Is the New Testament Anti-Semitic?

Recent opposition to The Passion of the Christ, a movie based on the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ suffering and death, has given rise to criticism of the New Testament as anti-Semitic. Given the wide range of meanings the term anti-Semitism carries for different people, it is important to begin this discussion with its accepted definition. Here is the primary meaning of anti-Semitism in the Webster’s Third New International Dictionary:

anti-semitism, n. usu cap S, 1: hostility toward Jews as a religious or racial minority group often accompanied by social, economic, and political discrimination.

A generalized hatred of all Jews for whatever reason—whether that of religious, ethnic, or economic rivalry—is undeniably wrong, and can reasonably be called anti-Semitism. However, it is extremely important for the sake of honesty and clarity in communication that the term not be applied so broadly that any criticism of any Jew or group of Jews is considered to be anti-Semitism, a hatred of all Jews.

Even though the Old and New Testaments confront the errors of Jewish people, both are written out of love for Jew and gentile alike. Like the Old Testament, the New Testament isn’t anti-Semitic. It was written almost entirely by Jews, endorses Jewish tradition, and highlights the significance of the Jewish people (John 4:22; Acts 13:46; Romans 3:1-2; 11:1-2, 11-12, 14-36 ).

The Jewish-born authors of the New Testament do have some serious issues with some of their countrymen. It condemns the militant Jewish nationalism that was determined to drive the Romans from the land regardless of the consequences, legalistic adherence to the letter of the law in violation of its intention and spirit (Matthew 15:1-9; Matthew 23), and Sadducean denial of the resurrection (Matthew 22:23-33 ).

These New Testament criticisms, however, are no more anti-Semitic than was similar criticism leveled against unfaithful Jews by earlier Jewish prophets (Deuteronomy 31:16-18; 32:18; Amos 2:4-7; Isaiah 29:13 ).

The New Testament contains an internal Jewish critique of aberrant Jewish practice and doctrine, but it also records how Jews of all backgrounds—Pharisees and Sadducees, rich and poor—responded to the Messiah. It never portrays Judaism or Jews as evil in themselves, but—like many orthodox Jews today—assumes that Judaism apart from the Messiah is incomplete.

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