The existence of anti-Semitism and its persistence in the West for over two thousand years is one of history’s greatest puzzles. With the tenacity of a brush fire, anti-Semitic feeling has burned its way through history, sometimes just flickering near the surface, at other times bursting out into the open. At times the destruction is minor. But occasionally prejudice against the Jews flares up with an intensity that destroys millions of people and engulfs entire nations.
Anti-Semitism is neither new nor limited to the West. The Book of Esther speaks of anti-Jewish acts during the fifth century B.C. by Haman, a high official in the Persian empire. Under the Romans the Jews enjoyed considerable privileges and even a certain measure of protection, thanks to their timely support of Julius Caesar in Alexandria in 49 B.C. But persecutions occurred sporadically nonetheless, and many were very intense, particularly at the time of the Jewish-Roman war (A.D. 66–70). In the Middle Ages anti-Semitism was fed by superstition. Jews were accused of many atrocities, including the ritual murder of Christian children, as Chaucer’s “Prioress’s Tale” shows. Modern times are hardly better. Napoleon’s “Infamous Decree” against the Jews in 1808 sparked more than a century of anti-Semitism in Europe, culminating in the Dreyfus Affair in France and later in the era of National Socialism in Germany. Unfortunately, many of the old attitudes linger today, despite a general repudiation of the Nazi war crimes by Western governments and the declaration against anti-Jewish prejudice promulgated by Vatican II and received favorably by most Protestant denominations.
What causes anti-Semitism? Many answers have been given: a general dislike for the different, hence a dislike for all minorities; the search for a scapegoat in times of social crisis; the tendency to generalize upon the shortcomings of a few individuals; a heritage of religious hatred that identifies the Jews as cursed of God for the execution of Jesus of Nazareth. These explanations seem inadequate, however, and the search goes on.
Recently a new factor has entered the discussion, particularly in Jewish-Christian dialogue. It is the claim that anti-Semitism has its origins in the Christian Scriptures and can be eliminated only when Christians repudiate their error at its source.
In a recent book, Rabbi Ben Zion Bosker argues that “the historic roots of Christian anti-Semitism go back to the basic teachings of the New Testament” (Judaism and the Christian Predicament, p. 17). And Rabbi Samuel Sandmel writes, “We Jews figure as villains, all of us or some of us, in much of your Bible. Only very lately has this bothered you extensively and intensively, and the reality has to be faced that some of you are not bothered by this at all” (We Jews and You Christians, p. 20).
The point has been advanced even more strongly by Protestants. A. Roy Eckardt, editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, states that “all the learned exegesis in the world cannot negate the truth that there are elements not only of anti-Judaism but of anti-Semitism in the New Testament,” and calls for a denunciation by Christians of “anti-Semitic allegations” in John, Paul, and elsewhere (Elder and Younger Brothers, p. 126). At a recent conference, Noel Freedman of San Francisco Theological Seminary claimed that the New Testament “is simply an anti-Semitic book.” And in the foreword to Judaism and the Christian Predicament, Union Theological Seminary’s Frederick C. Grant expresses the hope that the reversal of traditional attitudes toward the Jews that he detects in our age “will in time … involve more than just a formal repudiation of anti-Semitism. It will also include a repudiation of impossible literalism and legalism in the interpretation of the Bible, or the refusal to interpret it at all” (p. vii).
One cannot help admiring the vigor with which these writers—both Christians and Jews—are attempting to purge the world of anti-Jewish prejudice. And there can be little doubt that the defeat of anti-Semitism, like that of anti-Negro prejudice, is long overdue. At the same time, one must question whether this approach properly represents the biblical view and whether the cure prescribed is adequate. Perhaps the cavalier way in which some Protestant exegetes handle Scripture breeds an insensitivity to it and consequently sets aside the one certain hope of cure.
In the first place, it simply is not true that the New Testament is anti-Semitic. It is true that the New Testament contains statements that sound anti-Semitic to modern ears, conditioned as they are by centuries of prejudice. The New Testament speaks of a general failure of the Jewish people, in the time of the apostles, to believe in Jesus as their Messiah and Saviour, and it laments this unbelief. But if this is to be judged as anti-Semitic, then statements about the failure of Gentiles to believe must be considered anti-Gentile. Actually, the New Testament writers show great anguish because those of their own nation have failed to embrace what was for them the “good news” of God’s definitive action in Christ for man’s salvation. At no point in any of the non-biblical literature of the times does any writer claim, as does Paul (Rom. 9:3), that he would be content to see himself accursed if that would bring about the salvation of the Jewish people.
