Thursday, May 22, 2014

Defining the terms of God's people

It is easy to confuse the terms “Israelite,” “Hebrew,” and “Jew.” There is very little difference between them. Of the three words, “Hebrew” is actually the first to be mentioned in the scriptures. In Genesis 14:13, Abram is referred to as a “Hebrew.” The name is probably derived from Abram’s forefather, Eber (Genesis 11:14). It appeared to be a general designation for nomadic people like Abram, who would have been considered a foreigner by the Canaanites. Therefore, the term “Hebrew” was a more comprehensive one than “Israelite” or “Jew.” But the prominence of the Israelites may have become so great that its use was restricted to them (Genesis 40:15; 1 Samuel 4:6; 13:3; 2 Corinthians 11:22). In New Testament times it was applied especially to all Jews who spoke Hebrew or Aramaic, in distinction to the Grecian Jews, their fellow-countrymen who spoke Greek.

The term “Israel” was a designation for the entire people of Israel and its name was derived from the idea of Jacob as the ancestor of the nation. The first use of “Israel” as a nation occurs in Genesis 49:7. The Israelites were considered “Hebrews.”

“Jew” originally denoted one of the inhabitants of the southern kingdom of Judah (2 Kings 16:6; 25:25; Nehemiah 1:2; Jeremiah 32:12) or one of the postexilic Israelites in distinction from the Gentiles (Jeremiah, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Zechariah, Daniel, and the New Testament). It is somewhat anachronistic to use the term to refer to the Hebrews or Israelites of an earlier period. Even though it referred to one from the tribe of Judah, the term took on a very religious connotation, referring to adherents of the Hebrew religion.

Kyle Campbell


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