Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Are they Hebrews?—This, then, was one of their boasts. They were Jews of Palestine, speaking Aramaic, reading the Law and Prophets in the original. He, they asserted, or implied, was a Hellenistic Jew (his birth at Tarsus naturally suggesting that thought), content to use the Greek version of the LXX., over which many of the more exclusive Hebrews mourned on an annual fast-day as a national degradation. St. Paul’s answer is, that he too was a Hebrew; or, as he puts it in Philippians 3:5, “a Hebrew born of Hebrews.” What he means is obviously that his parents were Jews of Palestine, and that the accident of his birth in Tarsus had not annulled his claim to that nationality. As a matter of fact it made him able to unite things that were commonly looked on as incompatible, and to be both a Hebrew and a Hellenist.
Are they Israelites? . . .—The words imply another insinuation. They whispered doubts whether he had any right to call himself an Israelite at all. Had he a drop of Abraham’s blood flowing in his veins? Might he not, after all, be but the grandson of a proselyte, upon whom there rested the stigma which, according to a Jewish proverb, was not effaced till the twenty-fourth generation? Did not this account for his heathen sympathies? Strange as the thought may seem to us, the calumny survived, and the later Ebionites asserted (Epiphanius, Hær. xxx. 16) that he was a Gentile by birth, who had only accepted circumcision that he might marry the high priest’s daughter. The kind of climax which the verse presents points not only to three claims to honour on their part, for in that case the first would include both the second and the third, and the climax would have little meaning, but to successive denials that he possessed any of the three. Jerome, strangely enough (Cat. Vir. Illust. c. 5), asserts that St. Paul was a Galilean, born at Gischala; but this, though it may possibly point to a tradition as to the home of his parents, can hardly be allowed to outweigh his own positive statement (Acts 22:3).2 Corinthians 11:22. Are they Hebrews? — Descended from Heber, (see Genesis 11:14,) and speaking the Hebrew language, though with some variation; so am I — Paul indeed was a native of Tarsus in Cilicia, but his father and mother were Hebrews, Php 3:5. And having been sent to Jerusalem when young, he was instructed by Gamaliel, a noted Jewish doctor, Acts 22:3. So that in Jerusalem he perfected himself both in the language and religion of his nation, on all which accounts he was truly a Hebrew descended of Hebrews. Are they Israelites? — Descended from Jacob, who, in preference to his brother Esau, was chosen to be the root of the visible church of God in that early age, and was called Israel for the reason mentioned Genesis 32:28. This appellation, therefore, signified that the persons to whom it was given were members of God’s visible church by their descent from Jacob, and consequently were distinguished from proselytes who were members by circumcision, and not by descent. Are they the seed of Abraham? — Inasmuch as Abraham, being constituted a father of many nations, had two kinds of seed; the one by natural descent, called his seed by the law; the other by faith, called that which is of the faith of Abraham, see Romans 4:13; Romans 4:16. Macknight thinks, that by the seed of Abraham, the apostle intended here his seed by faith, or his spiritual seed; because if he had meant his natural seed, this question would have been the same with the preceding: a tautology, he thinks, not to be imputed to the apostle.
So am I-- I have as high claims as any of them to distinction on this head. Paul had all their advantages of birth. He was an Israelite; of rite honored tribe of Benjamin; a Pharisee, circumcised at the usual time Philippians 3:5, and educated in the best manner at the feet of one of their most eminent teachers; Acts 22:3.
Are they Israelites? - Another name, signifying substantially the same thing. The only difference is, that the word "Hebrew" signified properly one who was from beyond (צברי ‛Ibriy from צבר 'aabar, to pass, to pass over - hence, applied to Abraham, because he had come from a foreign land; and the word denoted properly a foreigner - a man from the land or country beyond, צבר 'aabar the Euphrates. The name Israelite denoted properly one descended from Israel or Jacob, and the difference between them was, that the name Israelite, being a patronymic derived from one of the founders of their nation, was in use among themselves; the name Hebrew was applied by the Canaanite to them as having come from beyond the river, and was the current name among foreign tribes and nations. See Gesenius' Lexicon on the word צברי ‛Ibriy Hebrew. Paul in the passage before us means to say that he had as good a claim to the honor of being a native born descendant of Israel as could be urged by any of them.
