These words were spoken as a mild rebuke by a pastor friend some years
ago. Since that time, I have not spoken of Christians from the nations
What was his point? He explained. "My identity is a positive one, made up of
ethnic roots, biblical roots and American influences. I am not a 'non'
something but a positive something." So why do Messianic Jews and Gentiles
continue to use the term non-Jew? It is because they have been told by some
Gentiles that they are offended by being called Gentiles. They consider the
word to mean pagan. Despite this, I would like to issue a plea that we
continue to use the word "Gentile."
Gentile Can be a Positive Word
The Bible itself uses the term Gentile as a positive word in the most
important passage dealing with the relationship of Jew and Gentile in the
Messiah. Paul says to fellow believers, "I am talking to you Gentiles,
inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles." He then explains the
awesome priestly role of Gentile believers to make Jews jealous.
This means that Jews would desire the reality of life in the Messiah that
they see among the Gentile Yeshua/believers. This should be coupled
with the Acts 15 decision that relieves Gentiles from responsibility
of living a Jewish lifestyle according to the whole Torah. In context, the
meaning of the word "Gentiles" is simply those from the nations or from the
different ethnic groups that populate the world.
Ethnic Identity is Significant to God
This leads to an important question. Is it important and significant to be
part of a nation or ethnic identity other than Jewish identity? In the
past, the idea of homogenized Christianity dominated the West. Yet even so,
historic churches maintain ethnic rite churches with special practices and
liturgies. There are many other more recent varieties of ethnic churches. In
Acts 17:26 we read, "From one man He made every nation of men, that they
should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and
the exact places that they should live." In Revelation 21, we read
that the "nations will walk by its light (the New Jerusalem) and the kings
of the earth will bring their splendor into it." In this picture, nations
are still in existence in the everlasting age. Every nation, tribe and people
are represented as being before the throne in Revelation 7. Indeed, the
promise to Abraham is that in his seed all the nations of the earth would be
blessed, not eliminated and homogenized. Israel is elect for the sake of
Thoughts like these have led our friend John Dawson, president of Youth with
a Mission, to teach that God is seeking to redeem cultures. Each has special
beauties, insights and distinctives. This is part of the richness of the
human family. R. Kendall Soulen, in his monumental book, The God of Israel
and Christian Theology, argues that the distinction of Jew and Gentile
is paradigmatic. It opens to us the truth that distinction in unity is willed
by God. This is reflected in the variety of nations.
Further reflection will prove to any objective thinker that ethnic and
national identities form part of the identity of individuals. We need to
think less individualistically, as important as the individual is, and
recognize that there can be no personality without dimensions of ethnicity,
which include language and cultural ways of being. In the Genesis creation
account God shows that He loves variety. He creates persons, no two of whom
are the same. As part of this, He creates corporate ethnic identities. Every
language has its unique angle on reality. Every culture produces its unique
art and so much more. Eugene Nida, the dean of Bible translation, says that
every language adds enriching perspectives for understanding Biblical truth.
Ethnic Expressions of Biblical Faith are Enriching
Biblical faith, when allowed to develop naturally, is creatively expressed
in many cultural varieties. How exciting to appreciate these varieties! The
great liturgy of the historic churches is wonderful in depth and beauty. It
powerfully puts forth the meaning of the sacrifice of Yeshua and the meaning
of our participation in the Messiah's communion. The great European
expressions of faith in choral music including Gregorian chants, the
classical pieces of Bach, and later Romantic era compositions are special
beyond words. They are not specifically and culturally Jewish, but in
biblical content and depth they are unparalleled. Who could deny that there
are wonderful expressions of faith in the soul music and rhythm of American
Black churches? In Africa, some native compositions are wonderful and deeply
moving. We also enjoy contemporary worship styles that reflect today's
rhythms and instrumentation. In visits to Korea and Japan we took note that
they sang western songs in Korean and Japanese. Some universal expression is
good. However, their own written material, especially with Japanese and
Korean musical qualities, had special anointing. Jewish worship in a New
Covenant context is wonderfully enriching too. However, it is not the only
Gentile Calling to Messianic Congregations
Some Gentiles have joined Messianic Jewish groups because they think
Messianic Judaism is the ideal form of the Body of Believers. It is good that
Gentiles understand the Bible in its original Jewish context. That they would
enjoy the Feasts and even Jewish cultural practices is also good. Indeed,
this is not a new phenomenon but is well documented even in the first
century. God-fearers adopted Jewish cultural practices.
However,the reason for participation in Messianic congregations by Gentiles
is not that this is the ideal against which other expressions are lesser. A
person who is ignorant of the richness of Christian expressions and practices
is likely to unfairly and negatively judge the churches. Some church
practices are more rooted in Jewish biblical meanings than many perceive.
