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Anti-Semitism in The Book of John and Thessalonians?

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Also See The Dark Side of Church History

Taking negative references at face value but at the same time overlooking passages that speak positively of the Jews (for example, Jesus is “a Jew” [John 4:9] and salvation is “of the Jews” [John 4:22].

Mel Gibson’s ‘Passion’ has brought yet another smoldering question to the fore. .. whether some of the New Testament writers were Anti-Semitic. According to Newsweek magazine (Feb. 16 2004 cover story) Some “scholars argue that the Gospels have themselves fueled anti-Semitism throughout European history and that a literal presentation of the biblical material is inherently dangerous’.

However the problem is that Jesus was born into a Jewish family. His mother was Jewish. His early followers were Jewish, and the people who first heard him preach were Jewish. The New Testament writers were JEWISH and seemingly proud of it. In Romans 11:1 I Paul writes “say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin”. Quite obviously stating that the Jews were still very much part of God’s plan.

Consider Jesus’ words in Mat 15:26 when beseeched by a woman of Canaan to help her daughter ‘grievously vexed with a devil’. “But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs”.  In effect calling the Israelites ‘children’ and the Gentiles ‘dogs’.

So what is commonly called Anti-Semitism was a ‘struggle’ between those in power in the synagogue and those who were opposed to them.. BOTH of whom were Jews. 'factional divisiveness' would be a far more appropriate term than anti-Semitism. All the focus is on the Jewish leaders and/or the current religious practice, not on the Jewish people...  a rebuke from within, much as the prophets of the Old Testament called their people to repentance. An old old pattern found  throughout Scripture—the Jews falling away from the true worship of Yahweh and God raising up a prophet (who was often jeered at) to turn them back.

Stephen's speech to the Sanhedrin in Acts 7, in which he blasts the Jews as "stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears?" was little different from Moses’ words in Deu 31:27... “For I know thy rebellion, and thy stiff neck: behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against the LORD; and how much more after my death?”. Moses was speaking the the Jews at large whether he mentioned them by name or not.. 


From Glenn Miller of The Christian Think Tank.
Also see is 1 Thess 2 a seriously anti-Semitic passage?!

Let's look at the data...

Who killed Jesus?...and Who said it...

     Matt 27.1 - "all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death". (Matthew)

     Lk 23.13-20 - "the chief priests, the rulers and the people," (Luke)--obviously not ALL the people; just the 'crowd'

     Acts 2.36(w 14) - "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem," (the apostle Peter)

     Acts 10.39 - "We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree (Peter)

     I Thess 2.14 - You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, 15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. (Paul)

     Act 13.27 - The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. 28 Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. (Paul) Notice 'people' is restricted to those in Jerusalem who asked for the execution--the 'crowd' again.

     Mt 26.3 - Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, 4 and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him. (Matthew)

     Mt 27.1,20 - But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. (Matthew)

     Acts 5.27 - Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name," he said. "Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood." 29 Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men! 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead -- whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. (Peter, accusing the Sanhedrin--a mixed priestly and lay aristocratic ruling body)

 Conclusion: the leadership--both civil and religious-- of Jerusalem

The term "Jews" can refer to either the leadership (strictly) OR to the people (more generally)

    The data indicates that 'Jews' referred to something broader than the simple 'corrupt temple hierarchy':

       in John 1.19,24 - the Jews 'sent' the religious leaders to discover what was going on

       a comparison of John 18.14 with 11.49 indicates that Jews referred to the Sanhedrin (generally considered to be a group composed of the priestly aristocracy and lay nobility)--see ZPEB, "Sanhedrin".

       Luke 23.13 ("Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people") and Mt 26.47 ("sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people")show that the 'rulers' involved with distinct from the 'priests'.

       Conclusion: "Jews" in a leadership sense, was broad enough to include the lay aristocracy.

    Many of the "Jews" became believers--Jn 11:45 and 12.11

There are numerous passages that indicate that the "Jews" were DISTINCT FROM the common people (many of whom accepted Christ as their messiah):

    · John 7. 13 (But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the Jews.)--the common folk were afraid of the "Jews" (=> NOT THE SAME)

    · John 9.22 (His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue.)

    · John 12.12 -- the Triumphal Entry -- the crowd accepted him!

    · Mt 23.37 ("O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.) - the difference between the leadership ("you") and the people ("your children").

    · John 2.23 - (Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name.)

    · John 7.25 - (At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, "Isn't this the man they are trying to kill? 26 Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Christ?)--Note the difference between the 'people of Jerusalem' and the 'authorities'.