Are they the seed of Abraham? - Do they boast that they are descended from Abraham? This with all the Jews was regarded as a distinguished honor (see Matthew 3:9; John 8:39), and no doubt the false teachers in Corinth boasted of it as eminently qualifying them to engage in the work of the ministry.
So am I-- Paul had the same qualification. He was a Jew also by birth. He was of the tribe of Benjamin; Philippians 3:5.Are they Hebrews? so am I: this would incline us to think, that some, at least, of those corrupt teachers, upon whom the apostle hath so much reflected, were Jews; who had endeavoured to corrupt the Gentile churches with their traditions, and imposing on them the ceremonial rites of the Jewish church. Others think otherwise, and that the words import no more than this; Do they glory in the antiquity of their stock and parentage, as descending from Abraham? I have as much upon that account to glory in as they; for although I was born, not in Judea, but in Tarsus, a city of Cilicia, Acts 22:3, yet I was a Jew, an Hebrew of the Hebrews, Philippians 3:5.
Are they Israelites? Will they derive from Jacob, to whom God gave the name of Israel, from whence all his posterity were called Israelites?
So am I, ( saith he), I can derive from Jacob as well as they.
Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I: will they glory in this, that they are the seed of Abraham? (this was a great boast of the Jews, as we learn from Matthew 3:9, and John 8:1-59); saith the apostle, I have on that account as much to glory in as they. Some here inquire: What difference there is in these three things? For to be a Hebrew, and an Israelite, and of the seed of Abraham, seem all to signify the same thing. Nor indeed have we any need to assign any difference, it seemeth to be but the same thing amplified in three phrases. But others distinguish more subtlely, and think the first may signify a glorying in the ancientness of their pedigree, or in their ability to speak in the Hebrew tongue; the second, may refer to the nation of which they were; the third, to the promise made to Abraham and his seed. Genesis 14:13 and to be so called from himself, and not denominated from some other person or thing, can never be imagined, it would be most absurd and ridiculous; to which may be added, that the apostle in this verse makes mention of being the seed of Abraham, as a distinct character from that of Hebrews: others have been of opinion that the name is derived from "Habar", which signifies, "to pass over"; and was occasioned by one or other of the following events; either from Abraham's passing over the river Euphrates, when he came out of Mesopotamia into the land of Canaan, and so was called Abram, "Hahibri, the passer over", or the Hebrew (x), and so his posterity were called after him; or from the posterity of Canaan, who, after the confusion at Babel, settled in that part of Asia which lies between the river Jordan and the Mediterranean sea, and from them called the land of Canaan; and who were called by the Chaldeans, from whom they separated, and by the neighbouring nations, Hebrews, or passers over, because they passed over the river Jordan; and so Abraham passing over the river Euphrates to them, and learning their language, and continuing there, he was called an Hebrew also, and his posterity after him (y); or from Arphaxad, or Heber, passing over the river Tigris or Euphrates, and settling in the land of Canaan (z); but it is not likely that a nation should take its name from such an event: others think it a more probable opinion that Abraham was so called, and hence his posterity after him, from the name which the Canaanites gave to Mesopotamia, from whence he came; calling it Heber Hannahar, or the country beyond the river: just as we call foreigners Transmarines, or people beyond sea; and of this opinion were some of the Jewish writers (a); but not Mesopotamia, but Canaan, is called the land of the Hebrews, Genesis 40:15. The more commonly received opinion with the (b) Jews is, and which is most likely, that they are so called from Heber, the father of Peleg, in whose days the confusion of languages was made, and what is now called the Hebrew language being the first and original one, was retained in him and in his family; hence Shem is said to be the father of all the children of Heber, Genesis 10:21 that is, the Hebrews, as the same people are called the children of Israel from Israel, and the children of Judah from Judah, and sometimes they go by the name of Heber, as in Numbers 24:24 when as the Assyrians are called Ashur, from whom they have their name, so the Hebrews are called Heber, from whom they take their denomination: and it should be observed, that this is not only a national but a religious name, and those people were called so, because