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"Christian anti-Semitism" is an Oxymoron

December 14, 2018

"Christian anti-Semitism" is an Oxymoron

 

But what about forced conversions? Widespread expulsion from major countries of Europe? Pogroms?  Centuries of persecution by Christians?  And what about the horrifying anti-Semitism of some of Martin Luther's writings?1  And the German Church's condoning the Holocaust?  All those were horrible, tragic chapters in history. 

 

But these were not Christian acts.  How can I say that??

 

To explain requires a definition of terms.  In modern parlance, the word "Christian" is a huge, undifferentiated umbrella sheltering everyone from the Grand Inquisitor, to the Grand Wizard of the KKK, to the nastiest bigot who proudly sits in the pew every Sunday, to the nice family who makes a point of attending church regularly...every Christmas, to prominent religious leaders who commit serial adultery or wheedle money from the poor to finance private jets. Anyone can call themselves a Christian, and anyone can create their own definition.

 

But the only true definition of a Christian comes directly from the Bible.  In the new Testament, a Christian is defined as someone who faithfully follows Christ--who believes and practices the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles.  According to that definition, "Christian Anti-Semitism" is a complete contradiction in terms. 

 

I know most modern Christians do not think they are anti-Semitic.  But despite the best intentions, prejudice can come through in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.  Witness Vice-President Pence and his pseudo-rabbi who prayed in the name of Jesus after the Tree of Life tragedy.  So regardless of whether you think you have prejudice, it is always a good idea to be reminded of what the Bible really says, and to be reminded of how terribly God has been misrepresented by the lies that have been lived out by Christians in the past in their hatred and discrimination against the people God chose. 

 

But what about all the justifications which have been given by "Christians" throughout history to justify hatred, contempt and discrimination against Jewish people?  That's a good question, which deserves a thoughtful answer.  So let's look at those "justifications" one by one.

 

Rationalization #1: Racism

 

Yes, I know. This is the deep secret reason.  No modern Christian will admit that this is their motivation--at least no "Christian" except for White Supremacists and the KKK.  But this sentiment, this deeply buried contempt and superiority, is bubbling just beneath the theoretically civil veneer of our society.  Maybe it is not held by Christians.  Or maybe it is...  But, regardless, many Christians have kept silent instead of boldly rebuking such sentiments and showing solidarity with their spiritual ancestors.  And, as the tragic Tree of Life shooting demonstrated, in recent months this hostility has begun to boil through the surface civility.  Thus it must be addressed. 

 

How do we know that Anti-Semitic racism is a violation of Christian principles?  This is almost too obvious to explain, but based on the attitudes people some Americans feel empowered to exhibit in recent months, it clearly needs to be explained.

 

1. Jesus was Jewish. 

2. All the Apostles were Jewish.

3. Every Christian for the first few years after Jesus death was Jewish.

4. The Bible used by the early Christians was the Jewish Bible.

5. Early Christians often worshipped in Jewish synagogues.

 

Are you seeing a pattern here?  You cannot love Jesus and the Christian church and hate Jewish people.  It's just not possible.

 

But if that alone were not enough, there are plenty more reasons that hatred or contempt towards any racial group is a violation of the principles of Jesus. 

 

6. "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Gal. 3:28.  Not much commentary needed there.

 

7. "And [God] has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth...., for in Him we live and move and have our being...‘For we are also His offspring.’" Acts 17:26,28.

 

8. "Then Peter began to speak: 'I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.'"  Acts 10:34, 35. It is an ironic twist  that this passage records the instant in which Peter has the world-changing revelation that God loves and accepts the Gentiles, as well as the Jews.

 

There are plenty more, but I think those are sufficient to make the point. 

 

Rationalization #2: "I don't hate Jewish people, I just believe their teachings are heresy."

 

Really?  Because Jesus didn't.  He said, "Salvation is of the Jews."  John 4:22.  And he constantly quoted and referred to, "the law and the prophets."  In other words, the Jewish Bible. 

 

And Paul didn't.  He wrote, "What advantage is there being a Jew?...  Much in every way.  For to them were committed the oracles of God." Romans 3:1-3.  In fact, all the Apostles were constantly quoting and referencing those same "oracles of God."  One biblical scholar, for example, has determined that out of 404 verses in Revelation, fully 300 of them reference, quote or borrow symbols directly from the Old Testament.3 God's plan of salvation was laid out in detail in the Old Testament. 

 

Rationalization #3 "The Jews killed Christ!"  

 

But is that really true?  If you read the Gospels carefully it becomes clear that the people responsible for killing Jesus were a small cabal of powerful religio-political leaders of the Jewish state.  Men who had become corrupted by the lust for control, wealth and religious fanaticism.  Men who saw Jesus' radical teachings as a threat to their political and religious hegemony and their way of life.   

