Do Jews Bear Responsibility For The Death Of Jesus Christ?
Posted by Job on March 4, 2011
The answer to this question is yes. This is a fact plainly given in the Bible. That the Jews killed Jesus Christ is explicitly described by the unanimous testimony of all four gospels. Moreover, this event was recounted in various New Testament epistles. Also, the death of the Moshiach (or Messiah, or Christ) at the hands of His own people was prophesied in several places in the Old Testament. So, to deny this truth is akin to denying the truth of the Bible itself. Thus, the primary reason and motivation for denying this fact is to deny the truth and authority of the holy scriptures.
Now even though this is a fact plainly recorded and described in the Bible, it is not without a degree of nuance. For instance, there is the fact that Jesus Christ was killed on a Roman cross by Roman soldiers acting under orders by Pontius Pilate. Well, the Bible does not absolve the Roman Empire of guilt either! Quite the contrary, not only does it record the Romans’ mocking, torturing and killing Jesus Christ despite knowing of His innocence and mighty works, but Jesus Christ Himself told Pilate that he only had power over Christ because such power (meaning civil authority) was given to Jesus Christ by God. The fact that human rulers and governments derive their power from God and are used to do God’s bidding (whether they know of it or not) is a consistent theme of the Bible, given from Exodus in the Old Testament to Romans in the New Testament at minimum.
Still, it is impossible to blame entirely or mostly the Romans, because the Bible makes it clear that Jesus Christ was handed over to the Romans to be executed by the Jewish leaders. The gospel record states that the Jewish leaders initially handed Jesus Christ over because of the crime of blasphemy – which the gospels tell us that they actually sincerely thought Christ to be guilty of, though they could not legitimately prove it – and that Pilate and Herod were disinterested in using the Roman justice system to settle an internal Jewish matter. Pilate instructed the Jewish leaders to deal with them according to their own system, and the Jewish leaders refused, cagily claiming that execution was against their law. While that was technically true according to the Jewish statutes of the time (for reasons too complex to be enumerated here), Pilate knew full well that the Jews did execute people by stoning for blasphemy and other crimes, with Stephen in Acts being an example. Instead, the real reason why the Jewish leaders deferred stoning Jesus Christ themselves was the fear of provoking a popular revolt. A massive Jerusalem revolt over the stoning of Jesus Christ would have likely meant the end of the Jewish leaders, either at the hands of the people or at the Roman Empire (who would have held the Jewish leaders responsible for inciting the revolt by killing an innocent man very popular with the people in the first place).
So, then the Jewish leaders used the charge that Jesus Christ was a political subversive among the Jews attempting to challenge, defy and subvert their authority over the Jewish people. While they did not accuse Jesus Christ of being a threat to Rome itself, the Jews did enjoy a status of self-government under the Roman Empire because of their being a distinct people with a unique religion, and Rome had the obligation to protect this autonomy from internal and external threats, in addition to their policy against rebellions and disturbances in general (pax Romana). Violating Jewish blasphemy laws was not a Roman official matter, but attempting to rival or overthrow a local government was. So against this charge, Pilate had little recourse but to take it seriously, especially when Jesus Christ did not deny being King of the Jews (and Pilate knew that Christ had a large band of devoted followers), other than simply release Jesus Christ in complete rejection of the charges, which he was not willing to do. So, Jesus Christ was officially accepted as a prisoner of the Roman Empire. Pilate then made one last attempt to save Jesus Christ by having Him released in accordance with the Passover tradition – even rigging it by making the only choice Jesus Christ and the murderer Barabbas – and then ordered the execution.
