Main Point 12
Assertions that Christianity is inherently antisemitic reveal an ignorance of scripture
To hear some people tell it, you would think that all of Christian history consisted of angry mobs shouting “The Jews killed Christ! Death to the Jews!” You would never know there were many centuries of combined experience in many countries in which Jews were not persecuted, and often well-treated. One would think there were countless theologians busily churning out tracts attacking the Jews, and never know that many leading Christian writers never had harsh words for the Jews.
Yet, while myriads of Christians have never harmed a Jew or wanted to, there have been (prior to the 20th century) such crimes as the Inquisition, the Crusades, and pogroms (chiefly in the Middle Ages, and more recently in Czarist Russia). These were limited in time and place, not occurring until a thousand years or more after the resurrection of Christ. They are in no sense inherent in Christianity – if they were, they would have occurred regularly at all times and in all places where Christianity was the dominant cultural force.
Moreover, there are ample bible verses to show that those who practice hatred and cruelty against Jews, or against anyone else, are disobeying the bible’s teachings and acting contrary to the gospel of Christ. Some verses out of many are these in James, Titus, and I & II Timothy:
Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.
But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy…
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,
Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient,
In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth…
But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.
Some have wondered at the sad contradiction between the teachings of the bible and the cruelties that have been perpetrated in the name of Christ. Yet, it is no mystery that many fallen and ignorant people should fall short of wonderful spiritual truths, distort them, and corrupt them. Human nature being what it is, it would have been more surprising if all of these good teachings had been consistently followed. At any rate, those who have corrupted the teachings of Christianity will receive their just reward on the day of judgement, when they have to explain to Christ why they disobeyed his most basic teachings and caused people to hate and fear his name.
Here a simple but important point must be raised; failure to understand it has caused a great deal of confusion. That is, there is more to being a Christian than just saying “I am a Christian.” There is more to the Christian life than being baptized as an infant, going to church regularly, and unthinkingly drinking in the evils of a world that the bible teaches is inherently dark and sinful.
Being a Christian requires receiving the Spirit of Christ: as it says in Romans:
Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his…But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.
Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.
For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
Receiving this Spirit leaves room for natural human error even as we strive to be more like Christ, but there are fruits of the Spirit that should be evident to some degree. As Jesus said, “A tree is known by its fruit.” Paul describes the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
Those who lack the Spirit and walk according to the natural man (described in the bible as “the flesh”) are characterized thus in the same letter:
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Thus, those who appear to the world as Christians, and even sincerely believe themselves to be such, but practice hatred and murder, and do not repent of their wickedness, are alienated from Christ, and false Christians. As it says in I Corinthians (“charity” being an archaic word meaning “love”):
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
It also says in I John, “… no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him,” and “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”
The idea that there are false Christians, incidentally, is not an escape mechanism that I have cleverly devised to avoid the whole problem of evil done in the name of Christ. Jesus referred to false prophets, wolves in sheep’s clothing. He also spoke of those who will come before him on the day of judgement, having done many things in Christ’s name, only to be cast out:
“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
These are like the foolish man who heard Jesus’ sayings but did not do them. He built his house not upon the rock, but upon the sand – when the storms came his house collapsed. This is an apt metaphor for the church in Nazi Germany.
John also refers to false Christians: “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth” and “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
James and Paul describe people who deceive themselves with an outward appearance of religion:
For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:
For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,
Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away…
Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.
On the other hand, there are some aspects of biblical teaching that give credence to the assertion that Christianity is inherently antisemitic. One is the teaching is that Judaism is outmoded and has been superceded by the new revelation and the new covenant in Christ. Another has to do with the fact that the Jews had Christ crucified. Thirdly, Christ himself made severe denunciations of the Jewish leaders, which have been mistakenly applied to the Jewish people as a whole. Finally, the New Testament does contain some negative statements about Jews.
Salvation by grace through faith alone
The first of these, that the Jews cannot earn God’s favor by keeping the law to the best of their ability, is in no sense antisemitic because it applies to the whole world without exception. Jews, Hindus, Moslems, Buddhists, theists of whatever sort, practitioners of numerous other world religions, even Christians who feel that being baptized into the church and following its rules entitle them to forgiveness and eternal life – none of them can earn their way into heaven by their good deeds. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, all require forgiveness for sin, and this forgiveness is obtained only through Christ. Jews may object to this message as untrue if they like, but it is not antisemitic.
The crucifixion of Christ
More complex is the problem of the death of Christ. The Jews have suffered because of this, but to respond to Christ’s crucifixion by disobeying his commandments, by showing hatred to others, shows a complete misunderstanding of essential teachings.
First, Christ laid down his life voluntarily. He did not have to die, and could have delivered himself. He was a willing sacrifice.
Second, this death was part of God’s plan – as it says in Acts:
Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:
Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.
Third, the Gentiles also had a hand it this event. Although Pilate washed his hands, this futile gesture does not alter the fact that for the sake of political expediency he knowingly handed an innocent man over to a cruel death. Pilate’s guilt, and the guilt of the Gentiles, is described by Matthew Henry in his Commentary on the Whole Bible [www.ccel.org/h/henry/mhc2/MHC00000.HTM]:
They delivered him to Pontius Pilate; according to that which Christ had often said, that he should be delivered to the Gentiles. Both Jews and Gentiles were obnoxious to the judgment of God, and concluded under sin, and Christ was to be the Saviour both of Jews and Gentiles; and therefore Christ was brought into the judgment both of Jews and Gentiles, and both had a hand in his death…
(2.)This puts him into a great strait, betwixt the peace of his own mind, and the peace of the city; he is loth to condemn an innocent man, and yet loth to disoblige the people, and raise a devil that would not be soon laid. Had he steadily and resolutely adhered to the sacred laws of justice, as a judge ought to do, he had not been in any perplexity; the matter was plain and past dispute, that a man in whom was found no fault, ought not to be crucified, upon any pretence whatsoever, nor must an unjust thing be done, to gratify any man or company of men in the world; the cause is soon decided; Let justice be done, though heaven and earth come together–Fiat justitia, ruat c?lum…
(3.) Pilate thinks to trim the matter, and to pacify both the people and his own conscience too, by doing it, and yet disowning it, acting the thing, and yet acquitting himself from it at the same time. Such absurdities and self-contradictions do they run upon, whose convictions are strong, but their corruptions stronger. Happy is he (saith the apostle, Rom. xiv. 22) that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth; or, which is all one, that allows not himself in that thing which he condemns.
