Isn’t the New Testament Just “Chock Full” of Anti-Semitism?

The year was 2004 and I made a new friend over a movie. I am a believer in Messiah Jesus and she was an older Jewish woman writing an editorial over the most controversial movie of the year – The Passion of the Christ. This was before the film’s producer and director made his now infamous anti-Semitic remarks. This was before the film made $612 million in 2004. This was before the Christian community lined up for a movie like never before and never since.

My friend wrote that she was afraid that the movie might stir up a storm of some of the latent anti-Semitic feelings among Christians that could be just “beneath the surface” because of the latent anti-Semitism in the New Testament. I found her address and wrote her a letter expressing my sorrow over her fears and expressing to her the truth about what the “rest of the Biblical story” really says. We became friends over this movie and despite rough patches because of miscommunication that was actually caused by neither one of us … we are still relatively friendly to this day.

However, there are verses that need to be considered and so we will look at some of them below as well as what is meant by the phrase “the Jews.”



Confusion or is the New Testament Just Anti-Semitic?


Positive” Verses Negative” Verses
Romans 9:1-51 Thessalonians 2:13-16
John 4:22Matthew 27:25
Colossians 3:11; Galatians 3:28Acts 2:36
1 Corinthians 9:19-23; 10:31-33
Revelation 2:9; 3:9
Matthew 10:5-6; 15:21-28
John 8:44
Romans 15:7-33Matthew 23:34-39
Romans 1:16; 10:1; 11:11Romans 10:1-4

Explore Messiah…? can’t list all the positive and/or negative verses that people will provide for you if you do an internet search. However, we wanted to be transparent enough with you to list some of the favorites on “the hit parade.” And, honestly, a coin was flipped to decide whether to go “positive” or “negative” in examining some of these passages and TAILS won.

Negative” Verses of the New Testament

Regardless of whether HEADS or TAILS had won, I would have begun with this same sentence –

Understanding any Scripture begins with understanding background, context and who is talking and who is being addressed.

If you take any of those three components out of the equation, you will end up with a bad interpretation of the passage. This has been done throughout history whether in the form of cults leaders or for evil, personal intentions. So … let’s begin.

