Criswell Theological Review 7.2 (1994) 103-123.
Copyright © 1994 by The
WHO KILLED THE LORD?
A DEFENSE AGAINST THE CHARGE OF
ANTI -SEMITISM IN JOHN'S GOSPEL
THOMAS D. LEA
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
The background of Jesus was that of atypical Jewish boy. Jesus was
born of Jewish parents in the homeland of the Jews. He was raised ac-
cording to Jewish customs and dedicated in the temple (Luke 2:41-51).
He passed into adulthood practicing his religion in words and deeds,
and he regularly attended the synagogue. The teaching of Jesus is very
Jewish in its content, and a person hearing it is struck with the authori-
tative demands presented in it (Mark 1 :22).
At the beginning of Christianity numbers of Jews accepted the
claims and teaching of Jesus (Acts 2:41; 4:4). The earliest church was
composed almost entirely of Jews. The idea of admitting Gentiles who
had not initially converted to Judaism provoked a serious controversy
in the church (Acts 15:1-35). The church later became chiefly Gentile,
but a remnant of believing Jews always welcomed Jesus as Messiah
and Lord (Rom 11:1-5).
Most of Jesus' nation rejected his claims. We find evidence of this
rejection in the words of John: "He came to that which was his own, but
his own did not receive him" (John 1:11). Acts closes with Paul describ-
ing the Jews as people whose "heart has become calloused; they hardly
hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes" (Isa 6:10 quoted
in Acts 28:27).
With the passing of nineteen hundred years the involvement of
Jews in the Christian church has changed very little. The church today
is predominantly Gentile, but we find a growing remnant of Jews. The
last two hundred years have produced some remarkable developments
among the Jews, and we see unusual evidence of this in our century.
104 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
The freeing of Jews from ghettos produced greater economic free-
dom for them. Despite some significant setbacks this century has seen
a general diminishing of social prejudice against Jews. Animosity and
prejudice have been replaced in many instances by growing trust and
dialogue. One result of this new freedom has been a constructive study
of Jesus by Jewish scholars.1
The number of Jewish writers on the subject of Christianity has
mushroomed in our century. Jewish publishing houses are increasingly
producing materials dealing with Jesus and the Gospels.2 Jewish writers
demonstrate their own distinctive approach to the Gospels, but most
Christians would take strong issue with their views.
Jewish scholars distinguish between the Jesus of history and the
Christ of faith. They view Christianity as the creation of the apostle
Paul, who imported Hellenistic ideas and changed the message of Jesus.
They show more interest in the teaching of Jesus than in his actions
and claims. The familiarity of Jewish scholars with the Old Testament
and with Jewish backgrounds of the Gospels equips them to share sig-
nificant insights about the content of the Gospels. Most Christians see
a deficiency in their approach, but Jewish scholars can provide assis-
tance in understanding Jewish customs, culture, and mindset.
Contemporary Jewish approaches to the study of Jesus reflect the
following general beliefs by Jewish scholars:
1. Jesus came to reform Judaism, not to bring teaching or ideas
which were new.
2. The content of the Gospels reflects the theology of the early
church and is not always a historically reliable source of information.
3. The Fourth Gospel and Paul are viewed as antithetical to Juda-
ism. Many Jewish scholars do not give them a serious consideration.
4. The contact of Paul with Gentiles in spreading the gospel led
him to form a new religion different from what Jesus had intended.3
The Jews in the Fourth Gospel
The Fourth Gospel uses the term "the Jews" (Ioudaioi) seventy
times. The expression frequently occurs in a context to designate the
1 Donald A Hagner, The Jewish Reclamation
of Jesus (
1984),24. Hagner's survey of Jewish developments proved helpful in providing material
for the summary of this section.
2 The Jewish publishing house KTAV republished Claude Montefiore's work The
Synoptic Gospels in 1968 (first published in 1909). The same publisher has joined with
the Anti-Defamation League in reprinting Samuel Sandmel's A Jewish Understanding
of the New Testament (original 1956; reprint 1974).
3 For additional discussion of these ideas see the chapter in Hagner, "The History
of the Jewish Study of Jesus; 41-71.
Thomas D. Lea: WHO KILLED THE LORD? 105
opponents of Jesus.4 R. Bultmann provided a classic definition to this
hostile use of the term when he said:
The term oi[ ]Ioudai?oi, characteristic of the Evangelist, gives an overall
portrayal of the Jews, viewed from the standpoint of Christian faith; as the
representatives of unbelief (and thereby, as will appear, of the unbeliev-
ing "world" in general).5
Typical of a contemporary Jewish response to the Fourth Gospel is
the article by M.J. Cook, Professor of Intertestamental and Early Chris-
tian Literature at Hebrew Union College.6 Cook indicates that for Jews
"the nub of the problem. . . lies preeminently with one expression in
John, namely, 'the Jews.'"7 He notes that the term "the Jews" appears
only sixteen times in the Synoptics in contrast with the seventy in
John's Gospel. Most of the usages in the Synoptics occur in relationship
with the use of the phrase "king of the Jews," and the term does not
normally denote the opponents of Jesus.
After examining John's use of the term "the Jews,” Cook arrives at
the conclusion that the usage does not "signify any specifically pejora-
tive intent since in other words employing the term the intent is not
necessarily denigrating of Jews."8 Why then did John use the term?
Cook concludes that John is not a historian, and thus we cannot
look to the Fourth Gospel for a historically reliable account of the ac-
tual role of the Jews. He finds support for his view in the Fourth Gos-
pel's usage of expressions describing Jesus, himself a Jew, talking with
"the Jews" (John 10:24). He also sees differences between John's chro-
nology and that of the Synoptics. The appearance of such data in the
Fourth Gospel leads him to question John's historical reliability.
