Why Did Saint Paul Use The Phrase
"To the Jew First" in His Epistles?

William Handschumacher

Rock of Offence Special Commentary








In Jeremiah 31:31-32 and Hebrews 8:8-12,
God tells us about a new covenant He
will enact that radically changes the
way He relates to His people. We are
given a glimpse of this future program
through the Old Testament prophet
Jeremiah - who lived approximately 600
years before the time of Christ. As a
result, another 6 centuries would elapse
before Jeremiah's prophecy is fulfilled.

Yet, in the book of Hebrews, Saint Paul
describes this fully implemented 'New
Covenant' that now governs the Church as
a result of the finished work of Christ
at the cross.

When Old Testament Scripture is brought
forward and repeated in the New Testament,
our Heavenly Father is emphasizing
something of great importance.

Such is the case when Paul repeats
Jeremiah's prophecy as follows:



"Because finding fault with them, He says: "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a New Covenant with the house of Judah - not according to the covenant (the previous Mosaic covenant) that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant (the New Covenant) that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more."

(Hebrews 8:8-12)


At the Last Supper, just before
the cross - Jesus said;





"This cup is the new covenant in My
blood, which is shed for you."
(Words of Christ from Luke 22:20)



Most of us forget that Christ's
disciples, gathered in the Upper
Room, were all Jewish men. No
Gentiles were present.


The New Covenant was offered to Israel - first - which is why the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah (quoted in the 8th chapter of Hebrews) seems to indicate that it is only designed for Israel “and the house of Judah”. Yet, Israel rejected Christ’s New Covenant salvation, as Paul states in Acts 13:44-52. As a result, God “went around” their disobedience and extended these incredible covenant benefits (including God's gift of eternal life) to all Gentile races. This Divine act allows the Gentiles to be added to the New Testament Church, which previously only consisted of Jewish believers. This radical change took place at the house of Cornelius through the preaching of Peter in Acts chapter 10. Keep in mind that the word “Gentile” is a racial term designed to differentiate between the Jewish race (or the descendents of Abraham) - and all the other non-Jewish races on earth. Yet, under the government of the New Covenant, the group known as 'the Gentiles' now includes any Jew who chooses to join them in becoming “one new man in Christ”. As a result, Paul states that the terms 'Jew and Greek' (or 'Jew and Gentile' - see the notation below) will no longer be used to define this 'one new man in Christ'; also called 'the Body of Christ and The Church'.

(Important Note: Paul often used the word 'Greek' interchangeably with the word 'Gentile' in his writings. While this is confusing to some students of the Bible, it helps us to better understand the following verse.)


For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek (or Gentile), there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29 - For a more complete understanding of the Gentiles and their special place in the Church read Ephesians 2:4-19)



Bringing the Gentiles into the New Covenant is declared to be “a mystery” and was generally unknown during the Old Testament administration of the Law in Israel. The Apostle Paul tells us about this "rerouting" of the new covenant - from Israel to the Gentiles - in the following account.


"So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul.


Then Paul and Barnabas grew
bold and said, “It was
necessary...

That the word of God
should be spoken to
you first;


But since you reject
it, and judge yourselves
unworthy of everlasting
life, behold, we turn to
the Gentiles.



For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’” Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." (Acts 13:42-48)



When God 'turned His attention to
the Gentiles' - it does not mean
that He permanently rejects the
Jews--as taught by various church
leaders. In the following verses,
Saint Paul exposes this dangerous
misconception, often found among
Gentile (or non-Jewish) Christians.



"I say then, hath God cast away his people (The Jews)? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew." (Romans 11:1-2)


"I say then, have they (the Jews) stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness? (Romans 11:11-12)


"And if some of the branches (the Jews) were broken off, and you (Non-Jewish believers living today), being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches (or the Jews).

But if you do boast, remember
that you do not support the root,
but the root (which is Jewish)
supports you (the Gentile
non-Jewish believers in Christ).


You will say then, “Branches (the Jews) were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you (Non-Jewish believers living today) stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches (the Jews), He may not spare you either." (Romans 11:17-21 - Emphasis Added. Important fact: In Scripture the Olive Tree is the symbol for the nation of Israel.)


“For I do not desire, brethren, that you (Non-Jewish believers living today) should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all of Israel will be saved ...” (Romans 11:25-26)



In these writings, Paul reveals an important Divine precedent in the New Testament. God's original intention is for the Jews to be 'first' to receive His salvation through the New Covenant. This is why God (through the prophet Jeremiah) originally assigned this divine program to Israel and 'the house of Judah'. However, since they chose to reject His offer, God 'went around their disobedience' and extended the benefits of the New Covenant directly to the Gentiles. Yet, despite their grievous offense, He continues to recognize the Jews (or Israelites) as being 'first in line' concerning Christ's salvation.


The Jews will always hold this
preeminent position of being
'first' for the following
reason:

They are the original Divinely
appointed owners and custodians
of the Olive Tree and its root...
into which the Gentiles (as wild
branches) are now grafted.



