To the Jew First – The Missing Piece of the Good News
By Sam Nadler
A single-cell bacteria uses for propulsion, a whip-like tail connected to an outboard motor, called a “flagellum.” Top engineers study its construction and speed capabilities, with the hopes that its secrets can be applied to their own lesser nanotechnology. Biochemist, Michael Behe, used a term, “irreducible complexity” to try to describe this delight, among other things, like the eye, and blood clotting. Irreducible complexity means that all its parts are arranged in careful dependence upon the others. Without any given part, the machine will not function.
No one would have imagined, even a century ago, what was happening all along in this tiny cell! The way in which the God of Israel demonstrates His righteousness in Messiah is similar to the way He has created these brilliant biological machines. Paul shows that God’s revelation of righteousness is an “irreducible complexity” as well: …”I am not ashamed of the gospel of Messiah: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17). The Good News of Messiah fulfills the promises that God made to the Jewish people to redeem and save them (Romans 1:2). Bible scholars agree that understanding these verses is the key to understanding the rest of the book of Romans. In truth, the book of Romans is the key to understanding the New Covenant. Thus, Romans 1:16-17 provides us with the theme to understand, not only Romans, but the whole Scripture!
The Surprising Design of the Good News
All the pieces matter – if indeed “therein is the righteousness of God.” If we take away even a part – whether it be that the Good News is “the power of God,” “to everyone that believes,” or “to the Jew first” – then we make the righteousness of God into unrighteousness. The only hope for the Gentile world is that the Good News of Messiah is to the Jew first.
Unfortunately, some modern translations make understanding this passage more difficult by translating from the Greek, “first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (inserting ‘then’). In this interpretation, “to the Jew first” refers to the historical outworking of the Gospel, as if Paul meant it was formerly prioritized to the Jews, but now it is for the Gentiles. Is this view accurate? In a word, no. In Romans 1:16 the Greek word for “first” (proton) is used several times in Romans with reference to the Jewish people: “…tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek”…(Romans 2:9-10). “First of all, (”chiefly,” NKJV), that they were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2). In none of these verses does “first” or “chiefly” refer to a historical matter, but to something more fundamental. Furthermore, Paul is speaking in the present tense. There are three verbs in Greek: “am not ashamed,” “is,” and “believes.” All are in the present tense. The Gospel is, not “was”, but is the power of God, to all who believe, and to the Jew first. The idea that the Good News was “first for the Jew and then for the Gentile” implies that the Good News is no longer for the Jew (i.e. “they had their chance”). Obviously, this cannot be true, for to this day, Jewish people are still coming to faith in Yeshua!
His Power, His Promise
Remember, Paul was writing ‘to the Jew first’, not regarding a past activity, but as his present and active ministry (Acts 13:46; 14:1). He was not looking back on the first century advance of the Good News, but stating it as an ongoing principle for the future flow of history. Even as the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul’s ministry was always “to the Jew first.”This idea of “first” reiterates the idea that the Jewish people are God’s Chosen People (Deuteronomy 7:6). God made no promises to the nations (Psalm 147:19-20) but only through the seed of Abraham: “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing…in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3). This is no cause for pride.
In choosing the Jewish people, according to Deuteronomy 7:8-9 and 9:6, God essentially picked the “runt of the litter,” the least likely to succeed, in order to prove God’s ability to keep a people of His choosing. God’s purpose for the Jewish people was that they would be a blessing to the whole world, ultimately fulfilled in Yeshua. Thus, Messiah is the fulfillment of God’s purpose for the Jewish people, not the replacement of it (Galatians 3:8-14). God has no other plan than through this people whom He foreknew (Romans 11:2). God is equally caring toward Gentiles, for though it is through the Jew first, as one translator puts it, The Good News is “especially for the Jews and equally for the Gentiles.” Paul wanted the Gentile believers to understand and express their faith in light of God’s faithfulness to Israel. For Gentile believers “to the Jew first” was a reminder of their calling to make Israel jealous (Romans 11:11), and to minister to Israel the very mercy they, themselves had received (Romans 11:31). God forbid that they should think that they had replaced Israel (Romans 11:17-19). Not at all, but rather, Gentile believers were to be God’s reminders of His faithfulness to Israel. Any Gentile who diminished the priority of bringing the Good News to the Jew first would be distorting God’s message of faithfulness revealed in His word.
The Good News is still to the Jew first, even as the Good News of Messiah is still the power of God unto salvation, to all who will believe! God is faithful, and all who believe on His promised salvation in Yeshua will indeed be saved. (Excerpted from the author’s book, “Messianic Foundations”)
Pray for our staff as they conduct evangelistic outreaches, seminars on Jewish evangelism and even marriage training so families will be more effective in outreach, even to the Jew first.