He suggests that John is primarily a theologian who has taken
over the term Ioudaioi as a "symbol of unbelief or disbelief in the
platform John is espousing."9 He feels that the designation of the Jews
as unbelievers reflects the historical perspective from which the Fourth
Gospel was written, a time when Gentile church membership was
growing, and Jewish membership was not. John, according to Cook,
used the symbol of Ioudaioi to picture unbelief or rejection of Christ,
but we should not ascribe too much reality to the portrait. He states
that "by virtue of John's literary license he has imputed to Jesus the
Johannine theology and, insofar as Jesus is presented as the Christ and
4 Note, for example, the references to "the Jews" in 9:22; 10:31; and 19:7.
5 Rudolph Bultmann, The Gospel of John (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971) 86.
6 Michael J. Cook, "The Gospel of John and the Jews,” Rev Exp 84 (Spring 1987)
7 Ibid., 262.
8 Ibid., 264.
9 Ibid., 268.
106 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
insofar as in John the Christ and the Father are one, John has imputed
his personal theology to God personally."10 For Cook the problem with
John's use of the term "the Jews" is that it represents a faulty, errone-
Cook does consider John to be anti-Jewish, and he asks how Chris-
tians of today could deal with the anti-Jewishness of the Fourth Gospel
so as to avoid offending the Jews. He suggests limiting the use of John
in Christian lectionaries and pruning some of the more strident lan-
guage of John into footnotes. He also suggests replacing the term Iou-
daioi in some contexts with a synonym such as "Jesus' own people."11
Cook concludes by saying that
John makes Jesus the only way to God, establishing for Christianity a
monopoly on the truth, and excluding Judaism from access to God. . . . At
the very least, Jews would wish for a deemphasizing of the Johannine view
that "no one comes to the Father but by me" (John 14:6) in favor of the
judgment that "in my Fathers house are many mansions" (John 14:2)!12
Cook's view that John sacrificed historical truthfulness to empha-
size his theological viewpoint is a common approach to solving the
problem of the usage of the term Ioudaioi in the Fourth Gospel.
Slightly different from Cook's view is the outlook of a Jewish
scholar of the previous generation. S. Sandmel, late Professor of Bible
and Hellenistic Literature at the
pel often appears not to be a Jew and, on the other hand, John is widely
regarded as either the most anti-Semitic or at least the most overtly
anti-Semitic of the Gospels."13 Sandmel does suggest that the contro-
versies in John "reflect not Jesus in his age but the ongoing bitterness
between Jews and Christians that had accumulated in the intervening
decades."14 Nevertheless, his concluding sentence in a chapter devoted
to an examination of John is that "one cannot deny the existence of a
written compilation of clearly expressed anti-Jewish sentiments."15
Sandmel recognizes that the term "Jews" is used in the Fourth Gospel
with a variety of meanings, but he views the content of the Gospel as
Cook and Sandmel present an interesting study in Jewish ap-
proaches to the Fourth Gospel. Both believe that the Gospel is anti-
10 Ibid., 270.
11 Ibid., 269.
12 Ibid., 270.
13 Samuel Sandmel, Anti-Semitism
in the New Testament? (
14 Ibid., 118.
15 Ibid., 119.
Thomas D. Lea: WHO KILLED THE LORD? 107
Semitic in its content, but they differ somewhat in their explanation of
the evidence. Cook inclines more to question the faulty theology and
the unreliable history of the Gospel. Sandmel views the writer as anti-
Semitic and as reflecting the suspicions of a later generation of follow-
ers of Christ. Both Jewish spokesmen regard John's Gospel as deficient
in its attitude toward the Jews.
The conviction that the Fourth Gospel is anti-Semitic is an idea
firmly rooted in the minds of many who are not biblical scholars. The
February 9,1995 issue of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette contained the story
of an "educational and moral issue" at
students objected to singing the German text of Bach's "
Passion," The text comes from Luther's translation of John's Gospel,
The protesters found John's frequent reference to Jesus' opponents as
"Jews" unacceptable. Their dean supported their reluctance. However,
one Jewish member of the chorus understood that the text was not
spouting out anti-Semitic ideas but was expressing the Lutheran sense
of guilt and original sin and had no objection to singing the words.16
A thorough analysis of the use of Ioudaioi in the Fourth Gospel
appears in an article by Urban C. von Wahlde,17 Von Wahlde divides
the Johannine usage of Ioudaioi into three categories. First, he notes a
"hostile" usage in which the Jews "desire to kill him, to excommuni-
cate him, to stone him, they accuse him of being possessed, of being a
Samaritan, of blaspheming."18 He finds broad agreement among ten
previous studies on this subject of the Jews in the Fourth Gospel. Writ-
ers of these studies generally agree in their identification of the pas-
sages in the Fourth Gospel which use the term "the Jews" in this
A second category of usage is designated by von Wahlde as "neu-
tral." In this usage the writer has spoken of Jewish customs (2:6), Jew-
ish people not showing hostility to Jesus (3:2-5), and the "king of the
His third usage sees the term Ioudaioi as a reference to the people
(6:41, 52).20 Van Wahlde suggests that the reference in 6:41, 52 is the
only allusion to Ioudaioi in the Fourth Gospel which clearly describes
the attitudes and opinions of the common people. He refers most of
the seventy references to Ioudaioi in the Fourth Gospel to the reli-
gious authorities. Von Wahlde does not support the historical reliability
16 “In Addition to Which,” The Religion and Society Report 12 (May 1995) 8.
17 Urban C. von Wahlde, "The Johannine 'Jews'; A Critical Survey,” NTS 28 (Janu-
ary 1982) 33-60.
18 Ibid., 47.
19 Ibid., 46.
20 Ibid., 45.
108 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
of the Fourth Gospel, and he feels that redactional activity has oc-
curred in the text.21
His suggested solution to the meaning of the term Ioudaioi has
implications for the question of the possible presence of anti-Semitism
in the Fourth Gospel. "The effect of von Wahlde's work is to narrow the
scope of John's vilification from the people and the authorities to the
authorities only."22 The unbelief and opposition in the Fourth Gospel
thus become an effort more supported by the religious authorities than
by the people as a whole.