  • When Jesus is Talking…
    • In both John 8:44 and Matthew 23:34-49, we find Jesus in the midst of confrontation with either Pharisees and/or Torah leaders of the Jewish people. Now it should be understood in background and context that the Pharisees and the Sadducees (who were not mentioned in these passages but often were present at conflict moments) were in political and religious opposition and so for them for to “be ganging up” against Jesus in so many encounters was counterintuitive because the Pharisees actually had more in common with Jesus’ teachings (i.e., Resurrection from the Dead) than they did with the Sadducee).
    • Context of the whole passages (John 8:12-59 and Matthew 23:1-39) – Jesus is stating that he is the light of the world and that those who follow him will no longer walk in darkness but rather in light
      • In John 8, the oft-repeated insinuation, also found in the Mishnah, against Jesus’ parentage had been thrown out (v. 19) and and later (v. 48), he is accused of being possessed and a Samaritan which is the equivalent of the worst pejorative you could
        throw out today
      • Ultimately, Jesus’ statements John 8:44 and Matthew 23:34-39 is an example of self-defense and truthful sadness because their denial of the truth will lead many astray
  • When Peter, John or Paul are Talking…
    • Acts 2:36 – This was 50 days after Passover, the Omer had been counted and so we are talking about Shavuot (the word in the Christian vernacular has been adapted to be called Pentecost).
      • If you look back at the first verses of the chapter, something amazing has happened – a miracle! And the coward of the Crucifixion (Peter) has the courage to preach a sermon to the same people who like him had been in Jerusalem 50 days earlier during Passover/Crucifixion for all Jewish males were commanded to come to Jerusalem 3 times a year (Exodus 23:17)
      • The sermon which begins in verse 14 (and be sure to read verses 23-24) recounts what had happened 50 days earlier and yes reminds them of their possible participation in the Crucifixion so that Peter can offer them the same forgiveness he was given in John 21
      • This is why it is important to read Acts 2:37-41
    • Revelation 2:9; 3:9 – John is not really talking in these passages but merely recording what the angel is telling him to write down but … you get the idea.
      • “…who say they are Jews and are not, but are of the synagogue of Satan…” – without context this sounds awkward and weird and uncomfortable does it not? This is why the understanding of allegory and metaphor along with context is so important
      • If you pick up ten Christian commentaries, you will get anywhere from 2-3 interpretations on who or what this phrase means. Some will say it means angry Jewish leaders who oppose Christian teachings. Some will say it Gentile proselytes to Judaism. Some will say it is Roman citizens who are just stirring up trouble. Bottom line – we don’t know for sure what it means but the people then did. However, we do know that John never stopped being Jewish and that is evident throughout the rest of his Biblical writings – 1, 2 and 3 John and the Gospel of John
      • Sadly, however, some have used these verses to criticize Jewish people and they should be condemned and Tzedakah Ministries and Explore Ministries…? does so without reservation
    • Paul is really given a bad rap by many – especially in regards to Romans 10:1-4 and 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16. In fact, I (Amy Downey) wrote my MA in Theology thesis in part on 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 because it is so misunderstood.
      • In Romans 10:1-4 – Paul does consider the Jewish people blind to the truth of Messiah Jesus and carried away by a righteousness that is not from God but one that is manmade. However, we have to go back to verse one in which he says that his heart’s desire (longing) is for their salvation. He never gives up hoping/praying/ wishing that they will experience the same encounter with Jesus that he had.
      • However, the most controversial Pauline passage has to be the one in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16. On a first reading it seems as if Paul is not only blaming the Jewish people for the death of Jesus but also wishing them to be cursed for all time. However, this is not so and even Julie Galambush (professor at William & Mary and convert to Judaism) acknowledges this fact. She writes in The Reluctant Parting (page 125) that the “the Jews” the passage were similar were to the Thessalonian leaders who were opposing the new Christians in Thessalonica. BTW, this is what I said as well … and we wrote our works at about the same time!
  • When Others Are Talking – Matthew 27:25
    • Even Mel Gibson took this line out of The Passion of the Christ because it is so burdened with misunderstanding. However, we cannot and should not take it out of Scripture if one believes in the Holiness of God’s Word. So … let’s deal with it.
    • First Question – who and how many were really present at Jesus’ trial? Answer – the leaders and the elders of the Temple and the crowds they were able to gather into the Praetorium (not thousands because I have stood there and the most the space will hold it a few hundred)
    • Second Question – who were the leaders and the elders of the Temple? Answer – the Sadducees
    • Third Question – what happened to the Sadducees? Answer – the Sadducees no longer exist because when the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE and so were they destroyed at the same time
    • Fourth Question – can someone pass down a curse like Matthew 27:25 to their children in Judaism? Answer – Yes and No. According to Joshua 2:19, if you did not follow the promise offered to the house of Rahab then it was your fault and your children’s problem because they would never exist. However, we have to remember that Peter could and should have been cursed as well because he denied Jesus THREE TIMES but he was not and offered those perhaps those very same Jewish people “the out” in Acts 2:37-41 because he was granted forgiveness for his denial. No one can curse their children for their denial of Jesus. Everyone makes their own decision about Jesus themselves.
    • Fifth Question – has Matthew 27:25 been used against the Jewish people wrongly throughout history? Answer – Yes and that is a sin that Christians need to atone for now.

