02.01.13 Jews. In the Old Testament Period, particularly in the book of Esther, the name Jew was associated with all Israelites, but it originally was applied to only those who came from Judea. A similar association is found in the older book of Daniel (3:8, 12). In the New Testament era, the name is one of cultural and religious identity. A Jew was one who was not a Samaritan (Jn. 4:9), nor a Gentile (Gal. 2:14; 3:28; Acts 14:1, 5), nor a proselyte (Acts 2:10). He had to be of the lineage of Abraham, and hence, his race, nationality, and religion were all equal components of his identity. Jews considered themselves to be the “chosen people,” and therefore, by the time of Christ they thought of themselves as a privileged people.
It is important to note variations of thought among the Jewish people. Those living in Jerusalem were more legalistic and conservative than their Galilean counterparts, but the former were also more appeasing to the Roman establishment. Those living in Galilee and Perea, on the other hand, were more lax in their theological viewpoints, but considerably more nationalistic, especially those in the northern mountains of Galilee. The cradle of Roman anti-sentiment was in the mountainous areas of Galilee.
Outside the country of Judaea, Jewish people in the Diaspora held a wide range of viewpoints. In Babylon they were conservative as they were in Jerusalem, whereas elsewhere theological viewpoints ranged from Hellenistic to orthodox. At times it can be somewhat challenging to understand precisely who the gospel writers are referring to when they speak of “the Jews.” John, for example, uses the term for the following people groups:
- In reference to all of those who are descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
- In reference to those Jews living in Judea, as opposed to those living in Galilee, Perea, or elsewhere.
- In reference to Jewish leaders, namely the leading Pharisees, but not all Pharisees.
Therefore, the context of the term the Jews is very important. An unfortunate example in church history is that all the Jewish people have been blamed for the decisions made by their leaders.
. Some ancient writers use the term “Judea” in the broadest sense. Examples are found in Pliny the Elder. Natural History 5.15.70; Strabo. Geographia 16.4.21; and Dio Sassius. Roman History 37.15.2.
. Gasque, “Jew.” 2:1056.
. In the days of Jesus, Perea was often referred to as the “region of Judea across the Jordan.”