Critics have imagined an anti-Semitic element in John’s references to “the Jews” as those who crucified Jesus. But John himself was a Jew. He used the phrase, not to make an ethnic distinction, but to make a political one. By it he designates the ruling body of the people of Judea under Pilate. The phrase distinctly excludes the Galileans, who were also Jews ethnically and who were even more Jewish than the Judeans in nationalistic fervor.
Second, the current judgment against certain biblical strains seems to overlook entirely the positive things said about the Jews in the New Testament, even by those writers who are judged to be most anti-Semitic in their statements. Paul is considered a prime offender because of his sharp polemic, particularly against the Judaizers who were subverting his hard-won churches. But it is Paul who most clearly spells out the advantages of Judaism. “What advantage has the Jew?” he asks. “Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews are entrusted with the oracles of God (Rom. 3:1, 2). “They are Israelites, and to them the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race according to the flesh, is the Christ” (Rom. 9:4, 5). This is certainly not anti-Semitism. On the contrary, it shows an unusual sensitivity to God’s dealings with the Jews in history and great appreciation for the spiritual inheritance available to all men through them.
Moreover, if the Jews as a whole have refused to believe in Jesus, this is remarkable to the New Testament writers precisely because of the way God worked through the Jews in the past. It is this that occasions extensive comment. In Paul’s mind, the fact that God seems now to be working through the Gentiles, calling out another people, the Church, is so unexpected and so astonishing that he calls it “a mystery,” kept secret since the world began.
Third, the New Testament teaches that all men are guilty in Christ’s death—the Jews represented by their leaders and the Gentiles by the authorities of Rome. Anti-Semitism cannot be justified on the grounds of a Jewish “murder” of Jesus.
During the Nazi era it was common to speak of the “Jewish problem”; but the Jewish problem was actually a human problem, the problem of sin and of an unwillingness to accept God’s gracious forgiveness in Christ. The Nazis were a prime example. It must not be forgotten, however, that God’s solution to the human problem was a Jew, his son Jesus Christ. The cross of Jesus reduces all to a common level as sinners, that in Christ God might have mercy upon all. One Jewish Christian, Jakob Jocz, writes of this out of his own experience:
Between these two points lies the cause of anti-Semitism: the sinfulness of man, which leads him to oppose all that is of God and to resent God’s special dealings with the Jews. But there is a solution in Christ. Paul speaks of an end of hostilities between the Jew and Gentile, thinking perhaps of the tensions that were even then building toward the Jewish-Roman war. He writes to the Ephesians, “Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:13, 14).
Finally, the New Testament also points to great future privileges for Israel, when Israel as a whole will receive her Messiah even as many individual Jews receive him now. Eckardt argues that Jesus is not the Messiah of Israel because he is not the kind of Messiah Israel was and is expecting. But this is faulty logic. One might as well say that he is not the Saviour of the Gentiles because most Gentiles do not want a saviour. The Christian must argue against both of these conclusions, maintaining that Jesus is indeed Messiah and Saviour in spite of man’s rejection of him and that it is precisely man’s unawareness of this need that most reveals it. Moreover, the Christian must also assert that the Jews will not yet believe in Jesus. It would even be a correct reading of Paul (Rom. 9–11) and John (Revelation) to claim that God has preserved the Jewish people throughout history so that they can bear a great witness to him in the end days.
Christians must realize that none of these teachings can be entirely acceptable to those who are steeped in the Jewish religion and who wish to retain their Judaism. Only a sellout to a permissive universalism could make Christianity universally popular. At the same time, Christians must firmly assert that the New Testament does not justify anti-Semitism in the slightest and certainly is not its cause. In fact, the New Testament points out the cause and goes far to correct it. The New Testament does not teach prejudice of any kind. It teaches the love of God for all men, coupled with the recognition that all men stand in need of his salvation and can find it as salvation is offered to men through the Jew, Christ Jesus.