Positive” Verses of the New Testament

REMEMBER – Understanding any Biblical Scripture begins with understanding background, context and who is talking and who is being addressed.
  • When Jesus is Talking…
    • John 4:22 and “for salvation is from the Jews” – the setting of the verse is when Jesus encounters the Samaritan Woman (John 4:1-42). Samaritans in Jesus’ time were the unmentionables to the Jewish people but Jesus not only introduces her to hope and forgiveness for her lifestyle choices (5 ex-husbands and a live-in boyfriend) but also tells her that while salvation begins first for the Jewish people it will soon be available to all. This is one of the first acts of inclusivity and welcoming of all races and gender we see in Scripture and it begins with Jesus
    • Matthew 10:5-6 and 15:21-28 – both of these accounts are very similar to John 4:22 but the account in Matthew 15 starts off rather strange because at first glance Jesus seems rude but it was really about testing her faithfulness and diligence. For salvation and redemption in Scripture has always begun with the Jewish people and then been extended to the rest of the world and this is true in the Hebrew Scriptures as well – see Isaiah 49:6-7. It is through Israel and the Jewish people that hope begins and that is why Messiah Jesus was/is Jewish
  • When Paul is Talking…
    • Romans 1:16; 10:1; 11:11 – all of these verses are about order and structure of evangelism – “to the Jew first;” Paul’s heart longing for the Jewish people, and the role of the non-Jewish people to make Jewish people jealous for Jesus. Simple basic verses that I would encourage you to read and consider for yourself…
    • Colossians 3:11 and Galatians 3:28 – Paul is often accused of being anti-woman and all sorts of other things besides anti-Semitic but here in these two passages he is advocating equality of races and genders and social classes. Isn’t that interesting?…
    • 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 and 10:31-33 – sometimes Paul is accused of being hypocritical in these passages because he speaks of being all things to all people so that he can share the love of Jesus with them. To Jewish people he will live as a Jewish person. To non-Jewish, he will not be as observant or observant as all if that will be an obstacle for someone. However, is that being a hypocrite or loving to someone who needs to hear the truth as Paul sees it? You decide…
    • Romans 15:7-33 – a long passage that talks about the unification of the church at Roman that includes both Jews and non-Jews as well as the need to bring back financial assistance to the Jewish believers in Jerusalem who are suffering due to what we understand from history to be persecution and a famine. By the way, Paul is returning to Jerusalem to help his fellow Jewish believers even though it was promised that he will be arrested … and he was (Acts 18-21)
    • Romans 9:1-5 – I love this passage because it was the other half of my MA in Theology thesis. I sought to reconcile this passage with the confusion created in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16. For in this passage, we see Paul offering to not only give up his salvation but also offering to go to hell if that would mean that his fellow Jewish people would receive Jesus as Messiah. Does that sound like a man who hated the Jewish people and sought to “found” a new religion?

So … What is Meant by “the Jews” in the New Testament?

English translations of the New Testament have this awkward phrase (especially in the Gospel of John) … “the Jews.” Hopefully, you can anticipate my responses and arguments:

  1. “The Jews” were the Jewish leaders who opposed Jesus and the disciples and not all Jewish people … not even the majority of people;
  2. This is an example of in-house debate language between Jewish writers and Jewish people who are frustrated with each other because they are at odds on religious viewpoints; and
  3. English translation of Hebrew and Greek idioms sometimes miss the nuances of what is being said and what is not being felt.

Does this make the awkwardness any less awkward? Nope! Do I wish we could find a way of expressing ourselves? Yep!  But it is what it is and we have to be honest about what it is and what it is not. However, I will state that the usage of the phrase “the Jews” is not anti-Semitic but rather awkwardly unfortunate in our PC 21st century culture.

Garry Willis expresses it rather well when he wrote in What Paul Meant: “Paul never thinks of himself as a convert to some new religion. He preaches the Jewish God, [Adonai], and the Jewish Messiah. He preaches in synagogues. When he brings others to believe in Jesus, he teaches them from the Jewish holy writings, which were the only Bible of the day…” (page 12)

I am not going to lie to you … this was a difficult section to write and dissect. I found myself examining many books and myself along the way. One of the questions I asked – How would I feel as a 21st century Jewish individual reading these words at first glance?

And sometimes, the answer was difficult but I hope you will acknowledge that deeper meaning and deeper intention requires deeper reading. So … let’s talk about it at the Café KEHILLAH Discussion Board.

Please also consider reading the sections regarding “Who Is the Real Founder of Christianity?” and “Church History’s Unfortunate Anti-Jewish Reality.” Explore Messiah…? does not avoid the tough question but explores them truthfully and honestly because we all should.

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