Reading the Bible is a very interesting exercise. But even more interesting is watching other people read the Bible. Where you see one thing, they might see something completely different. Here is a case in point. Robert contends that the Bible teaches anti-Semitism. I know what you’re thinking: “But Jesus, Paul and most of the new testament writers were Jews. In fact, the first Christians were Jews. How then could they hate Jews?” Well, it beats me too and Robert admits that it puzzles him. What he does not do, however, is see that as undermining his point.
His first example is 1 Thesalonians 2: 14 – 16
“ For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people 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 everyone 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.”
Robert quotes only the last two words in verse 14 and has huge problems with this passage. According to him, “There is no ambiguity here. The Jews (not just some of them, all of them) have killed Jesus. God is angry with them and they will be punished. They are contrary to all men. Here, in the supposed message of love, we find the seeds of hatred and Anti-Semitism that led to centuries of terrible consequences.”
Paul was writing to the Thessalonians and reminding them that they had suffered at the hands of their own people, what the early Jewish Christians had suffered from the Jews. Evidently, he is referring to some Jews, not all of them. It is hard to imagine the Jewish Christians persecuting themselves. Paul then continues that those Jews (the Christian ones again not included) were displeasing God by being so hostile and trying to prevent evangelism of the Gentiles, that they are heaping up their sins and being punished by God.
It is easy to see that this does not amount to a condemnation of Jews as a people (Paul was a Jew himself) but a condemnation of the actions of certain Jews, actions which were certainly worthy of condemnation. The only way you can find anti-semitism there is if you’re actively looking for it. Next, Robert goes on to Peter. You know, Jewish Saint Peter, first head of the Christian church. Apparently, Peter made this anti-Semitic statement in Acts 2: 22, 23
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”
I find the statement unremarkable. Jesus had been crucified a few weeks before, after Pilate succumbed to the crowd screaming “crucify him!” Peter stands up to a crowd in that same city, probably containing some of the same people, and informs them that the Jesus they killed is alive again. He does not stop there. He tells them that God offers forgiveness of sins for everyone who accepts Jesus. If Peter hated them, he would not be offering them salvation. That is what love does, not hatred. Peter’s accusation does not constitute anti-semitism either. Not just because he was a Jew himself, but because accusing someone of something they did is not hatred. In fact, accusing someone of something they did not do is not hatred either. It can be motivated by hatred, but it is not hatred necessarily.
He also uses Paul’s letter to Titus. Paul says in Titus 1: 10, 11 “For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain.”
Paul is here talking about some circumcised and uncircumcised people and denouncing their wrongdoing. He even picks on Cretans specifically, saying “One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.”This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith”. He is not asking Titus to hate Cretans and circumcised people. He is asking Titus to warn and counsel them to lead better lives.
Robert’s final quotes are from Jesus. In John 8:44, Jesus claims that children of God believe in him, with the implication that those who hear his words and reject it are children of the devil. Robert bills this as a claim that all Jesus (including Jesus, apparently) are children of the devil despite Jesus’ statement that it is true only of those who reject him. The other is from Matthew 23: 31 – 35. Read it for yourself. It is the same basic principle. Jesus denounces the Pharisees and teachers of the law, a subset of Jews who opposed him, and Robert calls it an attack on Jews.
It is hard to decide what to say in circumstances like this. It seems obvious that Robert, if he has read the Bible with care, should see the problem with him claims. Yet, he does not and I am unable to see why. I have heard talk of the Bible’s antiseitism before. Then, I read Romans 9: 1 – 5
“I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.”
In that short lament, Paul comes across as significantly less than anti-semitic. I must have fallen in love with him after that. He had his shortcomings, but anti-semitism was not one of them.