Daniel P. Moynihan, former assistant secretary of labor, writing in the Saturday Evening Post under the title “Has This Country Gone Mad?,” says, “The sheer effort to hold things together has become the central issue of politics in a nation that began the decade intent on building a society touched with moral grandeur.” And he adds darkly, “Increasingly the nation exhibits the qualities of an individual going through a nervous breakdown. Is there anything to be done? Not a great deal, perhaps” (Saturday Evening Post, May 4, 1968).
Such words might remind us of a long-ago psalmist, who seems to be speaking to our moment even more than to his own: “Fain would I fly from it all and live within the desert; swiftly would I escape from the fury of the blast, from all their storming and confusion, from the double tongues. For here in the city I suffer the sight of violence and disorder patrolling day and night the very walls; mischief and misery are what I see, and corruption, in the street” (Ps. 55:7–11, Moffatt).
One need not be a social or political expert to be aware of the ills that torment our nation and our world. The prospect of revolution and anarchy gnaws at our consciousness like a monstrous rat, ever growing bigger.
However, far too few who diagnose our sickness propose any impressive remedies. Like many persons today, Isaiah moaned that his nation’s whole head was sick and its whole heart faint. But too many modern minds eschew the prophet’s prescription for survival. For Isaiah held out no hope of restoration apart from repentance and a return to God.
Two decades ago Henry Luce touched on the hope of political health in our land:
Sadly enough, in our time even religious analysts join in diagnosing our ills while pouring down the drain the remedy that can restore us. We are sick: this they admit. The Church itself, they confess, is sick—so much so that some have given it up for dead. But, having made their diagnosis, they join with secular philosophers in quest of redemption minus the Word of life. They ignore the New Testament’s warning that the “world” is powerless to save itself, that it not only is hopelessly corrupt but also will corrupt all who embrace its principles. The world is the enemy of God. It stands under divine condemnation (1 Cor. 11:32). A writer in the young Church warned, “Do not set your hearts on the godless world or anything in it. Anyone who loves the world is a stranger to the Father’s love” (1 John 2:15, NEB).
A troubled young churchman recently asked: “Tell me, what are we trying to do—discard the Gospel that has lasted for two thousand years for a new, untried one? Aren’t they saying in effect that they simply have no faith in what Jesus actually taught? That he is no match for life in our kind of world?”
The answer is: If the Gospel was ever right, it is right for our time. Today it is not inadequate; it is only largely unexpressed. The prophets have forsaken the Gospel just when the world needs it most. It has not been weighed and found wanting; rather, it is scarcely being weighed. It has been replaced by “gospels” quite foreign to the Word on which millions have staked their fortunes and their lives—the Word that changed Caesar’s world, shook the darkness at the Reformation, and renewed England in Wesley’s day. Unquestionably, vast numbers of present-day church members are strangers to that New Testament evangel which “turned the world upside down.”
Mr. Moynihan is right. Things are falling apart. How long will it take the prophets of our day to turn to the redemptive remedy prescribed by the great Book? That remedy is voiced by an apostle who was imprisoned for offering it two millennia ago: “All things are held together in him” (Col. 1:17, NEB). The Cross is the linchpin to keep everything from slipping. This is the existential Arrangement of the Highest, and nothing ever successfully supplants it. “Life from Nothing began through him, and life from the dead began through him, and he is, therefore, justly called the Lord of all. It was in him that the full nature of God chose to live, and through him God planned to reconcile in his own person, as it were, everything on earth and everything in Heaven by … the sacrifice of the cross” (Col. 1:18–20, Phillips).
Arrogant mankind may be loath to come to terms with such an Arrangement. Meanwhile, things keep falling apart. And we may hold out against God too long. Too late we may hear that quiet voice coming to us out of darkness, over a ruined world, saying, “Without me you can do nothing.”
MARRIAGE IN COMMUNIST LANDS
The Communists, according to a report in Time magazine, are cracking down on abortions and making divorce difficult. This is true notably in Hungary, where there are more abortions than births, and in Rumania, where the divorce rate is approximately 25 per cent. For years the Communists have looked on marriage lightly, especially in its religious dimensions. Now, it seems, they are changing their minds. A low view of matrimony hurts the family, and a weakened family structure hurts society. Communist governments are now allowing benefits to women who have children, and lonely-heart bureaus and marriage guidance councils have been established.
