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Is the New Testament Anti-Semitic?

From the time the Church triumphed over the paganism of the Roman Empire and assumed the mantle of worldly political power, the dark shadow of anti-Semitism has been its lasting shame. This deadly shadow has hovered above the terrible deeds of the Crusaders, the Inquisition, the pogroms and the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust. What is the basis of this horrifying hatred? Does anti-Semitism spring from the New Testament itself?

In a quest for the roots of anti-Semitism, many authors have asserted that texts of the New Testament are “tainted with anti-Jewish allegations.” The Gospel of John has often been singled out as particularly guilty. The foremost reason is John’s frequent use of the term “the Jews”-many times in hostile or confrontational settings.

Although this is true, it must also be said that the Gospel affirms that Yeshua (Jesus) is a Jew and that there was a segment of Jews who were supportive of him (John 7:40, 8:31, 10:19-21, 42).

But the question is whether criticism or unflattering descriptions in and of themselves constitute anti-Semitism. If so, then the Hebrew Bible itself must be judged accordingly. For example, the most sacred work of the Jewish community, the Torah, records Moses calling his people “stiff-necked” and “rebellious.” I count no less than eight historical descriptions by Moses of Israel’s absolute defiance of their God in the first four chapters of Deuteronomy.

Moses is the first in a succession of Jewish prophets (including Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea and Amos) who call Israel to task for the profanation of her holy calling. And yet, I am not aware that the Torah or Hebrew Scriptures have ever been labeled “anti-Jewish.” Why? We recognize these struggles as an intra-Jewish religious tension in an attempt to aid Israel toward the goal of her high calling; not as attempts to condemn Israel as the worst people on earth.

Written by Dr. Robert Vasholz

Dr. Robert I. Vasholz is professor emeritus of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary, where he has taught since 1975. He is now pastoral associate at First Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Georgia.


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