Jesus Called it 'Israel'

The Palestinian media say that Jesus was a Palestinian. A Dutch film says the same. Would the so-called "historical" Jesus recognize the label? How did he refer to his homeland, even under Roman occupation? Clarity and historical accuracy, not politics, is the purpose of this article.

Here are the basic facts, in all the New Testament references that name Jesus' country.

If the readers would like to look up the references, they are encouraged to go to Bible Gateway, create another window, and type in the references as needed. They can also type in wider references to see a single verse in context.

What would Jesus say?

Often in published versions of the Bible, the words of Jesus are put in red font in the four Gospels and in other parts of the New Testament when his words are being quoted or he speaks in a vision that a follower may have. Many regard his specific words as extra-special. Here they are, in the following references. The two slashes indicate a parallel passage in Matthew, Mark, or Luke.

Matthew: 8:10 //; 10:6, 23; 15:24; 19:28

Mark: 12:29

Luke: 4:25, 27; 7:9 //; 22:30

John: 1:47 (Jesus calls Nathanael an Israelite)

In all these "red-letter" passages - the actual words of Jesus - he calls his country only Israel.

What would others say in the Gospels?

In these verses people other than Jesus are speaking or writing. Narrator means the authors of the Gospels.

Matthew: 2:6 (prophecy from Micah); 2:20 (an angel); 2:21 (narrator); 9:33 (appreciative crowd); 15:31 (narrator); 27:9 (prophecy from Zechariah and Jeremiah); 27:42 // (mocking crowd)

Mark: 15:32 // (mocking crowd)

Luke: 1:16 (angel); 1:54 (Mary's Magnificat); 1:68 (Zechariah, father of John the Baptist); 1:80 (narrator); 2:25 (narrator); 2:32, 34 (Simeon); 24:21 (an anonymous disciple and Clopas, probably Joseph's brother, so Jesus' uncle)

John: 1:31 (John the Baptist); 1:49 (Nathanael); 12:13 (the crowds during Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem)

All of these people matter-of-factly call their nation and Jesus' nation by the name Israel, and nothing else.

What about the rest of the New Testament?

What do the New Testament authors other than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John call the nation where Jesus ministered and his movement was born? Here are all the references:

Acts: 1:6; 2:22, 36; 3:12; 4:10, 27; 5:21, 31, 35; 7:23, 26, 37; 9:15 (Jesus' words in a vision); 10:36; 13:16, 17, 23, 24; 21:28; 28:20

Romans: 9:4, 6, 27, 31; 10:1, 19, 21; 11:1, 2, 7, 25, 26

1 Corinthians: 10:18

2 Corinthians: 3:7, 13; 11:22

Galatians: 6:16

Ephesians: 2:12

Philippians: 3:5

Hebrews: 8:8, 10; 11:22

Revelation: 2:14; 7:4; 21:12

All of the passages refer only to the name Israel. Some call the citizens of Israel Israelites, and no other name.

Does the New Testament refer to the name Palestine?

There are no references to this name anywhere in the New Testament.

Could Jesus have called Israel by any other name?

In their writings that cover many subjects and historical periods, these historians and travelers occasionally use the name Palestine, usually in the context of Syria and its southern environs: Herodotus (c. 485-420? BC); Josephus (c. 37 to post-100 AD), a Jewish historian; Suetonius (69/75 to post-135 AD); Arrian (c. 90-180? AD) (search here); Appian (c. 95 to post-163 AD); Pausanias  (second century AD).

Referencing these historians and travelers is not to say that Jesus (or the New Testament authors) read them, particularly the ones who lived after Jesus and the authors! Rather, these historians and travelers imply a wide time span and regions and historical periods in which the name Palestine could circulate and become part of the common linguistic coinage.

Therefore, Jesus had the choice of the name Palestine or Israel. But he chose to remain within the Biblical tradition, calling his country Israel. The New Testament authors also chose the Biblical tradition, exclusively.

Search the sources

Was Jesus a Palestinian?

As noted in the Introduction to this article, the Palestinian media think so. However, in Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38, his genealogy is presented. No rationalist has to believe it to understand that Matthew and Luke were keen on placing Jesus firmly in the Biblical tradition. Bible Gateway

Clearly, the best records we have demonstrate that Jesus was thoroughly Jewish - historically, culturally, and ethnically.

What about today?

This article is intended only to get our history straight. Jesus first ministered in Israel (Matthew 10:5-42; 15:24). And then he told his disciples to go into all nations and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). So the kingdom of God as Jesus lived and preached it breaks down barriers. Palestinian Christians should know that they are not alone while they are under attack or being forced to submit to dhimmitude (Islamic second-class citizenship for Christians or Jews). Christians have almost entirely left Bethlehem. Any person, particularly the defenseless and innocent, of any religion, who is caught in a crossfire of bullets and bloodshed, should receive help. That's the essence of the ministry of Jesus, who identifies with all people everywhere, in the bigger picture, regardless of ethnic origins or nationalities.


To return to the main thesis and purpose of this article, what do the Scriptural facts say about names and origins? This article lists all of the references in the New Testament to Israel or Israelite. There are no references to Palestine in the Bible. That name was never part of the vocabulary of Jesus or the New Testament authors, even though they had the choice to call it such. Jesus would not recognize the label Palestinian for himself.

Today, some extra-political readers may not like this conclusion, but at least they will no longer be confused. And at least they will no longer be able to confuse others with misinformed and shrill rhetoric.

Clarity and historical accuracy are the goal of this article.

From these basic, incontrovertible Scriptures, readers may draw their own conclusions about politics today, if at all.

See Is the New Testament Anti-Semitic? 

James M. Arlandson can be reached at
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