And the Bible is supposedly Anti-Semitic

Jews for Jesus logotype
Jews for Jesus logotype (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

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I’m Tracy

11 thoughts on “And the Bible is supposedly Anti-Semitic”

  1. Thanks again for the reference. As I mentioned in my article it seems absurd that Jews would be anti-Semitic, but then again anti-semtism is absurd. Have you ever heard a logical anti-Semitic argument?

    While the disciples were originally Jews they left it to become Christians. The bitterest splits are between those who were once on the same side. for example lovers quarrels are far harsher than arguments among strangers. So its not unusual for the disciples to become bitter towards the religion they left.

    You come to the conclusion that there is no evidence of anti-semitism in the Bible. But then where did it come from? Why was the Church so bitterly hostile to Jews up until the Holocaust? Why are anti-Semites under the impression religion supports their view? For example my native Ireland was the scene of anti-Jewish pogrom in 1904. It was led by the Bishop of Limerick who worked up a mob by claiming the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. If my post is so inaccurate then where did the Bishop get his idea from and why did people believe him?

    Regarding the individual quotes, it is interesting you skip the main quote used by anti-Semites for generations, Matthew 27:25 in which the Jews supposedly claim Jesus’s blood should be put on their children. 1 Thesalonians does not blame just a few Jews, it blames all of them. You can try and cover it but you’re really adding details. You similarly gloss over Acts 2:23. It is not the mob that is being condemned, it is all Jews. He is clearly saying, he was good to you and you spat in his face. Honestly he doesn’t sound like he’s in a forgiving mood. You reading of Titus is unbelievable. Here it is being said that Jews should be silenced (killed) and you don’t see the problem with that at all? Yes Jesus condemns the Jews as children of the Devil and being Jews they naturally reject him so my point still stands.

    As I mentioned before I don’t think the original disciples hated the Jews, with possible exception of St. Paul and possible the Gospel of John. However I don’t believe the Bible is a perfect book and I think its highly likely that later additions were made to the Bible and words were put into people’s mouths. This is almost certainly the case with John 8:44 as none of the other Gospels mention it and some even say Jesus was completely silent during his trial

    1. Thanks for responding.

      Firstly, my conclusion was that the Bible does not support anti-semitism. That means that the words in its books do not teach hatred towards Jews as a people, and the writers, being Jews themselves, did not support the hatred of Jews. The early Christian animosity towards Jews could have come from a lot of places. There was the fact that the first persecution of Christians was carried out by Jews. And once a group of people are sufficiently hostile towards another, they don’t find it difficult to find justification for their actions. The fact that people believe something says nothing about its truth. The fact that bishop of Limerick blames a group of people for events that happened 1900 years before they were born says more about him than it does about the Bible.

      I skipped Matthew 27:25 because I did not think it contributed to the claim that the Bible teaches anti-semitism. It has the Jews saying that whatever punishment there was for Jesus death should be visited on them and their children, presumably because they believed they were doing the right thing and therefore, had no punishment to fear. What you said was that people used it as justification for persecuting Jews. Of course, they used it. But the verse does not advice anyone to persecute Jews, nor does it nullify the command to love one’s enemies or advice hatred or declare any persecution against Jews just. If I decided that I deserve death for committing a particular crime and you kill me, you are still guilty of murder because you are not God, not has he given you the authority to take lives.

      What you seem to be saying is that in 1 Thessalonians, Paul was blaming every infant, toddler and old person in Judea for actively persecuting Christians, killing prophets and Jesus. Paul comes across as a lot more intelligent than that. When I pointed out that Paul was not speaking of all the Jews, I mentioned one group of Jews that obviously did not take part in the persecution – the Christians who were being persecuted. So, obviously, there were people who did not partake of it.

      I’m beginning to suspect that you’re tripping on the noun phrase “the jews”. Is English your second language by any chance? when someone uses a phrase like “the Jews’ or “the Christians” or “the Americans”, they do not necessarily mean every single individual in that set. It is used to speak of a majority or a subset of the people.