they were of the faith as well as the descendants of Heber; so Shem was the father of others, but in a peculiar manner the father of the children of Heber, because the religion he professed was continued with them; and so Abraham is particularly called the Hebrew, not only because he descended from Heber, but was of the same, religion; and so his posterity, not in the line of Ishmael, but of Isaac, are so called; and not as descending from Isaac in the line of Esau, but of Jacob; and hence it was not lawful for the Egyptians to eat bread with the Hebrews, not because they were of another nation, but because of another religion, Genesis 43:32. It seems that these false apostles were Jews, since it is not denied by the apostle, but granted; they were some such like false brethren as those who came from Judea to Antioch, and disturbed the church there, Acts 15:1 and whereas they boasted of their being Hebrews, the descendants of the ancient patriarch Heber in the line of Abraham; the apostle was able to match them in this, and asserts himself to be an Hebrew too, which he could do with the strictest truth, for he was an Hebrew of the Hebrews, he was an Hebrew by father and mother's side:
are they Israelites? so am I. The Jews were called Israelites from Israel, a name which was given to Jacob their ancestor, upon his wrestling with an angel, and prevailing over him; and was accounted an honourable one, or title of honour; for the people of Israel were they whom God chose for a peculiar people to himself above all others, brought them out of Egypt, fed them in the wilderness, and led them through it, and settled them in the land of Canaan, and bestowed upon them special and peculiar privileges; see Romans 9:4. The Jews are very extravagant in the praise of Israelites; they not only make them the favourites of God, beloved of him, because called children, and had the law given them (c), and extol them above all mankind; See Gill on Romans 3:9 but they even make them equal to the ministering angels, and say they are pure from sin as they, especially on the day of atonement (d), yea, more excellent than they (e): in this also the apostle could answer them, for he was of the stock of Israel, and of the tribe of Benjamin, a son of Jacob, or Israel; and was an Israelite indeed, as Nathanael, for all are not Israel that are of Israel:
are they the seed of Abraham? so am I: of this the Jews mightily boasted; see John 8:33 they reckon themselves, even the poorest among them, as the nobles and princes of the earth (f); and even other people have been fond of being reckoned of the stock of Abraham, as particularly the Lacedemonians,
"Areus king of the Lacedemonians to Onias the high priest, greeting: It is found in writing, that the Lacedemonians and Jews are brethren, and that they are of the stock of Abraham:'' (1 Maccabees 12:20,21)
The Jews make a merciful disposition to men to be a sign and evidence of being of the seed of Abraham (g); but in a spiritual sense, an interest in Christ, and faith in him, denominate men to be truly Abraham's seed, and heirs of the promise: this is to be understood here in a natural sense, and of being of Abraham's seed in the line of Jacob, for otherwise the Ishmaelites and Idumeans were of the seed of Abraham; but they were his seed in that line in which the promised seed, the Messiah, was to come; though this was of no avail, without having the same faith Abraham had, and believing truly in Christ, as his spiritual seed do, whether they be Jews or Gentiles; however, the apostle was equal to them in this respect; he was of the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, and above them in another, in that he was of Abraham's spiritual seed by faith in Christ Jesus.
(w) Artapanus apud Euseb. praepar. l. 9. c. 18. p. 420. Ambrosius sive Hilarius in Philippians 3.5. & alii. (x) Hicronymus in Ezek. c. 7. fol. 183. B. Theodoret. in Gen. Qu. 60. (y) Erpeuius. (z) Ar. Montan. Canaan, c. 9. Vid. Sigonium de Repub. Heb. l. 1. c. 1. p. 16. (a) Bereshit Rabba, sect. 42. fol. 37. 3. Vid. Jarchium in Gen. x. 21. & xiv. 13. & Aben Ezram in Exodus 21.2.((b) Joseph. Antiqu. l. 1. c. 6. sect. 4. Targ. Jon. in Gen. x. 21. Sepher Cosri, par. 1. sect. 49. fol. 24. 2. R. Nehemiah in Bereshit Rabba, ut supra, Aben Ezra in Gen. x. 21. & xxxix. 14. & in Exod. i. 16. Kimchi in rad. (c) Pirke Abot, c. 3. sect. 14. (d) Pirke Eliezer, c. 48. (e) lb. c. 47. (f) Misn. Bava Kama, c. 8. sect. 6. (g) T. Bab. Betza, fol. 32. 2.Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)2 Corinthians 11:22. Now comes the specializing elucidation of that ἐν ᾧ δʼ ἄν τις τολμᾷ, τολμῶ κἀγώ, presented so as directly to confront his enemies. Comp. Php 3:5. Observe, however, that the opponents in Corinth must have still left circumcision out of the dispute.