Still another interesting study of the use of the term Ioudaioi in
the Fourth Gospel has been prepared by M. Lowe. He gathers evidence
from Jewish, Christian, and pagan sources to argue that "the general
picture for the New Testament period is that the primary meaning of
]Ioudai?oi was geographical."23 He allows for the usage among Gentiles
and Diaspora Jews of the secondary religious meaning for the term.
Thus, the term Ioudaioi described "Judeans" in opposition to people
living in other areas of
proximated the entirety of the
Gospel speaks of "
In defense of his position Lowe suggests that the references to
feasts of the Ioudaioi occur in contexts requiring a trip to
ever the context makes it clear that Jesus was
the words heorte, pascha, and other feast names "occur without any
appendage."26 Lowe questions the authenticity of the sole exception
which he finds to this principle in 6:4.27 Lowe interprets the phrase
basileus ton Ioudaion to signify "King of the Judeans" (John 18:33).28
In the instances where controversy develops between Jesus and the
ioudaioi (10:19, 24, 31, 33; 11:45; 19:38) he finds clear reference to the
Judeans. He contents that the rendering of "Judeans" is also the proper
translation in 7:35; 9:22; 12:9, 11; and 13:33. He allows that John 4:9
uses the term Ioudaioi in the sense of "Jews in general" because this
chapter reflects Samaritan usage.29 He accepts that John 18:20 may re-
21 Ibid., 45.
22 R Alan Culpepper, "The Gospel of John and the Jews,” RevExp 84 (Spring
23 Malcolm Lowe, "Who Were the IOUDAIOI?” NovT 18 (April 1976) 106.
24 Ibid., 103.
25 Ibid., 112.
26 Ibid, 116.
27 Ibid., 117.
28 Ibid., 119.
29 Ibid., 124-25.
Thomas D. Lea: WHO KILLED THE LORD? 109
fer to "Jews in general," but he suggests that Jews were Judeans in a
wider sense, and the meaning may still be "Judeans."30
Lowe insists that an understanding of the geographical usage of
the term Ioudaioi in John's Gospel would prevent mistranslation and
the pernicious practice of anti-Semitism. He feels that this error in
translation has led to the practice of blaming the Jewish race for the
death of Jesus (John 19:7) and imputing to them and their descen-
dants the full responsibility for this act (Matt. 27:25).
R. Kysar finds anti-Semitism in the Fourth Gospel, but his method
of finding it is more theological than exegetical.31 To Kysar "the text of
the Gospel nurtures an anti-Semitism that is properly understood only
in the light of the historical origin of the document."32 In a rapid liter-
ary analysis of the text of John's Gospel Kysar makes the following ob-
servations about its treatment of Jews and Judaism:
1. References to Ioudaioi in the Fourth Gospel show that the nar-
rator is detached from Judaism, and the implied reader is thus dis-
tanced from an understanding of Judaism. Such expressions as 2:6 and
3:25 show the detachment of the narrator from Judaism.
2. The narrator presents the Jews as enemies of Jesus. Such pas-
sages as 2:18; 6:41; and 8:48 picture the Jews as opponents who will
seek to kill him (5:16-18; 7:1).
3. The narrator presents the Jews as untrue to their own faith and
tradition. They fail to observe the Torah (7:19), and they are truly the
children of the devil (8:39-44).
4. The narrator presents an ambiguous picture of the Jews by oc-
casionally showing them as admirers of Jesus (10:24) and even as be-
lievers (8:31; 11:45). Those mentioned in 8:31 eventually become Jesus'
opponents, and those in 11:45 take actions to begin the death plot
against Jesus. This ambiguity leads the readers to view the Jews as
opponents of Jesus and his mission.
5. The presentation of Pilate as giving in to the plans of the Jew-
ish leaders (18:31, 38-40; 19:4-8, 12-16) suggests that the Jews alone
are responsible for the execution of Jesus.
30 Ibid., 126, n. 79.
31 Robert Kysar, “Anti-Semitism and the Gospel of John," in Anti-Semitism and
Early Christianity, ed. Craig A Evans and
Donald A Hagner (
1993) 113-27. Many scholars would differ with Kysar in his detection of anti-Semitism
in John's Gospel. Donald Hagner defines anti-Semitism as racial hatred. He designates
anti-Judaism as disagreement with the religious teaching of the Jews. Hagner finds anti-
Judaism in the Fourth Gospel, but not anti-Semitism (see Hagner, Jewish Reclama-
tion . . . , 289). We will frequently refer to this distinction between anti-Semitism and
anti-Judaism in this article. Not all scholars make this distinct a variation between the
terms. For one who seems to equate the two terms see Menahim Benhayim, “Alleged
anti-Jewish Bias in the New Testament: A Response," Bible Translator (July 1994) 339.