      Acts 2 has Peter calling the people ““Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem”. That hardly seems the way to start a hateful rant. I did not say that he was condemning the mob. I merely presented a picture of what was going on. My problem was with the idea that Peter somehow saw every single individual jew in the city (men, women, suckling babies) as responsible for Jesus’ death. In fact, Peter calls the people his fellow Jews (admitting that he himself was a Jew) and then proceeds to tell them that they killed Jesus. So, obviously there is at least one Jew he wasn’t accusing. My second point
      was that even if he was blaming every single Jew (infants included), that does not make his speech hateful, because blaming someone for something they did not do is not necessarily hatred. My final point was that He offered them salvation, which is not what you do to someone you hate.

      The quote from titus is saying that there are “many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception” and that many of them are part of the circumcision group and that these (rebellious people) should be silenced. It does not focus on Jews, like I pointed out. It picks on cretans too. Yes, I think that people who practice deception should be silenced, but the silencing being spoken of here is not death. Paul said to “rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith”, not kill them.

      and finally, I said that Jesus condemned some of the Jews, those who rejected him and praised those who accepted him as children of God. ““If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me.’ Obviously, he wasn’t speaking of all Jews because there were Jews who accepted him – the apostles for instance. I’m sure he would have told gentiles the same thing.

      Now, if you believe these to be later additions, perhaps you would like to produce some early manuscripts that do not contain them. That is, afterall, how you prove that something is an interpolation. As far as I know, there is no such thing and these verses are authentic.

      Mostly, I have just repeated what I said in the blog post because you repeated what you said in your post and hardly responded to my criticism. I love conversations, but I don’t like repeating myself. It feels pointless. So, unless we can figure out why we disagree, we’ll have to stop this. Here are some places I think we might be experiencing confusion
      1. When I speak of Jews, I speak of them, not in the religious sense, but in the racial sense. I think that is what Peter meant when he said “fellow Jews” in his speech. He was still a jew in the racial sense, but not in the religious one
      2. That when you speak of later additions to the gospels, you mean additions after they were written, not before.

      Finally, I don’t think the ten or so sentences in your fourth paragraph constitute an adequate response to my criticism of your argument. You spend about one sentence on each point and you spend them repeating what you have already said, not responding to what I said. In order to carry on a discussion like this, we both need to full develop and express our thoughts and one-liners just don’t so that. If time is an issue, I’d prefer that you took as much as you want. But if it is the case that this is really all you have to say, it is better to say nothing.

      I hope you understand my point. Have a wonderful day.

      1. I think you’ll find that many modern anti-semites have had Jewish origins. So there’s nothing at all strange about the idea that the disciples hate the Jews for killing Christ.

        That Peter starts with ‘fellow’ doesn’t mean anything. A psychological ploy, typical political gambit. You hear it all the time, one politician or another claiming ‘fellowship’ with the crowd when in fact nothing could be further from the truth and really all they want is their ears long enough to persuade them to do the opposite of what they should.

        Perhaps more importantly, what makes the disciples and Christians anti-Semites is that the Semites are all going to hell by the very fact that they refuse to accept Christ as their saviour. You can rail against this fact all you like but at the end of the day it’s just ignoring the horrible truth.

      2. “[What makes] Christians anti-Semites is that the Semites are all going to hell by the very fact that they refuse to accept Christ as their saviour.”

        Once again nothing could be further from the truth. All people would go to hell if they refuse to accept the salvation God offers them through Jesus. There’s no particular attack at any single race, and semites (whether or not they’re Jewish) are perfectly welcome to join the church. Remember once again, Jesus, Peter, Paul, John, et cetera were all Jewish! They certainly weren’t preaching that they were all hell-bound for being the descendants of Shem.

        There were problems with racism in the early church, but this was racism for the Jews and against those who spoke Greek. This was both in terms of their theology (whether they considered a Gentile able to be a Christian) and their practical work (they gave more generously to the Jews in need than the Gentiles.) That racism was dealt with fast and firmly.

        Now you have a choice: you can continue to malign billions of Christians in a way that says more of your prejudice than it does anything about us, or you can actually find out the truth.

  2. While this is well put, I think it omits the most conclusive rejoinder to the “Christ Killers” excuse for anti-Semitism. Check out Luke 23:34..

    1. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” – John 11:34a

      You’re right. That Jesus asked forgiveness for them makes anyone anti-semite who claims to follow Jesus either confused or worse. These things should be obvious.

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