For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
In order to understand how the Jews, or any other people for that matter, have become a favored or a select nation to God, we have to understand something about the nature of covenants. The English word “covenant” derives from the Latin roots “con” and “venire” that mean “gather together”, with the added sentiment of “doing so by invitation”. When Jesus beckoned to those about him and said, “Come, follow me”, he was inviting his disciples to enter into a formal covenant with him. These invitations to be reconciled with God the eternal Father through His Son, Jesus Christ, have been extended since the days of Adam and Eve. Needless to say, those who have accepted the invitation have been blessed beyond measure.
The culmination of all of the covenants that can be offered to the sons of men is that which involves the duration of the posterity of the covenanters. Adam and Eve were promised that no matter what else happened to their children, a remnant would be preserved alive through all trial and tribulation. This promise was spectacularly fulfilled during the great flood wherein all of the inhabitants of the earth save eight perished in the waters. Noah obtained the same blessing, as did Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Portions of their descendants would receive certain invariable blessings because their fathers had been faithful and true to the covenants into which they had entered.
Judah, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, was promised that through his loins would come the promised Messiah, the Son of God who would redeem the world. Thus, no matter what else happened to his vast posterity, no matter how much death and destruction prevailed against his children, there would be a remnant preserved who would eventually be the means by which salvation would come. This was literally fulfilled in the person of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Joseph, another one of the sons of Israel, received similar promises regarding the blessings that would come into the world,by means of his children, at the time just prior to the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, assuring him that his family line would not die out. Needless to say, in order to keep these covenant promises to His faithful servants, extraordinary measures would need to be taken to protect certain segments of the families of these men.
In any given dispensation, therefore, the first who were given an opportunity to receive the covenants received by their righteous fathers, were the surviving descendants of those servants of God. The Jews and the other remnants of the House of Israel were given the first opportunity to receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the time of the Savior’s mortal ministry because their faithful ancestors were promised by God that it would be so, as part of their eternal covenants with the Father and the Son. In the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times, the dispensation in which we live, the restored Gospel was first delivered to remnants of the family of Joseph, the son of Jacob, because that blessing had been promised to him while he dwelt in the land of Egypt.
Thus, people, kindreds, and tongues may receive preferential treatment from God, not because of any intrinsic worth or personal righteousness on their part, but because their ancestors had been faithful.
To our knowledge, the Greeks derived from ancestors who at some point had rejected the fullness of the Gospel of Christ and therefore had no covenantal promise to protect or prefer them over any other body of men. Hence, we observe Paul’s practice of first preaching to the Jews of any city before turning to the Greeks and the Romans who lived there. The Greeks had every right to receive all of the blessings that God had prepared for His children, but they could not usurp the promises made to goodly men generations before by which the Jews had a right to hear the truth first.
The English word “Gentile” derives from Latin roots that mean “countryman, kindred, of the same family”. Ironically, the Jews referred to “Gentiles” as those who did not belong to their immediate family. Many other religious groups have come to use the word in a similar fashion, regardless of ethnicity or history. To the people of Workmen’s Circle, I was a Gentile boy; in the same spirit, I suppose I could have said the same of them. Thus are the vagaries of semantics.
As an addendum, I am reminded of an incident that took place in Israel when my wife and I visited there in 1982. Our main guide throughout the Holy Land was a young woman named Susie. As I recall she originally hailed from Boston, but had felt inspired to immigrate to Israel. At some point in our travels, she pulled me aside and said, “You know, you people are different from all of the other religious groups that I have taken on tour in Israel. I can’t figure it out.”
I replied, “Well, part of it may be that this is our ancestral homeland. To us, we have, in a very real way, come home.”
“Oh! Then you are Jews, too!”
“Not exactly. Jacob had twelve sons, two of whom were Judah and Joseph. You are descended from Judah, I and my friends are descended from Joseph, most from his son Ephraim.”
“Oh! Then you are Jews, too!”
We talked about this for some time; I am not certain that I ever made myself clear. For Susie, anyone who pertained to the House of Israel was part of the covenant family and, therefore, a Jew. That was a wonderful connection for me, notwithstanding her misunderstanding of the terminology. I have a deep and abiding affection for the Jews throughout the world, not because I washed dishes and scrubbed pots for them as a boy, but because they are my literal cousins, part of my family, part of an eternal covenant which God honors even at this hour.