Category: Judaism


The premise of the Hebrew Roots movement is the belief that the Church has veered far from the true teachings and Hebrew concepts of the Bible. The movement maintains that Christianity has been indoctrinated with the culture and beliefs of Greek and Roman philosophy and that ultimately biblical Christianity, taught in churches today, has been corrupted with a pagan imitation of the New Testament gospels.

Those of the Hebrew Roots belief hold to the teaching that Christ’s death on the cross did not end the Mosaic Covenant, but instead renewed it, expanded its message, and wrote it on the hearts of His true followers. They teach that the understanding of the New Testament can only come from a Hebrew perspective and that the teachings of the Apostle Paul are not understood clearly or taught correctly by Christian pastors today. Many affirm the existence of an original Hebrew-language New Testament and, in some cases, denigrate the existing New Testament text written in Greek. This becomes a subtle attack on the reliability of the text of our Bible. If the Greek text is unreliable and has been corrupted, as is charged by some, the Church no longer has a standard of truth.

Although there are many different and diverse Hebrew Roots assemblies with variations in their teachings, they all adhere to a common emphasis on recovering the “original” Jewishness of Christianity. Their assumption is that the Church has lost its Jewish roots and is unaware that Jesus and His disciples were Jews living in obedience to the Torah. For the most part, those involved advocate the need for every believer to walk a Torah-observant life. This means that the ordinances of the Mosaic Covenant must be a central focus in the lifestyle of believers today as it was with the Old Testament Jews of Israel. Keeping the Torah includes keeping the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week (Saturday), celebrating the Jewish feasts and festivals, keeping the dietary laws, avoiding the “paganism” of Christianity (Christmas, Easter, etc.), and learning to understand the Scriptures from a Hebrew mindset. They teach that Gentile Christians have been grafted into Israel, and this is one reason every born-again believer in Jesus the Messiah is to participate in these observances. It is expressed that doing this is not required out of legalistic bondage, but out of a heart of love and obedience. However, they teach that to live a life that pleases God, this Torah-observant walk must be part of that life.

The Hebrew Roots assemblies are often made up of a majority of Gentiles, including Gentile rabbis. Usually they prefer to be identified as “Messianic Christians.” Many have come to the conclusion that God has “called” them to be Jewish and have accepted the theological position that the Torah (Old Testament law) is equally binding on Gentiles and Jews alike. They often wear articles of traditional Jewish clothing, practice Davidic dancing, and incorporate Hebrew names and phrases into their writing and conversations. Most reject the use of the name “Jesus” in favor of Yeshua or YHWH, claiming that these are the “true” names that God desires for Himself. In most cases, they elevate the Torah as the foundational teaching for the Church, which brings about the demotion of the New Testament, causing it to become secondary in importance and only to be understood in light of the Old Testament. The idea that the New Testament is faulty and relevant only in light of the Old Testament has also brought the doctrine of the Trinity under attack by many advocates of the Hebrew Roots beliefs.

As opposed to what the Hebrew Roots movement claims, the New Testament teachings of the Apostle Paul are perfectly clear and self-explanatory. Colossians 2:16,17 says, “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day – things which are a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” Romans 14:5 states, “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.” Scripture clearly indicates that these issues are a matter of personal choice. These verses and many others give clear evidence that the Mosaic Covenant laws and ordinances have ended. Continuing to teach that the Old Covenant is still in effect in spite of what the New Testament teaches, or twisting the New Testament to agree with the Hebrew Roots beliefs, is false teaching.

There are aspects of the Hebrew Roots teachings that certainly can be beneficial. Seeking to explore the Jewish culture and perspective, within which most of the Bible was written, opens and enriches our understanding of the Scriptures, adding insight and depth to many of the passages, parables and idioms. There is nothing wrong with Gentiles and Jews joining together in celebrating the feasts and enjoying a Messianic style of worship. Taking part in these events and learning the way in which the Jews understood the teachings of our Lord can be a tool, giving us greater effectiveness in reaching the unbelieving Jew with the gospel. It is good for Gentiles, in the body of the Messiah, to identify in our fellowship with Israel. However, to identify with Israel is different from identifying “as” Israel.

