Is the New Testament anti-Semitic?

General anti-Semitism
Is the Gospel of John anti-Semitic?
Are other New Testament passages anti-Semitic?
    Does the Bible justify persecution of Jews?
Pro-Semitism in the NT
Further reading


General anti-Semitism

Is the New Testament anti-Semitic when it teaches that everyone, including Jews, must accept Jesus as Messiah and Lord in order to be saved?

One must distinguish between what the NT is and is not saying. It is saying that people who reject Christ are rejecting both God and the provision he's made for the forgiveness of their wrongs, and will therefore be condemned. It is not saying that all people born to Jewish parents (or parents of any particular race, for that matter) are condemned. God's judgment is not based on biology or other factors outside an individual's control, but on the individual's choices. Those who choose to accept Christ as their God and accept the forgiveness he provides will be spared punishment, regardless of whether they were born into a Jewish or Gentile family. Those who reject Christ will be condemned, again regardless of their ethnic heritage.

On the other hand, the New Testament does say that those who are religiously Jewish, i.e. who practice Judaism and don't believe Jesus is the Messiah or Son of God, will be condemned. Is this anti-Semitic or a bias against Judaism? Actually, this is no different than Judaism's condemnation of those who reject Jehovah[1]. Is Judaism racist or prejudiced for condemning those who don't believe in it? No, for it is condemning those who wrongly reject God and do evil. The basis for salvation or condemnation in Judaism is one's choosing to follow or reject God, just as it is in Christianity.


Is the Gospel of John anti-Semitic?

John 5:16-18

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working." For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

John 6:41

At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven."

John 7:11-13 (also 20:19)

Now at the Feast the Jews were watching for him and asking, "Where is that man?" Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, "He is a good man."

Others replied, "No, he deceives the people." But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the Jews.

John 8:44 (also Rev 2:9)

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire.

John 10:31

Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him.

John 11:53-54

So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the Jews. Instead he withdrew to a region near the desert, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.

John 19:12

From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, "If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar."

 

The Gospel of John in particular is cited as being anti-Jewish for its numerous references to "the Jews" persecuting Jesus, which allegedly are meant to paint every Jew in a negative light. However, "the Jews" usually refers to a particular group of Jews, in particular the Pharisees and religious leaders.

In 6:41 and 10:31, "the Jews" refers to the particular group of people Jesus was speaking to at the time: those attending the synagogue in Capernaum (6:59) and gathered in a particular spot in the temple in Jerusalem (10:23-24).

The people referenced in 7:11-13 are the crowds of Jews gathered to celebrate a Jewish holiday. It is worth noting that some of the Jews are recorded as having a favorable opinion of Jesus; John is not trying to say that all the Jews slandered him. The people who are afraid to speak "for fear of the Jews" are themselves Jewish; therefore it is most likely that "the Jews" here refers to the religious leaders who were against Jesus and not all Jews.

Those who planned to kill Jesus in 11:53 were the religious leaders, not the Jews in general. (11:47-48) However, the plot of the Jewish leaders would make it difficult for Jesus to be among the general Jewish population, as those who agreed with or feared the leaders could report his whereabouts. Again, this does not imply that every single Jew was out to kill Jesus. In fact, not even all of the chief priests were united against Jesus, for the high priest believed in him. (11:49-52)

Finally, in John 19 it seems that the primary agitators for Jesus' death (if not in fact the only ones) are the chief priests, not the Jews as a whole. The chief priests are the ones speaking in verses 6 and 15, and are the ones Pilate dealt with concerning Jesus.


Are there anti-Semitic passages in the rest of the New Testament?

Matthew 23:35 (also Lk 11:50-51)

And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.

Matthew 27:25

All the people answered, "Let his blood be on us and on our children!"

1 Thessalonians 2:14-16

You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.

Revelation 3:9

I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars - I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.


Are the above passages anti-Semitic?

