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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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xxxix. Ἑβραῖος, Ἰουδαῖος, Ἰσραηλίτης.

All these names are used to designate members of the elect family and chosen race; but they are very capable, as they are very well worthy, of being discriminated.

Ἑβραῖος claims to be first considered. It brings us back to a period earlier than any when one, and very much earlier than any when the other, of the titles we compare with it, were, or could have been, in existence (Josephus, Antt. i. 6. 4). It is best derived from עֵבֶר, the same word as ὑπέρ,Etym. Note. 22 ‘super;’—this title containing allusion to the passing over of Abraham from the other side of Euphrates; who was, therefore, in the language of the Phoenician tribes among whom he came, ‘Abram the Hebrew,’ or ὁ περάτης, as it is well given in the Septuagint (Gen. 14:13), being from beyond (πέραν) the river: thus rightly Origen (in Matt. tom. xi. 5): Ἑβραῖοι, οἵτινες ἐρμηνεύονται περατικοί. The name, as thus explained, is not one by which the chosen people know themselves, but by which others know them; not one which they have taken, but which others have imposed on them; and we find the use of Ἑβραῖος through all the O. T. entirely consistent with this explanation of its origin. In every case it is either a title by which foreigners designate the chosen race (Gen. 39:14, 17; 41:12; Exod. 1:16, 19; 1 Sam. 4:6; 13:19; 29:3; Judith 12:11); or by which they designate themselves to foreigners (Gen. 40:15; Exod. 2:7; 3:18; 5:3; 9:1; Jon. 1:9); or by which they speak of themselves in tacit opposition to other nations (Gen. 43:32; Deut. 15:12; 1 Sam. 13:3; Jer. 34:9, 14); never, that is, without such national antagonism, either latent or expressed.

When, however, the name Ἰουδαῖος arose, as it did in the later periods of Jewish history (the precise epoch will be presently considered), Ἑβραῖος modified its meaning. Nothing is more frequent with words than to retire into narrower limits, occupying a part only of some domain whereof once they occupied the whole; when, through the coming up of some new term, they are no longer needed in all their former extent; and when at the same time, through the unfolding of some new relation, they may profitably lend themselves to the expressing of this new. It was exactly thus with Ἑβραῖος. In the N. T., that point of view external to the nation, which it once always implied, exists no longer; neither is every member of the chosen family an Ἑβραῖος now, but only those who, whether dwelling in Palestine or elsewhere, have retained the sacred Hebrew tongue as their native language; the true complement and antithesis to Ἑβραῖος being Ἑλληνιστής, a word first appearing in the N. T. (see Salmasius, De Hellenisticâ, 1643, p. 12), and there employed to designate a Jew of the Dispersion who has unlearned his proper language, and now speaks Greek, and reads or hears read in the synagogue the Scriptures in the Septuagint Version.

This distinction first appears in Acts vi. 1, and is probably intended in the two other passages, where Ἑβραῖος occurs (2 Cor. 11:22; Phil. 3:5); as well as in the superscription, on whosesoever authority it rests, of the Epistle to the Hebrews. It is important to keep in mind that in language, not in place of habitation, lay the point of difference between the ‘Hebrew’ and the ‘Hellenist.’ He was a ‘Hebrew,’ wherever domiciled, who retained the use of the language of his fathers. Thus St. Paul, though settled in Tarsus, a Greek city in Asia Minor, describes himself as a ‘Hebrew,’ and of ‘Hebrew’ parents, “a Hebrew of Hebrews” (Phil. 3:5; of. Acts 23:6); though it is certainly possible that by all this he may mean no more than in a general way to set an emphasis on his Judaism. Doubtless, the greater number of ‘Hebrews’ were resident in Palestine; yet not this fact, but the language they spoke, constituted them such.

It will be well however to keep in mind that this distinction and opposition of Ἑβραῖος to Ἑλληνιστής, as a distinction within the nation, and not between it and other nations (which is clear at Acts 6:1, and probably is intended at Phil. 3:5; 2 Cor. 11:22), is exclusively a Scriptural one, being hardly recognized by later Christian writers, not at all by Jewish and heathen. Thus Eusebius can speak of Philo, an Alexandrian Jew, who only once in his life visited Jerusalem, for so much I think we may gather from his own words (vol. ii. p. 646, Mangey’s Ed.), and who wrote exclusively in Greek (Hist. Eccl. ii. 4): τὸ μὲν οὖν γένος ἀνέκαθεν Ἑβραῖος ἦν: of. iv. 16; Proep. Evang. vii. 13. 21; while Clement of Alexandria, as quoted by Eusebius (H. E. vi. 14), makes continually the antithesis to Ἑβραῖοι, not Ἐλληνισταί, but Ἕλληνες and ἔθνη. Theodoret (Opp. vol. ii. p. 1246) styles the Greek-writing historian, Josephus, συγγραφεὺς Ἑβραῖος: cf. Origen, Ep. ad Afric. 5. Neither in Josephus himself, nor yet in Philo, do any traces of the N. T. distinction between Ἑβραῖος and Ἑλληνιστής exist; in heathen writers as little (Plutarch, Symp. iv. 6; Pausanias, v. 7. 3; x. 12. 5) Only this much of it is recognized, that Ἑβραῖος, though otherwise a much rarer word than Ἰουδαῖος, is always employed when it is intended to designate the people on the side of their language. This rule Jewish, heathen, and Christian writers alike observe, and we speak to the present day of the Jewish nation, but of the Hebrew tongue.

