The orthodox Christian theology of Hadley Robinson

What is a Jew?

by Hadley Robinson

When Romans 9-11 and other Scripture  for example, speaks of Jews/Israel/Abraham’s seed of whom does it refer?

1. Abraham and his descendants of the Promise

However, this means that being related to Abraham by blood does not necessarily make one a Jew. Esau was his son but is not a child of the Promise.  The children of the Promise have circumcised hearts and are also descended by blood from Abraham, e.g., Alfred Edersheim, the Apostles, and countless others like King David.  These are referred to as "the remnant" in Romans 11:5 – the ones who have experienced special grace.

2. The ancient nation of Israel

Established by God and founded by godly priests and men through many miracles.

3. Those who claim to be Jews but, according Scripture, are not

See Rev 2:9; 3:9; and, especially, Rom 2:29.

4. Those who have circumcised hearts but are not related by blood to Abraham

E.g., Ruth, Rahab, Uriah the Hittite, and countless others. See Galatians 3:29, Philippians 3:3 “It is we who are the circumcision…”

5. The modern nation of Israel

It has citizens of many different religions or no religion at all and was founded by those claiming to be Jews. How are they different than the ancient Danites who founded their heathen city in northern Israel (Judges 18)? “Then they took what Micah had made [the idol], and his priest, and went on to Laish, against a peaceful and unsuspecting people.”  Consider the terrorist bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on July 22, 1946 by the Irgun whose members included a later Prime Minister of Israel, Menachem Begin. It was the worst terrorist attack of the 20th century on largely innocent people, mostly Arabs who had nothing to do with the British/Zionist conflict.  It would betray justice to suggest it is somehow like the destruction of ancient Jericho (Joshua 6).  How, therefore, can the modern nation of Israel have any distinction in God's economy greater than other democratic republics of our age, including the United States?  In the eyes of some, modern Israel is nothing less than a reincarnation of the Israel of David, Solomon, and Hezekiah – an impossible assertion for a host of reasons unless one holds to some relatively modern views of the End of the World.


Anyone can call himself a Jew.  But of whom did Paul and Jesus (both Jews) mean when speaking of "the Jews"?  Paul recognized that there were men of his own race but they were not true Jews (Romans 9).  The true Jews are all those who have circumcised hearts whether descended from Abraham or not.  However, a small remnant has received God's grace for no other reason than they are Abraham's descendants.
For a broader and more detailed discussion of this interesting issue, read John Stott's essay here.