Is Christianity Anti-Semitic?

The recent synagogue shooting in Poway, California, has focused attention on an abiding question regarding Christians and Jews: Is Christianity inherently anti-Semitic?

According to The Washington Post, John Earnest, the young man allegedly responsible for the death of one Jewish worshiper and injuries to a rabbi, a child, and another synagogue-goer, was a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Escondido, a suburb of San Diego. And before he walked into the Jewish house of worship to open fire, he apparently penned a seven-page letter that, among other things, connected his murderous actions with traditional teachings of his evangelical church.

The particular teachings most relevant to the violence were two: (1) that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus Christ; and (2) that the promises made in the Old Testament to Israel have been transferred to the Christian Church, which supercedes the nation of Israel in God’s global plan of salvation.

By the middle ages, furthermore, teaching (1) had morphed into the idea that not only did the Jewish authorities of his day kill Jesus, but all Jews ever since collectively bear the guilt of that unjust and terrible act.

So let’s sort things out.

First, the New Testament makes it clear that Jewish leaders conspired with Roman leaders to do away with Jesus as a political annoyance. Pick up a Bible, read through the last third or so of any of the gospels, and you’ll find the same story. Jesus taught inconvenient truths, so the powers of his place and time opposed him. Thus has it ever been.

The larger theological point is that, from the Jewish point of view of the early church (and the early church was constituted almost entirely by Jews), there are only two kinds of people in the world: Jews and “the [other] nations,” or Gentiles. At that time, the Romans dominated those other nations as they dominated the (Mediterranean) world. So when the Jewish leaders and the Roman leaders together mistreated Jesus, symbolically the whole world did him in.

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