The three names of honour, in which they boasted from their Judaistic point of view, are arranged in a climax, so that Ἑβραῖοι, which is not here in contrast to the Jews of the Diaspora, points to the hallowed nationality, Ἰσραηλῖται to the theocracy (Romans 9:4 f.), and σπέρμα Ἀβραάμ, to the Messianic privilege (Romans 11:1; Romans 9:7, al.), without, however, these references excluding one another. The interrogative interpretation of the three points corresponds to the animation of the passage far more than the affirmative (Erasmus, Luther, Castalio, Estius, Flatt, and others).2 Corinthians 11:22. Ἑβραῖοί εἰσι; κἀγώ: are they Hebrews? so am I. At a later period the term Ἑβραῖος was not confined to Palestinian Jews (Eus., H.E., ii., 4, 2, iii. 4, 2), but expressed mere nationality. However in the N.T. it is used in contrast with Ἑλληνιστής (Acts 6:1; cf. Php 3:5), and denotes a Jew who retained his national language and customs. Jerome states (de Vir. ill.) that St. Paul was born in Gischala of Galilee, but this cannot be true in the face of his own statement that he was born in Tarsus (Acts 22:3).—Ἰσραηλεῖταί εἰσιν; κἀγώ: are they Israelites? so am I. The term Israelite expresses the sacred character of the nation, like the term Quirites for Romans, and is always used in the N.T. as a term of praise (John 1:48, etc.).—σπέρμα Ἀβρ. κ.τ.λ.: are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. This is the highest dignity of all, to be an inheritor of the Messianic promises given to Abraham (cf. for the phrase Isaiah 41:8, John 8:33, Romans 9:7, Galatians 3:29). In the two parallel passages, Romans 11:1, Php 3:5, he adds that he is of the tribe of Benjamin—a fact which probably accounts for his name “Saul” (1 Samuel 9:1). It shows how strong the Judaising party were at Corinth that he thinks it important to put this proud statement of his descent in the forefront of his apology.Are they Hebrews?] We may take the words Hebrew, Israelite, seed of Abraham, as referring respectively to the nationality, theocratic condition, and Messianic rights of the Jewish people. Thus the Hebrew would not only be one who was of pure descent, but whose attachment to Jewish nationality caused him to cling to the Jewish language (see Acts 6:1; Acts 21:40; Acts 22:2; and Php 3:5). The Israelite would be a man attached to the covenant privileges of his nation (cf. John 1:47; Acts 2:22; Acts 3:12; Acts 5:35; Acts 13:16; Acts 21:28; and especially Romans 9:4). Seed of Abraham must refer to the pure Abrahamic descent of St Paul, and his consequent title to all the promises made to Abraham. See Romans 9:7; Romans 11:1.2 Corinthians 11:22. Ἑβραῖοι, Hebrews) He indicates the principal topics of boasting, of which the first and second are natural, the third and fourth are spiritual privileges: comp. Php 3:5.—κᾀγώ, so am I) a Hebrew (not a Hellenist) of the [sprung from] Hebrews.Verse 22. - Hebrews. In the strictest sense those who still understood and spoke Aramaic, not Hellenists of the dispersion, who no longer knew the sacred language. (For the use of the word, see Acts 6:1; Philippians 3:4.) Israelites. Jews, not only by nation, but in heart and feeling (see John 1:48; Acts 2:22, etc.; Romans 9:4; Romans 11:1). The seed of Abraham. Alike literally and spiritually (see John 8:33-53; Romans 9:7; Romans 11:1). It may seem strange that St. Paul should have found it necessary to make this statement; but his Tarsian birth and Roman franchise may have led to whispered innuendoes which took form long afterwards in the wild calumny that he was a Gentile who had only got himself circumcised in order that he might marry the high priest's daughter (Epiphan., 'Haer.,' 30:16).
See on Acts 6:1.
Seed of Abraham
Compare Matthew 3:9; John 8:33; Romans 9:7; Romans 11:1; Galatians 3:16; Hebrews 2:16. The three names are arranged climactically, Hebrews pointing to the nationality; Israelites to the special relation to God's covenant; seed of Abraham to the messianic privilege. Compare with the whole, Philippians 3:4, Philippians 3:5.
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