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Seen and Loved Questions and Answers

What did Paul mean when he described the gospel as being "first to the Jew, then to the Greek" (Rom. 1:16)?

Some think the word “first” (Greek proton) should be taken sequentially, meaning the gospel was proclaimed first to the Jewish people and now it is for the “Greek” or the Gentiles. This is unlikely because the verb that governs the whole verse (“it is the power of God for salvation”) is a present tense. If the gospel is still the power of God for salvation and still for everyone who believes, it is still “first to the Jew.”

Others understand it to mean that the gospel should always be presented to Jewish people before reaching out to other people groups. The problem, once again, is that the word “first” does not require a sequential sense. In fact, most Greek dictionaries and lexicons say it does not have that kind of chronological meaning in this context.

It is best to understand the word “first” to mean “preeminently” or “especially.” This is how most Greek lexicons and dictionaries understand the word as used here. In fact, Paul uses the word “first” with this sense in Romans 2:9 and 3:2. The gospel is for all people, but it has special significance for the Jewish people. The promises of the Messiah and salvation were given to the Jewish people and, even if most rejected it, the gospel remains a message designed especially for them.

Why do some people claim to be "Jewish followers of Jesus"? Does maintaining ethnic or social distinctions contradict Galatians 3:28?

Since I’m Jewish, people have often asked me this question. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Why do I still say I’m Jewish even though I believe in Jesus?

The Bible does not teach that we become a mass of undifferentiated humanity when we believe in Jesus. In heaven “every nation, tribe, people and language” will worship before the throne of the Lamb (Rev. 7:9). Being Jewish is an ethnic identity, not merely religious practice, and faith in Jesus does not change a person’s ethnic identity. Further, the apostle Paul repeatedly identified himself as a Jew= (Acts 21:39; 22:3), a dishonest statement if his faith in Jesus meant he was no longer Jewish.

So, what does Paul mean? Paul is saying it doesn’t matter whether someone is Jewish or Gentile, a slave or free, a man or a woman when we trust in Jesus, we are justified by faith in exactly the same way and united in Christ spiritually. Even so, we remain distinctly Jewish, Irish, Italian, or French, or any other ethnicity, as much as we remain men and women.

Why don't Jewish people believe in Jesus?

Some Jewish people do believe in Jesus. In fact, Paul uses this as a proof that God hasn’t rejected the Jewish people (Rom. 11:1). He goes on to say that there will always be a remnant of Jewish people who will believe because they are chosen by grace (Rom. 11:5).

For Jewish leaders of first century, Jesus was not the kind of Messiah they were expecting. They wanted a political and military deliverer to liberate them from Rome, not a sacrificial Redeemer. But if you ask your Jewish friends today why they don’t believe, that’s probably not what they would say. They might not even know why most Jewish people don’t believe in Him.

But there is one special reason. It is the antisemitic history of the church. Great Church Fathers and Reformers spoke terrible words about the Jewish people. The Crusaders killed many Jewish people in the name of Jesus. Even many professing Christians participated in the Holocaust. Why would a Jewish person want to follow a teaching that promoted hate? As a result, Jewish people feel as if they are committing cultural suicide by believing in Jesus.

Believers need to adopt a loving and caring attitude toward Jewish people. We need to take a strong stand against antisemitism. When we present Jesus, we must demonstrate His love for His own people. And our lives need to be so transformed by knowing the Lord, that Jewish people will be “envious” of our faith (Rom. 11:1). This is what Paul meant when he said Gentile followers of Jesus should make the Jewish people envious of the salvation Gentiles found in Jesus, the promised Jewish Messiah.

BY Dr. Michael Rydelnik

Dr. Michael Rydelnik is a professor of Jewish Studies at Moody Bible Institute and the host of Moody Radio’s Open Line with Michael Rydelnik. He is the author of 50 Most Important Bible Questions inspired by both his radio show and his columns for Today in the Word. Michael served on the translation team of the Holman CSB Bible and contributed to several other books and study Bibles. Michael also appeared in the Lee Stroebel video The Case for Christ. Michael and his wife, Eva, have two adult sons. The Rydelniks live in Chicago, Ill.

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