Gentile believers are not grafted into the Judaism of the Mosaic Covenant; they are grafted into the seed and faith of Abraham, which preceded the Law and Jewish customs. They are fellow citizens with the saints (Ephesians 2:19), but they are not Jews. Paul explains this clearly when he tells those who were circumcised (the Jews) “not to seek to be uncircumcised” and those who were uncircumcised (the Gentiles) “not to become circumcised” (1 Corinthians 7:18). There is no need for either group to feel they must become what they are not. Instead, God has made Jews and Gentiles into “one new man” in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:15). This “new man” is referring to the Church, the body of Christ, which is made up of neither Jew nor Gentile (Galatians 3:27-29). It’s important for Jews and Gentiles to remain authentic in their own identity. In this way a clear picture of the unity of the body of Christ can be seen as Jews and Gentiles are united by one Lord, one faith, one baptism. If Gentiles are grafted into Israel, becoming Jews, the purpose and picture of both Jew and Gentile, coming together as one new man, is lost. God never intended Gentiles to become one in Israel, but one in Christ.

The influence of this movement is working its way into our churches and seminaries. It’s dangerous in its implication that keeping the Old Covenant law is walking a “higher path” and is the only way to please God and receive His blessings. Nowhere in the Bible do we find Gentile believers being instructed to follow Levitical laws or Jewish customs; in fact, the opposite is taught. Romans 7:6 says, “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” Christ, in keeping perfectly every ordinance of the Mosaic Law, completely fulfilled it. Just as making the final payment on a home fulfills that contract and ends one’s obligation to it, so also Christ has made the final payment and has fulfilled the law, bringing it to an end for us all.

It is God Himself who has created a world of people with different cultures, languages and traditions. God is glorified when we accept one another in love and come together in unity as “one” in Christ Jesus. It’s important to understand that there is no superiority in being born Jewish or Gentile. We who are followers of Christ, comprised of many different cultures and lifestyles, are all of value and greatly loved because we’ve entered into the family of God.

Why does the world hate the Jews? Why is anti-Semitism so rampant in so many different nations? What is so bad about the Jews? History has shown that at various times over the last 1,700 years the Jews have been expelled from over 80 different countries. Historians and experts have concluded there are at least six possible reasons:

• Racial Theory – the Jews are hated because they are an inferior race.
• Economic Theory – the Jews are hated because they possess too much wealth and power.
• Outsiders Theory – the Jews are hated because they are different from everyone else.
• Scapegoat Theory – the Jews are hated because they are the cause for all the world’s problems.
• Deicide Theory – the Jews are hated because they killed Jesus Christ.
• Chosen People Theory – the Jews are hated because they arrogantly declare they are the “chosen ones of God.”

Is there any substance to these theories?

• With respect to the racial theory, the truth is that the Jews are not a race. Anyone in the world of any color, creed or race can become a Jew.

• The economic theory citing that the Jews are wealthy doesn’t hold much weight. History has shown that during the 17th through the 20th centuries, especially in Poland and Russia, the Jews were desperately poor and had very little, if any, influence in business or political systems.

• As for the outsiders’ theory, during the 18th century, the Jews desperately tried to assimilate with the rest of Europe. They had hoped that assimilation would cause anti-Semitism to disappear. However, they were hated even more by those who claimed the Jews would infect their race with inferior genes. This was especially true in Germany prior to World War II.

• As for the scapegoat theory, the fact is that the Jews have always been hated, which makes them a very convenient target.

• As for the idea of deicide, the Bible makes it clear that the Romans were the ones who actually killed Jesus, though the Jews acted as accomplices. It wasn’t until a few hundred years later that the Jews were cited as the murderers of Jesus. One wonders why the Romans are not the ones hated. Jesus Himself forgave the Jews (Luke 23:34). Even the Vatican absolved the Jews of Jesus’ death in 1963. Nevertheless, neither statement has diminished anti-Semitism.

• As for their claim to being the “chosen people of God,” the Jews in Germany rejected their “chosen-ness” status during the later part of the 19th century to better assimilate into German culture. Nevertheless, they suffered the Holocaust. Today, some Christians and Muslims claim to be the “chosen people” of God, yet for the most part, the world tolerates them and still hates the Jews.

