This text from the book of Romans chapter 2 and verses 28 to 29 forms the cornerstone of an article by Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum entitled "Israel and the Church - Two False Concepts'. The article discusses two false views circulating among many Christians. One such view is that Gentiles, when they become Believers in Christ, also become 'spiritual Jews'. The other misconception is that when Jews and Gentiles become Believers in Messiah, all distinctions between the two groups are erased. The first view is that Gentiles become spiritual Jews upon accepting YESHUA. Logically, if believing Jews are spiritual Jews, and believing Gentiles are spiritual Jews, then there is no distinction in the Christian realm, as all
are spiritual Jews. The Bible, however, presents no such picture.
Perhaps the greatest problem with the term 'spiritual Jew' is the use of the word 'spiritual' to indicate some kind of national or racial transformation of the Gentile to the Jew. But the Bible never uses 'spiritual' in that sense. Dr. Charles Ryrie points out that three things are involved in the Biblical teaching on spirituality: regeneration; the Holy Spirit; and time. This means that spirituality only involves a Believer; it is produced by the Holy Spirit bringing the Believer into mature relationship with GOD over a period of time. A 'spiritual person' is a Believer who is under the control of the Holy Spirit, and it is nothing more than that. If a Gentile is under the Spirit's control, he is a spiritual Gentile. Likewise, a Jew who is under the Spirit's control, is a spiritual Jew. There is no crossing of national lines. A Gentile remains a Gentile, and the Jew remains a Jew, with their spirituality based only on their relationship to the Holy Spirit.
Biblical passages cited. Some will agree that this is all mere semantics and will use certain Biblical texts to show that Gentiles become Jews, either by a spiritual transformation, or by some other mystical act. One of these is Galatians 3: 6 to 9. If, according to this passage, Gentile Believers become the children of Abraham by faith, does that not make them spiritual Jews? Not at all! Even in the physical realm not all the children of Abraham are Jews. Arabs are as much the descendants of Abraham as Jews, but in no way can they be classified as Jews. What is true of the physical, is also true of the spiritual realm. Being children of Abraham by faith, is not enough to make one a Jew.
What then is the meaning of this passage? To begin with, it should be noted that the context is concerned with the question of whether salvation is by works, or by grace through faith. The Hebrew concept of children, or sons, often has the meaning of 'followers'. The point is that Abraham was declared righteous on the basis of faith, and not on that of works. The true followers of Abraham then, are those who are considered righteous on the same basis as Abraham, that is, those who practice faith rather than works to attain salvation. The Gentile Galatians were never said to become Jews, but rather, children of Abraham. And being a child of Abraham alone is not enough to make one a Jew.
Another verse often used is Galatians 3: 29. As this states that Gentiles become part of the seed of Abraham, does this not in some way make them spiritual Jews? Again the answer is negative. There are members of the physical seed of Abraham who are not Jews. The same is true in the spiritual realm. The meaning of this verse can best be understood with Ephesian 2: 11 - 16; and 3: 6. These passages clarify what is meant by the Galatians statement of becoming heirs to the Promises. It does not mean that Gentile Believers become Jews in a mystical way; but rather, they become partakers in the spiritual blessings of Jewish Covenants and receive this privilege by faith. This act does not make them spiritual Jews; but spiritual Gentiles. And even by being partakers, they do not share in all the facets of the Covenants, but only in the spiritual blessings contained in them. Things, such as inheritance of the land and circumcision, among others, are not appropriated by believing Gentiles. These elements are exclusively for Jews.