Matthew 27:25 is assumed to be anti-Semitic, not to mention absurd, because it has the Jews voluntarily accepting the blame for Jesus' death (for the context of the passage, see Matthew 27:15-26). As for its absurdity, we ourselves make similar statements today. One can readily imagine someone commenting on a trial and saying, "I'll be damned if he's innocent." Does the speaker really mean that they will accept eternal condemnation if they're wrong about the guilt of the defendant? Of course not - and neither did the crowd that called for Jesus' death. The statement in Matthew is most likely recording a common form of hyperbole, not the crowd's admission of guilt.

As for the other passages, one must distinguish between what they are and are not saying. They are saying that people who reject Christ are rejecting both God and the provision he's made for the forgiveness of their wrongs, and will therefore be condemned. They are not saying that all people born to Jewish parents (or parents of any particular race, for that matter) are condemned. God's judgment is not based on biology or other factors outside an individual's control, but on the individual's choices. Those who choose to accept Christ as their God and accept the forgiveness he provides will be spared punishment, regardless of whether they were born into a Jewish or Gentile family. Those who reject Christ will be condemned, again regardless of their ethnic heritage. Hence these passages are not referring to all Jews as a racial group.

On the other hand, the above passages and others in the New Testament do say that those who are religiously Jewish, i.e. who practice Judaism and don't believe Jesus is the Messiah or Son of God, will be condemned. Is this anti-Semitic or a bias against Judaism? Actually, this is no different than Judaism's condemnation of those who reject Jehovah[1]. Is Judaism racist or prejudiced for condemning those who don't believe in it? No, for it is condemning those who wrongly reject God and do evil. The basis for salvation or condemnation in Judaism is one's choosing to follow or reject God, just as it is in Christianity.

Some will object that the passages refer to "the Jews" and not to individuals, implying that Jews in general are being condemned. To clear this up, one should review the surrounding context of the verses. For example, in John 8 Jesus was speaking to a specific group of Jews, "the Jews who had believed him"[2] and who attempted to stone him once the conversation was finished.[3] In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul was referring to Jews who had rejected God and resorted to violence. In both cases, the speaker was himself ethnically Jewish, and the Jews who were condemned were those who had clearly rejected God by their actions. These same people would have been condemned by the tenets of Judaism as well, for they were opposed to God and also broke the Law by committing murder.

The first passage in Matthew is addressed further in Does God punish children for their parents' sins?

Do John 8:44 and Revelation 2:9, 3:9 justify persecution of Jews?

Anyone who attempts to use these passages to justify persecuting Jews is going against the teachings of the following passages:

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:

"The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
And this is my covenant with them
when I take away their sins."

As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God's mercy to you. (Rom 11:25-31, emphasis mine)

And [Jesus] sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village. (Lk 9:52-56)

In other words, Christians are to love Jews specifically and are not to take God's judgment into their own hands. Do these passages contradict John 8:44 and Revelation? No, for God - who knows perfectly what is right and knows everything about us - is justified in condemning those who reject him. The point here is that mere humans do not have the right to do all the things that God is entitled to do, in particular execute judgment on those who reject Christ. Christians have no right to harm Jews or others who don't follow Christ, for all humans are made in God's image[4] and are loved by God. Christians are not inherently more righteous than non-Christians, for "there is no one who is righteous;"[5] thus Christians have to right to look down on Jews, let alone persecute them. In fact, Paul explicitly tells Gentiles they have no basis for an attitude of superiority towards non-Christian Jews:

I am talking to you Gentiles...If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in." Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree! (Rom 11:13, 17-24)


Pro-Semitism in the NT

The New Testament has always struck me as being strongly pro-Semitic rather than anti-Semitic, because of the following passages.

In the Gospels:

In Acts:

In the Pauline Epistles:

In Revelation:


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Footnotes

1. Ps 28:4-5, 37:20,38, 52:5-7, 53, etc. (Back to article)
2. Jn 8:31 (Back to article)
3. Jn 8:59 (Back to article)
4. Gen 9:6 (Back to article)
5. Ecc 7:20 (Back to article)