Once again there is evidence that the institutions set forth in the Scriptures are appropriate to the needs of mankind. God made man, with all his appetites and capacities for love and affection. And marriage is God’s idea, not man’s. God blesses the state of marriage. How unfortunate, then, that so many have tried to get along without it.
From age to age man has attempted to set up his own systems while ignoring the system created by the Lord. And always he has come to failure. The history of Communism should teach us that when a people denies divine ordinances in favor of man-made values, it may also be surrendering its soul in the bargain. Communism was wrong about marriage. God was right. And God will be proved to be right about countless other things that large groups of men are rejecting. God grant that the American people will not discover this too late.
THE POOR PEOPLE’S CAMPAIGN
For all its liabilities, the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington prods the heart and reminds Christians of an inescapable responsibility to the poor and hungry.
Scripture contains the often repeated admonition to care for the downtrodden and lift up the fallen.
There is in the Christian churches today a stifled capacity for sacrifice. But this latent concern cannot ideally be quickened in a climate that obscures essential differences between Christianity and Marxism. Nor can it prosper where ecclesiastical agencies use church funds to advance a dubious ideology, and not for a pure witness in Christ’s name.
It is unfortunate that the Washington dramatization of a social problem has taken on a political character, and a naïve one at that. Its “lobbying” has been thrust upon the national capital at a time when the specter of tension and violence hangs heavy, and when numerous public officials acknowledge a desperate need to cut government spending. Inflation brought on by deficit government spending hits first at food prices, and poor people feel it first. And this year the government will likely roll up its biggest deficit ever. The more the government doles out, the more vicious the cycle becomes.
Many Christians readily join in the recent confession of Dr. Franklin Clark Fry, president of the Lutheran Church in America, who laments that he has “been able to live all these years with so little pricking of my conscience when it ought to have been a wringing of my conscience regarding the fate, the difficulties and the disadvantages of the people who have been condemned to live in the ghetto.” To the extent that the Poor People’s Campaign represents a genuine plea for victims of destitution, it deserves the loving ear of Christians. Christians need to go the extra mile to help those who want to work and to use their resources to alleviate suffering. But the notion that government can “wipe out” poverty is an idle dream. It is no help to the needy to add an illusion to their misery.
The twenty-four-million-dollar April riot in Washington, D. C., and the serious rise in crime in the city since then have smashed the dream of governmental officials that the nation’s capital serve as a showcase to the world of the good life found in a democratic society. Rather, Washington today is an example of the critical breakdown in law and order that is spreading throughout the nation. Arson, robberies, burglaries, and race-related extortion—as well as killings carried out during the commission of crimes—have increased to such an extent that even LBJ-designated Mayor Walter E. Washington privately admits that “hysteria” and “panic” have gripped parts of the D. C. citizenry. Senator Robert C. Byrd (D.-W. Va.) referred to the city as “a veritable jungle where decent citizens must cower behind drawn blinds at night in fear that they may be robbed, maimed, raped, or murdered.”
The fatal shooting of a bus driver and seven bus holdups during the single evening of May 16 prompted D.C. Transit drivers to stop working nights until protection was provided or money for change was not required. They had experienced 223 bus robberies in less than five months of 1968 (compared with 326 in all of 1967). Their concern mirrored the exasperation and fear of the entire city, which had seen the crime rate rise every week since the April rioting. While serious crimes numbered 820 during a week in March, post-riot offenses totaled 991 during the week of April 15–21, and 1,114 the week of April 29–May 5. Continuing acts of arson in Washington’s riot-torn areas have followed the pattern of Newark and Detroit, where 100 to 150 cases were reported each month for several months after the civil disorder. Crime in the capital has brought vociferous complaints from small businessmen harrassed by burglaries and threats of harm and arson. Tourist trade, the city’s second largest industry, has dropped sharply because of the prevailing climate of lawlessness. The District government, burdened not only by the crime increase but now also by the volatile presence of thousands of participants in the “Poor People’s Campaign,” has recently increased the size and man-hours of its police surveillance activities.