This brings us to the real reason by the world hates the Jews. The apostle Paul tells us, “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised!” (Romans 9:3-5). The truth is that the world hates the Jews because the world hates God. The Jews were God’s firstborn, His chosen people (Deuteronomy 14:2). Through the Jewish patriarchs, the prophets, and the temple, God used the Jews to bring forth His Word, the Law, and morality to a world of sin. He sent forth His son, Jesus the Christ, in a Jewish body to redeem the world of sin. Satan, the prince of the earth (John 14:30; Ephesians 2:2), has poisoned the minds of men with his hated of the Jews. See Revelation 12 for an allegorical depiction of Satan’s (the dragon’s) hatred of the Jewish nation (the woman).

Satan has tried to wipe out the Jews through the Babylonians, the Persians, the Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Hittites, and the Nazis. But he’s failed every time. God is not finished with Israel. Romans 11:26 tells us that some day all Israel will be saved, and this cannot come to pass if Israel no longer exists. Therefore, God will preserve the Jews for the future, just as He has preserved their remnant throughout history, until His final plan comes to pass. Nothing can thwart God’s plan for Israel and the Jewish people.

When people refer to the “lost tribes of Israel,” they usually have in mind the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom that fell to Assyria about 722 BC. These tribes are Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, and Joseph (whose tribe was divided into the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh). Most of the people of the Northern Kingdom were deported to ancient Assyria (2 Kings 17:6). Many of the Jews who remained in the land intermarried with people from Cutha, Ava, Hamath, and Sepharvaim who had been sent by the Assyrian king to inhabit Samaria (2 Kings 17:24; Ezra 4:2–11). Thus, the story goes, the ten northern tribes of Israel were “lost” to history and either wiped out or assimilated into other people groups. This narrative, however, is based on inference and assumption rather than on direct biblical teaching.

There are many mysteries, legends, and traditions as to what happened to the ten “lost” tribes of Israel. One legend says that the ten tribes migrated to Europe (the Danube River, they say, got its name from the tribe of Dan). Another legend says the tribes migrated all the way to England and that all Anglo-Saxons today are actually Jews—this is a teaching of the heretical British Israelism. A surprising number of groups around the world claim to have descended from the “lost” tribes: there are people in India, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and North America who all claim such ancestry. Other theories equate the Japanese or the American Indians with the ten “lost” tribes of Israel.

The truth is that the “lost tribes of Israel” were never really lost. Many of the Jews who remained in the land after the Assyrian conquest re-united with Judah in the south (2 Chronicles 34:6–9). Assyria was later conquered by Babylon, who went on to invade the Southern Kingdom of Israel, deporting the two remaining tribes: Judah and Benjamin (2 Kings 25:21). Remnants of the northern tribes would have thus been part of the Babylonian deportations. Seventy years later, when King Cyrus allowed the Israelites to return to Israel (Ezra 1), many (from all twelve tribes) returned to Israel to rebuild their homeland.

The idea that ten tribes of Israel were “lost” is false. God knows where all twelve tribes are, and, as the Bible itself proves, they are all accounted for. In the end times, God will call out witnesses from each of the twelve tribes (Revelation 7:4–8). So, obviously, God has been keeping track of who belongs to what tribe.

In the Gospels, the prophetess Anna (Luke 2:36) was from the tribe of Asher (one of the ten supposedly lost tribes). Anna wasn’t lost at all. Both Zechariah and Elisabeth—and therefore John the Baptist—are from the tribe of Levi (Luke 1:5). Jesus promises the disciples that they will “sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:30). Paul, who knows he is from the tribe of Benjamin (Romans 11:1), speaks of “the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night” (Acts 26:7)—note the present tense. James addresses his epistle “to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (James 1:1). In short, there is ample evidence in Scripture that all twelve tribes of Israel are still in existence and will be in the Messianic kingdom. None of them are lost.

