Who Were The Judaizers?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Who were the Judaizers? Why is it important for us to know?

Judah

The word “Jew” doesn’t even appear in the Bible until 1 Kings 12:21, and when it does appear, the Jews are attacking Israel, but how can this be? Aren’t the Jews and Israel the same people or nation? They are not. After the Northern Kingdom, consisting of the 10 Tribes of Israel, broke away from Israel, the Southern Kingdom that was left consisted of Judah, Benjamin, and some of the Levites, so the word “Jew” only refers to those in the Southern Kingdom, and the word “Jew” only refers to the tribe of Judah. Before this, the word Jew never appeared in Scripture, although the Israelites were often called Hebrews, but the entire 12 tribes of Israel were never referred to as Jews, but as Jacob or Israel. After the Northern Kingdom was taken into captivity, only the Southern Kingdom was left. Jeremiah the Prophet tried to warn Judah (the Jews) about a coming invasion and captivity similar to what happened to the Northern Kingdom, so he urged that “everyone should set free his Hebrew slaves, male and female, so that no one should enslave a Jew, his brother” (Jer 34:9), but of course they didn’t listen…they did not repent, and they were brought into captivity for 70 years. Since then, the Jews have suffered greatly…perhaps greater than any nation on the face of the earth, but the Jews will know the Messiah someday…Jesus Christ. But for today, as the Apostle Paul said, “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Rom 11:25b), and the time of “the fullness of the Gentiles” has not yet come…but it is coming.

“There was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam continually” (1 Kings 14:30).

Israel Verses Judah

Believe it or not, there was a civil war between Israel and Judah, so all of the tribes of Israel are not Jews, but only those of the Southern Kingdom, and what remains of them today. Today, Jews consist of the Tribe of Judah, Benjamin, and the Levites, although a few of the other tribes did join the nation of Judah since Israel had fallen into idolatry. After the nation of Israel divided into the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah), they actually went to war with one another. When Judah’s King “Rehoboam came to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin, 180,000 chosen warriors, to fight against the house of Israel, to restore the kingdom to Rehoboam the son of Solomon” (1 Kings 12:21). Just before war erupted, God told them, “You shall not go up or fight against your relatives the people of Israel. Every man return to his home, for this thing is from me.” So they listened to the word of the Lord and went home again, according to the word of the Lord” (1 Kings 12:24), however the peace didn’t last because “there was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam continually” (1 Kings 14:30). It’s hard to believe, but the Jews were in a war with Israel, so clearly the nation of Israel is not exactly the same as Judah or the Jews, so the question is, who were the Judaizers? Why were they such a threat to the gospel of Jesus Christ?

The Judaizers

The Judaizers were obviously Jewish…remnants of what had once been one of the most powerful nations on the earth…but after they split into two kingdoms, the Jews were left to themselves, and later, they too went into captivity like their brothers in the north, so who are the Judaizers? The Apostle Paul warned the church at Philippi to “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh” (Phil 3:2), but what does it mean that they were “those who mutilate the flesh?” It refers to circumcision. Paul had come to know that Jesus Christ’s righteousness is only “found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil 3:9). Circumcision, or any other attempt to justify ourselves by the law, puts a person under a curse because no one can keep the law. We can’t but Christ did. For us, it was not humanly possible. For Jesus, all things are possible, but the Judaizers were a group of Jews who believed that we must keep the law (including circumcision) in order to be saved. Faith in Christ alone was apparently not enough for them, so that’s why Paul wrote to the Galatians. They had the same problem; the Judaizers.

Law vs Grace

If the law, including circumcision, could save us, then why did Jesus have to die on the cross? We cannot make the gospel into an equation like: law keeping + Jesus = salvation. That’s what many legalists do, however, Paul warned that “all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them”(Gal 3:10). Paul’s point is that “no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith” (Gal 3:11). We are justified by faith, not works, so the Judaizers don’t really know the gospel, because “every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law” (Gal 5:3). Of course, no one can “keep the whole law” (James 2:10), but thankfully, it is “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9). We should thank God that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Gal 3:13).

Conclusion

There are still Judaizers out there. No, I don’t mean from the Tribe of Judah or Jews, but legalists who insist that we must keep the law in order to be saved. Of course, a saved person will strive to keep the law, but not in order to save themselves. They obey God because they love God and have been saved by God. Their obedience is done out of gratitude, not out of an obligation to justify themselves by the law. Christians know that “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20), no matter what anyone says to you.

Here is some related reading for you: How Does Grace and Obedience Work Together?

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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