Antisemitism is usually defined as a racist view that regards Jews as a distinct people, driven toward greed, political domination, and perversion, such that even converting to Christianity cannot erase this biological taint. Given that definition, the New Testament is not antisemitic. Mary and Joseph, Peter and Paul, Mary Magdalene and Jesus himself, are Jews.
Select Passages (a few of many)
Matthew’s insistence that “all the people” (that is, all the Jewish people) shouted to Pilate, “Let [Jesus] be crucified.… His blood be on us and on our children” (
In John’s Gospel, Jesus refers to the “Jews” (Greek: Ioudaioi) as being “from your father, the devil” (
The Arguments (a few of many)
Rejecting the thesis that the New Testament is anti-Jewish, scholars make several arguments. In each case, other scholars counter.
First, some scholars distinguish between authorial intention (i.e., what the author had in mind) and the reception of the text (i.e., how readers interpret). The New Testament writers were not anti-Jewish, they argue; to the contrary, Matthew, John, Paul, et cetera were Jews arguing with fellow Jews, and an in-house argument cannot be anti-Jewish. However, the gospels may not have been written by the people to whom they are ascribed, the authors of Mark and Luke may have been gentiles, and Hebrews is anonymous. Nor do we know their target audiences, whether a small group or any follower of Jesus. But we do know that gentiles (non-Jews) read these texts. Jesus the Jew spoke with fellow Jews, but when his words appear in a narrative directed to non-Jewish audiences, they take on different connotations. Paul, the apostle to the gentiles (
Second is the claim that the New Testament is no more anti-Jewish than Israel’s prophets or the Dead Sea Scrolls. The claim is correct but not conclusive. Jews preserved the books of Amos and Hosea, not the New Testament. The Dead Sea Scrolls are historically situated sectarian texts, not works proclaimed in gentile contexts. Nor do two wrongs make a right: invective is still invective.
The third argument notes that the New Testament may sound anti-Jewish, but that is because the Jews were expelling Jesus’s followers from synagogues (see
Fourth, some scholars argue that the New Testament cannot be anti-Jewish because it celebrates Jewish concerns: the G-d of Israel; Abraham, Moses, and David; Jerusalem; the Jewish Messiah. In
Fifth, some readers correctly note that rabbinic Judaism makes negative comments about Jesus, so the New Testament is no worse than the Talmud. The problem here is the comparison base. The New Testament should be familiar to every Christian, but most Jews have never seen a Talmud or know what it contains. Nor again do two wrongs make a right.
Finally, some Christians insist that the text cannot be anti-Jewish, because anti-Jewish views are contrary to divine will and the New Testament is divinely inspired. Other scholars distinguish between theological proclamations and conclusions based on historical or literary evidence.
While scholars debate whether the New Testament is anti-Jewish, we agree that it has been interpreted in ways that promote hatred of Jews and Judaism. Most Christians do not consciously read their texts as promoting hatred of Jews; most see Christianity as about love, not hate. But as long as the text is proclaimed, readings that suggest the Jewish people are demonic, evil, or otherwise despicable will surface. It is our responsibility—whoever we are—to counter such readings.
- Reinhartz, Adele. Cast Out of the Covenant: Jews and Anti-Judaism in the Gospel of John. Lanham: Lexington Books/Fortress Academic, 2018.
- Levine, Amy-Jill. “Christian Privilege, Christian Fragility, and the Gospel of John.” Pages 87–110 in The Gospel of John and Jewish-Christian Relations. Edited by Adele Reinhartz. Lanham: Lexington Books/Fortress Academic, 2018.