Throughout their history in the Promised Land, the children of Israel struggled with conflict among the tribes. The disunity went back all the way to the patriarch Jacob, who presided over a house divided. The sons of Leah and the sons of Rachel had their share of contention even in Jacob’s lifetime (Genesis 37:1-11).

The enmity among the half-brothers continued in the time of the judges. Benjamin (one of Rachel’s tribes) took up arms against the other tribes (Judges 20). Israel’s first king, Saul, was of the tribe of Benjamin. When David was crowned king—David was from the tribe of Judah (one of Leah’s tribes)—the Benjamites rebelled (2 Samuel 2–3). After a long war (2 Samuel 3:1), David succeeded in uniting all twelve tribes (5:1-5).

The frailty of the union was exposed, however, when David’s son Absalom promoted himself as the new king and drew many Israelites away from their allegiance to David (2 Samuel 15). Significantly, Absalom set up his throne in Hebron, the site of the former capital (v. 10). A later revolt was led by a man named Sheba against David and the tribe of Judah (20:1-2).

The reign of David’s son Solomon saw more unrest when one of the king’s servants, Jeroboam, rebelled. Jeroboam was on the king’s errand when he met the prophet Ahijah, who told him that God was going to give him authority over ten of the twelve tribes of Israel. God’s reason for the division of the kingdom was definitive: “Because they have forsaken me . . . and have not walked in my ways.” However, God promised that David’s dynasty would continue, albeit over a much smaller kingdom, for the sake of God’s covenant with David and for the sake of Jerusalem, God’s chosen city. When Solomon learned of the prophecy, he sought to kill Jeroboam, who fled to Egypt for sanctuary (1 Kings 11:26-40).

After Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam was set to become the next king. Jeroboam returned from Egypt and led a group of people to confront Rehoboam with a demand for a lighter tax burden. When Rehoboam refused the demand, ten of the tribes rejected Rehoboam and David’s dynasty (1 Kings 12:16), and Ahijah’s prophecy was fulfilled. Only Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to King Rehoboam. The northern tribes crowned Jeroboam as their king. Rehoboam made plans to mount an assault on the rebel tribes, but the Lord prevented him from taking that action (vv. 21-24). Meanwhile, Jeroboam further consolidated his power by instituting a form of calf worship unique to his kingdom and declaring that pilgrimages to Jerusalem were unnecessary. Thus, the people of the northern tribes would have no contact with the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.

“So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day” (1 Kings 12:19). The northern kingdom is called “Israel” (or sometimes “Ephraim”) in Scripture, and the southern kingdom is called “Judah.” From the divine viewpoint, the division was a judgment on not keeping God’s commands, specifically the commands prohibiting idolatry. From a human viewpoint, the division was the result of tribal discord and political unrest. The principle is that sin brings division (1 Corinthians 1:13, 11:18; James 4:1).

The good news is that God, in His mercy, has promised a reuniting of the northern and southern kingdoms. “He will raise a banner for the nations / and gather the exiles of Israel; / he will assemble the scattered people of Judah / from the four quarters of the earth. / Ephraim’s jealousy will vanish, / and Judah’s enemies will be destroyed; / Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah, / nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim” (Isaiah 11:12-13). When the Prince of Peace—Jesus Christ—reigns in His millennial kingdom, all hostility, jealousy, and conflict among the tribes will be put to rest.

The Hebrews are peoples descended from Abraham. The origin of the word Hebrew is thought to come from the proper name “Eber,” listed in Genesis 10:24 as the great-grandson of Shem and an ancestor of Abraham. Another etymology traces the original root word back to the phrase “from the other side”—in that case, Hebrew would be a word designating an “immigrant,” which Abraham certainly was (Genesis 12:1, 4–5).

From Shem, through Arpachshad and Shelah, came Eber, the eponymous ancestor of the Hebrews; and Eber’s descendant, through Peleg, Reu, Sereg, and Nahor, was Terah, the father of Abram and his brothers Nahor and Haran. It becomes clear that, if “Hebrews” are “descendants of Eber,” then others besides those of Abraham’s line could possibly be included (see Genesis 11:10–26).