This includes church furnishings and the liturgy itself. (There are things
to be corrected in the churches, but in Judaism as well.) It is important
that we bring balance in understanding to Messianic Congregations. We need to
teach on the value of the worthy and creative practices of the churches that
are in accord with the Spirit of the Bible. It is important for Gentiles to
appreciate their own parentage and ethnic heritage where it is good. This
especially includes ancestry connected to Christianity. This will help
Gentiles to connect to Messianic Congregations as a matter of special calling
to our people instead of being motivated by the arrogance of thinking that
Messianic Judaism is the superior form of New Covenant faith which should
replace other forms of Christianity. (A new replacement theology in reverse?)
We in Messianic Congregations have an important roots perspective to
Jew and Gentile in the Messiah should first emphasize their unity as
created in the image of God and born again through Yeshua, having a new heart
or spirit. We are together his Bride. This is our deep unity of identity in
the Messiah. This will prevent the wrong kind of ethnic pride while
enabling humble thanksgiving for the grace of God given to every distinct
culture. The enriching variety of Jew and Gentile and multiple ethnicities
will forever fascinate us in God's eternal ages. "Gentile" is shorthand for
those from the nations. It includes Russian, Chinese, Korean, French, German,
Italian, Japanese, Zulu, Mayan, Indian, Assyrian, and so on! My friend was
right. He is not a non-Jew, but a distinctive personality who is part of an
ethnicity uniquely valued by God.
By Daniel Juster
Dan Juster leads the overall ministry Tikkun International.
to Tikkun International.
Let us know what you think - why not comment to this article.
The authors of these articles are often involved in intense ministry
and are thus unable to respond to most comments. As is normal with
print and online magazines, Tikkun reserves the right to publish only
those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.
12:45 07Dec05 Sharon M Yount -
I understand about being a different nationalty: I am Polish by birth and
adopted and I have no clue who my natural mom and dad are. My heart spiritualy
is drawn to my new spiritual church family who are Jewish, that where Hashem
has taken me deeper - how can I put this - I care about my new family because
when I pray at night I see their faces and I pray for all of them. It's time
for that ingathering of Jew and Gentile, that coming together as the bride to
be ready. We can learn one from another. In my heart I pray that all religious
walls come down. Why? When I was growing up in Detroit, Michigan, I never
understood why people made fun of me, I wasn't sure if it was because I was
Polish and a only child, one aunt called me a streetwalker because I was adopted
and my mom and dad were not married - they were only 16 at that time. That's
how I can relate to the Jewish people and how the world rejected or made fun
etc. It's time to show the love of Yeshua to the hurting body of Messiah.
15:18 07Dec05 Rena -
Thank you for this article. I have several friends who no longer go to church
because they consider it an anti-Jewish place. They seem to want to be Jewish.
15:36 07Dec05 Diane Whitlock -
This is a very excellent article written with the understanding of Father God's
heart. I remember discussing(quite vigorously)this great mystery, which to some
is and to those who have the revelation - not so mysterious beauty of the Bride
of Christ, with some precious S. Babtists who had replacement theology thinking.
Again,my thanks -shalom and blessings to all!
16:03 07Dec05 Donna Diorio -
Good for Dan for pointing out the potential offensive that using the term
"non-Jew" can convey to Christians. Our identity is an important issue but we
seem to veer from one extreme to the other regarding these identity issues.
As far as Christian offense over the term "Gentile," it is because we suspect
we are being "dissed" as 'the heathen.' Dan is right that the term "Gentile"
is a scriptural term, but if most Christians suspect they are being dissed when
referred to as "gentiles/goyim" then why not just call us "Christians," a term
that is not at all offensive to us?
As someone who has been a member of a Messianic congregation for over a decade,
I have always resisted identifying myself or being identified as a "Messianic
Gentile." My identity as a Christian did not change when I followed God's
leading into a stronger support of my Jewish brothers and sisters in the Lord
by connection with the Messianic community. I am a Christian devoted to the
Messianic Jewish community.
When these identity issues get resolved according to revelation that the
apostle Shaul taught--of two being made one in Messiah, like husbands and wives
are made one in marriage (that is, without either losing their distinctive
identities or callings), then we will no longer be swinging from one extreme to
the other. We will be settled at last in the center of God's will.
16:06 07Dec05 anonymous -
Thanks so much for this article!! I was getting into replacement theology in
reverse, thinking only the Messianic congregations were "it". Thanks for
straightening me outand that yes, nations will be before the throne of God.
16:44 07Dec05 Howard Jones -
Where can I obtain a map of the land God promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in
relation to the land possessed to day by other nations?
