Saturday, July 6, 2024

Who are Gentiles and What are Proselytes

 By Stan Feldsine -

What is a Gentile

Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum Biblically describes who Gentiles are.

"A Gentile is simply anyone who is not a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In short, a Gentile is anyone who is not a Jew."

But what about a Gentile who has converted to Judaism. Since "Jewishness" is determined by blood descendance, a Gentile cannot be a Jew. Dr. Fruchtenbaum says "Acceptance of Judaism by a Gentile does not make him a Jew but a proselyte." (cf. Mat 23:15, Act 2:10-11, Act 6:5 and Act 13:43 which all distinguish between Jews and proselytes.

Reference: The Remnant of Israel; The History, Theology, and Philosophy of the Messianic Jewish Community, pages 11-12

Passages In Which Saved Gentiles are Still Called Gentiles

If Gentiles became Israel or "spiritual" Israel when they were saved, then scripture should make a note that they are now "Israel", or becoming Israel. We should expect that some note of a change of identity from Gentile to Israel. These passages explicitly continue the practice of calling Gentile believers Gentiles, with no indication that their identity has changed to Israel, spiritual Israel, or true Jews.

Cornelius is a devout, God-fearing man (Act 10:2), and a Gentile. If Cornelius has been a God-fearing man for some time now, and if Gentiles become Israel when they are saved, then Cornelius should be called a convert to Israel, or an Israelite, but such is not the case. Cornelius is still being referred to as a Gentile.

Act 10:28 He said to them: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.

In the following passages, Paul is addressing both Israelites and Gentiles. These Gentiles are clearly believers. If Gentiles become Israel upon salvation, then Paul should be referring to them ALL as fellow Israelites. But he continues to maintain the ethnic distinction. Paul continues this distinction throughout the discourse.

Act 13:16 Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: "Fellow Israelites and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me!

Act 13:26 "Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent.

Act 13:48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.

Throughout the Jerusalem Council, the participants from both the side of the Pharisees and the side of the disciples refer to Gentiles as Gentiles. There is no hint that Gentiles are no longer Gentiles and should be called Israel. They are referred to as Gentile believers.

Act 15:5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, "The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses."

Act 15:10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?

Act 15:17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things'--

Act 15:23 With them they sent the following letter: The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings.

Gentiles being referred to as Gentiles and Gentile believers continues through Paul's visit to Jerusalem. There is no hint throughout that Gentiles should now be referred to nor understood as Israel.

Act 21:19 Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.

Act 21:25 As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality."

In the letter to the Ephesians, Gentiles are referred to as "you who are Gentiles by birth". There is no indication in this pericope that Gentiles by birth are going to be called Israel, or change into Israelites just because they become sharers in Israel's commonwealth. They are birth.

Eph 2:11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (which is done in the body by human hands)--

Eph 3:6 indicates that Gentiles and Israelites are co-heirs. There is no indication that there is a change of identity on the part of Gentiles to "Israel".

Eph 3:6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

In the letter to the Romans, written many years following the Jerusalem Council, Gentiles continue to be referred to as Gentiles, with no indication in scripture throughout these passages that there is a change of identity from Gentile to Israel.

Rom 1:6 And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

Rom 3:29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too,

Rom 11:13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry

Rom 15:9 and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written: "Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name."

Rom 15:9 and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written: "Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name."

Rom 15:10 Again, it says, "Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people."

Rom 15:11 And again, "Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him."

Rom 15:12 And again, Isaiah says, "The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope."

Rom 15:27 They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.

Rom 16:4 They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.

If Gentiles become Israel, or even if they become Israel over time, why would Paul refer to them as Gentiles to Timothy?

1Ti 2:7 And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle--I am telling the truth, I am not lying--and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

Passages Which Speak of Jewish Converts as Proselytes

Proselytes were Gentiles who converted to Judaism under Mosaic Law. As proselytes, Gentiles were required to adhere to all Jewish law. Gentiles no longer convert to Judaism to gain God's favor, but rather, become Christians, are born again, become one new humanity along with Jewish believers, and follow Christ.

But the question this paper is addressing is, does a conversion to Judaism change ones identity from that of Gentile to Jew? In the passages below, converts to Judaism are called proselytes, or converts to Judaism. They are not now called "Israelites".

Act 2:11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs--we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!"

Act 6:5 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.

Act 13:43 When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.


Jewish Encyclopedia

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