Continued from Part I
Third and Fourth Passages: Acts 3:15 and Acts 2:23
There are other texts in the New Testament, which appear to be anti-Semitic. For example, the apostle Peter says to his own people, the Jewish people, “You killed the author of life.” (Acts 3:15a, NIV). Elsewhere, Peter declares, “[Y]ou, with the help of wicked men, put him [Jesus] to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2:23, NIV). However, those passages, upon closer examination, do not mean that all Jews, the entire race of men, women and children, are responsible for the death of Jesus.
Correctly Interpreting Biblical Passages in the Light of Their Context
In the context of the passages Acts 3:15 and 2:23 , 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. In the words of the Second Vatican Council,
“True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today.”1
Peter, then, 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).
In summary, a particular group of Jews, namely, the Jewish religious leaders; at a particular place, namely, the ancient city of Jerusalem and its outskirts; in particular time, namely, the first century, circa 33 C. E., crucified Jesus. Thus, it is wrong to conclude from the Bible that every Jew, in every place and at every time killed Jesus. Therefore, an accurate interpretation of New Testament texts is vital to counteracting anti-Semitism, hatred of the Jewish people, and maintaining peaceful relationships between Jews and Christians.
The Glory of the Jews as God’s Covenant People
The apostle Paul, himself a Jew, writing after the crucifixion and death of Jesus, asks, “What advantage … is there in being a Jew?” (Romans 3:1a, NIV). Then Paul proceeds to answer: “Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God” (Romans 3:2, NIV). That is to say, God honors the Jewish people by entrusting to them his special or particular will for humankind in the Hebrew Scriptures. Elsewhere, Paul expands on the glory of the Jews, saying,
“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” (Romans 9:4b-5, NIV, 2011).
Paul’s teaching on the Jews as God’s covenant people is incompatible with the anti-Semitic view of Jews being cursed by God for crucifying Jesus. To settle his argument that God is not finished with his plan of salvation for the Jewish people, Paul writes, “I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means!” (Romans 11:1a, NIV, 2011). Again, Paul says, “God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew” (Romans 11:2a, NIV, 2011). Contrary to the anti-Semitic Christendom of the past in Germany, in 1980, Christians came together to “deny that the people Israel has been rejected by God.”2
Even with the advent of Christianity, the Jews are still God’s chosen people, “for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29, NIV). Therefore, “When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People, ‘the first to hear the Word of God.’”3 There is a sense, then, in which the Jewish people are the “elders brothers and sisters” of Christians in that the Jews are the first to whom the Word of God is revealed.4
The Incompatibility of Anti-Semitism and Christianity
Therefore, it is absolutely, univocally and categorically wrong for Christians to be anti-Semitic. However, Bishop Kallistos Ware, of the Orthodox Church, admits that there are, even after the Holocaust, Orthodox Christians who struggle with anti-Semitism, saying, “All too often in the lands that are traditionally Orthodox – whether Greek, Slav, or of other nationalities — there exists a virulent anti-Semitism, far worse than anything normally encountered in this country [Britain].”5 To counter anti-Semitism, the Orthodox Bible, in no uncertain terms, condemns any notion of the Jews being Christ-killers, calling such thinking “a grave and terrible sin,” “wounding” the Christian soul with hatred and alienating Christians from friendly relations with the Jewish people.6
Counteracting Racism in the Christian Community
Christians are taught by Jesus to love others, not hate them. That is why the disciples of Jesus must neither persecute nor kill the Jewish people. In fact, many Christians feel grieved and embarrassed over the harm inflicted on the Jewish people, not a few of whom claim to be “Christians.”7 Wittingly or unwittingly, they contribute to racism, with its anti-Jewish sentiment, by presenting “Inaccurate, inflammatory accounts of the crucifixion” [of Jesus] and, thereby, “poisoning” the minds of people, inciting them to hate the Jews, even to the point of persecuting and killing them.8 Therefore, Christians should heed the admonition of Kallistos Ware, when he writes, “[L]et us never by deed or word show the slightest disrespect or hatred for the people of Israel. They are still God’s Chosen People.”9
Christians, to paraphrase Martin Buber – the eminent Jewish philosopher and theologian – should never view the Jews as “Its,” as things to be used, abused, destroyed and discarded, as though they were unwanted objects. Rather, the disciples of Jesus should view the Jewish people as they really are, namely, “Thous,” human beings, to be respected and loved as persons, precious and non-repeatable in worth to God.
- The Second Vatican Council. 28 October 1965. Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate), no. 4. Vatican/The Holy See. [Web:]http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_nostra-aetate_en.html [Date of access: 6 April 2019].
- Synod of the Evangelical Church of the Rhineland: Towards Renovation of the Relationship of Christians and Jews, no. 7. 1980. Boston College: Center for Christian-Jewish Learning. [Web:] https://www.bc.edu/content/dam/files/research_sites/cjl/texts/cjrelations/resources/documents/protestant/EvChFRG1980.htm [Date of access: 18 April 2019].
- Catechism of the Catholic Church (Liguori, MO.: Liguori Publications, 1994), no. 839. Cf. Nostra Aetate, no. 4.
- Pope John Paul II. 13 April 1986. Discourse during the Visit to the Synagogue of Rome: The Roots of Anti-Judaism in the Christian Environment: Discourse to the. Vatican/ The Holy See. [Web:] http://www.vatican.va/jubilee_2000/magazine/documents/ju_mag_01111997_p-42x_en.html [Date of access: 16 April 2019].
- Kallistos Ware. 1996, 2007. Has God Rejected His People? Reflections on the People of Israel. In Communion: Website of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. [Web:] https://incommunion.org/2007/05/01/has-god-rejected-his-people/ [Date of access: 17 April 2019].
- The Orthodox Study Bible, eds. Joseph Allen, Jack Norman Sparks, et al. (Nashville, TN.: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2008), p. 1324.
- Louis Goldberg, Our Jewish Friends, p. 154.
- Ibid., pp. 31, 139.
- Kallistos Ware. 1996, 2007. Has God Rejected His People? Reflections on the People of Israel, op. cit.