The Scriptures reveal that the New Testament Church was 'birthed' out of Israel. This means that Israel and the Christian Church share the same heritage, which flows all the way back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (along with Jacob's 12 sons) - who are the original Patriarchs of Israel.




Important Note

While the Church and Israel have a common heritage (predominantly recorded in the Old Testament) - they do not share the same religious doctrine. The Church of Jesus Christ was birthed through - and is governed by - Christ's New Covenant initiated at the cross. On the other hand, Israel is governed by the previous 'Mosaic Covenant of the Law'. Both of these systems of faith are found in the Holy Scriptures. As a result, if those who profess to be Christian attempt to relate with God according to Old Testament Law (as many do today), and not according to the Grace-based program of the New Covenant ... they are cut off from Christ. This is why Paul instructs all Christians to; Examine themselves concerning the kind of faith they possess - and to 'rightly (or correctly) divide the Word of God' in order to ensure that they have the kind of faith He now accepts.

Both John and Paul speak about the
differences between these two
Biblical systems of faith:


And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the Law was given through Moses, but Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." (John 1:14-17)

"You have become estranged (separated or cut-off) from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from Grace." (Galatians 5:4)

"Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? -- unless indeed you are disqualified." (2 Corinthians 13:5)

"Be diligent to present yourself approved of God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly (or correctly) dividing the Word of Truth." (2 Timothy 2:15)





In the 4th chapter of Romans (carefully read the whole chapter), Saint Paul reveals that Abraham's faith (a special faith not dependent on works) ... is the same one the Church must embrace in order to be saved (Romans 4:4-8, Romans 6:23 and Ephesians 2:8-9). Yet, Paul doesn't stop there. He goes on to reveal that the Abrahamic covenant - and its blessings - had a future fulfillment. It was directed at Christ and all those who place their faith in Him.

Paul revealed this truth in
the following way to the
Galatian Church ...


"Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." (Galatians 3:13-14 NKJV)

"For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Galatians 3:26-29)



Some modern-day Christians ignore the fact that Jesus was born 'a Jew' and that God initially sent Him as Messiah to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel". Scripture demands that this Messiah must be Jewish (a direct descendent of both King David and Abraham) ... and cannot be a member of any non-Jewish race. In His encounter with the woman at the well in John chapter 4 (verses 22-25), Jesus made some amazing declarations that emphasize the importance of Paul's earlier words quoted from Romans chapter 11. We should keep in mind that this woman was a Gentile.

Jesus said to the woman:


"You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him."

(Important Note: When Jesus said; "...we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews" - He is claiming to be a Jew.)


The woman responded (verse 25):

“I know that Messiah is coming” (who
is called Christ). “When He comes,
He will tell us all things.”


Jesus said to her, “I who
speak to you am He.”


This dialogue provides us with
some important undeniable facts.

FIRST ...
Jesus said that God's salvation
originates from the Jewish people
and their culture.

SECOND ...
Jesus reveals that He is the
Messiah and is therefore
a member of the Jewish race.


THIRD ...


This means that the Lord
and Savior of the New
Testament Chuch is a Jew.



This is one of many reasons Paul
uses the 'Jew first' precedent
in his Epistles to the Church,
as we see below:



"For I am not ashamed of the
Gospel of Christ: for it is
the power of God unto
salvation to every one that
believeth;

To the Jew first,

and also to the Greek."
(Romans 1:16)

As previously noted, Paul
often used the word
'Greek' interchangeably
with the word 'Gentile'.


Paul continues ...


...but glory, honor, and peace
to everyone who works what is
good,

To the Jew first

and also to the Greek.
(Romans 2:10)



In John Chapter 4, Jesus clearly states; "salvation is of the Jews". Therefore, if we remove the Israelites and Jewish culture from the Bible (as some are trying to do) ... the Christian Church has no heritage, no Jesus Christ ... and no salvation. This is what motivated Paul to confront these erring Gentile believers in Romans chapter 11.

Unfortunately, the various expressions of anti-Semitism Paul confronted in the first century - continues to rage within modern-day Christendom. It involves a toxic theology and influence that strives to minimize or even erase its Jewish heritage ... and its unique relationship to 'the nation of the Olive Tree'.


Contrary to popular church
teachings, God did not
permanently reject the Jews,
but still considers them to be
'first in line' to receive His
promises found in the New
Covenant.



The subject of Israel and the Christian
Church - and their place in God's eternal
program continues to create division
and heated debates among believers. Some
try to solve the problem by banning all
discussion. Yet, Saint Paul, who wrote
nearly half of the New Testament canon,
chose to address the problem by presenting
the Scriptural facts regardless of who
it offended. Paul made this divisive
and unpopular decision because a wrong
view of Israel and Church corrupts our
understanding of the salvation provided
through the cross of Christ.

Additional information can be obtained
in the following studies:



The Positive Aspects and Hidden Dangers
of the Hebrew Roots Movement


The Controversy Concerning Christian
Zionism





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