The third passage for this idea is Romans 2: 28-29. If, as Paul states here, a true Jew is someone who is Jewish inwardly, does not a believing Gentile meet that standard, and so inwardly, at least, become a Jew? To say, 'Yes' is to ignore the structure of Romans. Verses 28 to 29 are written in a strictly Jewish context. The Gentiles are no where in view, for Paul has finished with them in Chapter 2, verse 16. This verse can be better understood if taken as the word of a Jewish Believer speaking to un-believing Jews. In doing so, the writer is using a play on words. Judaism and Jew have the root meaning of praise. What this Christian Jew is saying to non-Christian Jews is that outward Judaism is not enough to make one righteous before GOD. This requires a Judaism of GOD. The verse can be paraphrased: Whose Judaism is not of men, but of GOD. The true Jews are Jews who are such, those outwardly and inwardly.
Let us now move on to the second false view, that there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles. The first false view argues against all distinction by saying that all Believers are Jews. The second false view tries to make all believing Jews into non-Jews, usually by employing, out of context, one or more or three passages containing a phrase to the effect that there is 'neither Jew nor Greek.' A careful study of the very same passages in their contexts will show that the distinction between Jews and Gentiles is erased only in certain areas, but not in all. Furthermore, a study of the text in light of related passages clearly indicates that in other areas, the distinction is still very much in effect, even within the body of Believers.
A Biblical passage is cited. One of the three passages used is 1st Corinthians 12, verses 12 and 13, which teaches clearly that entrance into the Body is by Spirit baptism. This is the only way, and it is true for all, Jew and Gentile alike. There is no difference. This is all that can be deduced from this passage, and no more.
The second passage, Galatians Chapter 3, verse 28, appears in the context of 'the matter of justification by faith.' This is the only way anyone can be justified, whether Jew or Gentile. In justification there is no distinction between the two. That alone can be deduced from this passage, and no more.
The third passage is Colossians, Chapter 3, verse 11, where, once again, the context is the key to understanding verses 5 to 11 are concerned with 'putting off the old nature, and putting on the new nature'. This is the true and only way toward maturity and spirituality for any Believer, Jew or Gentile. Again, no more than that can be deduced from this passage.
The conclusion is obvious. In the areas of justification, membership in the Body and growth toward maturity the procedure is the same for Jew and Gentile, without distinction. However, this does not mean that in every area, the distinctions are forever erased between the two.
As stated earlier, a study of these very same passages will show that instead of teaching against all distinctions, the reverse is true. When critics of the Messianic-Jewish distinction refer to these three passages, often only the Jew and Greek statement is cited, and the rest is ignored. These verses not only state that there is no difference between Jews and Greeks; but they further state that there is no difference between bond and free, or between male and female. Yet the custom is often to avoid quoting the latter portion for obvious reasons. If one considers what the Bible has to say about the two latter groups, then it is obvious that the three passages do not teach that all distinctions are erased.
There are five passages that deal with the 'bond' and the 'free'; Ephesians, Chapter 6, verses 5 to 9; Colossians, Chapter 3, verse 22 to Chapter 4, verse 1; and 1 Timothy, Chapter 6, verses 1 to 2; Titus 2, verses 9 and 10; and 1st Peter: 2, verse 18. And a personal study is worthwhile of these passages. If all distinctions between male and female are erased, there would be no need for all these separate rules and injunctions. Do these passages then contradict the others which indicate 'no distinction between the male and female'? Obviously not. Again in the areas of membership in the Body of Messiah, justification and spiritual maturity, the formula is the same for both. There are not two ways of salvation; one way of salvation for the male, and another for the female. Both have entered the Body in the same way. Once in the Body, the man is still a man; the woman is still a woman. And they differ in position and function.
In conclusion, the Bible does not support the idea of Gentiles becoming spiritual Jews when they believe. Rather, they are spiritual Gentiles when they are controlled by the Holy Spirit. Spiritual Jews are Jews who believe, and who have a proper relationship to the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the Bible does not say that all distinctions between Jew and Gentile are erased when they believe; though it is very true that the way of salvation is the same for both, this does not mean that all the distinctions have been eradicated as well, anymore than all distinctions between bond and free, or male and female have ceased to exist. The ways of salvation, Body membership, and spiritual maturity are the same for both Jews and Gentiles. In other related areas, however, distinctions remain.