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Jacob, whom God named "Israel," had twelve sons, who gave their names to the twelve tribes of Israel. His fourth son was Judah (Yehudah), from the root word that means "praise." The name "Jews" (Yehudim) is also derived from this root. Jews were created to be a praise to God.
The word "Jew," in its different forms, appears about two hundred times throughout the Bible. There is a question, in the minds of some, as to whom is properly designated by the term. What is the proper Biblical understanding of the term "Jew"? Is there a difference between "Jew," "Hebrew," and "Israelite"? The only way to know is by looking at how the terms are used in the Bible.
"Hebrew" is the oldest term. It is derived from the name of Eber, who was the great, great, great, great-grandfather of Abraham. In fact, the word is first applied in the Bible to Abraham. (Gen. 14:13) Joseph is described as a "Hebrew slave." (Gen. 39:17). Later, the children of Israel all became slaves in Egypt (Ex. 2:23-25) God chose Moses to redeem His people out of Egypt. "The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" calls Himself "the Lord, the God of the Hebrews." (Ex. 3:6,18) He calls all of Jacob's descendants in Egyptian bondage "Hebrews".
The Hebrews are also called "the sons of Israel"; i.e., Israelites. These are equivalent terms. Moses told all Israel that a Hebrew slave must be set free in the seventh year. (Dt. 15:12) Jonah said, "I am a Hebrew" (Jon. 1:9) The word "Hebrew" is applied in the Bible to describe Abraham, Joseph, Jonah, all of Jacob's descendants in Egyptian bondage, and all Israel. In the days of Rehoboam, when Israel was divided, "Judah" was used to designate the southern kingdom. (1 Kgs. 12:20) Even then, however, the term "Yehudah" also included the tribe of Benjamin, the Levites, and priests. Also, there were those from other tribes of Israel who chose to be part of Judah. (2 Chr. 10:17; 11:14, 16; 15:9; 31:6)
Mordecai and Esther, from the tribe of Benjamin, were called "Jews," as were all the exiles from all the tribes of Israel in all the provinces of Persia. (Esth. 2:5-7, 3:13) The remnant who returned from captivity consisted of "Jews," though its members came from different tribes. (e.g., Ez. 4:23)
Some say that Abraham was not Jewish, because the term "Jew" does not appear until later in history, referring to the descendants of Judah. They then make a theological separation between "the Jews" and their fathers. But by that reasoning, neither would Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Moses, Aaron, Gideon, Samuel, or Jonah be Jewish. Nor would any of the descendants of Judah who lived more than twenty years before the exile of the northern kingdom, for the term "Jew" did not appear in the Bible until that time. (cf. 2 Kgs 16:6)
Nonetheless, the term "Jews" has been given to all those who are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In the Bible it is generally used synonymously with the term "Israel." By the time of Jesus, the term "Jew" had become a universal designation for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants, regardless of their particular tribe or place of residence in Israel or the world.
The bottom line is that "Jew" and "Hebrew" are used as equivalent terms. (cf. Jer. 34:9) If a man or woman is a Hebrew, then he or she is a Jew. A Jew is a Hebrew is an Israelite. [modified from an article found on Elijahnet.com]
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