The Christian church has had an unfortunately bad relationship with the Jewish synagogue at various times in their history. But is Christianity antisemitic at it’s core? The earliest Christianity can be found in the documents of the New Testament.
There have been many accusations of antisemitism regarding the New Testament. Are these claims true?
The first thing we need to remember is that all of the earliest Christians, including their leader Jesus of Nazareth, were Jews. Christianity was initially based in Jerusalem led by James, also a Jew.
Yes we see some conflict between followers of Jesus and other Jews, such as the work of Saul of Tarsus, the later Apostle Paul. But this wasn’t about one religion vs another religion. Christianity was still a sect of Judaism. This was about conflict among different interpretations within Judaism.
In the final book of the New Testament, Revelation, we begin to see the parting of the ways in the letters to the seven churches. There is a reason for this. Not only had more Gentiles entered the church, there were other things going on.
Judaism had certain rights as a legal religion within the Roman Empire. At first the Christians, as Jews following Jesus, benefited from this. Then certain things happened. There was the Jewish War of 67-70 AD. This was also a time when the Christians were getting on the bad side of the Romans. It was in the Jewish best interest to distinguish themselves from the Christians.
As we get into the second century, there is a growing anti-Jewish sentiment among some Christians. This can be seen in the Epistle of Barnabas (not actually written by Barnabas).
Sadly, antisemitic feelings continued to grow within the church. Some terrible things have been done to the Jews in the name of Jesus. But whatever happened later in history was not reflective of the earliest Christians.
My training is in New Testament studies and not history. However, I see a very close relationship between the two. I come at New Testament studies from the perspective of history.
How does one go about history in any other area? People who study Alexander the Great, the Han dynasty in China or the Napoleonic wars all go about it the same way. They look at the primary sources and examine the other historical forces surrounding those events.
When I study the New Testament, I do it the same way. I look at the New Testament texts as historical documents. I don’t mean looking at them as inerrant and inspired religious Scripture. I have Christian faith but I come at the New Testament as a historian first.
I then look at the surrounding context, including Hellenism, the Roman empire and early Judaism. I look at both the events that are described and what the texts say about the authors. This is exactly what historians do with other events.
That is not to say that New Testament studies is fully the same as other historical endeavours. Many New Testament scholars (including me) have religious beliefs and introduce theological ideas into the process. A historian of 19th century German philosophy may be inspired by the ideas they encounter but not in the same way as a New Testament scholar with Christian faith.
My basic conclusion is that New Testament studies can be more than history but it is definitely not less.
I am a firm believer that understanding the New Testament requires some understanding of its Jewish context. I don’t mean that Judaism is only Christian context, it has great value as a major faith. But the New Testament was written in a Jewish context by (mostly) Jewish authors.
I’m always looking for good resources in this area and was pleased to come across Judaism Before Jesus by Anthony J. Tomasino.
Too many Christians think all they need to know about Judaism is found in the Old Testament. The truth is that the Old Testament is only one influence on first century Judaism and it is so much more complex than that.
Tomasino takes readers on a journey of the development of Judaism. Judaism, like all religions, did not develop in a vacuum. It was shaped by the surrounding historical and cultural forces. In the case of Judaism, these include how the Jews responded to the Hellenistic and Roman influences.
Tomasino introduces readers to the major texts and events that those only familiar with the Old and New Testaments may not be aware of. We can see how Judaism grew from the Old Testament faith to what would become Rabbinic Judaism. It is a fascinating story.
Anyone interested in the origins of either Christianity or Judaism will find Judaism Before Jesus to be a valuable resource.
Biblical commentaries are a tremendous tool for understanding the Old and New Testaments. The problem is that there is not just one kind of Bible commentary. There are commentaries for preachers, devotional commentaries and scholarly commentaries. Some require some knowledge of Hebrew or Greek and some do not.
But you don’t want to wait until have purchased a commentary before discovering what kind of commentary it is.
Thankfully, you do not have to. One of the best resources on the web is a website called Best Commentaries. You can look up any book of the Bible and see a list of the best commentaries. Not only does this site rank the commentaries, it provides a description of the type of commentary it is.
If you are going to be doing any study on a book of the Bible, I recommend you visit Best Commentaries.
Although I love history, my formal training is in the area of the New Testament. I have come across some very helpful books over the years and I thought I would share what I think are the top five. Please note that I’m an Amazon affiliate and if you purchase any of these, you are supporting my work here.
What Are the Gospels?: A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography (The Biblical Resource Series)
Who Chose the Gospels?: Probing the Great Gospel Conspiracy
Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony
The Historical Jesus: Five Views
Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message
The Apostle Paul is one of the most influential thinkers and writers in the history of Christianity. It could be argued that his impact is second only to Jesus.
But how well do we really know him?
Here are five things you may or may not have known about the Apostle Paul.
- Paul never mentions his original name of Saul or his hometown of Tarsus in his letters.
- Paul’s letters were written earlier than the Gospels.
- Paul was not the first to preach to the Gentiles. It was actually Peter.
- Paul’s letters are not arranged chronologically in the New Testament but from longest to shortest.
- Paul never mentions hell in his letters. This doesn’t mean that he didn’t believe in some sort of judgment, but he never calls it hell.
One of the interesting things about the Apostle Paul was his insistence on working with other Christian leaders. At one point Barnabas believed in Paul, and Paul went on to disciple Silas, Luke, Timothy and Titus. Paul understood that making of disciples of Jesus meant gathering his own disciples. This episode looks at these associates of Paul and what the New Testament says about them.
The “We passages” mentioned in this episode are Acts 16:10–17; 20:5–15; 21:1–8 and 27:1–28:16.
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In this episode, we look at the life of the Apostle Paul. We examine his beginnings in Tarsus as a faithful Jew to his death in Rome as a follower of Jesus.
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This episode of the History of Christianity asks the questions: 1) Was Jesus really the brother of Jesus and 2) Did he really write the epistle of James in the New Testament.
This episode is based on the following blog posts:
In this eighth episode of the History of Christianity, we take a look at the three men that the Apostle Paul describes as the pillars of the church: Peter, James and John.
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