 

A close reading of the book of John, often read as being the "most anti-Semitic Gospel," because of its negative portrayal of "the Jews," reveals that two groups are repeatedly referenced--"the Jews" and "the people."  At first glance, "the Jews" seems like a very odd description since everyone who appears in the Gospels--except for the odd Samaritan, a Phoenician, some Greeks and a few Romans--is a Jew.  And that includes the followers of Jesus. 

 

But the term becomes clear when you realize that "the Jews"  is a code word for the rulers of the Jewish religious state; the powerful elite and members of the ruling council. 2

 

These leaders were desperate to maintain their power, and their cozy, lucrative relationship with the Roman government. They also feared a loss of religious control as Jesus' teachings undermined their carefully-constructed religious traditions which obscured the true religion given them by God.  Thus it was these "Jews" who killed Jesus and viciously persecuted the early Christians.

 

"The people," also Jews, by the way, were made up of the majority of the people of Palestine.  They were the ones who followed Jesus in crowds numbering many thousands, who sat on hillsides for entire days listening to His teachings, and who crowded around him begging for healing. John 6:10,24; Luke 6:17

 

"The people" included the masses of Jewish citizens who lined the streets of Jerusalem to throw down palm branches before Jesus, honoring Him as a King. John 12: 12-14

 

"The people" were the crowds whose passionate support for Jesus frightened the religious rulers so much that, instead of arresting Jesus in public, they resorted to ambushing him in a deserted garden in the middle of the night.  Luke 22:1,2

 

"The people" included the "daughters of Jerusalem" who lined the route Jesus took to Golgotha and wept for Him. Luke 23:27-29  It included even powerful Jewish leaders like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who buried Jesus in the tomb he had prepared for himself. 

 

The Jewish religious leaders of Christ's day constitute merely one of scores of historical examples of the corrupting, destructive effect of joining the coercive power of the state with religious authority. 

 

Their motivations were no different, and their impact less widespread than the "Christian" kings, popes, and priests responsible for imprisoning, torturing and killing thousands of innocent people whose only crime was their religious beliefs, or the "Christian" rulers responsible for pogroms.  

 

Judaism and the Jewish people as a whole were no more responsible for the death of Jesus than Christ is responsible for all the horrors that have been committed in His name.

 

Rationalization #4: "But Christians replaced the Jews as God's chosen people." 

 

"No!" say the Apostles, "the Jews were never replaced."  As Paul put it, "I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.  God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew." Rom.11:1,2

 

Paul goes on to explain that the Jews are the original olive branches, and "If some of the branches have been broken off, and you [the Christian believer], though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root,  do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you."  Rom. 11:16,17.  He also made it clear that "as far as election is concerned, [the Jews] are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable." Rom. 11:28,29.

 

God did not replace the Jews, He just opened the doors to include the Gentiles as well.  Reaching the whole world--and that includes the Gentiles--with God's message and God's love has been God's plan from the beginning of history, as numerous passages in the Prophets attest.  

 

"Nations will stream to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawning," (Is. 60:3) and "[T]he Lord says to those foreigners who become part of his people, who love him and serve him, who observe the Sabbath and faithfully keep his covenant:  “I will bring you to Zion, my sacred hill, give you joy in my house of prayer, and accept the sacrifices you offer on my altar. My Temple will be called a house of prayer for the people of all nations.” (Is. 56:6,7) are only two of many such promises. The Jews were the original branches, Paul explains; the Gentiles are merely grafted onto the original vine. 

 

Yes, Christians and Jewish people disagree about whether Jesus is the Messiah.  But according to Jesus and the Apostles, theological disagreement is never a legitimate justification for hatred, persecution or discrimination.  It is not a license to consider oneself superior to another person.  Indeed, the New Testament makes it clear that Gentile Christians have no legitimate basis for considering themselves superior to Jewish people.  Quite the contrary, according to Paul.

 

God loves all people, and has given each person freedom to choose "whom they will serve."  Anyone who attempts to abridge that freedom, by contempt, hatred, coercion or intimidation is fighting against God.

 

As Christians, we have suffered an incalculable spiritual loss from our disconnection from the "original branches."  Our theology has been impoverished by our refusal to learn from the original holders of "the oracles of God" the profound insights gained from their millenia of dedicated study of the Holy Books we share.  Instead of harboring hatred, distrust and contempt, it would be a much greater tribute to our Christianity to approach these great biblical scholars with respect and humility, so we can learn from them to better understand and appreciate the God we worship.

 

1. I am not suggesting the Martin Luther was not a Christian.  He was a great man who did much good in freeing the Church from centuries of oppression.  However, in his views toward the Jewish people, he unfortunately suffered from a toxic prejudice which caused him to express ideas completely at odds with the principles of the Bible.  So on that subject, his views were not truly Christian.

 

2.See http://catholicstraightanswers.com/how-should-we-understand-the-use-of-the-term-the-jews-in-the-gospel-of-st-john-which-at-first-hearing-seems-anti-semitic/

 

2. This was shared in a recent lecture by Dr. Ranko Stefanovic, Professor of New Testament, Andrews University, Michigan.  Dr. Stefanovic is an authority on the Book of Revelation.

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