12:33 08Dec05 Patrizia Cannavacciuolo -
Dear Brothers, my heart overflows with joy in reading your articles. Every time
you take the name of our Messiah, Yeshua, my spirit leaps inside me and I
gratefully glorify the Lord for the wonderful work He's fulfilling in His Land.
I sincerely believe that His blessing is over you, His love is over you, His
grace is over you! Thank you for sharing your beatiful faith with us. We
sincerely love all of you and your Land and we hope to be able, some day, to
meet you and join with you to be a part of "the amazing things are happening
in the Land of Israel". Shalom b'Shem Yeshua HaMashiach
03:32 09Dec05 Gillian Thirkell -
Thankyou so much for this teaching it is so important to grasp hold of. The
Lord has been teaching me much about worshipping Him through our individual
cultural expression, He did make us all different and I love to hear this
expressed in worship. We have come so far and yet have so far to go. Let us be
who He made us to be and to be able to be together and accept who each one of
us is and celebrate it, not to judge because we may express our worship in a
different way than the other person.
11:21 13Dec05 Maureen Grupper -
When I was 5 years old(1947),and as Irish-Catholic as could be, God gave me a
heart for Jews as I watched their troubles on our new invention - a tv set.
That love has grown and now I have been married to a Jew since 1972. He always
kids me about being Irish. He says I am his Jewish riblet, because I was made
from his missing rib. I have a deep love for Israel, for the Word, for Messiah
Yeshua. I believe that it is Jewish blood pumping thru my heart. I got that
transfusion at the foot of Calvary. I am no longer goyim, an alien outsider
without hope. By the grace of G-d I am accepted, called, beloved, redeemed.
By faith, by divine grace, I accept this gift of wonder and light daily.
19:45 15Dec05 Andre Tavares -
Thanks R. Dan for this excellent article. I have thought about this issue, and
have taken conversations with some friends that are "non-Jewish". Most of them
belong to Reformed churches. They read Kuyper, Dooyeweerd, Lewis, Lloyd-Jones...
well, they know very well the Protestant heritage. And it is deep, rich and to
speak about this requires respect. Whether Jews want respect for their cultural
expressions, it begins respecting the others. I don't know, but someone can feel
bad with this designation. It's complicated. Most Christians think that the Jew
self-affirmation is a kind of depreciation of theirs... It is necessary to think
and practice treatments that assure the affirmation of both. It is possible.
11:03 18Dec05 Igor Miguel -
In your - great - article has a error of reference, you cited "Acts 14:26" when
it must be "Acts 17:26". I'm translating it to Portuguese: in Brazil the
Messianic movement need a lot of an explanation about "gentiles" expression and
its theological implications. Very great article! Congratulations!
Igor Miguel - Teaching From Zion Ministry - Brasil
11:37 18Dec05 Ephraim -
Yes, This so true! All is true. The implications and ramifications are
exhaustive. For, example in the New Jerusalem, Jesus Christ will be Jewish.
Nation of Israel will Still be Jewish! And the Apostles will sit and rule with
Christ the 12 tribe of Israel: Matthew 19:27-28! Ethnicity is never lost! In
Heaven Jews are Jews and Gentiles are Gentiles. They are united and kept
together in Christ Jesus our Lord as one Big Galaxy with deferrent planet
united to glorify God the Father for ever and ever, Amen!
13:57 23Dec05 Pedro -
As far as I can tell, there is no reference to Gentiles in the New Testament
that does not refer to a people group that is outside the covenant family of
God. This is why Paul was sent to them, to bring the good news that they had
been received into the family through the Messiah. After coming to faith, they
become a part of Israel, grafted in to the root with a new ethnic identity in
harmony with the people of God.
10:32 29Dec05 Dina Grant -
By word of mouth I learned I am of Irish-Jewish descent, and for years I
coveted that part of my multi-national heritage above all, having succumbed to
the concept that to be a fully recognized Jew was Tops! Your article "I Am Not
a Non-Jew" has set me wonderfully free from that bias, and I am happy to know
that my Irish-Scottish-British ethnic roots are just as valuable in God's sight
and have a special purpose. I love Israel, too, and have done a study out of
Scripture on God's purpose in order to refute my church's Replacement Theology
stand (I am Reformed Presbyterian by denomination, very Calvinist). I don't
expect results, but my voice is heard. Your article Nov. 2005 on this subject
"How Can We Agree on the Place of Israel?" has much added to my understanding.
Also there is a great article on this in Friends of Israel's Nov/Dec 2005
magazine Israel My Glory. What a fight we have when even some strong Christians
are against us! Shalom, dear sir! I do not have E-mail and am using a Library
15:45 28Mar06 Tom -
Why does Paul address the believers in Ephesus as "formerly gentiles?" Is not
the main emphasis in the New Testament on the "New Creation?"