There is a recurring accusation, especially within Jewish circles, that the New Testament is antisemitic. The justification for such an accusation is found in 2,000 years of Jewish history that have been punctuated by a myriad of antisemitic acts–many of them apparently rooted in Christianity and its teachings. So, the question bears asking, how Christian is Christian antisemitism? Furthermore, is the New Testament antisemitic?
It is really unfortunate that our Bible (Old and New Testaments) would be divided into two parts. Things would be a lot simpler if we looked at the whole counsel of God from Genesis to Revelation. Since the two are separated by the “400 years of silence”, we have the Jewish Scriptures (written in Hebrew) and the Greek Scriptures (written in both Greek and Aramaic), thus starting the chasm between the two. Words and concepts are not completely transferable from Hebrew to Greek, and the two different cultures added further challenges to God’s message through the ages.
Nobody can deny that the coming of Yeshua onto the scene changed everything. The Jewish leadership of His day felt threatened, intimidated and at times even humiliated. The guardians of the Mosaic Law were being challenged by one who came to fulfill that Law, and yet never broke one of its commandments. Additionally, even though He first came for His own according to the flesh, He included Gentiles. It wasn’t long before the very Gentiles who had been excluded but were now grafted in, started to take over and slowly forced the erosion of Jewish traditions within Christianity. By AD 325 at the council of Nicaea, much of the Jewishness of Christianity was further diluted or completely removed; thus, creating a faith that no longer could relate to its roots.
Early Church Fathers had started to deviate from a literal, historical/grammatical approach to the Bible. Their allegorical interpretations slowly led them to see Israel as a demonized people who had been replaced by the Church. The uneducated masses gladly followed suit and the Jews became a burden to those around them. Suffering the Crusades and Pogroms until the “final solution to the Jewish problem” (a euphemism used by Nazi Germany) in the Holocaust, Jews have been treated as a sub-human race. Who was responsible for this? Ask a Jewish person and they’ll say “Christianity”. But was it? An honest approach to the issue would prove otherwise.
• The New Testament is a very Jewish Book
From the very first words of the first book in the New Testament, everything is Jewish as it records the genealogy of the Jewish Messiah: ” The record of the genealogy of Yeshua the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.” (Matthew 1:1-2). The audience is Jewish, the writers are Jewish (Luke being the possible exception). The context is Jewish, the culture is Jewish and much of the geography is Jewish. As a matter of fact, it is nearly impossible to fully understand the richness of the New Testament without reading it in its Jewish context. Most believers spend their whole life reading the Bible in “Black and White” until they look at the Jewish perspective and all of a sudden, the same story appears in “color and HD”. Don’t quote me wrong, reading our Bible is vital, even when it is not done with an understanding of its Jewish backdrop, but it is greatly enhanced once we look at the Word through Jewish eyes.
• The New Testament Uses Strong Language
How do we reconcile words like “the synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9, 3:9) or “your father the devil” (John 8:44) or even “you brood of vipers” (Matthew 3:7)? They are indeed very strong words directed at Jewish people. Those accusatory words were definitely used in the New Testament to describe the hypocrisy and sin of some of the Jewish leaders contemporary of Yeshua. They were accurate words to be sure, but what has been missed and has led to so much damage is the fact that they were used to denounce people who happened to be disobedient sinners first and Jewish second. Their ethnicity didn’t play a role in their guilt. This is what we could call the “Great Christian Departure”. The Church started to attach the sins of early (Jewish) believers to their non-related Jewishness, and before long, being Jewish became a crime.
• The Old Testament Also Uses Strong Language
Why is it that when similar language is used to describe the disobedience of Israel in the Jewish Law and the Prophets, nobody–especially in the Jewish community–has a problem with it? In Deuteronomy 9:7, Moses calls the Jewish people “rebellious.” Is he antisemitic? In Deuteronomy 9:13, God calls the Jewish people “stubborn” and wants to kill them all. Is God antisemitic? Nonsense! Ezekiel calls Israel “stubborn and obstinate” (Ezekiel 3:7). The descriptions are perfectly in line with the actions of the children of Israel described all throughout the Tenach, and they are no different than those of the New Testament, except that they come from the Jewish Scriptures, prior to Yeshua’s first coming, and somehow, that makes them acceptable. Is there a double-standard here?
• The Jews Didn’t Kill the Messiah
The most common accusation against the Jewish people that continues to this day, is that of deicide (the killing of God). Jews the world over continue to be called “Christ Killers” by Christians and non-Christians alike. There are two problems with that accusation. First, even if some Jewish people were guilty of the crucifixion of Yeshua (and they are not), it would never make sense to paint with broad strokes and render all Jews of all time guilty of the same crime. By the same logic, all Germans would be Nazis and all Muslims would be terrorists. This is ludicrous! However, and more importantly, Yeshua gave His own life in obedience to the Father as we read in John 10:17-18, “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” So, in reality, we are all sharing the guilt without exception.
• Context is Everything
The very fact that many early Christians took the Scriptures out of context and allegorized much of them doesn’t make the New Testament antisemitic, it simply makes it misinterpreted and misapplied. Can Christians be antisemitic? I think that history speaks clearly on that matter, yes, they can! But are they antisemitic because they follow the teachings of Yeshua of Nazareth? Absolutely not! 2,000 years of Scripture twisting to accommodate and justify human behavior against the Jews have left a bloody stain on mankind in general and the Church in particular. But it is not based on anything taught in the Bible.
So, it is fair to say that Christian antisemitism is not Christian at all. If one takes the Bible literally, all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). “All” means Jews and non-Jews alike with no exceptions. Christian antisemitism is simply antisemitism committed by Christians who read their Bible improperly and use it as an excuse to ostracize and demonize the Jewish people. The Christians who paint–with broad strokes– the Jewish people as a sub-human group are as guilty as the Jewish people who claim that all Christians are antisemitic and so is the New Testament. It is time to keep things in context and approach God’s word in context with humility and sincerity.