The Mysterious New Testament Jews

I previously did a study and an article about the identity of the New Testament Pharisees. By the end of my study, I realized that, indeed, being a Pharisee or Sadducee had little or nothing to do with being an Israelite. Rather these political-religious titles were held for the elite who lived in Jerusalem and ruled the people of that region under the shared governing authority allowed to them by the Reigning Roman Empire. That is these “Jews” were so-called for reasons other than their bloodline.

This study not only confirms this truth, but it further points out who each “type” of Jew mentioned in the Greek New Testament was.  In the text there are three predominate terms used to refer to the “Jews”; however, in English, they are all simply referred to as Jews. These different groups or type of Jews are never clarified in our English translations of the New Testament.

In the previous study, it was primarily the Gospel of Matthew that helped to distinguish the Pharisees from the common folk. Here, it is the Gospel of John that gives us breakthrough insight into the concealed identities of the Jews.

It has long been known that the term Jew could refer to several groups of people in the New Testament era. The term could refer to people who lived in Judea, people who practiced Judaism, and any person who identified themselves as a “Jew” for any number of reasons, including because they were a Hebrew or an Israelite who practiced some interpretation of Mosaic law.

In the four Gospels, the English term “Jew” was not synonymous with the terms children of God, children of Israel, lost sheep of the house of Israel, or any term used by the Messiah to refer to his own people.

There are three variations of the Greek word for Jew that’s used to describe three different groups of people and will look at those terms as they are used in the Gospels and particularly in the Gospel of John. But first, let’s look at the distinguishing Hebrew terms that are translated to “Jew” in the old testament since this is the origin of the word.

The Hebrew variations of the English word “Jew” are transliterated, Yahudi, Yahudim, and Yahadim.

Yahudah is the name of Judah, son of the Israelite patriarch Jacob whose name was changed to Israel. This term is clearly used to refer to any descendant of Israel as demonstrated repeatedly in the book of Esther. Particularly, it was used to refer to Malachi the Jew, who was a descendant of Benjamin, Judah’s brother. Yahudim is the same word in plural form, so it means “Jews”.

Esther mentions a word once and in her mention of the word, she defines it.

Esther 8:17 reads,

ורבים מעמי הארץ מתיהדים כי־נפל פחד־היהודים עליהם
And many from the people of the land

are Yahad (praising/worshiping)

ones

because fell fear of the Yahudim upon them

To add context to this portion of verse 8:17, King Ahasuerus sent out an edict that permitted the captives, Yahudim, to kill all who persecuted them. When this happened, out of fear of the recompense the people of Israel would bring upon their persecutors, all types of non-Israelites became worshiping ones or YahAdim, verses YahUdim, the ones belonging to Judah, i.e. Israel. Sot he captives were the Yehudim and the persecutors became Yahadims. These are two distinct groups.

So, although subtle, the slight distinctions in these words are significant in identifying the groups. We see the exact same thing in the Greek New Testament.

There are also several variations of one Greek word used to identify different types of New Testament “Jews”. These are Ἰουδαῖος, Ἰουδαίοις Ἰουδαίων, Ἰουδαῖοι, ΙΟΥΔΑΙΩΝ, and Ἰουδαίου. The root of each of these words is Ἰουδα or as we say in Hebrew, Yahudah.

We can identify these groups by studying each variation in context. What I found is this….

The phrase βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων, “King of The Jews”, which used repeatedly throughout the Gospels, always uses the same form. This indicates that Yahushua (Jesus) came to reign over the people, whose word form is spelled Ἰουδαίων. When we study this form as it is used in the Gospel of John, certain patterns become apparent. Below are the themes identified by looking at every single use of the word Judah in this form. Each supporting verse is also detailed below the themes.