32 Kysar, 114.
110 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
6. The narrator presents Judaism as inferior to the message of
Jesus (4:21; 5:39, 45; 6:58). A true Israelite is one who becomes a dis-
ciple of Jesus (1:47).33
Kysar notes after his survey that "the conclusion is inescapable
that the text of the narrative nurtures a negative mentality toward Jews
and Judaism."34 What prompted the narrator to present Judaism in this
Kysar feels that the term Ioudaioi should be seen as pointing to
certain Jewish leaders rather than to the entire Jewish people.35 He
feels that the Gospel was written "in response to the exclusion of the
Johannine church from the synagogue and the subsequent dialogue
between these two religious parties."36 He suggests that the polemical
stance of the Gospel is due to this expulsion. He feels that this polem-
ical quality tells more about "the evangelist and the Johannine com-
munity than it witnesses to the ontological status of the Jews or
Judaism."37 He explains that "the vitriolic attack on Judaism is nothing
more nor less than the desperate attempt of the Johannine Christians
to find a rationale for their existence in isolation from Judaism."38
F. Vouga also raises the issue of the presence of anti-Judaism in
John's Gospel.39 He approaches the issue largely from the standpoint
of the historical background of John's Gospel rather than by making a
complete exegetical examination of a term such as "the Jews." His
conclusion is that
Die johanneische Christologie entwickelt sich innerhalb der judischen
Tradition und in hermeneutischer Auseinandersetzung mit den Pharisaern,
die die Synagoge angeblich kontrollieren. Von einem johanneischen Anti-
judaismus kann insofern nicht die Rede sein, als keine Gegenuberstel-
lung Juden/Heiden, sondern eine Kontroverse innerhalb der judischen
Uberlieferung und innerhalb der Synagoge in der johanneischen Tradition
Since Vouga sees this debate as a discussion between Jews, he is un-
willing to describe it with the adjective "anti-Jewish." The issues in
33 Ibid., 114-17;
34 Ibid., 117.
35 Ibid., 118.
36 Ibid., 120.
37 Ibid., 122.
38 Ibid., 122.
39 F: Vouga, “Antijudaismus im Johannesevangelium," Theologie und Glaube 83, no. 1
40 Ibid., 88. The author's translation is: “Johannine Christology develops within the
Jewish tradition and in hermeneutical debate with the Pharisees, who putatively con-
trolled the synagogue. The speech therefore cannot be from a Johannine anti-Judaism,
since there was no Jewish/Gentile opposition, but rather a controversy occurred within
the Jewish tradition and within the synagogue in the Johannine tradition."
Thomas D. Lea: WHO KILLED THE LORD? 111
John's Gospel revolve around a debate within Judaism itself between
Christian Jews and those who have not responded to Christ.
A final insight dealing with the attitude toward Jews in the Fourth
Gospel comes from the Bible translator R. Omanson.41 He asserts that
NT scholars have "nearly universally conceded today" that the NT con-
tains an anti-Jewish bias.42 Omanson offers four statements summariz-
ing the opinions of contemporary scholars who attempt to counter this
1. Christian scholars have given first-century Judaism a bad press.
2. Scholars today are learning to acknowledge the Jewishness of
Jesus and are attempting to understand him in the context of first-
3. The gospel accounts of Jesus read back into the Gospels the
conflicts of the early church with Pharisaic Judaism.
4. New studies on Paul are moving to picture him as other than
the fierce opponent to Judaism which the church has long understood
him to be.43
Omanson suggests that NT scholars should attempt to bring these
new understandings into their translations of John's Gospel. He sug-
gests as an example the following note for John 8:44: "Many New
Testament scholars consider the harsh language in this verse to reflect
the violent debate between late first-century Judaism and the Chris-
tian community which produced the Fourth Gospel, over the issue of
belief in Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God."44
How do these approaches to understanding the attitude of the
Fourth Gospel toward the Jews assist us in approaching the text it-
self? Can we bring any of these understandings to the text in order
to explain its usage of the term Ioudaioi? Some of these scholars are
content merely to designate John's Gospel as anti-Semitic. Others see
the effect of John's content as producing anti-Semitism, but they feel
that the author is reading conflicts with Jews of his time back into the
NT period. This writer remains dubious of the adequacy of most of
these approaches because of the general suspicion of the historical re-
liability of John. It is not necessary to feel that the author of the Fourth
Gospel harbors a blatant prejudice against the Jewish race. It is not
41 Roger Omanson, "Translationg the anti-Jewish Bias of the New Testament,"
Bible Translator 43 (July 1992) 301-13.
42 Ibid., 301. Omanson does not clearly distinguish in this article between anti-
Jewish and anti-Semitic. Although he never uses the term anti-Semitic in reference to
NT content, he uses the term "anti-Semitic" in close proximity to the, term "anti-Jewish"
so that one would easily get the impression that he equated the two practices. See his
rejoinder to this criticism in a later article by him in Bible Translator 45 (July 1994)
43 Omanson, "Translating the Anti-Jewish Bias. . . ," 302-5.
44 Ibid., 309.
112 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
necessary to accept that John is reading events occurring during the
period of writing the Fourth Gospel back into the events of Jesus' life-
time. It is not necessary to accept the view that John's theology has dis-
torted his historical perspective.
In our next section. we will undertake a survey of relevant pas-
sages in John's Gospel related to the charge of anti-Semitism. We shall
assume the historical reliability of John's Gospel after a few brief state-
ments which support this view. Then we will study the various shades
of meaning which Jesus has given to the term Ioudaioi.
An Exegetical Evaluation of the Fourth Gospel's Treatment of the Jews
Some who study the usage of the term Ioudaioi in the Fourth Gos-
pel feel that the author is not using the term in reference to the people
own time who denied the claims the Church makes about Jesus the
Messiah."45 Those who follow this approach feel that the author was
reading the controversies of his own lifetime back into the earlier de-
cades of the first century. This writer will assume that the author of
John's Gospel has faithfully represented the events of A.D. 30-33 and
has not rewritten history to reflect his own later experiences.
Several features of the Fourth Gospel assist in convincing this
writer that John's historical accounts are trustworthy. First, John's own
statement of purpose in 20:30-31 encourages our belief that the author
has presented reliable information about Jesus Christ. If John's infor-
mation were not trustworthy, readers would have no foundation for the
belief which John professes to encourage. Second, John's frequent ref-
erences to both topographical (John 1:28) and chronological facts (John
1 :29, 35, 43) encourage a belief that he is concerned about the histori-
cal accuracy of his writing. Third, John's emphasis on “witness” (John
19:35; 21:24) suggests that he is presenting information capable of be-
ing relied on. For additional information supporting the reliability of
history in the Fourth Gospel see the author's paper “The Reliability of
History in John's Gospel.”46
Assuming that we can rely on the author's accurate representati.on
of the events of A.D. 30-33, how did he use the term Ioudaioi? Some-
times the author used the term as an ethnic expression, referring to
45 Robert G. Bratcher, “The Jews' in the Gospel of John,” Bible Translator 26 (Oc-
tober 1975) 403. Brown follows the same approach as seen in his statement that “in the
Fourth Gospel, then, the evangelist uses the term with the meaning that it had in his
own time." See Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel according to John,
City, NY: Doubleday, 1966) LXXII.
