad guys' would try to "rub out" (forgive my Brooklynese) the
Jewish people. Satan would move nation after nation to try to destroy the Jewish
people. Why?? Because it would be through the Jewish people that God would
bring the Scriptures and the Messiah, two things that Satan really hates, but
can't fight directly. So, God promised His protection of the Jewish people by
saying that He would bless those that bless them, and curse those who curse
them. A careful study of history confirms this pattern.
4. The Abrahamic Covenant grants ownership of the Land of Israel
to the Jewish
People. Gen. 15:18-21, 17:8.
While there is much controversy among the nations of the world regarding
ownership of the Land of Israel, the Scriptures above are very clear. The entire
Land of Israel, including even more territory than the current State of Israel
encompasses, is given to the Jewish Nation by God. It's capital was, is, and
shall always be Jerusalem. At the same time, God does have a concern for the
descendants of Abraham through Hagar, Ishmael and his Arab offspring. To them
God gives the land EAST of the land he gives to the Nation of Israel, as is
clearly seen in Genesis 16:7-16. The Arab nations currently have that land
promised to them; unfortunately, some among them also seek to unlawfully take
Jewish land away from the Jewish people. (Current Arab land holdings are over 20
times the size of Israel!)
5. The Abrahamic Covenant remains in effect even though the Mosaic Covenant has
been broken. Jeremiah 31:31-33, Galatians 3:15-18.
Because of it's unconditional nature, the Abrahamic Covenant cannot be broken by
any disobedience on the part of the Jewish people. In contrast to that,
Leviticus 26:14-39 and Deuteronomy 28:15-68 clearly present the provisions of
the Mosaic Covenant as being dependent upon the full obedience of the nation to
ALL the provisions of the Law of Moses, not just those you choose to obey!!
(James 2:10). Furthermore, the Jewish prophet Jeremiah presents the Mosaic
Covenant as being so broken so as to necessitate a New Covenant being given (Jer.
31:31-33). Rabbi Shaul (Paul) in Galatians 3:15-18 confirms that the Abrahamic
Covenant continues in full legal force today even though Mosaic law is no longer
'binding' upon believers. While the Mosaic Law is from God and is good, holy and
just, we were completely unable to keep it, which amply demonstrates to us the
need for Messiah and the New Covenant.
6. The Abrahamic Covenant is the "Legal basis"
for the sending of Messiah Yeshua.
In the New Covenant narrative of the birth of Messiah Yeshua, His uncle
Zechariah, serving as a Jewish Priest in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, declared
that the birth of Yeshua was a fulfillment of the promise that was stated in the
" ... for through you all the nations of the world will be blessed"
It was through the descendant of Abraham, Yeshua, that the nations (Gentiles)
were blessed with the ability to have sin atoned for and to enter the Kingdom of
7. While the Abrahamic Covenant serves to preserve the nation of Israel, each
individual Jewish person, like every human being, is still a sinner in need of a
redeemer. Isa. 59:1-2, 16, 20.
The Abrahamic Covenant "guarantees" the continued physical survival and
existence of the Jewish people as a nation 'corporately'. The individuals
mentioned in Isaiah 59:1-2 as being separated from the God of Israel were
members of that covenant, but because of their individual sin, were in need of
individual atonement. The method of that atonement is spelled out at the end of
that chapter, in v. 20 where we read of the 'Redeemer' who is to come.
WHO MADE US JEWISH?
I'll conclude with a true story: In a weekly exchange of "Letters to the Editor"
I had with a local Jewish community leader, published over an eight week stretch in
a local newspaper, he challenged the right of our congregation's members to
identity themselves as Jewish (70% of our members are Jewish) without the
approval of area rabbis. In response I wrote:
"It wasn't the rabbis of our community who made us Jewish, it was the Lord God
of Israel and our Jewish mothers, and I don't recommend arguing with either of
1 An inner garment with long
2 The collective corpus of Jewish religious
law, including biblical law (the 613
mitzvot) and later talmudic and rabbinic law as well as customs and
* * * * *
This article copyright © 2002, 2003 Mottel Baleston. All Rights Reserved
Reprinted by permission of Mottel Baleston from the web site
Messengers of the New
Covenant Messianic Fellowship in
Livingston, New Jersey, of which Mottel is director. Mottel
is also Associate Messianic Rabbi of
Beth Messiah Messianic Congregation
in Livingston, serves on the board of the AMC
as secretary and is our very able web master. Thank you, Mottel.