  • These are the people to whom the feast days and authentic OT practices belonged.
    • John 2:6 reads, “And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews (Ἰουδαίων), containing two or three firkins apiece.”
    • John 2:13 – “And the Passover, a feast of the Jews (Ἰουδαίων), was nigh.”
    • John 5:1 – “After this there was a feast of the Jews (Ἰουδαίων); and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.”
    • John 6:4, “And the Passover, a feast of the Jews (Ἰουδαίων), was nigh.”
    • John 7:2 – “Now the Jews’ (Ἰουδαίων) feast of tabernacles was at hand.”
    • John 11:55 – “And the Jews’ (Ἰουδαίων) Passover was nigh at hand: and many went out of the country up to Jerusalem before the Passover, to purify themselves.”
    • John 19:42- There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulcher was nigh at hand.
  • The Ἰουδαίων were ruled by the Pharisees and chief priests.
    • John 3:1 – “There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.”
    • John 19:21 – “Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews.”
  • Salvation is of the Jews (Ἰουδαίων), who know what they worship.
    • John 4:20-22, “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.”
  • The Jews (Ἰουδαίων) gathered to comfort Martha and Mary when Lazarus died.
    • John 11:19 – “And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.”
  • Many Jews (Ἰουδαίων) believed Yahushua after witnessing him raise Lazarus from the dead.
    • John 11:45 – “Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him.”
  • More went to see Yahushua and Lazarus.
    • John 12:9, “Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead.”
  • Many who believed in Yahushua because of Lazarus, “went away”, causing problems for the chief priests.
    • John 12:11 –“Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus.”
  • It was the ‘officers of the Jews’ or the Israelite servants, along with others, who detained Yahushua.
    • John 18:12, “Then the band (specifically the Roman cohort) and the captain (the commander) and officers (this Greek word, ὑπηρέται , actually means servants or anyone who acts under the authority and command of others) of the Jews (Ἰουδαίων) took Jesus, and bound him”
  • King of the Ἰουδαίων.
    • John 18:33, “Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews?”
    • John 18:39 – “But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the Passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?”
    • John 19:3 – And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands.
    • John 19:19 – “And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
  • The Jews (Ἰουδαίων) read the writing on the cross.
    • John 19:20 – “This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin.”
  • The Jews were feared.
    • John 7:11-13 –“Then the Jews (Ἰουδαῖοι) sought him at the feast, and said, Where is he? And there was much murmuring among the people concerning him: for some said, He is a good man: others said, Nay; but he deceiveth the people. Howbeit no man spake openly of him for fear of the Jews (Ἰουδαίων).”
    • John 19:38 –“And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews (Ἰουδαίων), besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.”
    • John 20:19 – “Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews (Ἰουδαίων), came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.

The above is a record of every use of this form of the Greek word for Yahudah. What you see is a pattern of these people specifically being the target of Yahushua’s ministry. They also, at least in part, partake in his persecution, but repeatedly it is made clear that the persecution of the Christ was not supported by the majority of the ones belonging to Yahudah. This is the meaning of Ἰουδαίων.

In fact, the forms “Ἰουδαίοις, Ἰουδαίους and Ἰουδαῖοι are used far more frequently throughout the New Testament. Specifically, the previously discussed form meaning “ones belonging to Yahudah”, is used 39 times in the Gospel accounts, 25 of which are in the Gospel of John. Judah is what all of Jacob’s descendants who remained in the southern kingdom (Kingdom of Judah) after the exile of the northern kingdom (Kingdom of Israel) came to be called, centuries before the birth of Yahushua. All uses are broken down below.

Word Form # of times in the Gospels Likely Meaning
Ἰουδαῖός 1 A person of the Judaic ideological region/nation
Ἰουδαίους 4 Common people of the Judaic ideological region/nation/faith
Ἰουδαίοις 9 People of the Judaic ideological region/nation
Ἰουδαῖοι 31 Elite and enforcers of the Judaic ideological region/nation/faith
Ἰουδαίων 39 Descendants of Israel/ ones belonging to Judah

The other most interesting word form is the next most frequently used form, Ἰουδαῖοι. This form is used in the Gospels 31 times, of which 30 occurrences is in the Gospel of John. Here are the themes of this form as it is used in John’s Gospel!

