“To the Jew first”

Romans is said to be Paul’s masterpiece letter in which he explains the gospel.  is said to be the key verse of the letter: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek”.  What a great verse!  But what does that last bit mean?  How is the gospel “to the Jew first”?

I have to admit to being Jewish.  Yes I am a Christian too.  Sometimes folk correct me at this point.  They say: “Don’t you mean you were Jewish?”  No, I am Jewish.  Paul makes it clear in Galatians that Gentiles don’t need to become Jewish in order to be saved.  They are saved as they are – as Gentiles – by faith in Jesus.  A reverse Galatians heresy would be to say that Jews must become Gentiles in order to be saved.  But no – Jews are saved as they are – as Jews – by faith in Jesus.  I am male, Australian, and Jewish.  I was born that way!  And I am Christian by faith in Jesus.

So what does it mean that the gospel is “to the Jew first”?  Does it mean that Jews are superior to Gentiles (trying to keep a straight face at this point, being Jewish…).  No.  Jew and Gentile are one in Christ, equal in status before God (; ).

Paul, as described in Acts, went to the synagogue first to preach the gospel.  Some Jews believed, many did not.  When the latter rejected the gospel, Paul would go to the Gentiles.  Is that what “to the Jew first” means?  Is it merely a statement of past history with no relevance to us today?

makes it clear that God has not finished with the Jews.  There is a believing remnant (11:1-10).  Furthermore, the Jews are the “natural branches” (v24).  They have been broken off their own Jewish olive tree because of unbelief (v17, 19).  But they can be grafted back in by faith (v23).  The Jews are the “natural branches” in that they have God’s original promises and privileges: “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.  To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ” (9:4-5).  Gentiles on the other hand were cut off from God and without hope ().  However the Gentiles can be grafted into the Jewish olive tree by faith.  Yet this is “contrary to nature” (11:24).  This should not make Gentiles feel inferior (unless they felt superior in the first place: 11:18!).  Gentile Christians have inherited Israel’s blessings and should be humble and deeply grateful to God.  But the Jews are the natural heirs and recipients of the gospel.

Thus the gospel is “to the Jew first” not just historically, but also theologically.  The Jews are the natural heirs and recipients of the gospel.  It is their gospel first and foremost as the “natural branches”.  And the gospel is also for the Gentiles.

The word Gentiles by definition means “the nations”.  The Jews are not part of the nations.  Many Christians think of world mission therefore in an unbiblical way: the Jews are seen as one tiny ethnic group among the nations.  But the Jews are not part of the nations, and the gospel is not only for the nations.  The gospel is to the Jew first.  Mission should be thought of as going to two groups (): to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.  Is that how you think of world mission?  Do you pray for two groups of world mission?  Do you pray for mission to the Jews and give to that end?  Is the gospel to the Jew first in your thinking and practice?

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

11:1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written,

“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
eyes that would not see
and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.”

And David says,

“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
a stumbling block and a retribution for them;
10 let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
and bend their backs forever.”

11 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!

13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? 16 If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
27 “and this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”

28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised

3 thoughts on ““To the Jew first””

  1. Thanks Martin for writing this, it needs to be stated and heard again and again!

  2. Thank you Martin for your sharing. Yes, To the Jew first in my thinking and and in practicing. That’s an urgency of Jewish mission today. I wish to buy your DVD for education in church. I come from HK. Suzanne

    1. Hi Suzanne. Thank you too! I’d love to pass on my DVD to you. It’s not great quality. The booklet might be better. I’m happy to send both. I guess I’d need to get your address, and I can post it to you, and then you could reimburse me, etc. My email is: martin.pakula@optusnet.com.au

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