THE EARTHLY INHERITANCE SERIES of BIBLE SUBJECTS
Various Bible study guides in subjects pertaining to
New Earth prophecy, as taught by Paul Phelps.
For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD,
they shall inherit the earth. Psalm 37:9
SEMITIC / HEBREW / ISRAELI / JEWISH
This writing defines four of the terms
in Biblical study pertaining to Israel.
A Bible-topic essay by Paul Phelps.
After several years of study this writing was completed in 2004.
In the Bible the Israeli nation is the central people group,
but other terms are used in a Biblical and historic context.
This writing attempts to define the terms repeatedly used
in the Biblical context when referring to the Israeli nation.
Bible readers ought to know about the terms Semitic, Hebrew, Israeli, and
Jewish. These terms are similar but there are differences. Hebrew is the first
of these terms used. In a broad sense it is an ethnic term for the Hebrew race,
”the children of Eber” (Gen. 10:21,24-30). The Hebrews (the children of Eber)
were the main group of Semitic peoples (descendants of Shem; Gen. 10:21-31).
Thus all Hebrew people are also Semites or Semitic (from Shem). In western
countries the term Semite or Semitic has traditionally referred only to Jews, but
the larger reality is that most Asians are also Semites.
Abraham was called an ‘Hebrew’ when living in Canaan (Genesis 14:13), and
Joseph was called an ‘Hebrew’ when living in Egypt (Genesis 39:14,17; 41:12).
Dwelling among foreigners, Abraham’s descendants were known as Hebrews.
While in Egypt, Jacob's descendants including Moses were all called Hebrews;
(Genesis 43:32; Exodus 1:15,16,19; 2:6,7,11,13,18). Hebrew was the nationality
term for Old Testament times; (Gen. 40:15; Exodus 5:3; 7:16; 9:1,13; 10:3; 21:2;
Deut. 15:12; 1 Sam. 4:6,9; 13:3,7,19; 14:11,21; 29:3; Jeremiah 34:9,14; Jonah 1:9).
New Testament references are in Acts 6:1; 2 Corinthians 11:22; Philippians 3:5.
The Jewish language is thought to have been at first Canaanite (Isaiah 19:18).
It was later known as Judean or Jewish (2 Kg. 18:26,28; 2 Chr. 32:18; Neh. 13:24;
Esther 8:9; Isaiah 36:11,13). And after the Greek and Roman Empire times the
Jewish language was called Hebrew (Luke 23:38; John 19:13,17,20; Acts 21:40;
22:2; 26:14; etc). But even if word usage changes with time we may not expect
God to change the meaning of his given word, we must use the original word
meanings for Bible study. In Biblical usage Hebrew refers to Hebrew people,
(all the children of Eber)—a wide term that includes many Semitic Asian nations.
Israel or Israeli is a purely national term. In the past all twelve tribes were
part of Israel but now there is confusion about that. When the kingdom divided
the northern nation kept the name Israel and was called “The House of Israel.”
It was headed by Joseph’s tribe, sometimes also called “Ephraim” (the largest
portion of Joseph’s tribe). But this kingdom was taken into a different captivity
from the southern kingdom and no proof exists that any of them ever returned.
All of Israel’s northern tribes are commonly regarded as lost, and many history
teachers say that the Jews are the only survivors of ancient Israel.
Biblically as a nation the name Israel pertains to Jacob’s descendants, and it
prophetically involves God’s world-wide kingdom during the Messianic age.
In the Kingdom perspective Israel is all of the tribes regathered and complete,
and ultimately it shall also include all of the nations that are joined with Israel.
The term Jew or Jewish at first referred only to persons of the tribe of Judah
and their tribal land portion Judea. But in later time the name took on broader
meaning. When the nation divided into two kingdoms, Judah was the dominant
tribe of the southern kingdom. It was decided the southern kingdom would be
called Judah; so all people of the southern kingdom were called Judeans (Jews)
even if their tribe was not Judah. And after this two-kingdom division, the ‘Jews’
are mentioned often.
The southern Judean kingdom was called “The House of Judah.” This House
mainly consisted of the tribes Judah, Levi and Benjamin, but it also included the
tribe of Simeon and people that joined from other tribes. Thus all further Bible
narrative events relate to Jews that returned to the land of Canaan. That is why
the Israelis of the New Testament are called Jews, and so it has been ever since.
All the Israelis taken by Roman captivity to Europe were Jews, which is why
the term ‘Jew’ has become the most commonly used term for the Israeli people.
As representing the southern kingdom, Jewish identity was at first secular, but
that changed. Living as an oppressed minority under the Romans, and later in
Europe, the Jews increasingly became dependent on the religious power of the
Synagogue for survival. That is how the term ‘Jew’ has become identified with
the Synagogue. But it need not be so in future. Bible prophecy does not teach
that Jews will always have Synagogue-style religion. Prophecy texts that refer
to Jews (such as Zech. 8:23) is not for the present but for the future national and
cultural identity in the New Earth.
return to homepage