So yes, the actual murder of Jesus Christ was committed by Romans. However, consider under our own laws, the person that hires a “hit man” to kill someone. Both the “hit man” who actually performs the deed and the person who hired the “hit man” are equally guilty of murder under our laws. In this case, the Roman Empire was the hired assassin, and the Jewish leaders were the ones that hired the Empire to commit the deed on their behalf. In another example, the Old Testament provides a comparison where the Jewish leaders were to be held responsible: that of David in the case of Uriah the Hittite. Uriah the Hittite was not killed by David’s hand, but rather on the battlefield by enemy soldiers. David instructed his generals to put Uriah “on the front line”, have Uriah’s company engage the enemy in battle, and then withdraw, leaving Uriah isolated, outnumbered and surrounded. So, though Uriah the Hittite was killed by Philistines, the Bible explicitly tells us that God held David personally responsible for the murder. So, in the murder of Jesus Christ, the Jewish leaders acted as King David, and the Roman Empire acted as the Philistines. Thus, giving the Roman Empire all or even most of the responsibility for this deed requires rejecting the truth of the gospels, the epistles that speak of the gospels, and the Old Testament scriptures that predict the gospels. The idea that Jesus Christ was killed by the Romans because He was – or the Romans erroneously thought Him to be – a political subversive cannot be reconciled with what the Bible actually says, and one must deny the Bible’s contents in order to adhere to and advance that position.
This brings us to the most difficult issue of all: the Jewish leaders living in that time versus the Jewish nation at that time and since. How can all the Jewish people be held accountable for the actions of a few Jewish religious leaders? Answering that question adequately requires that one challenge the modern mindset and adopt a way of thinking that was prevailing at the time when the Bible was written. The Bible was not written in modern times by people with contemporary ways of viewing the world. Often, we accidentally interpret the Bible as if it was. Or more dangerously, we consider our times to be better, more moral, more civilized, more intellectual, and more advanced than was the times of the Bible, so we see interpreting the Bible according to modern constructs as an improvement that provides a better, deeper, more spiritual interpretation and application.
So, yes, it is true that according to Enlightenment thinking and Bible interpretations from the worldview of Enlightenment thinking, only the Jewish leaders directly involved in the plot to hand Jesus Christ over to the Roman Empire with a demand to execute Him based on a judgment of theirs that He had committed a capital crime (whether blasphemy or indirectly threatening pax Romana) were guilty. However, the rub is that the Bible’s worldview does not reflect that of the Enlightenment, and in some instances to understand the Bible’s contents, one must reject Enlightenment thought.
The reason is that whether by accident or design, a major product of the Enlightenment is the enhanced – almost singular – focus on the individual. Above all else, the Enlightenment exalts an individual’s having the ability to possess and exercise his intellectual and moral free agency. As a matter of fact, according to the Enlightenment, the very purpose of civilization – community, culture, government etc. – is to empower this individual free agency to the maximum extent possible. Anything that puts unnecessary limitations on the individual is repressive and oppressive tyranny, and every institution should be designed to promote the most individual power and influence. Democracy, for example, is the ideal because it provides the maximum amount of individual influence over government, which we are told is illegitimate unless it derives from the consent of the governed.
Needless to say, this is incompatible with a book which starts with “In the beginning God created the Heaven and the earth” and therefore establishes from the very beginning that not only the individual but all creation is unconditionally owned and governed by an absolute Sovereign. An example: the people who founded this country by organizing a seditious sinful rebellion against this nation’s rightful ruler (yes, that is true whether it is in your history book or not) justified it based in part on the idea that the fact that the ruler was taxing them autocratically with no say in how high the tax rates were, how the tax money would be spent, and without asking their opinion or consent on the passage of laws governing the property and behavior of those being taxed. While that idea seems to be “gospel truth” in the minds of many western – and especially American – Christians NOW, in the worldview of the Bible, where the absolute rule of monarchs was not only unquestioned but was considered a virtue, it was madness. In the Bible, kings did not ask for permission, nor did they govern according to conditions imposed on them by their subjects. Instead, they governed by conquering – or the threat thereof – and their charges either accepted their edicts or perished. The purpose of governance in the Bible’s time was not to empower the individual to seek his own destiny to the greatest extent possible, but rather to maximize the ability of the monarch to govern. The monarch in turn was to use his power to provide as much order, peace, stability, protection and prosperity as possible. Naturally, a bunch of individuals living according to their own whims, fancies and self-centered passions – whatever the consequences to their families, tribes, communities and kingdom – acted against the ability of a monarch to protect and provide for his people and keep the peace.
