If there was ever a time when precise explanation was required to clearly communicate what we mean by the key terms we’re using when engaged in any kind of meaningful and constructive theological discussion, that time is now. Given the cultural pervasiveness of self-styled narratives to account for just about anything under the sun that is even remotely transcendent in nature, and given our inherited resistance to biblical teaching (rightly interpreted) presenting the complete and final word needed to resolve disagreements over these types of issues, we really can’t assume any shared mutual understanding of what is meant by the definitional and descriptive language we’re using when attempting to articulate why we believe what we believe. So having said all that, allow me to lay my presuppositional cards on the table.
Jew – A physical descendent of the Hebrew patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (cf. Gen. 12:1-3; 13:15-16; 15:4-5; 26:2-5, 24; 28:13-15). From the repeated statement in the Abrahamic covenant that a nation will come through the biological blood line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the Bible defines Jewishness in terms of nationality. This nationality is based on descent not geographical location. Therefore, it is not confined to the state of Israel alone. It includes all Jewish people wherever they live.
Gentile – Anyone who is not a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Christian – A Jew or a Gentile who at some point in their life have personally trusted Messiah Jesus as the one who made atonement for their sin.
Messianic Jew – A Jew who acknowledges that they are both a Jew (biblically defined) and a believer in the Messiahship of Jesus.
Israel – The people God called to Himself who are the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This corporate entity is depicted in the Bible as the wife of Yahweh; unfaithful in the past, divorced in the present, and to be reunited in the future. God has made four unconditional covenants with this elect nation that have remained unfulfilled: a) Abrahamic Covenant – Gen. 12:1-3 b) Land Covenant – Deut. 29:1-30:20 c) Davidic Covenant – 2 Sam. 7:11-16 d) New Covenant – Jer. 31:31-34. God intends to fulfill all His covenant promises to Israel in a literal way just as His covenant warnings and judgments were fulfilled in a literal way. In Israel’s history of unbelief there has always been a believing remnant according to the election of grace (cf. Rom.11:5). There will be a national regeneration of Israel at which time all of the provisions of the unconditional covenants will be fulfilled, including the seed, land, and blessing aspects.
Church – The Church is the body and Bride of Messiah. It is composed of all Jewish and Gentile believers from Pentecost to the Rapture. Entrance into this body is by Spirit-Baptism which takes place at the moment of belief. By this definition then the Church is clearly distinct from Israel because it is a multi-ethnic totally redeemed community whereas presently Israel, as a geographically scattered nationalistic entity, is a mono-ethnic partially redeemed community by virtue of the ever present believing Jewish remnant. Plus, while the Church shares the spiritual blessings of the Jewish covenants with Israel, it neither fulfills them nor has taken possession of them from Israel.
These definitions, in no way – shape – or form are intended to assert that non-Jews are less significant or have less standing before God than Jews. These descriptions simply reflect and affirm emphases recorded in the Word of God. There is absolutely nothing intrinsically superior about Hebrew patriarchal ancestry as compared to any other type of ancestry. Whatever one’s God-given ethnicity and gender is, we’re all part of a fallen human race in a fallen earthly place; which means that we’re all sinners in need of a Savior. God’s decision to initiate and establish a unique covenantal relationship with the Jewish people is an outworking of His sovereignly dispensed unmerited favor (grace) that has no relationship whatsoever to any degree or expression of human merit. In fact, given that the Jewish people were entrusted with written revelation (cf. Rom. 3:1-2; 9:4) as compared to God making Himself known to humanity at large with less specificity through His physical creation (cf. Rom. 1:20), there is actually a Jewish priority with regard to the receiving of God’s righteous judgment (cf. Rom. 2:8-9).
The ethnic distinctions in view here involve position and function. Biblically speaking; all are equal, yet distinct. Both Jews and Gentiles are on equal footing with God, because God is not a respecter of persons. Again, we are different only in position and function, not intrinsic worth and value.