Is the New Testament Anti-Semitic?

“One cannot assume that by simply conforming to the New Testament, that antisemitism will not be promoted,” a group of Catholic ecumenist scholars declared, regarding Gibson's film. “After all, for centuries sermons and passion plays based on the New Testament have incited Christian animosity and violence toward Jews.”

Quoted from, The Jesus War, by Peter J. Boyer.


By Christopher J. Patton

For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of you own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out.

They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost. (I Thessalonians 2:14-16)

The above verse might be considered by some to be one of the most anti-Semitic verses in the New Testament. But read it carefully and note the following:

  1. Paul, himself a Pharisee of the Jews (Acts 26:5), addresses early believers in northern Greece - some of whom were Jewish, who are supposed to “immitate” the faith of Jewish believers.
  2. There were many congregations, or “churches”, in Judea before the war with Rome in 67-70 AD that destroyed Jerusalem, the Temple and began the Diaspora of Jewish people worldwide that continues in part to the present.
  3. The main point relates that the Gentile and Jewish believers in Greece have experienced the same kind of perseution as have their brethren in Judea. In other words, both have suffered the same persecution for their faith at the respective hands of their own countrymen. Thus, “Jews” here refers to certain individuals and not to the Jewish people as a nation. To Paul, there is no “distinction between Jew and Greek” (Romans 10:12) on issues of salvation or judgment. Jewish persecution of believers is not treated in a manner any different from Gentile persecution of believers, except that...
  4. Historically, these same individual leaders of the Jewish people were also the ones who killed Jesus, which is what He predicted in John 15:18-16:4. In these verse Jesus points out that the real enemy is “the world” and not per se the Jews or Romans who killed Him. The world is the present materialistic order of things that oppresses all mankind. This spiritual darkness includes governments, economic systems, religious systems, and socio-cultural issues of bias, power, and hate, which are due to Satan’s rulership of the world. Yet, it was, and is, for these human enemies that Jesus purposely surrendered Himself to torture and crucifixion so that they might inherit eternal blessings. (John 14:30-31)
  5. Even though God has established abiding covenants of promise with the Jewish people, through whom all nations may be saved, they can displease Him when they oppose His purposes. (Ephesians 2:11-14) This was true, whether it was rejecting the prophets He sent to the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, or when Jewish persons hindered the spread of the gospel of a Jewish messiah to all nations. Directly to the point of this web site, The Passion of the Christ may reasonably be considered Mel Gibson’s effort to spread the gospel story to all nations in an artistic manner all his own - whether you agree with him about it or not.
  6. “But wrath has come upon them to the utmost”. What does this mean?

    As a result of not recognizing that Jesus was God’s promised Messiah and Son, the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed and the Jewish people were scattered over the face of the earth, where they have suffered repeated persecution until He should return. (Matthew 21:43; 23:37-39) When Jesus returns, He will restore the kingdom of Israel as the head of a worldwide commonwealth of peace, prosperity, and justice. (Acts 3:19-21; Isaiah 2:1-4) He will complete the regathering of His people Israel from the anciently prophesied dispersion to “the four corners of the earth” as opposed to the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities recorded in history prior to New Testament times. (Isaiah 11:1-12)
  7. Just because Jesus prophesied the Jewish people would be scattered and suffer abusive discrimination and worse at the hands of the nations, does not mean that He approves of or condones such treatment of the Jewish, or any people. (Matthew 18:7-11) He taught His disciples to love their enemies and to pray for their persecutors - not hate them, despise them, subjugate them, or drive them into ghettos and incinerators. (Matthew 5:44-48)

So, is the New Testament Anti-Semitic?

I don’t think so. It is a topic that we would like to discuss in greater depth elsewhere at a later date, but for now, let’s return to the question:

Is the best answer to rewrite the gospel, or to better understand it?

I think that everyone would benefit from learning to differentiate the values, behaviors, and beliefs presented in the New Testament documents from their human, non-biblical application in history. By claiming apostolic traditions and/or authority to interpret scripture in the Roman Catholic and/or other Orthodox (usually as official state churches) evolved into human institutions that, in addition to promoting a unified social order and some good deeds, used their political power to force others into compliance with their interpreted, and not necessarily biblical, vision of doctrinal truth and justice.

As a result of this institutionally human disconnect with the Bible, history records pernicious evils perpetrated in the name of, or at least in complicity with, Jesus and the gospels. Objectively, therefore, a rational person should not honestly place a direct cause and effect relationship between the literal reading of New Testament and historical horrors like anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, the Crusades, the Papal wars, the Spanish Inquisition, and other bloody repressions of other religious expressions, including many groups who also claimed to be Christian. These evils came about from an intentional abuse of, or from an ignorant misapplication, of New Testament teachings.

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