I came across below two verses when I am reading through my bible(Telugu language).

To me, these two statements seem to contradict each other:

Acts 21: 29

But Paul said, "I am a man who am a Jew of Tarsus, a city of Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; and I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people." (empahsis added)

Romans 11:1

I also am an Israelite of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin

Doesn't the first passage mean he is from the tribe of Judah?.

Which tribe did he belong to: Judah or Benjamin?

  • 1
    Please explain what the contradiction is...
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 1:04
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    @curiousdannii,Which tribe he belongs to ? Judah ? or Benjamin ?
    – Raju
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 1:06
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    @curiousdannii: Raju has misunderstood "Jew" to mean someone from the tribe of "Judah".
    – Jeff Roe
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 21:12
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    @JeffRoe Actually I would argue he has perceived something that most people have missed. That its root truly is "Judah". Most people think "Jew" applies to all Israelites. It does not. It applies to the people of the kingdom of Judah who went into exile by Babylon. Members of the other ten tribes of Israel, Ephraim in particular, would not have accepted being called Jews.
    – Joshua
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 21:15

3 Answers 3


The term "Jew" is an Anglicization of "Judean" which comes from the Greek Ἰουδαῖος (Ioudaios). Technically, it can simply be a regional distinction, that is someone who is from Judea. But it can of course represent one's ethnicity. Greek who happened to grow up in Judea would not have identified himself as a Judean.

In the book of Esther, the Hebrew "Yĕhuwdiy" (יְהוּדִי) is translated Jew, but in this case the Hebrew is etymologically connected to Judah (Judahite, or Jehudite). Though not all the Israelites in Esther are Judahite, this term is used to encompass all of them, showing that it has become, even at the time of Esther's writing, a universal term.

In the Israelite's return from Babylonian exile in around 500 BC, only the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi (who had been in the southern kingdom of Judah when taken captive by Babylon) returned as representative tribes. While remnants of other tribes did exist, only these three return in large numbers and with intact genealogies.

The name Judah, as before in the kingdom of Judah, continued to dominate. In Greek it became Judea, and thus we have Judeans.

So while it can be technically taken as "Judahite", the term "Jew" was expanded to refer to all of the Israelites of Judea.

Therefore, Paul is a Jew, of the Tribe of Benjamin. Both statements are correct and consistent.

  • I do use telugu bible. Throughout the bible, it uses same term.
    – Raju
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 4:13
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    @Raju One might say the Greeks started using "Jew" in place of where "Hebrew" or "Israelite" would have been used in the OT. The Jews themselves did not forget(as Paul calls himself an Israelite, and we have the book of Hebrews), but when speaking to those of other nations such as the Corinthians and Galatians, Paul uses "Jews" much more often. When getting technical, such as in Romans, he mixes in a lot of "Israel". I'd be interested if the Telugu Bible uses the term Jew in the OT before Esther?
    – Joshua
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 4:20
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    yes. Even in the OT we have same term(యూదులు). It is mentioned in Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther.
    – Raju
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 4:35
  • @Raju Yes my mistake, it was first used by Jeremiah a few times and then universally for those who were in OR from exile by Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.
    – Joshua
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 11:48
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    Indeed, in the Book of Esther, Mordechai is identified as a Jew and as being from the tribe of Benjamin in the same sentence.
    – Daniel
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 15:58

By the time of the New Testament "Jew" and "Israelite" had effectively become synonyms. This is because the large majority of people who returned from the Exile were from the former Kingdom of Judah. So Acts 21:29 is talking about his nationality, not his tribe.


Which tribe did Paul belong to?

Some of the confusion is a result from the split in the nation of Israel into two kingdoms after the reign of Solomon. These two kingdoms were called Israel and Judea. What was called the kingdom of Israel had most of ten tribes.

Both kingdoms had trouble with the practice of idolatry. Punishment first came on the nation of Israel ending with their captivity by the Assyrians. In the lead up to this event, many family groups sought refuge in Judah. As a result, all twelve tribes were represented in Judah by the time of Jesus. Family and tribal records were kept in the temple and most people would have an understanding of what tribe they were from.

Today if someone says they are a Jew we do not know if they are meaning geographically, tribally, genetically, politically, religiously, culturally, or any combination.

Basically the word “Jew” has come to mean anyone descended from Jacob (Israel) as well as anyone from the tribe of Judah. This distinction was also prevalent at the time of Paul’s writing as he frequently uses the word “Jew” to refer to all those of Israel.

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