Christianity and Anti-Semitism

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Art by Brad Winslow

Introduction

Since the shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday, countless Christians are “standing” in solidarity with their “elder brothers” and sisters of the Jewish faith, opposing anti-Semitism. While I have already written conciliatory articles on Jewish-Christian relations, discussing the relationship between Hanukkah and Christmas and the Jewish and Christian Passovers. In the present article, I want to address and respond to anti-Semitic interpretations of certain passages in the New Testament.

Biblical Passages Appearing to be Anti-Semitic

On the Day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter says to his own people, the Jewish people, “[Y]ou, with the help of wicked men, put him [Jesus] to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2:23, NIV). Elsewhere, Peter says, “You killed the author of life.” (Acts 3:15a, NIV). Such verses can easily be misunderstood as making anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish remarks.

Interpreting Scripture in the Light of Its Context

The Bible is literature and, as with any kind of literature, it can be incorrectly interpreted or taken out of context and, thus, misunderstood. In the context of the above-quoted passages, Peter is saying that the authorities of the Jewish religion — not Jews as a whole — along with the Roman officers, at the order of Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea, crucified Jesus. Hence, both Jewish and Gentile leaders were responsible for the death of Jesus.

Peter, then, is holding the leaders or authorities responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. Thus, the apostle is not condemning the entire Jewish race – past, present and future – for the death of Jesus. The same point is made evident from Peter’s speech to the Sanhedrin, the religious authorities, addressing them as “Rulers and elders of the people” (Acts 4:8, NIV).

Avoiding Anti-Semitic Conclusions

Hence, not all Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus. Such an erroneous conclusion can and, in fact, does lead to anti-Semitism. In other words, Gentiles begin to hate and persecute the Jewish people, even to the point of killing them. Therefore, a particular group of Jews, namely, the Jewish religious leaders; in a particular place, namely, the ancient city of Jerusalem and its outskirts; at particular time, namely, the first century, circa. 33 C.E., crucified Jesus. It is wrong, then, to conclude from the biblical texts that every Jew, in every place and at every time killed Jesus.

The Jewish Origins of Christianity

Admittedly, there still are anti-Semitic Christians. However, they either ignore or are ignorant of the Jewish origins of the Christian religion. There are at least five reasons that Christians cannot and should not be anti-Semitic. First, Jesus of Nazareth, the Founder of Christianity, was a Jew and worshiped the same God as the Jewish people. Second, all the apostles were Jews, not Gentiles. Third, with the exceptions of the Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, all the books in the New Testament were written by Jews. Fourth, Christian forms of worship were borrowed from synagogue worship. Fifth, Christians are taught by Jesus to love others, not hate them. Christians, then, should not hate people of different races and religions. That is why Christians must neither persecute nor kill others for being different, including the Jewish people.

Conclusion

Therefore, anti-Semitism is based on incorrectly interpreting passages about the Jewish people in the Christian Scriptures. But an accurate reading of both the Jewish and Christian Scriptures is vital to maintaining peaceful and loving relationships between Jews and Christians.

May we Christians not see our Jewish “brothers and sisters,” to paraphrase Martin Buber –the eminent Jewish philosopher and theologian – as “Its,” as things to be used, abused and discarded, as though they were unwanted objects. But rather let us view the Jewish people as they really are, namely, “Thous,” human beings to be respected and loved, as precious and and non-repeatable persons in the sight of God.

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