Are ‘Gentile Believers’ Still Gentiles?
It was Yeshua’s greatest desire that all his followers, from both Jews and Gentiles, become one people
It was Yeshua’s greatest desire that all his followers, from both Jews and Gentiles, become one people. His impassioned plea to the Father before going to the cross was “that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know You sent me, and loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:23).
Well, it’s no surprise that the world still remains unconvinced of his Messiahship. How could it be otherwise when his followers have separated into over 40,000 denominations and other unaffiliated groups.
But even before our divisions metastasized there existed an issue of unity between the Jewish and non-Jewish followers of Yeshua. It began on the day the Lord told Peter to witness to the family of Cornelius. Before then the Jewish nation was under the impression this salvation belonged exclusively to them. Now, suddenly, it was being offered to others. Worse, these “others” were the former bane of their existence – the Gentiles. The very ones they’d been shunning for the past 1400 years, according to Moses’ instructions.
But hadn’t Yeshua prepared his Jewish followers for this when he was with them in the flesh? Hadn’t he told them, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear my voice, and they will become one flock with one shepherd” (John 10:16)? Nevertheless, it was still a tough pill for Jewish Israel to swallow. And it was made harder, because along with this influx of unsavory outsiders, Israel was being asked to transition from their God-given covenant of Law to a new covenant of grace.
The transition was so formidable, that to make it happen, God had to raise up a uniquely qualified man – Saul (later Paul) of Tarsus. To this former Pharisee was given the anointing to bring us all together under “the law of liberty” (James 1:25). And even though the Roman Empire cut short his work, along with Jewish life in Jerusalem, God made sure Paul’s teachings were preserved as Scripture in the New Testament.
Now for 2000 years, unity of Jewish and “Gentile” believers in Messiah has not been an issue. Mainly because after the first century there were almost no Jewish believers! And the non-Jewish believers had taken on another identity, calling themselves “Christians.” But after the physical rebirth of Israel, many Jews began experiencing a spiritual rebirth. And all of sudden the term “Gentile believer” was back. Along with the issue of us all becoming one again.
As I see it, the term “Gentile believer” is inherently discriminatory and creates an unhealthy division in the body of Messiah. If one is a “Gentile” it implies you are an unbeliever, outside the camp of God’s people. Although the word translated as “Gentile” just means “nations” in both the Hebrew (goyim) and Greek(ethnos), it carries centuries of baggage. Over half its usages in the Old Testament are negative. And so is a quarter of its usage in the New Testament, where it is occasionally translated as “heathen” or “pagan.” It may not equate non-Jewish believers with being “uncircumcised Philistines,” but it doesn’t define them as “Snow White,” either.
But weren’t we all made “white as snow” in Yeshua? Weren’t we all circumcised with the circumcision made without hands? Why then should we who are not Jewish be saddled with terminology that immediately creates a division in the body of Messiah? From God’s perspective we are no longer goyim. We are no longer Gentiles. We have come out of the nations and are now included with God’s people. We have been counted as part of the nation of Israel, co-inheritors with all Jewish believers in the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. “For if you belong to Messiah, you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:29).
Paul had explained, just prior to that verse, that now “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, neither male nor female; for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua” (Gal.3:28). Did he mean Jews are no longer Jews, Greeks no longer Greeks, females no longer females? Of course not! Until the Lord returns and we are transfigured into our new bodies we remain who we are in this world. But in Messiah, all racial, national, economic, gender – and other fleshly differences – disappear. In him we become one people!
It was Peter, the first Jew to witness to non-Jews, who later said to the entire body of Messiah, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” ( 1 Pet. 2:9). He had taken the very words Moses had spoken to all Israel and applied them to the New Covenant ecclesia without distinction. He was not saying the “church”had replaced the physical descendants of Abraham as God’s people, but that all who are in Messiah, both Jew and non-Jew, are the chosen remnant of Israel.
As God is restoring the nation to the land today, I believe it’s also time to strive for greater unity among Jewish and non-Jewish followers of Yeshua. So that, as he prayed to the Father, “the world may know You sent me.”
A good place to begin is by retiring the unbiblical term “Gentile believer” once and for all.
Brian Hennessy is author of Valley of the Steeples