Now Pilate endeavours to clear himself from the guilt,
[1.] By a sign; He took water, and washed his hands before the multitude; not as if he thought thereby to cleanse himself from any guilt contracted before God, but to acquit himself before the people, from so much as contracting any guilt in this matter; as if he had said, “If it be done, bear witness that it is none of my doing.” He borrowed the ceremony from that law which appointed it to be used for the clearing of the country from the guilt of an undiscovered murder (Deut. xxi. 6, 7); and he used it the more to affect the people with the conviction he was under of the prisoner’s innocency; and, probably, such was the noise of the rabble, that, if he had not used some such surprising sign, in the view of them all, he could not have been heard.
[2.] By a saying; in which, First, He clears himself; I am innocent of the blood of this just person. What nonsense was this, to condemn him, and yet protest that he was innocent of his blood! For men to protest against a thing, and yet to practise it, is only to proclaim that they sin against their consciences. Though Pilate professed his innocency, God charges him with guilt, Acts iv. 27. Some think to justify themselves, by pleading that their hands were not in the sin; but David kills by the sword of the children of Ammon, and Ahab by the elders of Jezreel. Pilate here thinks to justify himself, by pleading that his heart was not in the action; but here is an averment which will never be admitted. Protestatio non valet contra factum–In vain does he protest against the deed which at the same time he perpetrates. Secondly, He casts it upon the priests and people; “See ye to it; if it must be done, I cannot help it, do you answer it before God and the world.” Note, Sin is a brat that nobody is willing to own; and many deceive themselves with this, that they shall bear no blame if they can but find any to lay the blame upon; but it is not so easy a thing to transfer the guilt of sin as many think it is. The condition of him that is infected with the plague is not the less dangerous, either for his catching the infection from others, or his communicating the infection to others; we may be tempted to sin, but cannot be forced…
…Observe, 1. Where this was done–in the common hall. The governor’s house, which should have been a shelter to the wronged and abused, is made the theatre of this barbarity. I wonder that the governor, who was so desirous to acquit himself from the blood of this just person, would suffer this to be done in his house. Perhaps he did not order it to be done, but he connived at it; and those in authority will be accountable, not only for the wickedness which they do, or appoint, but for that which they do not restrain, when it is in the power of their hands…
Next, speaking to the Jews who were directly involved, Peter did not say in the first sermon at Pentecost, “Your actions have bound you and the entire Jewish nation under a curse, you are doomed and there is no hope for you.” His approach was to confront them with their guilt, but then to offer them forgiveness through repentance and faith in Christ. This was the consistent approach of all of the apostles throughout the entire New Testament subsequent to the crucifixion. Even after Paul was attacked by a Jewish mob that tried to kill him, and had to be rescued by Roman soldiers, he still tried to reach out to his attackers. The idea that the Jews are cursed, doomed, and beyond the gospel is a false notion that has no biblical basis.
Finally, it could not have been a huge mob of millions of Jews that appeared before Pilate and demanded the death of Christ. What shall we say of the Jews who did not approve of this deed, and sorrowed at the death of Christ? What of those who were scattered throughout the world and were wholly ignorant of what occurred? Are their remote descendants to be exempted from the commandments of Christ obligatory on all Christians, to show the love of God to man? Nowhere in the New Testament does it suggest that the Jews are less than human, or that they have been removed from the bounds of ordinary human decency and Christian charity.
Christians are not called to be agents of God’s wrath. We are called to be ministers of reconciliation, our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, offering the love of God to all, Jew or Gentile. If they respond or not is in the hands of God.
Christ’s denunciations of the Pharisees
Christ’s denunciations of the Pharisees are well-known. Suffice it to say, he was not speaking of the common people, but of a corrupt leadership. These comments were not a blanket condemnation of the Jews as a whole. The statement about Jews being children of the devil in John is plainly referring to those who were plotting to kill him (8:37), not to all Jews. That murderers are children of the devil is a general truth that applies to the entire human race, not only to Jews. Also, Jesus said “Inasumuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.” Thus, Communists or medieval inquisitors who killed true Christians for their faith are guilty of the same crime and share the same evil as the Jews who plotted to kill Christ.
Other criticisms of the Jews
Stephen in the book of Acts refers to the Jews as “stiffnecked” and says that they “resist the Holy Ghost.” He points out that they killed their own prophets and betrayed and murdered Christ. Is this antisemitism? The Old Testament prophets also had a great deal to say about the wickedness of the Jewish people. Isaiah refers to the Jews as “a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers: they have forsaken the Lord.” Is this antisemitism, or a statement of fact?
It is a fact that the Jews are sinful and wicked people; however, as Paul makes very clear in Romans, the sin of the Jews is the sin of the entire human race. “We have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (3:9-10). Thus, when Paul criticizes the Jews in I Thessalonians, he not only indicts the Jews, but says to the Thessalonians in the same sentence:“for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen.”
In conclusion, an objective reading of the New Testament should leave no doubt that Christians who hate and persecute Jews or anyone else are acting in disobedience to the teachings of Christ and the apostles.