46 Thomas D. Lea, "The Reliability of History in John's Gospel," JETS 38 (Sept.,
Thomas D. Lea: WHO KILLED THE LORD? 113
the Jewish people (5:1). Here we see no pejorative significance from
the word, and often the usage reflects a quite positive evaluation of
the Jews (4:22). A second usage appears as a reference to people who
who are hostile to Jesus (11:8) and on other occasions to those who have
responded favorably to Jesus (11:45). We may designate this as a geo-
graphical usage. In a third usage the author employed the term to de-
scribe people who were hostile to Jesus (8:48). These were not
religious authorities, but people or groups of people who opposed the
words or deeds of Jesus. The fourth usage of the term spotlights the
openly express a hostile response to Jesus, but it is normally easy to
recognize that the activities of these "Jews" are contrary to Jesus. We
will examine each of the seventy usages of the term Ioudaioi in John's
Gospel in order to determine the category into which the usage fits.47
The Ethnic Usage
The ethnic usage of the term Ioudaioi identifies a practice or a per-
son as Jewish in background. Some of the references present a clearly
positive picture of the Jewish people (4:22). Others are primarily ethnic
in their intent, but they convey a sense of opposition to Jesus (18:12).
The reference in 2:6 is clearly ethnic because it identifies the
purification of the water as following the custom of Jewish laws and
regulations. The phrase "passover of the Jews" in 2:13 has no hostility
in its usage.
ileans and diaspora
Hebrews called residents of
the Passover was celebrated in the temple in
refer to it as the "passover of the Jews."48
The reference of 3:1 is ethnic because it identifies Nicodemus as a
member of the Jewish ruling council. In 3:25 the author refers to a dis-
cussion between John's disciples and "a" Jew. The term may have been
used because the Jew who engaged in the debate was himself a Jud-
ean. John's disciples may
well have been in
of 3:25 occurred. The statement of 3:26 suggests that John's disciples
may well have been away from John for the discussion and could have
come to him from some location in
usage in 3:25 as ethnic than to consider that it appropriately fits into
47 Bratcher, 409. The author of this paper is indebted to Robert Bratcher for his clear
analysis of the usage of Ioudaioi in the Fourth Gospel. Although I have not copied his cate-
gories nor completely adopted his interpretations, I have found his insights to be helpful.
48 D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991) 176.
114 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
The term Ioudaios appears twice in 4:9. The first usage in 4:9 com-
ments that Jesus is ethnically Jewish. The second usage in 4:9 indicates
either that ethnic Jews do not associate with Samaritans or that they do
not use the dishes which Samaritans have used. In either translation
the teml Ioudaios has an ethnic connotation. The positive statement
about the Jews in 4:22 suggests that God's revelation has emerged
through the Jewish people. Brown says, this line is a clear indication
that the Johannine attitude to the Jews cloaks neither an anti-Semitism
of the modern variety nor a view that rejects the spiritual heritage of
The reference in 5:1 designated the feast under discussion as
Jewish religious custom. Since the event
natural to designate it as a Jewish feast. The designation in 6:4 de-
scribed the feast as the Jewish passover. The reference in 7:2 identified
Tabernacles as a Jewish feast.
The reference in 11:55 resembles the usage of 2:13; 5:1; 6:4; and
7:2. The choice of the teml "Jews" or "Jewish" was made for reasons
similar to those explained for 2:13.
The designation in 18:12 refers to the Jews as officials sent to
arrest Jesus in conjunction with Roman soldiers. In 18:3 the author’s
usage of the term "detachment of soldiers" suggested that Roman aux-
iliaries accompanied the Jewish officials and police.50 The reference to
the "Jewish officials" in 18:12 is probably primarily an ethnic designa-
tion to distinguish them from the Romans who were a part of the
group. They are clearly Jewish officials who oppose Jesus.
The statement of 18:35 is an ethnic reference used by Pilate. He
was stating that since he was not a Jew, he had no interest in the royal
claims which any ethnic Jew would make.
The references to Jews in 19:21, 40, and 42 are all ethnic in their
intent. In 19:21 the speakers are the Jewish chief priests. In 19:40 our
author indicated that the burial of Jesus took place in accordance with
Jewish custom. In 19:42 he referred to Jesus' day of burial as the Jew-
ish day of Preparation.
One final grouping of ethnic references in the Fourth Gospel re-
volves around the usage of the term "king of the Jews." This is a ref-
erence to the Jewish Messiah. The phrase appears five times in the
Fourth Gospel. In 18:33, 39 Pilate used the designation in reference to
Jesus. In 19:3 the soldiers used it in reference to Jesus. In 19:19 Pilate
ordered that the phrase be written and displayed above the cross. In
19:21 the chief priests protested against its use on the cross by Pilate.
49 Brown, 172.
homas D. Lea: WHO KILLED THE LORD? 115
The Geographical Usage
A second category of usage of the term Ioudaioi in the Fourth
is to designate the residents of
marily on those people who
live in and near
references have very positive overtones in reference to the Jews. This
positive usage provides additional evidence against the idea that the
author of the Fourth Gospel was deliberately anti-Semitic.
Many of these geographical references are clustered in John 11. In
Jesus suggested to his disciples that they return to
the disciples warned Jesus that the Jews had earlier tried to stone him
39). This reference points clearly to the Jews in
graphical reference. The usage also shows that these particular Jews
were among the opponents of Jesus, for they represent people who
were hostile to Jesus.
In 11:19, 31, 33, 36, 45 the term "Jews" refers to those who came
to Mary and Martha to comfort them after the death of Lazarus. Some
of these came to faith in Jesus (11:45). The fact that those who came to
Mary and Martha are numbered as "many" suggests that the family of
and Martha was prominent in
discuss the depth of the faith of those who "put their faith in him"
(11:45). We would recognize that their faith was deeper than the faith
of those who went to the Pharisees and tattled about Jesus. All of these
references present positive statements about the Jews.
In 11:54 the term "Jews"
still refers to those who live in
the author contrasts these Jews who live in
viduals who reside in the city
twelve miles from
the Judean "Jews" resided in the area. However, Jesus was far enough
hostile Jerusalemites would not apply to those in Ephraim. The hostile
were those in the area of
distance from these.