  • The Jews (Ἰουδαῖοι) had authority over the descendants of Israel.
    • John 1:19 – “And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests (descendants of Aaron) and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?”
  • These Jews (Ἰουδαῖοι) sought a sign.
    • John 2:18 – “Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?”
  • These Jews (Ἰουδαῖοι) were impressed by and partook in the erection of Herod’s Temple.
    • John 2:20 – “Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days.”
  • The Samaritan woman said these Jews (Ἰουδαῖοι) had no dealings with the Samaritans.
    • John 4:9, “Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.”
      • The fact that Yahushua did deal with her is evidence that he was not one of these ‘other Jews’, although she may have assumed he was.
  • These Jews (Ἰουδαῖοι) persecuted Yahushua.
    • John 5:16 – “And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.”
    • John 5:18 – “Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.”
    • John 7:1 – “After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him.”
    • John 7:11 –“Then the Jews sought him at the feast, and said, Where is he?”
    • John 10:31 – “Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him.” Interestingly, they also explain why they are going to stone him, as though they are doing so in an official capacity.
    • John 10:33 – “The Jews (Ἰουδαῖοι) answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.”
  • These Jews (Ἰουδαῖοι) talked about Yahushua and had no understanding of him or his sayings.
    • John 6:41 – “The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven.”
    • John 6:52 – “The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
    • John 7:15 – “And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?”
    • John 7:35 – “Then said the Jews among themselves, Whither will he go, that we shall not find him? will he go unto the dispersed among the Gentiles, and teach the Gentiles?”
    • John 8:22 – “Then said the Jews, Will he kill himself? because he saith, Whither I go, ye cannot come.”
    • John 8:57 – “Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?”
    • John 11:36- 37 – “Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?”
  • These Jews (Ἰουδαῖοι) accused Yahushua of being demon-possessed.
    • John 8:48 – “Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?”
    • John 8:52 – “Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death.”
  • These Jews (Ἰουδαῖοι) did not believe.
    • John 9:18 – “But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind, and received his sight, until they called the parents of him that had received his sight.”
    • John 10:24 – “Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.”
      • Its here that the Yahushua reveals that these Jews (Ἰουδαῖοι) are not his sheep. In other words, they are not the Ἰουδαίων over whom he came to reign as king. (John 10:24 – 10:28)
  • These Jews (Ἰουδαῖοι) agreed to expel anyone who confessed Yahushua from the synagogue.
    • John 9:22 – “These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews (Ἰουδαίους): for the Jews (Ἰουδαῖοι) had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.”
  • The Jews (Ἰουδαῖοι) are referred to as an entity separate and distinct from Yahushua and his disciples.
    • John 11:8 – “His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again?:
    • John 18:20 – “Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing.
      • Yahushua names two places where he taught. He says he taught the world (another word for gentile are all/common people) who were in the synagogue and the Ἰουδαῖοι who were in the temple.
  • The Ἰουδαῖοι were also comforting Mary when Lazarus died.
    • John 11:31 – “The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there.”
  • These Jews (Ἰουδαῖοι) are authorities and enforcers of Judaic ideology in the land.
    • Police: John 5:10, “The Jews, therefore, said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed.”
      • They sound like police and were, in fact, law enforcers.
    • Judges: John 10:33 – “The Jews (Ἰουδαῖοι) answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.”
      • Interestingly, they also explain why they are going to stone Yahushua, as though they are acting in an official capacity.
    • Autonomous Legal Power: John 18:31 – “Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death:”
    • Interpreters of the Law of the Land: John 19:7 – “The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.”
    • Manipulators of the Law: John 19:12- “And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.”
    • Dictators of the Law of the Land: John 19:31 – “The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.”

Is it simply a coincidence?  How likely is it that 22 out of 26 mentions of the word “Ἰουδαίων” were used in a positive or neutral context, while 11 out of 30 mentions of the word “Ἰουδαῖοι” were used in a positive or neutral context? Flip that and you have 4 out of 26 mentions of “Ἰουδαίων” in a negative context and 20 out of 30 mentions of the word “Ἰουδαῖοι” in a  negative context.  John is either referring to two different groups of people, or the “Jews” had the worst form of split personality disorder… The personalities were polar opposites.