Of course, with individualism comes the concept of individual responsibility. Now of course, modern thinking rejects true individual responsibility, which holds that each person must bear the responsibility for his actions, whether positive or negative. Instead, current modern thinking holds that each person must receive the maximum amount of benefit for positive actions, should receive as little ill effects for negative actions as is possible (that “society” should step in and bear as much cost as possible) and that above all receiving negative consequences that are not the result of something that individual did consciously and directly is perhaps the greatest of evils (on a par with depriving a person of the liberty to exercise his free agency). Now though a great many conservatives (theological and otherwise) propose that true individual responsibility is Biblical, the truth is that with respect to things that truly matter – the big picture where the Bible is concerned – the Bible does not deal with individual personal responsibility at all. Instead, the Bible deals with groups of people that have an individual – or a smaller body comprised of members of the group – acting in representative fashion. According to the Bible, no one stands alone. Everyone is part of the group, represents the group, and is represented by the group. Where the modern mindset is individualistic, the Bible’s mindset is tribalistic and nationalistic. The modern mindset, therefore, exalts itself against the Biblical mindset, and to understand the Bible, the modern mindset must be rejected.
Consider two core doctrines: original sin and Jesus Christ’s atonement. A Bible-based Christian with a modern mindset will know why he is a sinner because of what Adam did, but will not be able to truly understand why this is so. As a result, this fact is a truth in his mind only because the Bible says so, and to him it is a mystery that he accepts by faith without asking very many probing questions. Or, such a person may see it in the context of something that is still relevant to the modern world … something received by inheritance (i.e. a child inheriting a parent’s assets upon that parent’s death) or perhaps genetics. In a similar fashion, a person might simplify the atonement with a “Jesus Christ took my individual sins and died in my individual place and that one act did it for every other individual sinner on an individual basis” mindset. That is because the modern mind has real issues with such concepts as “federal headship”, “covenant representative”, “corporate solidarity.” Because the Bible has no concept of respect for the individual as we would recognize it today, it is taken for granted that we are all sinners because God appointed Adam as the representative of the human race, and as a result we are automatically, legally declared sinners because our representative sinned. It is in the same manner how in Bible times a king would literally commit genocide against and totally wipe out another kingdom because an offense made against him by that country’s monarch. In the time that the Bible was written, it was absolutely proper to hold all the people in the kingdom responsible for the deeds and misdeeds of their representative the king.
And that brings us to the Jewish leaders in the time of Jesus Christ. Make no mistake: they were the legitimate representatives of the Jewish people in both a religious and civil capacity. So, just as Adam’s eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil plunged all mankind into sin, the high priest Caiaphas and his collaborators’ sending of Jesus Christ to His execution was an action borne by all the Jewish people with consequences for all Jewish people. Again, let us use King David as an example. One might protest that the nation of Israel was not punished for David’s murder of Bathsheba. That is true, but David’s murder of Uriah was David’s acting in a private capacity in a private matter. By contrast, the rejection of Jesus Christ as Messiah and King was done by the Jewish religious leaders as a public matter – both civil and religious – on behalf of the whole nation. So instead, this can be considered akin to David’s sinning in his public capacity of ruler and commander of the military by ordering a census. The result of this act was the death of 70,000 people. These people did not sin and had no role in that act whatsoever, but rather died because of the actions of their representative David. For another example, many Egyptians, including the firstborn in every house, died because of the official actions of the representative of that nation, the pharoah. While the death that came upon Egypt was at least in partial response to the murder of the Hebrew male babies, virtually none of the Egyptians who died were directly connected to or personally responsible for that official decree of an Egyptian ruler some 80 years prior, or its execution thereof.
We should also remember that Jesus Christ spoke of the collective guilt of the Jewish people and nation when He pronounced woe upon Jerusalem and predicted the destruction of the temple and the end of the Jewish age in 70 A.D. We should also remember that the apostle Peter explicitly assigned responsibility to the Jews – and not merely the Jewish leaders, but Jews who may not have even been in Jerusalem at all when Jesus Christ was crucified nearly two months earlier – in his sermon on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:14-36. Those Jews – again those who may not have even been present and possibly may have had no knowledge of the act – did not deny their responsibility for killing Jesus Christ, but instead fell under conviction and instead asked how they could repent in Acts 2:37. So, Jews at the time of Pentecost were fully aware of their shared responsibility due to the actions of their leaders. Such a thing was not questioned, because it was a truth, a mindset that was a core part of Jewish culture and belief of the day. The Jews at the time of Pentecost were not influenced by Enlightenment thinking! And neither should we be.