Today, a “Hebrew” is usually thought of as any member of a group of ancient people who traced their lineage from Abraham though Isaac and Jacob. And that is how the Bible uses the term. In fact, Abraham is the first person called a “Hebrew” in the Bible (Genesis 14:13). After 400 years in Egypt, the Hebrews were recognizable as a distinct people group (Exodus 1:19). The Philistines in Canaan used the term “Hebrews” (2 Samuel 29:3); Jonah identified himself as “a Hebrew” (Jonah 1:9); and, hundreds of years later, Paul was still using the same identification (Philippians 3:5).

Abraham’s grandson Jacob’s name was changed to “Israel” (Genesis 35:10), so Jacob and his descendants could be called the first “Israelites.” Jacob’s fourth son was named “Judah,” and his descendants were called “Judahites” or “Judeans.” Later, the name “Judean” was shortened to “Jew.”

Technically, Jews are Israelite Hebrews from the region of Judea—they come from Abraham (a Hebrew) and Jacob (an Israelite), through Judah (a Jew); thus, strictly speaking, all Israelite Hebrews are not Jews. After Solomon’s death, the nation of Israel split into two kingdoms: in the Northern Kingdom were the “non-Jewish” Hebrew Israelites (descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through ten of his sons); and in the Southern Kingdom were the “Jewish” Hebrew Israelites (descendants of Jacob’s other two sons who lived in Judea). This represents a very narrow definition of terms, however. In common usage, Jews, Israelites, and Hebrews are all words referring to God’s chosen people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The Israelites are the physical descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel in Genesis 32:28. From then on, his sons and other descendants were called “sons of Israel” or “Israelites.”

Jacob (or Israel) had twelve sons, the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israelites. Most properly, any member of one of the tribes of Israel was called an “Israelite.” We see this usage of Israelite often in the Old Testament (e.g., Exodus 5:19; Leviticus 24:10; Nehemiah 9:2). The word Israelite is found several more times in the New Testament: Jesus calls Nathanael an “Israelite” in John 1:47, and Paul calls himself an “Israelite” in Romans 11:1.

The word Israelite is often used synonymously with the terms Hebrew and Jew. There are some technical differences separating these words, but, for the most part, such interchanging of terms is acceptable. We sometimes refer to the Israelites or Jews as “God’s chosen people.” This appellation is directly tied to the covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 12:1–3.

The Israelites were also the recipients of other covenants with God: the Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 19—24), the Palestinian (or Land) Covenant (Deuteronomy 29:1–29), the Davidic Covenant (1 Chronicles 17:11–14), and the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31, 33). The New Covenant was extended, by the grace of God, to include anyone—Jew and Gentile alike—who has faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:12).

In the New Testament, the word Israelite takes on another connotation that has to do with one’s spiritual condition. Jesus called Nathanael an Israelite “indeed” (John 1:47). Years later, Jesus met with Zacchaeus, who was an Israelite by birth, and said about him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9). We combine this with Paul’s teaching that “those who have faith are children of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7) to conclude that salvation is not based on physical lineage but on faith in the Messiah. There is a difference between an Israelite by birth (without faith) and an Israelite “indeed” (possessing the faith of Abraham). Nicodemus, an Israelite leader, had to be born again (John 3:3).

God promised to bless the Israelites as they kept the Law of Moses. Through the years, God has used the Israelites in amazing ways, as Paul summarizes, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 9:4–5, ESV). God also promised that all mankind would be blessed through Abraham’s lineage (Genesis 12:3). Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of this universal blessing.

God’s Word affirms that the Jews are God’s chosen people: “You are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession” (Deuteronomy 7:6). From eternity past God knew that He would need to be born into the human race in order to save us from the spiritually dead condition that we were in (Ephesians 1—2; Genesis 3). God had planned from the beginning to be born into a very small nation or race of people called the Jews. The Old Testament tells the story of how God set about creating, distinguishing, and preserving that race.

