In Bible study yesterday morning, the prospect of a possible antisemtic bias in Scripture was raised.

We were studying Acts chapter 3 where the story is told of Peter and John healing a man who has been “lame from birth.” In response to the crowd’s awe at the miracle, Peter delivers a sermon. He begins by assuring his audience that the healing they have just witnessed did not occur because of any power or piety in himself or John. It is a great beginning for his sermon.

But, from this brief humble opening, Peter’s sermon moves quickly to heap a pile of shame and blame on his audience:

13The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. (Acts 3:13-15)

Leavening aside the problematic collective “you” Peter uses here, it is difficult not to wonder what would have been lost in this sermon if Peter had moved straight from his assurance that the healing did not take place by virtue of his and John’s piety or power in verse 12, directly to verse 16 where he affirms that the miracle occurred by virtue of

faith in the name of Jesus, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you. (Acts 3:16)

Given the history of Christian theology subsequent to the New Testament, the charge of antisemitism in the text cannot be lightly dismissed. As followers of Jesus we need to acknowledge that some of the roots for an anti-Jewish attitude may lie in our own sacred text.

There can be no doubt that the history of Christian tradition is riddled with sometimes virulent antisemitism. Here are a few examples:

I Thessalonians 2:15,16

the Jews, 15who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone 16by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they have constantly been filling up the measure of their sins; but God’s wrath has overtaken them at last.

St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 – c. 395) – bishop of Nyssa

Jews are slayers of the Lord, murderers of the prophets, enemies and haters of God, adversaries of grace, enemies of their fathers’ faith, advocates of the devil, a brood of vipers, slanderers, scoffers, men of darkened minds, the leaven of Pharisees, a congregation of demons, sinners, wicked men, haters of goodness!”

St. John Chrysostom (c.347-407) Archbishop of Constantinople – “Eight Homilies Against the Jews”

How dare Christians have the slightest intercourse with Jews! They are lustful, rapacious, greedy, perfidious bandits: pests of the universe! Indeed, an entire day would not suffice to tell of all their rapine, their avarice, their deception of the poor, their thievery, and their huckstering.

Are they not inveterate murderers, destroyers, men possessed by the devil? Jews are impure and impious, and their synagogue is a house of prostitution, a lair of beasts, a place of shame and ridicule, the domicile of the devil, as is the soul of the Jew. As a matter of fact, Jews worship the devil; their rites are criminal and unchaste; their religion a disease; their synagogue an assembly of crooks, a den of thieves, a cavern of devils, an abyss of perdition!

Why are the Jews degenerate? Because of their hateful assassination of Christ. This supreme crime lies at the root of their degradation and woes. The rejection and dispersion of the Jews was done by the wrath of God because of His absolute abandonment of the Jews. Thus, the Jew will live under the yoke of slavery without end.

God hates the Jews, and on Judgment Day will say to those who sympathize with them: “Depart from Me, for you have had intercourse with My murderers!” Flee, then, from their assemblies, fly from their houses, and hold their synagogue in hatred and aversion.”

St. Augustine (November 13, 354 CE – August 28, 430 CE)

The Jews wander over the entire earth, their backs bent and their eyes cast downward, forever calling to our minds the curse they carry with them.

Pope Stephen III (c. 720 – 1 February 772) “Epistle to the Bishop of Norbonne”

With great sorrow and mortal anxiety, We have heard that the Jews have in a Christian land the same rights as Christians, that Christian men and women live under the same roof with these traitors and defile their souls day and night with blasphemies!

Pope Innocent III (1160 or 1161 – 16 July 1216)

Crucifiers of Christ ought to be held in continual subjection.

When Jews are admitted out of pity into familiar intercourse with Christians, they repay their hosts after the fashion of the rat hidden in the sack, or the snake in the bosom, or of the burning brand in one’s lap.

Blessed Julian of Norwich ca. 8 November 1342 – ca. 1416

I knew in my faith that the Jews were accursed and condemned without end, except those who were converted.

Martin Luther (10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546), “On the Jews and Their Lies”, 1543

I had made up my mind to write no more either about the Jews or against them. But since I learned that these miserable and accursed people do not cease to lure to themselves even us, that is the Christians, I have published this little book, so that I might be found among those who opposed such poisonous activities of the Jews…

They are nothing but thieves and robbers who daily eat no morsel and wear no thread of clothing which they have not stolen from us by means of their accursed usury.

My advice is this: First, their churches or synagogues should be set on fire…

Secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed.

Thirdly, they should be deprived of their prayerbooks and Talmuds in which such idolatry, lies cursing and blasphemy are taught.

Fourthly, their rabbis must be forbidden under threat of death to teach any more…

Fifthly, passport and traveling privileges should be absolutely forbidden to Jews…

Sixthly, they ought to be stopped from usury…they remain our daily murderers and bloodthirsty foes in their hearts. Their prayers and curses furnish evidence of that, as do the many stories which relate their torturing of children and all sorts of crimes for which they have often been burned at the stake or banished…let us apply the same cleverness (expulsion) as the other nations, such as France, Spain, Bohemia, etc. and drive them out of the country for all time…so that we may be free of this insufferable and devilish burden – the Jews.

Pope Pius V (From his Bull, “The Jewish Race,” Feb.26, 1569)

The Jewish people fell from the heights because of their faithlessness and condemned their Redeemer to a shameful death. Their godlessness has assumed such forms that, for the salvation of our own people, it becomes necessary to prevent their disease. Besides usury, through which Jews everywhere have sucked dry the property of impoverished Christians, they are accomplices of thieves and robbers; and the most damaging aspect of the matter is that they allure the unsuspecting through magical incantations, superstition, and witchcraft to the Synagogue of Satan and boast of being able to predict the future. We have carefully investigated how this revolting sect abuses the name of Christ and how harmful they are to those whose life is threatened by their deceit. On account of these and other serious matters, and because of the gravity of their crimes which increase day to day more and more, We order that, within 90 days, all Jews in our entire earthly realm of justice — in all towns, districts, and places — must depart these regions..

Blaise Pascal (9 June 1623 – 19 August 1662) French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Christian philosopher

It is a marvelous thing to observe the Jewish people existing for so many years and always in misery, for it is necessary as proof of Jesus Christ both that they should continue to exist and that they should be miserable because they crucified him.

Padre Pio (May 25, 1887 – September 23, 1968) Capuchin priest from Italy venerated as a saint in the Catholic Church

The Jews are enemies of God and foes of our holy religion.

1920 official statement of Polish Roman Catholic bishops regarding the Jewish role in world events

The race which has the leadership of Bolshevism in its hands has already in the past subjugated the whole world by means of gold and the banks, and now, driven by the everlasting imperialist greed that flows in its veins, is already aiming at the final subjugation of the nations under the yoke of its rule. (Friedlander, Saul. The Years of Extermination, p. 25)

It is not a pretty picture. But it is dishonest and irresponsible to fail to acknowledge with sorrow a link between the Christian tradition of hatred towards Jewish people and the horrors that have been perpetrated against Jews for centuries.

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