The upsurge of lawlessness that has hit Washington and many other major American cities may be traced to many problems. These include such perennial factors as man’s inherent predisposition toward evil, lack of proper training in home and school, materialistic covetousness, and inadequacies in the social environment. But in recent years crime has risen and respect for law has diminished partly because important agencies of society have adopted erroneous, unrealistic, humanistic views of the responsibility for his crime. Often criminal acts have been looked upon as manifestations of illness for which society is responsible. Captured offenders have many times been set free because the courts have followed liberal judicial decisions that favor the criminal and work to the detriment of society. Frequently those convicted in court have had sentences suspended or probation granted because judges hold a low view of the value of punitive measures. In other recent cases, law-enforcement officers have been less than strict in apprehending offenders, particularly in riots, because they do not want to create problems for their superior officers, who must maintain good community relations. The failure of officials to enforce the law vigorously, apprehend criminals immediately, grant them speedy but fair trials, and hand out severe sentences upon conviction has made crime much more attractive to those tempted to try it. The unfortunate situation in Washington, where respect for law and order has deteriorated, should impress upon cities where crime is less rampant the utter necessity of maintaining strict law enforcement at all times.
Law-enforcement agencies cannot, however, do their job unless communities support them. Both Negro and white citizens must back the swift prosecution not only of all professional criminals but also of all rioters, arsonists, and looters in civil disorders. All who seek social change must take care to promote their causes lawfully. As disrespect of law increases, the nation cannot afford illegal actions by so-called conscientious protesters. The nation is hurt, not helped, by students who seize campus facilities to gain a greater voice in their university, or Southern Christian Leadership Conference leaders who disrupt a city to press for economic change, or religious activists such as the Jesuit Berrigan brothers who burn government files to protest the draft. We must make it clear to all law-breakers—the brutal criminal, the rampaging rioter, and the “righteous” but illegal protester—that defiance of the law will not be tolerated.
Important as the law is, however, it cannot redeem a man or a society. If our nation is again to achieve the unity, order, and purpose we so desperately need, we must experience an internal change. We must as a people turn to God, repent of our sins, experience a revival of true faith in Jesus Christ, and dedicate ourselves to his truth and purpose. If we again become a God-fearing people, we will experience not merely a return to law and order but an emergence of harmony and brotherhood that will make America greater than ever before. Our nation then will be a showcase to the world of the abundant life that God gives to a people who trust him.
IS THERE HOPE FOR PALESTINE?
A Christian has reason to believe that the ultimate crisis will center, not in Viet Nam, nor in the United States and its increasing turmoil, but in Palestine. Very few signs of a peaceful future are seen in the land of the Bible these days. Each new development seems to point toward a bigger showdown.
Rumors crop up, for example, that Israel wants all land from the Nile to the Euphrates. On the other hand, it is hardly a secret that for his part Nasser would like to see the Jews pushed into the sea. War is very possible and could spread considerably.
“Moscow will not accept a defeat of its diplomacy in that area,” says Charles Malik, former president of the United Nations General Assembly, “and the United States will not allow Israel to be beaten.” Malik, from Lebanon, paints a drab picture. The new element in the Middle East is that peace in Palestine currently turns on a settlement of American-Soviet tensions. Soviet ships cruise within sight of the eastern Mediterranean shores, and apparently intend to stay there. The U. S. Sixth Fleet is also in the Mediterranean, but not visible.
The refugee problem accentuates the tension. Many Arabs trace themselves back to the Canaanites and base their right to the property of the promised land on the grounds that they were there first. Even if treated properly, they refuse to accept the political authority of the Jews.
Israel seems uninterested both in the tragic plight of the Arab refugees and in the U. N. insistence that nothing be done unilaterally to change the status of Jerusalem. If considerations of social justice are not to be ignored, both these problems must be faced—and perhaps together.
The question of Palestine is probably the most baffling one of our day. Not even avant-garde churchmen have dared to make any meaningful pronouncement on who is right and who is wrong and how the issues might be resolved.
Men must strive to ease the friction, to temper the feelings, and to seek a compromise that will minimize bloodshed. But the very complexity of the issue points to the fact that ultimate resolution rests in the hands of Almighty God. We may not see that resolution until the climactic events of the end-time.
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