In 12:9, 11 Jesus has returned to
Judeans, largely from
pair of verses' contain no negative overtones. We read that "many of
the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him"
(12:11). These Jews are also to be distinguished from the Jewish author-
and he favors the idea that it was in Perea and not in
116 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
The "Jews" of 19:20 were those who read the title which Herod
had placed above Jesus' cross. These clearly appear to be Judeans, and
they lived in and near
This geographical usage of the term "Jews" presents a generally
positive picture of the Jews although its primary usage is to designate
the group as residents of Judea near
is the sole clearly negative reference to the Jews. Although those in
11:8 are clearly Judean residents, we should distinguish their spiritual
orientation from that of those Jews mentioned in 11:19, 31, 33, 36, 45.
Jesus received hostility from many different people and groups.
We are not always able to determine clearly the identity of the oppo-
nents, but we can often recognize that they may be either ordinary in-
dividuals who are hostile or authority figures who are hostile. In this
section we will observe examples of individual people who are hos-
tile to Jesus. In our next section we will observe examples of author-
ity figures who demonstrate this same hostility.
The Ioudaioi in 6:41, 52 are probably the synagogue congregation
in Capemaum (6:59). Jesus' claim that he is the bread from heaven has
incensed them. They regard him as a fellow Galilean (6:42), and they
are outraged at his claims. Bratcher points out that it is reasonable to
identify "the Jews" with "the crowd" (6:22) and that the author used
the term Ioudaioi when it became clear that they were contesting the
claims of Jesus.52 The fact that this
incident occurred in
it unlikely that these are
The reference to the Jews in 8:22, 31, 48, 52, 57 is to individuals
in 8:22, 31, but it becomes apparent as the discussion develops in 8:48,
52, 57. Bratcher feels that the reference in 8:22 must be to authorities
because the statement of 8:28 about "lifting up the Son of Man" would
not have been made to the people as a group.53 The cries of the people
as a group played as large a role in the death of Jesus as did the mach-
inations of the authorities (see Luke 23:13,18-21; Mark 15:11). This fact
provides a basis for feeling that the reference to Ioudaioi in 8:22 is to
52 Bratcher, 405. Brown shows a suspicion of the historical reliability of the Fourth
Gospel at this point by suggesting that the objections of 6:41 have "been introduced here
from another scene” (see Brown, 270).
53 Bratcher, 406.
Thomas D. Lea: WHO KILLED THE LORD? 117
a fickle faith.54 In the verses which follow, Jesus declared that endur-
ance in obedience distinguished those with a fickle faith from those
with an enduring faith (8:32-36). The actions of these Jews in 8:48, 52,
57 shows that they do not have an enduring faith. Brown suggests that
a later redactor added 8:31 and felt that it was reasonable to make
"Jews" the audience for what followed. He, according to Brown, saw no
contradiction in describing these believers as "Jews."55
In 10:19, 24, 31, 33 the term Ioudaioi refers to a crowd of people
showing their hostility to Jesus. The hostility shown in wanting to stone
Jesus (10:31) and the attempt to seize him (10:39) appear to be the re-
action of an impatient crowd of people, not the scheming response of
authorities who held some authority in their hands.
The references of 18:20, 38 describe people who are hostile to
Jesus. The fact that the "Jews" of 18:20 are those who come together at
the synagogues or the temple makes it more likely that these are people
rather than authorities. The designation of the "Jews" in 18:38 probably
includes some of the authorities supplemented by vocal supporters
from the people. Such a passage as Mark 15: 11 indicates that the crowd
was not composed merely of Jewish authorities opposed to Jesus.
Pressure from the
in securing the death of Jesus. The weak-willed complicity of Pilate
in refusing to reject their requests suggests that the death of Jesus can
be attributed both to Jewish and Roman leaders. We should not fol-
low the logic of the request of the Jewish crowd in Matthew 27:25
and permit the death of Jesus to be blamed exclusively on the Jews.
In 1:19 those Jews who sent priests and Levites to inquire of John
were probably leaders of the Sanhedrin in
thor identified them as Pharisees.
The Jews of 2:18, 20 are the authorities who had challenged Jesus
after he had expelled the animals from the Court of the Gentiles in
informed the healed man that carrying his mat on the Sabbath was
wrong. When they later talked with Jesus, his claim that he had a spe-
cial relationship with the Father riled them. These appear to be Jew-
ish authorities from
The Jews of 7:1, 11, 13, 15, 35 are the authorities in
The reference in 7:1 seems clearly to describe the authorities because
55 Brown, 354-55.
118 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
of the prior statement about the authorities in 5:18. The statements of
7:11, 13 appear as references to the authorities because the "people"
are afraid to speak of Jesus for fear of the "Jews." Since it is the people
who are afraid to speak in 7:13, it must be that they fear the Jewish
authorities. It is also the Jewish authorities in
prised at his teaching (7:15). In 7:35 those who ask where Jesus is
going may well be the guards sent out as representatives of the
authorities (7:32). The reference in 7:35 is particularly difficult be-
cause it is entirely possible that these "Jews" were the authorities
themselves or that the term refers to the people. The puzzlement ly-
ing beneath the question of 7:35 seems more to belong to the mental-
ityof a crowd of Jewish people than to the more suave, knowledgeable
The references in 9:18, 22 designate
9:13 they are identified as the Pharisees. They press forward relent-
lessly in their opposition to Jesus.
The statements of Jesus about the Jews in 13:33 may well refer
back to the words of 7:34. It appears that Jesus is speaking to the au-
thorities in the earlier reference, and it seems suitable to envision the
same audience here.
The references of 18:14, 31, 36 designate the authorities of Jeru-
usage of the term. The usage in 18:12 is probably ethnic because it dis-
tinguishes the officers of the Jews from the group of Romans who went
with them to arrest Jesus. The advice which Caiaphas gave in 18:14 is
clearly to the Jewish authorities. In 18:31, 36 first Pilate and then Jesus
referred to the Jewish authorities. It is more likely that those who an-
swered the objections of Pilate in 18:31 are Jewish authorities. It is also
more likely that Jesus was speaking of being delivered to the Jewish
authorities. In 18:38 some of the people who supported the authorities
joined with them in calling for Jesus' death.
