John the Anti-Semite?

For years, I refused to read any of John’s writings. I thought the Gospel of John was a bunch of mumbo jumbo and the Book of Revelation was full of craziness. Thanks to the Reverend Ken Wyant’s Bible study at Irvine United Congregational Church, I changed my opinion about the Gospel of John—but I still want to ban Revelation.

One of the reasons John’s Gospel annoyed me was that some verses can be read as anti-Semitic. For example, in John 8:44, Jesus says to a group of Jews, “You are from your father the devil.” That’s harsh! White supremacists love to use this verse to justify condemning all Jews as Jesus killers, even though nothing in the New Testament comes close to suggesting that position.

The only people in the Gospels who were eager to get rid of Jesus were a few Jewish leaders who didn’t like Jesus because he condemned them and said, “Woe to you. . . . For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25). That’s harsh!

Jesus directed these remarks to only a few Jewish leaders, never to all Jews. Lest we forget, Jesus lived and died a Jew, as did his disciples and Paul. The early church was primarily Jewish and stayed that way until sometime in the late first century CE, when Jesus’s followers separated from Judaism—for good reason: They believed Jesus was the Messiah. Mainline Jews didn’t. The solution was simple: split!

Here’s a question: Could a Jew be anti-Semitic? I don’t think so. That would be an oxymoron. John was frustrated that the Jewish leadership wouldn’t accept that Jesus as the Messiah, so he lashed out at them in his Gospel with name calling.

The Gospel account of the Jews’ role in Jesus’s execution is suspect for several reasons. History tells us that the Romans did not have public trials, especially for those claiming to be a king. Traitors to the Empire didn’t get a trial—they received an immediate crucifixion.

I doubt that the story of Pilate offering to release either Jesus or a prisoner named Barabbas to the Jews ever happened because no one can verify the “custom” of releasing one prisoner at Passover, let alone exchanging him for another. Jesus likely never faced trial. The exchanges between Pilate, Herod, and the Jewish leaders are fictional because no one was there taking notes about who said what to whom. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’s trial are folklore designed to let the Romans off the hook for murdering Jesus and place the blame on the Jews who rejected the Followers of the Way.

I don’t deny for a second that Jesus deliberately irritated the Jewish hierarchy and that they wanted him out of the way, but a more plausible scenario is that the Jewish high priests went to Pilate before Passover and suggested that if he got rid of that pesky Jesus, they would guarantee the Jews would give the Romans no trouble during the Passover celebration. Pilate liked that idea because his future hinged on keeping the Jews in the Jerusalem area quiet.

The claim that all the Jews killed Jesus is fallacious. The bottom line is that the Romans were entirely responsible for Jesus’s execution, and the Gospel of John is exonerated from the accusation of anti-Semitism.

What think ye?


Image courtesy of Waiting for the Word (CC BY 2.0)

4 thoughts on “John the Anti-Semite?”

  1. I don’t’ have much use for the gospel of John. It is completely different from the Synoptic gospels.n the synoptic gospels ,Jesus plainly says he doesn’t do signs and yet, John says Jesus does nothing but signs. Almost all the stories are completely different.

    I think John’s gospel was written for his particular congregation. It was very late…almost 100 AD. It doesn’t mention God’s Kingdom which was Jesus’ primary lesson. It had to be second or third generation old. It was certainly, as were all the gospels,written by someone educated in Greek and common fishermen and most common people did not read…let alone write. I realize all the gospels were anonymously and named much later. None of them were the original disciples of Jesus.

  2. You mention that Jesus condemned those who attend to forms and fail to have decent character: He said, “Woe to you. . . . For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25).

    The image of the dirty inside of a gleaming cup is one of the jewels of Matthew. I often wonder how much putrid garbage is inside my cup, not that I even clean up the outside. I take the message as one of many full-throated condemnations of “greed and self-indulgence”.

    As for the deliberate anti-Jewish messages of the Gospels, there they are. The Greek writers relentlessly include express condemnation, and subtle innuendo, against Jews. Curiously, the Roman centurions, soldiers, and even Augustus, come out portrayed as dignified and worthy of authority. Both the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation are written in Homeric style and terms–they are Greek epic tales of a tragic hero.

  3. Hi Bill A little bit off the subject but there’s a great article in today’s times Thursday, June 7 in the editorial section faith there’s an app for that I found it very interesting about the younger generation spirituality . I would look forward to a further discussionabout this generation and the church of the future


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