The data is VERY strong that when the term "Jews" is used of the PEOPLE, it is a good (or at least, neutral) term--indicating that it is not a 'racial/ethnic' slur, but a term used for specific identification (in context) of that ruling community that violently rejected their King.

    · John 4.22 - Jesus affirms: "You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews."

    · John 12.9-11 - ( Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.)

    · Mt 27.11 - ( Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied.)

    · Acts 2.5, 14 - (Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.) and (Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem,)

    · Acts 14.1 - (At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed. 2 But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.) - NOTE: BOTH usages (hostile leadership, believing people) present in the SAME passage.

    · Acts 21.20 - (Then they said to Paul: "You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law.)

So, how did the term 'JEWS' get expanded from solely a reference to the people (a la Ezra, Neh) to pick up a SECOND meaning of 'hostile leadership'?

    · The NT shows the development of the term to parallel Paul's experiences with hostile Jewish leadership OUTSIDE Jerusalem! (And these experiences were such that the hostile leadership had much more 'control' over the general Jewish populations--due to the smaller numbers). The "Jews" (hostile leadership) swayed the "Jews" (the people at large)--as well as the Gentiles (see Acts 14 above!)-- against Paul's message. But the culpable ones were the former.

    · There is absolutely NO evidence within the NT to suggest that the term was IN ANY WAY related to a general anti-Semitism of the Roman empire! (It is serious conjecture to 'read in' some Roman anti-Semitism in NT passages).

    · And, even as Paul experienced the hostility of the dispersed leadership, even then many 'Jews' believed (Act 17:12 - Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12 Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.)

    · This general motif of the "Jews" (hostile aristocratic leadership) constraining the "Jews" (the general Jewish populace) from their experience of God's goodness is a surprisingly dominant theme in the teachings of Jesus:

      · Mt 23: 37 - ("O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate.")

      · Mt 23: 15 - ("Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.)

      · Mt 23: 13 - ("Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.)

It is worth noting that John's gospel is deliberately evangelistic, and the general trend of scholarship today is to view his intended audience as not just Jews, but SPECIFICALLY the Jews of the Diaspora--the ones Paul used the terms "JEWS" on so strongly!

    As Carson notes in his Intro to the New Testament, p 171.:

    The constant allusions to the Old Testament show that John's intended readership is biblically literate; his translation of Semitic expressions (e.g., 1:38, 42; 4:25; 19:13, 17) shows he is writing to those whose linguistic competence is in Greek. His strong denunciation of the "the Jews" cannot be taken as a mark against this thesis: John may well have an interest in driving a wedge between ordinary Jews and (at least) some of their leaders. The fourth gospel is not as anti-Jewish as some people thin anyway: salvation is still said to be "from the Jews" (4.22), and often the referent of "the Jews" is "the Jews in Judea" or "the Jewish leaders" or the like. "Anti-Semitic" is simply the wrong category to apply to the fourth gospel: whatever hostilities are present turn on theological issues related to the acceptance or rejection of revelation, not on race. How could it be otherwise, when all of the first Christians were Jews and when, on this reading, both the fourth evangelist and his primary readers were Jews and Jewish proselytes?


    When "Jews" is used of the hostile aristocratic leadership, it is appropriate and truthful to ascribe the primary responsibility (see John 19:11 for the relative roles of Pilate and the High Priest - "Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.") for His execution to them.

    When "Jews" is used of the general populace, it is used in a VERY POSITIVE sense (and in some passages, in a neutral sense), but is NEVER used in an 'anti-Semitic' slur.

    THEREFORE--to assert that John (and the wider Christian community) attributed the death of Jesus to the GENERAL POPULACE known as "Jews" is FUNDAMENTALLY MISTAKEN; and that to accuse certain first-century Jews of being 'anti-Semitic' because of some general Roman cultural trend is entirely without foundation.

[And, btw, the New Testament is REPLETE with anti-Gentile statements--especially moral slurs (if you thought the Gospel of John verses were such!):

    · “And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Mt 5.45, Jesus)

    · And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. (Mt 6.7, Jesus)

    · “Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’ 32 “For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; (Matt 6.31, Jesus)

    · And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer. (Mt 18.17, Jesus)

    · But Jesus called them to Himself, and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 “It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, (Matt 20.25, Jesus)

    · For He will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, (Lk 18.32)

    · It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles (1 Cor 5.1, Paul)

    · No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God (1 Cor 10.20, Paul)

    · We are Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles; (Gal 2.15)

    · This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, (Eph 4.7, Paul)

    · that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God (1 Thess 4.4, Paul)

    · For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. (1 Pet 4.3, Peter)


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