An extremely clear picture rises to the forefront of the New Testament Jew confusion simply by examining the verses and context in which these terms are used. A study of each chapter that these verses are in will demonstrates this even more strongly.

What isn’t in these verses are all the times Yahushua debated with these Ἰουδαῖοι, telling them exactly who they were and were not. What is certain is that these were never the people Yahushua came to reign over. As a matter of biblical fact, these were the enemies of those Yahushua came to save!

They were the leaders of Israel, a people mostly foreign to the descendants of Jacob, although perhaps related to those descendants. They were not the Romans or the Greeks, and most certainly were not the Children of Israel. Rather, they were Hebrew descendants of Abraham and possibly of Isaac, but not of Jacob.

At the end of the day, the most valuable gospel John teaches us is that people aren’t always who we think they are.  He points out that there were two very distinct groups who we call Jews, the elites and enforcers of Mosaic law, as they interpreted it to their own benefit, and the common people who were descendants of Jacob, who we call Israel. The Samaritans were also descendants of Israel who did not live in the region controlled by the so-called Jewish leaders and did not submit to their ideology, thus they were enemies to those so-called Jews, as demonstrated in John 4. Despite what we may have come to believe about Yahushua’s people, the Samaritans, they waited for him to return and when he did, they did NOT reject him. Likewise, the Ἰουδαίων, whom he came to reign over, did not reject him.

The good news is that despite the deceptions of the Pharisees and leaders of our day, Yahushua is the factor that reveals the true identity of each of us. Obeying the Father, treating people as he did, practicing wisdom, and overcoming persecution just as he did sets us apart from the rest of the world… This is what makes us “holy”, i.e. set apart.

Also, the New Testament narrative is more complex than we have traditionally thought. According to John, Yahushua fought for the common Ἰουδαίων, who were Israelites. Likewise, he was sent to cause them to rise against the ideologies of their oppressors, the Ἰουδαῖοι, who were a ruling political-religious elite class that persecuted him and his people and tricked some real Israelites into supporting the injustice they inflicted on those people.

Many will argue that identities don’t matter, but they do. They matter because all that Yahushua did 2000 or so years ago was intended to prepare us all for a similar reality. It was and is an opportunity for us to prepare for the ongoing battle against injustice and deceit. It is a chance to be on the right side of the battle even if our ancestors 2000 years ago were not!

How do we choose the right side if we aren’t even aware of the true identities of either side? If we think the evil ones are righteous and the righteous are evil, then surely we choose incorrectly!

Furthermore, the council of the Pharisees and chief priests recorded in John 11:48 reveals what all this persecution was about. It reads, “If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.”

Now, why would the Romans take away their place and their “nation” if people came to believe in the being and teaching of the Messiah? Their nation was basically a made up one and the place never actually belonged to them. So, perhaps the Romans would transfer shared power to the rightful owners or they would strip power from the deceptive Judaic ideological nation altogether if the majority of its citizens acknowledged the Messiah as king.

In all likelihood, the Judaic nation would have naturally dissolved, and the Messianic, true Israelite nation would supersede Judaic traditions and thus, their government, religion, and authority.

These so-called Jews had assimilated an identity that made them appear as the people of God, although they were not. Rather they were a group of ruling elites that had begun to develop at least since the days of Esther and King Ahasuerus. They were a group that included both the genuine and ingenuine Israelites of the Old Testament, making it difficult to distinguish the true nationality of this religious group from the legitimate nation of Israel.

This article doesn’t serve as proof of Israel’s innocence in the murder of our Messiah because certainly there were some who were indeed guilty – if of nothing else, of conformity and complacency, like the servants who detained him. Rather, this article is so that those whose ancestors were fooled during the messiah’s first world appearance aren’t deceived in this one.

The moral of this story… Know whose side you are on. If you choose to die, at least let it be because you willfully rejected eternal life, not because you were deceived by your oppressors!

 

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