In the midst of our live study at Calvary Community Church, I am reminded of the importance of understanding our Jewish roots. Thus, over the next few days I want to share a portion of that study with you. We’ll begin by focusing on the basics before moving on to early Christian-Jewish relations and why a wedge was eventually driven between Jews and Christians.
There is no way to deny it: our Christian roots are in Judaism! Abraham was a Gentile who became “Father of the Jews,” to deliver salvation through the Jewish Messiah to Gentiles everywhere! Paul was a Jew…the apostles were Jews…New Testament writers were Jews…the first followers of Jesus were Jews…and yes, JESUS Himself was a Jew!
So, a key question to consider is: As Gentiles, how are we to understand and relate to our Jewish heritage?
Let’s lay some groundwork by reviewing the “Jewishness” of Jesus and Paul. Luke 2:21-24 tells us that Jesus fulfilled the law of Moses. He was circumcised on the eighth day (according to Jewish custom), brought to Jerusalem and presented to the Lord, was declared “Holy to the Lord” (set apart) as the first born, and a sacrifice was offered to commemorate the moment.
Likewise, Luke 4:16 indicates that Jesus entered and read in the synagogue. By and large, non-Jews typically did not enter the synagogues, much less stand to read. The Gospels tell us that Jesus observed the feasts (Mark 14:12, Luke 2:41-42, John 2:23, John 5:1, John 12:12 and others), and He was ultimately crucified “King of the Jews.”
Likewise, Paul’s “Jewishness” is just as certain. Acts 22:3 and Philippians 3:5 lay out his Jewish credentials. He proclaimed his Jewishness and was “blameless,” as to keeping the Torah. He observed feasts, attended synagogue and purified himself at the Temple. All this before AND after his conversion.
But, let’s talk about that conversion. The account is recorded twice in Scripture (Acts 9:1-19 and Acts 22:4-16), so I hope you’ll read one or both of those passages. There are two misconceptions about that account. First, Paul is known as Saul in those passages. Thus, because of his “conversion,” many believe that Saul’s name was changed to Paul at that point.
Not true! Saul is a Hebrew name, while Paul is a Greek name. Saul was the name he went by prior to this encounter because he was a Jew! After the encounter, he attempted to minister to the Jews, but was rejected (Acts 9:23-26), probably because he was a persecutor before! Thus, when God gave gave him a mission to preach to the Gentiles, he used the name that would be most familiar to them: Paul.
Here is the second misconception: Paul did not “convert to Christianity!” Paul’s transformation was a radical one, indeed, and he did become a follower of Jesus. However, he remained a Jew! Thus, he went from being a Jew who persecuted the Way (Jesus/Yeshua), to a Jew who followed the Way! He met Yeshua (Hebrew name of Jesus) and followed Him. He did not “lose his Jewishness!” The Bible tells us that the first Christians were in Antioch! (Acts 11:26)
So, let’s close with this question: Given the Jewishness of Jesus and Paul, is Jesus for Jews only? No way! Acts 9-10 tells us how God used another Jew, Peter, to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles for the very first time!
Tomorrow I’ll share that account in pictures (from a previous trip to Israel) and a specific passage. It is exciting stuff…don’t miss it! See you tomorrow!