The references in 19:7, 12, 14, 31, 38 describe the Jewish author-
part of the crowd which was hostile to Jesus.56 The responses in 19:7,
12 sound more like the responses and accusations of Jewish authori-
ties than expressions from the people. It is entirely possible that the
group of Jews in 19:14 may contain people hostile to Jesus as well as
the authorities. Those who request the body of Jesus in 19:31 would
most likely be the authorities. The "Jews" of 19:38 are also the Jewish
authorities. It is interesting to observe in this verse that Joseph of
Arimathea himself is ethnically a Jew. The author distinguished him
56 Bratcher, 408.
Thomas D. Lea: WHO KILLED THE LORD? 119
from those Jews of whom he was afraid. It seems highly unlikely that
a writing that allows usages such as this contains racial prejudice
against the Jewish race. The author does point out the opposition of
the Jewish leaders to Jesus, and we should not fault him for attempt-
ing to display truthfully their opposition.
The Jews of 20:19 are the same authorities whom Joseph of Ari-
mathea feared in 19:38. This same usage had also appeared in 7:13.
The usage in this section is frequently described as anti-Semitic
by scholars convinced that John has traced the opposition of the Jews
to Jesus in deliberately stark colors. It appears that all which the au-
thor has done is to point out the consistent opposition of the Jewish
practice does not demonstrate racial prejudice against the Jews. It does
show opposition to the theological positions of the Jewish leaders, and
it is proper to call it anti-Jewish.57
The Historical Answer
Contemporary scholarship may debate the role of the Jews in the
death of Jesus, but plenty of historical evidence exists to prove either
Jewish involvement in the crucifixion or Jewish opposition to Chris-
tians. Three chief sources corroborate Jewish participation in these
The first witness to Jewish attitudes toward Christians appears in
the Jewish historian Josephus. After the death of the Roman procurator
Festus (Acts 24:27), Nero appointed Albinus as new procurator. He also
gave the Jewish high priesthood to the Sadducee Ananus. While Albi-
nus was en route to assume his office, Ananus convened the Jewish
Sanhedrin in order to condemn James (Acts 15:12-21; Jas 1:1), Jesus'
half brother, to death. Josephus reported the story in these words:
Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assem-
bled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus,
who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others (or, some
of his companions); and when he had formed an accusation against them
as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.58
The church historian Eusebius quotes the church father Hegesip-
pus (second century) in defense of the fact that Christianity was the
charge brought against James.59 The attitude of the high priest Ananus
dramatically echoes the opposition of the high priest Caiaphas in the
57 See note 31 for a distinction between the term “anti-Semitic” and “anti-Jewish”
58 Josephus Antiquities 20.9.1.
59 Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 2.23.
120 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
gospels (John 11:49-53). Josephus provides evidence from a Jewish
source for the intensity of the opposition to Christ. Such opposition a
generation after Christ's death should make us hesitant to excise ref-
erences to Jewish opposition to Jesus which appear in the Gospels.
A second source demonstrating Jewish opposition to Jesus appears
in the writings of early church fathers. Tertullian described the Jewish
opposition which led to Jesus' death in the following words:
But the Jews were so exasperated by His teaching, by which their rulers
and chiefs were convicted of the truth, chiefly because so many turned
aside to Him, that at last they brought Him before Pontius Pilate, at that
against Him, extorted a sentence giving Him up to them to be crucified.50
In addition to the words of Tertullian we also find similar ideas
repeated in Justin Martyr. Justin indicated that the opposition to Jesus
which appeared among the Jews in Christ's time also remained among
Jews of his own time. Justin said,
For other nations have not inflicted on us and on Christ this wrong to
such an extent as you have, who in very deed are the authors of the wicked
prejudice against the Just One, and us who hold by Him. For after that
you had crucified Him, the only blameless and righteous Man,-through
whose stripes those who approach the Father by Him are healed,-when
you knew that he had risen from the dead and ascended to heaven, as the
prophets foretold He would, you not only did not repent of the wickedness
which you had committed, but at that time you selected and sent out from
of the Christians had sprung up, and to publish those things which all
they who knew us not speak against us.51
It is of course possible that scholars may dismiss the statements
from Tertullian and Justin by designating them as hopelessly anti-
Semitic. Those who would do this are trying to rewrite history instead
of interpreting it as it appears in documents of the times.
A third source of information about Jewish attitudes toward Jesus
possibly appears in the Babylonian Talmud. Certainty about the refer-
ences to Jesus is difficult because scholars debate whether there are ac-
tual references to Jesus in this material.52 Tractate Sanhedrin uses the
name Yeshu in probable reference to Jesus and indicates that he had
five disciples, each deserving to die. The tractate notes that Yeshu was
put to death on Passover Eve for the practice of magic and the decep-
60 Tertullian Apology 21.
61 Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho 17.
62 Hagner, Jewish Reclamation, 46.
Thomas D. Lea: WHO KILLED THE LORD? 121
thing to be spoken in his favor. No response was given to the plea.63
Scholars do not accept the references as thoroughly reliable in
the historical accounts. The material is important because it reflects
the Jewish attitude of the late Talmudic periods. This distaste proba-
bly developed over the centuries, and we may feel confident that the
attitude could have reflected first-century attitudes toward Jesus.
It is also important to point out the anti-Jewish attitudes in some
sections of the OT. We should be careful to define anti-Jewishness as
opposition to Jewish religious practices and not as prejudice against
the Jews as a race. The historical writer of 2 Chron 36:11-16 recorded
accurately the Jewish opposition to the messages of the prophets. The
prophet Isaiah described his people as those "loaded with guilt" who
had "forsaken the Lord" (Isa 1:4). Later he pictured them as "rebel-
lious; "deceitful; and "unwilling to listen to the Lord's instruction" (Isa
30:9). The words of Jeremiah corroborate the picture painted by Isaiah.