The ultimate goal of God’s choice of the Jews as His chosen people was to produce the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who would be the Savior of the world. Jesus had to come from some nation or people, and God chose Israel. God first promised the Savior/Messiah after Adam and Eve sinned (Genesis 3). Later, God specified that the Messiah would come from the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Genesis 12). Later still, He narrowed the Messiah’s ancestry to the line of David (2 Samuel 7). Throughout their history, the people of Israel were aware of their “chosen” status before God (see 1 Kings 3:8; 8:53; Psalm 105:43; Isaiah 43:4; 65:9; and Amos 3:2). The fact that God has an eternal future for Israel is evident in that five sixths of the Bible bears directly or indirectly upon them—Jesus being the central figure who brought the Jews and Gentiles together (Ephesians 2:14).

The fact that the Jews are God’s chosen people means that they have been held to a high standard. From those who are given much, much is required (Luke 12:48), or as God said through one prophet, “You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins” (Amos 3:2).

Israel’s responsibilities have included keeping and preserving the Law (Joshua 22:5); being “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6); and bringing “renown and praise and honor” to the Lord (Jeremiah 13:11). Their high calling is straight from the God who chose them out of all the nations of the earth.

  Christians should definitely support the nation of Israel. We must remember that Israel, the nation, is very special to God. We read in Deuteronomy 7:6-8 these words: “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

God’s eternal purpose is to bless the world through Israel. Already He has done so in measure, for “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22), but the fullness of future blessing is indicated in the wondrous promise of Isaiah 27:6: “In days to come Jacob will take root, Israel will bud and blossom and fill all the world with fruit.”

The declaration that “salvation is from the Jews” suggests our immeasurable debt to Israel. All that we have worth having has come to us through the Jews. Our Bible is a Jewish Book, and our Savior is a Jewish Savior. Let us never forget to pray for God’s chosen people. It is true that Israel, today, is in the place of rejection. The nation is a secular, unbelieving (as to the claims of Scripture and their Messiah, Jesus Christ) nation; but “…at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace” (Romans 11:5). Some Jews are being saved and are becoming members of the body of Christ through faith in their Messiah.

Jews are, biblically speaking, the “chosen people of God” and dearly loved by Him. Another reason for Christians to support the nation of Israel is because of the Abrahamic Covenant. We read of God’s promise in Genesis 12:2-3, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (see also Genesis 27:29; Numbers 24:9).

One of the United States’ most worthwhile accomplishments has been its consistent regard for the plight of the Jewish nation. No nation in the history of the world has a better record of treating individual Jews with respect than does America. The same can be said for our befriending Israel as a nation. America has committed many sins for which we may well deserve judgment, but as a nation, we have been a consistent friend of the Jews and the nation of Israel, as well as a benefactor. In 1948, President Harry Truman helped persuade the United Nations to recognize Israel as a nation. Since then, the United States has contributed billions of dollars in aid to Israel.

From the biblical declarations of God’s love and care for His chosen people, the nation of Israel, and from the history of nations being destroyed because of their evil dealings with God’s chosen people, the Jews, Christian believers should give support to the chosen people of God. This is not to say that we support necessarily the methods they use in their relationships with the Arab nations. The Bible warned that conflict would always characterize the relations between the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael. Sadly, this conflict will continue until Jesus comes back to judge the nations and sets up His 1,000-year reign of peace on earth. We must look at the “big picture” with a biblical worldview. While we do not have to support everything Israel does as a nation, we most definitely should support Israel’s right to exist. God will fulfill His promises and covenants with Israel. God still has a plan for Israel. Woe to anyone who seeks to defeat that plan; “whoever curses you I will curse” (Genesis 12:3).

The term Sanhedrin is from a Greek word that means “assembly” or “council” and dates from the Hellenistic period, but the concept is one that goes back to the Bible. In the Torah, God commands Moses to “bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the Tent of Meeting, that they may stand there with you” (Numbers 11:16). Also, in the sixteenth chapter of Deuteronomy, we read in verse 18, “You shall appoint for yourselves judges and officers in all your towns which the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.” The land was divided up among the tribes, and in those areas where tribes had their presence, there were towns and villages, and in every town and every village there was to be a court. If there were 120 men as heads of families, they had a local court there called a Sanhedrin. In smaller towns where there were not 120 men as heads of families, there were either three judges, if the town was very small, or seven judges who sat as a court, both judge and jury, in all legal matters.

