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FAQS - Frequently asked Questions, and Answers,
on the Messianic Jewish faith & Yeshua the Messiah

Question: Is there a difference between "Jew," "Hebrew" and "Israelite"?

Answer: For many centuries the Jewish community has considered the terms "Jew," "Hebrew" and "Israelite" (or "Israeli") to be synonymous. The New Testament affirms this understanding, since it uses all three terms interchangeably. At first the term "Jew" referred exclusively to those who were from the tribe of Judah, but eventually it was applied to people from all twelve tribes. That is why Paul could say that he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews (Philippians 3:5), an Israeli (Romans 11:1), and a Jew from Tarsus, even though he was from the tribe of Benjamin (Acts 21:39). To this day the three terms may still be used to refer to anyone who is part of the Jewish people. (Loren Jacobs)


Question: I understand that the First Jerusalem Council didn't demand that the new Gentile Believers keep all of the commandments right away, but doesn't Acts 15:21 teach that as these new Believers matured, they should learn Torah at their own pace, and become more Torah observant?

Answer: There is a better way to understand Acts 15:21. Acts 15 records the decision of Messiah's Emissaries (the Apostles) and the Elders of Messiah's Holy Community (the Church) regarding the relationship of Gentile Christians to the 613 laws of the Torah. In Messianic circles, this meeting is often referred to as "the First Jerusalem Council." According to the binding decision issued by the Emissaries and Elders, guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit, apart from saving faith in Messiah Yeshua, only four things are obligatory for Gentile Believers to observe (see Acts 15, especially verses 19-20, 28-29). It was understood that obedience to moral law - laws such as not murdering, not stealing, and not committing adultery, which God has written on everyone's heart, were also included (see Romans 2:14-15). After these four requirements were given, in the very next verse (15:21), Ya'akov (James) said, "For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath."

Ya'akov, the Messiah's brother and the head of the Community of Believers in Jerusalem, was not saying that Gentile Believers should start off slow, with just the four requirements previously mentioned, and then move on to more Torah observance, and learn about Torah observance from those in the synagogue. No, Ya'akov was summarizing the Council's position and making the very same point, but in another way - that the 613 commandments are not required of the Gentile Believers - only those four things mentioned (along with the moral laws that God has written on everyone's heart), and that this is what Moses taught, and what the synagogues teach. Even today, non-Messianic synagogues teach the same thing - that Gentiles don't need to become Jews, or follow all 613 commandments, in order to be right with God. (Loren Jacobs)


Question: Isn't it wrong to call yourself "Rabbi" in light of Matthew 23:8?

Answer: Let's take a look at Yeshua's teaching in Matthew 23:8-12: "Do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on Earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in Heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Messiah. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted."

One of the most important principles that will help us correctly interpret the Word of God is: "If the literal sense makes sense, seek no other sense." The Word of God is to be understood in its historical/ grammatical context. If a passage makes literal sense historically and grammatically, then that is what it means. However, if the literal sense is impossible or does not make sense, we should seek a non-literal sense. In the passage we are considering, Yeshua's words about not being called "rabbi," "father" or "leader" are not meant to be understood in a strictly literally way. If we interpreted these words with a 'wooden' literalism, then we could not call anyone on Earth "father" (without exception). But of course we have earthy fathers, and it is right to honor them with the term "father." In fact, the Holy Scriptures frequently use the term "father" to describe human beings, even in a religious sense (see 1 Corinthians 4:15). The New Testament also acknowledges the word "leader" as a legitimate term (see the Letter to the Messianic Jews - "Hebrews" 13:17, 24). The term "rabbi" is defined for us in John 1:38 as "teacher." Again, according to the New Testament, the office of teacher is specifically part of the leadership of the New Covenant Community (see Ephesians 4:11). Ya'akov (James) also acknowledges the office of teacher (James 3:1).

The rest of the passage tells us that the Messiah is concerned about pride among us, about the desire to be exalted, about the desire to rule and not to serve. Those who are leaders and teachers and fathers in the Faith are not to develop an attitude that demands unquestioning submission. They are to be servant-leaders. Nor is Messiah's Holy Community of Jews and Gentiles to develop an elite group of clergy/priests who are qualitatively different from the rest of the New Covenant community. In conclusion, the titles, "rabbi" "father" and "leader" may be used, but with humility. (Loren Jacobs)

Question: According to Galatians 3:26-29, all Believers are one in Messiah, and there is no longer Jew or Gentile. Why do you continue to make a distinction between Jews and Gentiles? Aren't we all Christians now, and no longer Jews or Gentiles?

Answer: Let's look at the passage in question: "For you are all sons of God through faith in Messiah Yeshua. For all of you who were baptized into Messiah have clothed yourselves with Messiah. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua. And if you belong to Messiah, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise."