(Jer 3:6; 7:25-26; 11:7-8; 18:23). The OT prophets were quick to point
out the stubborn resistance of the Jewish people to messages from Je-
hovah. The words of Josephus, the early church fathers, and even the
words of the Babylonian Talmud substantiate this picture. A rejection
of the NT picture of Jewish opposition to Jesus and to Christians
seems to represent a tampering with the historical evidence. This evi-
dence presents a consistent pattern of Jewish opposition to Christians
and to Jesus.
Who is responsible for the death of the Lord? Should we excul-
pate the Jews for Jesus' death because of alleged anti-Semitism in the
gospels? Should we allow our present sympathy for the victims of the
Nazi Holocaust to influence our interpretation of the NT evidence?
In answering these questions in reverse order we should give a
resounding "No!" to the second and third questions. Those who have
followed through this paper should recognize that this writer has dis-
puted the charge of anti-Semitism in the gospels. It is admitted that
the gospel writers do show opposition to the unbelief and resistance
of the Jews of Jesus' time to Christians and to Christ himself. This ad-
mission represents the acceptance of the gospel portraits of the Jews
as historically accurate.
Who then killed the Lord? There is a sense in which the sins of
all sinners contributed to the death of Jesus, but that is not the sense
63 b. Sanh. 43a.
122 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
in which this writer has asked the question. We can develop an answer
to the question as we observe the following principles:64
1. The idea of Jewish collective guilt for Jesus' death is totally in-
accurate. Jewish participation in the events of Jesus' passion should
not be used as a basis for explaining the death of Jews during the
2. It is also improper to apply the idea of collective guilt even to
the generation of Jews contemporary with Jesus. Not all Jews of Jesus'
lifetime sought the death of Jesus.
3. The Gospels accurately show that Jesus had his opponents
among the Jews, and we can assume that a crowd did shout, "Crucify!
Crucify!" Those who made this cry seem to have been "a group per-
fectly orchestrated by Jesus' priestly adversaries to demand the release
of Barabbas instead."65
4. Jesus also had friends among the Jews, and most of these seem
to have been absent from the proceedings of his arrest, hearings, and
trial until it was too late. Some did get the message about Jesus' convic-
tion, and Luke reports that "a large number of people followed him,
including women who mourned and wailed for him" (Luke 23:27). It
is also important to remember the 120 Jewish Christians before Pente-
cost (Acts 1:15); the 3000 Jewish converts at Pentecost (Acts 2:41); the
5000 who soon appeared (Acts 4:4); and the many Jewish priests who
became believers (Acts 6:7). Paul spoke of a "remnant" of the Jews liv-
ing in his day (Rom 11:5).
5. References to "the Jews,” particularly in the Fourth Gospel,
have at least four obvious meanings as proposed in the exegetical sec-
tion of this paper. Not all Jews opposed Jesus, but some, particularly
those influenced by the high priestly families, stubbornly sought his
death (Luke 23:13,21). We should not brand the Fourth Gospel as anti-
Semitic for similarly using the plural "the Jews." On the other hand, we
should not allow this "in-house" usage among Jews to lead those of us
who are Gentiles to make pejorative conclusions against the Jews.66
6. We should not view the statement of Matt 27:25 as a wish by
the Jews but rather as a statement by those Jews who were present to
accept responsibility for Jesus' death. It goes beyond the biblical state-
ment to press these words into a basis for an eternal curse on the
Jewish people. Matthew may have included these words so that his
64 Many of these ideas are developed from Paul L. Maier, "Who Killed Jesus?"
Christianity Today, 9 (April 1990) 17-19.
65 Ibid., 19.
Thomas D. Lea: WHO KILLED THE LORD? 123
readers could "understand that the loss of
to be interpreted in the light of their rejection of Jesus."67
7. The words of the gospel writers are neither explicit citations
nor fabrications. They represent "the living and powerful words of
Jesus in a fresh way for his readers, while faithfully and accurately
presenting the 'gist' of what Jesus said."68 Luke's statements in 1:1-4
suggest that the gospel writers had a concern for accuracy, and most
Jews exercised great care in passing on divinely associated events from
one generation to another. We should realize that an accurate summary
of Jesus' teaching is fully as reliable as his actual words.
Is it anti-Semitic to suggest that the Jews of Jesus' lifetime vigor-
ously opposed his teaching and his work? If we realize that the Jews
who opposed Jesus represented an elite group among NT Jews, we
are not showing a pejorative attitude toward the Jews as a race by
merely pointing out this fact.
Is it anti-Jewish to suggest that the Jews of the first century and of
this century hold attitudes toward Jesus Christ with which Christians
would almost universally disagree? If we define anti-Jewishness as
indicating our differences with the Jewish religion, Christians would
only be stating their beliefs by demonstrating how they differ from
first-century and contemporary Jews. One contemporary Jewish be-
liever has explained his views in this way:
The fact remains, that for many believing Christians, neither the Or-
thodox Judaism of the New Testament era nor of our own era can be the
ultimate word of God for anyone convinced of the uniqueness of Jesus
Christ. It is not necessarily anti-Jewish to hold such a position.69
Were the Jews involved in the death of Jesus? Yes, but we can also
say that the Romans were involved in his death (John 19:15-16). The
truth is that both Jewish and Roman participation led to the death of
Jesus. The admission of this fact is not an evidence of anti-Semitism,
but it represents an effort to accept the trustworthiness and reliability
of the Gospels.
67 R T. France, Matthew, TCNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985) 393.
68 Darrell L. Bock, "The Words of Jesus in the Gospels: Live, Jive, or Memorex?”
Jesus Under Fire (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995) 77. Bock's article contains excellent
additional information defending the trustworthiness of the gospel accounts of Jesus' life.
69 Menahim Benhayim, "Alleged anti-Jewish Bias in the New Testament: A Re-
sponse; Bible Translator 45 (July 1994) 340.
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