The Great Sanhedrin was the supreme court of ancient Israel, made up of 70 men and the high priest. In the Second Temple period, the Great Sanhedrin met in the Temple in Jerusalem. The court convened every day except festivals and on the Sabbath. The Sanhedrin as a body claimed powers that lesser Jewish courts did not have. As such, they were the only ones who could try the king or extend the boundaries of the Temple and Jerusalem, and were the ones to whom all questions of law were finally put. The last binding decision of the Sanhedrin was in 358, when the Hebrew calendar was adopted. The Sanhedrin was dissolved after continued persecution by the Roman Empire. Over the centuries, there have been attempts to revive the institution, such as the Grand Sanhedrin convened by Napoleon Bonaparte.

In the New Testament, the Sanhedrin is best known for their part in the series of mock trials that resulted in the crucifixion of Jesus. The Sanhedrin began with an informal examination of Jesus before Annas, the acting high priest (John 18:12-14, 19-23), followed by a formal session before the entire Sanhedrin (Matthew 26:57-68). There the decision was made to turn Jesus over the Roman authorities to be tried and crucified.

In the earliest days of the Christian church, the church was comprised predominately of Jews. In Acts chapter 8 the gospel spread to the Samaritans (who were ethnically mixed Jews-Gentiles), and many Samaritans received Jesus Christ as Savior. In Acts chapter 10, the Apostle Peter was the first to take the gospel specifically to the Gentiles, and many received Christ as Savior. In Acts chapter 13-14, Paul and Barnabas had a very fruitful ministry among the Gentiles. All of these Gentiles turning to faith in Christ caused concern among the Jewish believers, first expressed in Acts 11:1-18, and the issues that caused concern were ultimately decided upon at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). The issues centered on two questions: Do Gentiles first have to become Jews before they can become Christians? Do Gentiles have to observe the Mosaic Law after they become Christians?

The impetus for the Jerusalem council is given in Acts 15, verses 1 and 5, “But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’ … It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the Law of Moses.” Some Jewish Christians were teaching that Gentiles had to observe the Mosaic Law and Jewish customs in order to be saved. Since this teaching clearly contradicted the fact that salvation was by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (Acts 15:11), the apostles and church leaders held the first Christian council to settle the issue. In verses 7-11, the apostle Peter spoke of his ministry with the Gentiles, as recorded in Acts chapter 10. Peter focused on the fact that the Holy Spirit was given to uncircumcised Gentiles in precisely the same manner the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles and Jewish believers on the day of Pentecost. This led Peter to the conclusion that there should be no “placing a yoke on the neck of the (Gentile) disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10).

Jesus’ half-brother James, who had become a leader of the church in Jerusalem, agreed with Peter and declared, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19). The Jerusalem Council then proceeded to give four “rules” that Gentile Christians should live by. These were not rules the Gentiles must follow in order to be saved. Rather, the rules were to build harmony between Jewish and Gentile Christians in the first century. The four rules the Jerusalem Council decided upon were that Gentile Christians should abstain from: food polluted by idols, sexual immorality, the meat of strangled animals, and blood. The instructions were not intended to guarantee salvation but to promote peace within the early church.

It is interesting that the issue the Jerusalem Council was dealing with is still very much an issue in the church today. There are groups still teaching that Christians must obey the Old Testament Law. Whether it is the Sabbath day or the food laws or all of the Old Testament Law outside of the sacrificial system – there are groups which declare observance of the Law is either required for salvation, or at least a crucially important aspect of the Christian life. Sadly, these groups either completely ignore or grossly misinterpret the decision of the Jerusalem Council. The specific goal of the Jerusalem Council was to decide what aspects, if any, of the Old Testament Law, Christians must observe. The Jerusalem Council, for the sake of melding the Jewish and Gentile cultures within the Antioch church, said that the Gentiles should eschew their former pagan practices associated with idolatry. There was no mention of the Sabbath whatsoever. Further, the Jerusalem Council made it abundantly clear that these rules were not requirements for salvation by reaffirming that salvation is by grace for both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 15:11). How many arguments would be solved if the church today would simply follow the principle set by the Jerusalem Council—limit your liberty for the sake of love?