Now there is the perfectly legitimate question as to whether this guilt for the death of Christ shared by the Jews ended at some point, such as when Jesus Christ prayed for their forgiveness when He said “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do”, or in 70 A.D. when “this generation” ended, and then there is also the issue that according to certain Old Testament texts, sins only extended to the third, fourth or tenth generation (unless specifically stated otherwise). In that light, it is a legitimate question whether Jews living today are responsible through their national representatives at the time of Jesus Christ. The best answer that I can propose would be in the affirmative, for the passages that appear to time-limit to “third and fourth generation” only refer to punishment for the guilt, and not the legal status or judgment of guilt itself. This legal status or judgment of removal of guilt for the Jewish people for the murder of Jesus Christ appears nowhere in the Bible. As a result, only Jews who have all of their sins forgiven by having Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior can be considered innocent at this present time.
So then, what does this mean? In many practical respects, absolutely nothing. For instance, the guilt of the Jewish people over the death of Jesus Christ is no more or no different from the guilt of all men over the sin of Adam. So, reviling, slurring or persecuting Jews as “Christ-killers” as if Jews are unique among mankind bearing imputed sin is absurdly anti-Jewish (or anti-Semitic as it is called in modern times) because sin imputed to mankind is universal. And the folly is even greater when one considers that it was Adam’s sin that necessitated Jesus Christ’s death in the first place. So what is the theological justification for singling out Jews for Christ’s death when you yourself bear equal responsibility for the very event that required Jesus Christ to be rejected and killed by His people?
Further still, Christian persecutors of Jews throughout the centuries have done so in spite of the commandments in the New Testament text itself. First of all, the New Testament does not command or in any way endorse the resentment or mistreatment, whether on a systematic or an individual basis, any Jew because of the Jewish guilt over the murder of Jesus Christ (or for any other reason for that matter). So, because the New Testament does not tell Christians to mistreat Jews, then the moral and ethical instructions and restriction of the New Testament on Christian behavior applies to our behavior with and among Jews. So, with Jews just as everyone else, we are to commit no obvious sins or crimes against them (i.e. murder, theft, slander), we are to love our neighbors, love our enemies, turn the other cheek, do unto others as we would have them to do unto us, refrain from spreading malicious gossip and rumors (blood libels, conspiracies about Jews controlling the government/media/banks and similar) and also obey the civil laws designed to protect all. Obviously, Christian mistreatment of Jews over the centuries required the sinful reinterpretation or nullification of these texts to justify it. The Bible makes it clear that those who do not keep the commandments of Jesus Christ whether with respect to Jews or in general are not Christians at all; they are not sheep but goats.
More specific theological reasons are spelled out in the outstanding and pivotal work of the Jew Sha’ul, the Book of Romans, the same Pharisee of the tribe of Benjamin that is called Paul. Ironically, Paul is considered by those who despise scripture as the greatest of anti-Semites and the originator of the replacement theology that was allegedly used to justify persecuting Jews. Of course, such statements are lies against Paul, against the Bible, and against the Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible. The truth is that Paul dedicates a large portion of the book of Romans not to denounce Jews as Christ-killers and demand that they receive ill thoughts and treatment as a result, but instead demanding that Gentile Christians accept and respect the Jewish Christians’ lineage and their adherence to their religious, cultural and national traditions, including circumcision and observing the Jewish feasts and the Jewish sabbaths. Unfortunately, the Gentile Christians quickly cast aside Romans and began to drive Jewish Christians out of churches over their refusal to abandon their heritage for Hellenism as early as the 2nd century, less than 100 years after Romans was penned.