This name Ἰουδαῖος is of much later origin. It does not carry us back to the very birth and cradle of the chosen people, to the day when the Father of the faithful passed over the river, and entered on the land of inheritance; but keeps rather a lasting record of the period of national disruption and decline. It arose, and could only have arisen, with the separation of the tribes into the two rival kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Then, inasmuch as the ten trbes, though with worst right (see Ewald, Gesch. des Volkes Israel, vol. iii. part i. p. 138), assumed Israel as a title to themselves, the two drew their designation from the more important of them, and of Judah came the name יְהוּדִים, or Ἰουδαῖοι. Josephus, so far as I have observed, never employs it in telling the earlier history of his people; but for the first time in reference to Daniel and his young companions (Antt. x. 10. 1). Here, however, by anticipation; that is if his own account of the upcoming of the name is correct; namely, that it first arose after the return from Babylon, and out of the fact that the earliest colony of those who returned was of that tribe (Antt. xi. 5. 7): ἐκλήθησαν δὲ τὸ ὄνομα ἐξ ἧς ἡμέρας ἀνέβησαν ἐκ Βαβυλῶνος, ἀπὸ τῆς Ἰούδα φυλῆς ἧς πρώτης ἐλθούσης εἰς ἐκείνους τοὺς τόπους, αὐτοί τε καὶ ἡ χώρα τῆς προσηγορίας αὐτῆς μετέλαβον. But in this Josephus is clearly in error. We meet Ἰουδαῖοι, or rather its Hebrew equivalent, in books of the sacred canon composed anterior to, or during, the Captivity, as a designation of those who pertained to the smaller section of the tribes, to the kingdom of Judah (2 Kin. 16:6; Jer. 32:12; 34:9; 38:19); and not first in Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther; however in these, and especially in Esther, it may be of far more frequent occurrence.

It is easy to see how the name extended to the whole nation. When the ten tribes were carried into Assyria, and were absorbed and lost among the nations, that smaller section of the people which remained henceforth represented the whole; and thus it was only natural that Ἰουδαῖος should express, as it now came to do, not one of the kingdom of Judah as distinguished from that of Israel, but any member of the nation, a ‘Jew’ in this wider sense, as opposed to a Gentile. In fact, the word underwent a process exactly the converse of that which Ἑβραῖος had undergone. For Ἑβραῖος, belonging first to the whole nation, came afterwards to belong to a part only; while Ἰουδαῖος, designating at first only the member of a part, ended by designating the whole. It now, in its later, like Ἑβραῖος in its earlier, stage of meaning, was a title by which the descendant of Abraham called himself, when he would bring out the national distinction between himself and other peoples (Rom. 2:9, 10); thus ‘Jew and Gentile;’ never ‘Israelite and Gentile:’ or which others used about him, when they had in view this same fact; thus the Eastern Wise Men inquire, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2)? testifying by the form of this question that they were themselves Gentiles, for they would certainly have asked for the King of Israel, had they meant to claim any nearer share in Him. So, too, the Roman soldiers and the Roman governor give to Jesus the mocking title, “King of the Jews” (Matt. 27:29, 37), while his own countrymen, the high priests, challenge Him to prove by coming down from the cross that He is “King of Israel” (Matt. 27:42).

For indeed the absolute name, that which expressed the whole dignity and glory of a member of the theocratic nation, of the people in peculiar covenant with God, was Ἰσραηλίτης. It rarely occurs in the Septuagint, but is often used by Josephus in his earlier history, as convertible with Ἑβραῖος (Antt. i. 9. 1, 2); in the middle period of his history to designate a member of the ten tribes (viii. 8. 3; ix. 14. 1); and toward the end as equivalent Ἰουδαῖος (xi. 5. 4). It is only in its relations of likeness and difference to this last that we have to consider it here. This name was for the Jew his especial badge and title of honour. To be descendants of Abraham, this honour they must share with the Ishmaelites (Gen. 16:15); of Abraham and Isaac with the Edomites (Gen. 24:25); but none except themselves were the seed of Jacob, such as in this name of Israelite they were declared to be. Nor was this all, but more gloriously still, their descent was herein traced up to him, not as he was Jacob, but as he was Israel, who as a Prince had power with God and with men, and prevailed (Gen. 32:28). That this title was accounted the noblest, we have ample proof. Thus, as we have seen, when the ten tribes threw off their allegiance to the house of David, they claimed in their pride and pretension the name of “the kingdom of Israel” for the new kingdom which they set up—the kingdom, as the name was intended to imply, in which the line of the promises, the true succession of the early patriarchs, ran. So, too, there is no nobler title with which the Lord can adorn Nathanael than that of “an Israelite indeed” (John 1:47), one in whom all which that name involved might indeed be found. And when St. Peter, and again when St. Paul, would obtain a hearing from the men of their own nation, when therefore they address them with the name most welcome to their ears, ἄνδρες Ἰσραηλῖται (Acts 2:22; 3:12; 8:16; cf. Rom. 9:4; Phil. 3:5; 2 Cor. 11:22) is still the language with which they seek to secure their good-will.

When, then, we restrict ourselves to the employment in the N. T. of these three words, and to the distinctions proper to them there, we may say that Εβραῖος is a Hebrew-speaking, as contrasted with a Greek-speaking, or Hellenizing, Jew (which last in our Version we have well called a ‘Grecian,’ as differenced from Ἕλλην, a veritable ‘Greek’ or other Gentile); Ἰουδαῖος is a Jew in his national distinction from a Gentile; while Ἰσραηλίτης, the augustest title of all, is a Jew as he is a member of the theocracy, and thus an heir of the promises. In the first is predominantly noted his language; in the second his nationality (Ἰουδαϊσμός, Josephus, De Macc. 4; Gal. 1:13; Ἰουδαΐζειν, Gal. 2:14); in the third his theocratic privileges and glorious vocation.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G1445,G2453,G2475.]

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