The origins of Christian-Jew hatred ― Is the New Testament Antisemitic?

This was the provocative title of a talk held at the Sydenham Highlands North Community Centre recently, under the auspices of the CAJE as part of a series of talks on Antisemitism. While not agreeing with many of the conclusions reached, the speaker, Dr. Jocelyn Hellig, to her credit, was well aware of the provocative nature of the subject and handled it with a degree of sensitivity. The following tract was written before the talk, hence not in direct response to anything Dr. Hellig said.

Definition of Terms

The descendants of Noah’s son Shem are called Semites. This includes Jews, Arabs and Palestinians. Some Jews are descendants of converts to Judaism and are therefore not natural descendants of Shem. Many Jews would regard Arabs and Palestinians as their enemies and this hatred could equally be termed Antisemitism.

The first ones to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah were Jews. In fact Christianity was, unquestionably, a Jewish movement. During the first century in particular, and in every subsequent generation, millions of Jews believed that Jesus was the Messiah and were regarded as Christians.

Since the destruction of the temple in 70AD, Judaism has been predicated upon a rejection of Jesus as the King Messiah. The Jewish Christians in fact suffered intense persecution, the first of which was at the hands of fellow Jews – This could also be termed Antisemitic. (Seventy million Christians have been martyred for their faith since AD33, forty-five million in the 20th century alone).Those Jewish Christians who were expelled from the Synagogue did not preserve their religious or racial identity with that body of Jews who rejected Jesus as the Messiah. Their children were raised as Christians. No one knows how many descendants of Jews are to be found within the Church.

Misrepresentations of Christianity

Jude, also a Jewish-Christian, described how some godless people who were not sincere in their profession of faith in Christ, had infiltrated the church, thereby bringing the Christian testimony into disrepute. He referred to these impostors as blemishes at your love feasts (Jude verses 4 and 12).

The apostle John wrote concerning those who claimed to be Christians: If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother (1 John 4:20-21).

In other words, anyone who claims to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, yet expresses hatred toward other people, including hatred toward Jews, is not a true disciple of Jesus Christ.

Antisemitism and Anti-Christianity

Hatred and hostility of any kind usually results in a backlash and escalates to great proportions causing divisions and prejudices. The question could equally be asked: “Is the Talmud a book which expresses hostility towards Gentiles, Christians and Jesus Christ?”

The writers of the New Testament were, with the exception of Luke, all Jews who were eye-witnesses of the teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They claimed that this written testimony and expression of faith in Jesus was the New Covenant made with Israel according to the promise given by the LORD through the prophet Jeremiah (ch. 31:31-34), because the people had broken the covenant made at Mount Sinai.

God himself spoke through the prophet Isaiah saying, “these people worship me in vain, their religion is but rules taught by men.” Does this make God Antisemitic? The prophets often used harsh language to rebuke their fellow-Jews for their unfaithfulness e.g. “brood of evil-doers,” (Isa. 1:4). But this is not seen as Antisemitic. In the same manner, the New Testament, written by Jews to Jews (and to future Gentile converts), records the harsh rebukes of Jesus the Messiah toward those who were plotting against him.

Where the New Testament refers to “the Jews” it is clearly referring to a distinct faction within the Jewish community that was actively opposing Jesus – i.e. they were Anti–Messiah/Christ. These were Judeans, religious Jews who regarded Jews from Galilee as inferior and who saw Jesus and his followers as a threat to their own authority. The New Testament should be seen within this context. The prophets predicted the tension that would arise between fellow Jews on account of the Messiah: . . . Your brothers who hate you, and exclude you because of my name” . . . a man’s enemies are the members of his own household (Isaiah 66:5, Micah 7:6)

The More Important Question

Those who will be easily persuaded that the New Testament is Antisemitic would do well to examine their own ingrained prejudice towards Jesus. Why did Jesus himself say, “They hated me without reason?” The question that every Jew should ask is not whether the New Testament is Antisemitic, but rather: “Is the New Testament the truth?”

Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:16-18).