We use these three words interchangeably, but are they? Let’s look at all three.
- Hebrew This word first applied to Abraham and his family when they came to Canaan. The origin of the word itself is unknown. Some say it is from Eber, who was an ancestor of Abraham (Genesis 10:21; Numbers 24:24). Other authorities believe it derived from the Hebrew word abar, which means “from beyond the river” or “to pass over,” both of which fit Abraham. Since Abraham came from Ur of the Chaldees which was “beyond the Jordan”, they were given this name . Therefore, Abraham and all of his descendants (including the Arabs) are Hebrews.
- Israelite This term comes from Israel, the name given to Jacob by the angel with whom he wrestled at Peniel (Genesis 32:28). Its literal translation is “having power with God.” Jacob and all of his descendants are Israelites. It originally applied to all twelve tribes, but, following the division of the kingdom, in the reign of Rehoboam, about 975 B.C., it was applied to the ten tribes who rebelled.
- Jew This term really means a descendant of Judah. Later, it came to mean any member of the tribe of Judah. Finally, when Judah and Benjamin, the only two tribes who remained faithful to God, were joined in civil union, it became an identifying name for anyone from either of these two tribes. Some Levites who refused to join the rebellion became known, also, as Jews, but, technically, only a member of the tribe of Judah or of Benjamin was a Jew.
So we see that Hebrew is the most inclusive term, since it encompasses all descendants of Abraham. Israelite is somewhat narrower because it designates those who descended from Jacob only. Jew is the most restrictive because it designates those who descended from Judah.
Paul, for example, was a Hebrew, because he was descended from Abraham; he was of the stock of Israel because he was descended from Jacob, and he was a Jew because he was from the tribe of Benjamin (Philippians 3:5).
Also, it appears from Acts 6:1-6 that, in the New Testament period, the name Hebrew was used exclusively of those Jews who spoke in the Aramaean language, and who read the Scriptures in the original language, in contrast with those who spoke Greek and who used the Septuagint version of the Old Testament. Thus, the Hebrews regarded themselves as pure Jews, not because they were native to the land of Palestine (Paul was born in Tarsus), but because they considered themselves to be more loyal to a purer form of the religion of their fathers.
How times have changed! Today, we use these three terms interchangeably, making no differentiation among them. Most Arabs would probably not consider themselves Hebrews; whereas, most of those we call Jews today would probably not recognize the differences in the three words. But now, you know the rest of the story.
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Posted on December 22nd, 2009 by doc
Filed under: Word study