In the course of defending Jewish Christians, Paul made the shocking statement that both exists in tension with legitimate replacement theology (though not paradoxical or in contradiction with or nullification of it!): that Jews are still God’s people, and moreover the original God’s people. Believing Gentile Christians are “grafted in” to the original branch of Jews who believe in their Moshiach. (It is very difficult not to come to the conclusion that believing Jews are therefore “first among equals” based on Please recall that the Bible is not an Enlightenment document, and therefore lacks our notions of total egalitarianism.) Now, it is tempting to state that Romans 11 only applies to believing Jews’ still retaining something of their chosen or special status. Romans 11:28-29 specifically rejects this by saying “As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes, but as touching the election, they are beloved for the Father’s sakes for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” That verse explicitly means that the original status of Israel set forth when they were first called out of Egypt and made into God’s unique people is unchanged, either by their breaking of the Sinai covenant (that is now of none effect, the ark which signifies that covenant was lost in 586 B.C.) or by their rejection of their Moshiach, an event that was necessary for the new covenant.
Further, Romans 11:28-29 precedes this amazing thought: “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this [is] my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.” So, if the Jews are still God’s chosen people according to God’s election, and if all Israel shall be saved, what kind of a madman who professes to believe and love the Bible and take it seriously would persecute or hate any Jew? It makes no sense. It is the sort of sin that makes no sense, is utterly counterproductive, entirely without rational basis, and can only be described as being the work of demons. And it goes without saying that the people claiming to be Christians who persecuted and murdered Jews totally ignore Romans 11, and in the course of doing so did nothing but bring God’s curse upon themselves. It is particularly amazing that no small amount of Christians that adhere to covenant theology completely suppressed the truth of God within themselves with regards to Romans 11:28-29’s clear statement regarding God’s not repenting Himself of electing Israel, including those who do not believe.
Another vital theological reason: Christians are not God. A core fact of the New Testament is that the Old Testament Israel system of priests, sacrifices and civil judgments for religious laws is gone forever. Now under that old system, it was necessary and proper to give various punishments, including death, for sins. But now, Jesus Christ is our High Priest, and as we are in Jesus Christ, we are a priesthood of believers. And further, despite what was taught and practiced for centuries, the New Testament does not command, provide for or desire the establishment of Christian civil governments – as those contradict Christian doctrine inherently – but rather only governs churches and the lives of individual Christians. So, the only punishment for sins in the church age is church discipline of believers. As unbelieving Jews are not in Christian churches, they are not subject to any Christian punishment or sanction of any kind for any sin against Jesus Christ or anybody else. So, in the absence of a human official priesthood or theocratic state (which again, the New Testament forbids in both cases), Christians have no authority to judge or make any punishment for any sin apart from discipline in an ecclesiastic context (i.e. excommunication), and even those are sins that a believer individually personally committed (churches cannot punish anyone for being “in Adam”). So, any Jewish guilt related to the death of Jesus Christ is for God to judge and God to punish. Any man who takes this duty upon himself is presumptuously and sinfully laying claim to Divine duties and privileges, and is therefore bringing God’s wrath upon himself. Also, as stated earlier, one cannot punish a Jew for the actions of Caiaphas without also punishing a Gentile for the actions of Adam.
In summary, the Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus Christ is attested in the Bible. However, the same Bible makes it clear that this guilt on the part of the Jews is God’s business alone. God alone judges sin, and God alone punishes sin. So, the person that attempts to act in God’s place does nothing but sin himself. Therefore, beyond mere bearing witness to the truth of the Bible, the issue of Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus Christ is not an issue, and further dwelling on or making too much of the issue only serves as a temptation to invite the influence of what apparently are extremely powerful evil spirits that provoke thoughts and actions related to anti-Judaism (commonly referred to in these times as anti-Semitism).
This means that the real issue is not whether Jews living today bear responsibility for the actions of Caiaphas and other Jewish leaders in death of Jesus Christ. Instead, it is the sin guilt that all bear, Jew and Gentile, for the actions of Adam. Be not deceived … whether Jew or Gentile, if you are not reconciled with God through His Unique Son Jesus Christ, because chiefly of the actions of Adam, and also because of your own sin – for all do sin – you are considered to be a sinner by God. The Bible says that the soul that sins will surely die, and the Bible declares this death to be eternity in a lake of fire. The good news – the gospel – is that because of the actions of Jesus Christ, you can be declared free of all sin, whether your own individual actions, the actions of Caiaphas if you are a Jew, and the actions of Adam for all. So whether Jew or Gentile, please urgently: