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JEW. The word “Jew” is the result of a linguistic process, in respect to spelling and also from the point of view of phonetics. The Heb. יהוּדִ֥י (Pl. יְהוּדִֽים) was transcribed in Gr. as ̓Ιουδαι̂ος, G2681, and in Lat. Judaeus. Middle Eng. gyu, giu, iu, iew [e], etc. was taken from Old French.


The name yehudi (the fem. יְהֻדִיָּ֗ה only occurs in 1 Chron 4:18—KJV trs. יְהֻדִיָּ֗ה as a nomen proprium: Jehudiah) is preexilic but acquires special prominence in postexilic lit. esp. in Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. In these books, “Jew” and “Jews” is the accepted appellation for the children of Israel. Daniel provides the pl. for the Aram. spelling: יְהוּדָיֵֽא and יְהוּדָאיִ֗ן (the sing. is יְהוּדַי).

After 722 b.c., Judah (which included Simeon, Levi and part of Benjamin: cf. Phil 3:5) became the only claimant to the Covenant (cf. Rom 9:4f.). The prophet Zechariah looked forward to the time when “ten men from the nations...shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’” (Zech 8:23).

2. In the Gr. and Rom. world, ̓Ιουδαι̂οι was the accepted name for the children of Israel. Judas Maccabeus in his letter to Rome described his people τὸ ἔθνος τω̂ν ̓Ιουδαίων (1 Macc 8:23, 25, 27), and Josephus used the name Jews throughout. (Josephus seems to reserve the name Hebrews for Israel’s more ancient history.) The same applies to the NT. The Diaspora made it possible to give to the name Jew a purely religious sense detached from geography. Paul was a Jew born in Tarsus (Acts 21:39). According to Josephus, the large Jewish community of Alexandria enjoyed full citizenship granted by Julius Caesar (Jos. Antiq. XIV, x. 1f.). They were Jews because they professed Judaism.

The shift from ethnicity to religion as the mark of the Jew developed in subsequent Jewish history. The same applied to the second change: ̓Ιουδαϊομός did not mean any more Temple worship but Pharisaic Judaism (cf. Gal 1:13f.).

In the gospels, esp. in John, ̓Ιουδαι̂οι were not Jews in general but rather the spiritual leaders of the nation, particularly the Pharisaic party.

4. Since the creation of the State of Israel, the question who is a Jew has assumed new significance. In the past, Judaism was the characteristic mark of the Jew. In secularized society, religion is only a matter of private preference. Even Reformed Judaism, which initially denied Jewish nationhood, is now tending toward a more particularistic interpretation of Jewish existence. Peoplehood in terms of Jewish ethnicity and culture is the present trend in Jewry. “Reconstructionism” that puts the emphasis upon Jewish culture rather than religion is increasingly gaining ground.


The Shorter Oxford Dic; Jew Enc VII; 174f.; HDB II, 654f.; M. M. Kaplan, Judaism as a Civilization (1934); J. Jocz, “Die Juden im Johannesevangelium,” Judaica, Heft 3 (1953), 129ff.; R. Gordis, Judaism for the Modern Age (1955), 30ff.; S. Zeitlin, “Who is a Jew?” JQR, April (1959), 241ff.; S. L. Goodman, “Jewish Secularism in America,” Judaism. Fall (1960), 319ff.; J. Jocz, “The ‘Advantage’ of the Jew,” Jews and Christians, ed. by G. A. F. Knight (1965), 78ff.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)