Rabbi Paul is not teaching us that all earthly differences between men and women, and between Jews and Gentiles automatically disappear when we become Believers in the Messiah. "There is neither Jew nor Greek" is not meant to be interpreted literally any more than "there is neither male nor female." Men who believe in Messiah are still men. Women who have encountered Yeshua are still women. In fact, Rabbi Paul teaches elsewhere that there are distinct "roles" for the sexes. For example, spiritual leaders of communities must be men - not women. Men are to be the leaders of the home - not the women. If we understood Paul's words literally, and there were no longer any differences between men and women, then men could marry men, and women could marry women - something which is clearly wrong. Just as there are still differences between men and women in Messiah's New Covenant Community, so too there are differences between slaves and those who are free, and there are differences between Jews and Gentiles.

The New Testament itself makes distinctions between Gentile Believers and Jewish Believers. That's why Paul, who identified himself as "a Jew from Tarsus" could also say to the Gentile Christians in Rome, "I am speaking to you who are Gentiles (Romans 11:13)." In fact, it's quite possible that differences between men and women and Jews and Gentiles will continue in the Age To Come. In the book of Revelation, even though the Son of God is resurrected and glorified, He is still revealed to be a Man. Even more specifically, He is identified as belonging to the tribe of Judah and the Root of David (see Revelation 5:5). I find it interesting that throughout eternity, the names of the twelve tribes of Israel are written on the everlasting gates of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:12). In addition, "the nations" will walk by the light of the Eternal City, and the glory and honor of the "nations" will be brought into it. The leaves of the Tree of Life are for the healing of the "nations." God has ordained that followers of the Messiah come from every nation, tribe, people and language group; and these differences in language, culture and identity remain on Earth, and some may even endure into Eternity.

This ongoing difference between Jews and Gentiles manifests itself in several ways. For example, Messianic Jews should be circumcised for religious reasons, since we are still special participants in the covenant made with Abraham. Paul circumcised Timothy, since he had a Jewish mother (see Acts 16:1-3). On the other hand, Messianic Gentiles must not be circumcised for religious reasons, as Rabbi Paul makes clear in his letter to the Galatians. They are to be content with being circumcised in their hearts. However, Gentiles Believers may have their sons circumcised for medical reasons, but not for religious reasons.

So what does Rabbi Paul mean when he writes that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free? He means that for all who have joined themselves to Israel's Messiah, there is a new equality that we have. Now that the Messiah has come, we have a new and equal access to the God of Israel. He is equally our Heavenly Father. We can all come boldly before His throne of grace at any time. We all share His Spirit. We are brothers and sisters. However, earthly roles and differences remain. Yes, all who genuinely believe in the God of Israel and the Jewish Messiah are "Christians" - but "Christian" simply means a follower of Christ (Messiah - Israel's Anointed King); being a Christian does not mean that one's national and ethnic identity are diminished. (Loren Jacobs)

Question: Now that I believe in Yeshua, haven't I ceased being a Gentile and am now a "Spiritual Jew" (Romans 2:28-29)? Haven't I been grafted into the Olive Tree (Romans 11)? Am I not part of the Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:12)? Am I not a son of Abraham (Galatians 3:29)?

Answer: We have to be very clear about our use of names and titles. The Holy Spirit is very careful in the Scriptures that comprise the New Testament, not to identify Gentiles as Jews. Gentiles are never told that they "become Jews" or "convert to Judaism." Messiah's Holy Community of Jews and Gentiles (the Church) is never said to "replace Israel," "take the place of Israel," or be the "New Israel." What then is the relationship of Messianic Gentiles to the nation of Israel? "Kosher-hearted" Gentiles are sons of Abraham. Abraham is their spiritual father, but that doesn't make them Jews. They are Abraham's offspring, but that doesn't mean that Christians are "Jews" or "Spiritual Israel" or the "New Israel." Abraham is the father of many nations, but not all those nations are entitled to be called "Israel." Only those who are descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob can properly be called "Jews" or "Israel." Gentiles who have found the Messiah are not "Spiritual Jews." They are "Spiritual Gentiles." If you look at the context of Romans 2:28-29, you will see that Rabbi Paul is specifically addressing Jewish people (v.17). He is teaching us that Jewish people who have saving faith in Messiah are "Jews inwardly" and spiritually circumcised. You might be a wild olive branch that has been grafted in to Israel's Olive Tree of Salvation and Blessing, but you are a "partaker with us" - the natural branches. You don't replace us. Yes, Gentile Believers are now part of the Commonwealth of Israel, and have a new citizenship with the Jewish saints, but that doesn't make you a Jew, any more than Paul having Roman citizenship made him a physical descendant of Rome.

Properly identifying Messianic Jews and Gentiles as equal yet distinct is important because of the ongoing differences in their earthly roles and calling. "Replacement Theology" - the teaching that the Church is the New Israel and has replaced the Jewish people, is the result of a flawed interpretation of Scripture. It is wrong and has contributed to considerable violence against the Jewish people (Loren Jacobs)

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