Opposition to the Jews Is Not a Catholic Error

11/9/13, by Clement Pulaski

Acommon claim made by Christian Zionists is that the traditional anti-Jewish views held by Christians were the result of Catholic error. It is first necessary to point out that many prominent reformers, including Luther and Calvin, were themselves anti-Jewish. The anti-Jewish sentiments of Luther and Calvin are well known and show that the anti-Jewish attitude of the Catholic Church was not considered a problem by the reformers. In response to this, some might argue that these figures from the very beginning of Protestantism were not fully reformed, and thus still subconsciously held Catholic prejudices. But if this anti-Jewish attitude of the early reformers really was of Catholic origin and not truly Biblical, one would expect Protestants in the following centuries to adopt a view towards the Jews similar to that held by modern Zionists. This is not the case, however, as the following example demonstrates. Philip Schaff was a prominent 19th century American Protestant theologian and Church historian. He said the following about the Jews in his History of the Christian Church:

The Jews had displayed their obstinate unbelief and bitter hatred of the gospel in the crucifixion of Christ, the stoning of Stephen, the execution of James the Elder, the repeated incarceration as of Peter and John, the wild rage against Paul, and the murder of James the Just. No wonder that the fearful judgment of God at last visited this ingratitude upon them in the destruction of the holy city and the temple...But this tragical fate could break only the national power of the Jews, not their hatred of Christianity.

The view that the Jews are the enemy of the Church, and that the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple was divine retribution for their wickedness, was commonplace and uncontroversial among Christians up until the 20th century.

I also point out that these and similar opinions were common in the primitive Church, and there is in fact a complete lack of any pro-Jewish sentiments among the Christian writers of that era. The Catholic Church is doubtless guilty of serious errors, but when refuting these errors, such as papal authority and belief in purgatory, Protestants can easily find writings from the earliest centuries of the Church which show that the primitive Church did not hold the same views as later Catholics. When it comes to the issue of the Jews, however, there are no texts from the primitive Church that support the Christian Zionist position. There is complete continuity of thought on this issue from the New Testament through the Apostolic age all the way up until the early 20th century. Let us turn to some passages from these ancient texts. The first passage is from the Epistle of Barnabas which is one of the very earliest post-New Testament Christian texts. Here the author addresses the question of whether Jews or Christians are the true heirs of Abraham, comparing the situation to the transfer of Isaac's inheritance to his sons:

But let us see if this people (the Church) is the heir, or the former (the Jews), and if the covenant belongs to us or to them. Hear ye now what the Scripture saith concerning the people. Isaac prayed for Rebecca his wife, because she was barren; and she conceived. Furthermore also, Rebecca went forth to inquire of the Lord; and the Lord said to her, 'Two nations are in thy womb, and two peoples in thy belly; and the one people shall surpass the other, and the elder shall serve the younger.' You ought to understand who was Isaac, who Rebecca, and concerning what persons He declared that this people should be greater than that.

Evidently the primitive Church did not teach the doctrine of a dual-covenant, the heretical notion that even after rejecting the Messiah, the Jews still have a unique covenant with God. The Christians of the first and second centuries clearly understood that only they were partakers of the covenant, and that the Jews had been rejected. They held that God had transferred his covenant from the Jews to the Church; just as in the case of Isaac and his sons, there is only one heir of the promise. Christians and Jews could not both be heirs of the promise any more than Jacob and Esau could be joint heirs of their father.

The next passage comes from Justin Martyr who lived in the first half of the 2nd century AD. Justin addresses a Jew named Trypho, and in reference to the destruction of the Temple, he says the following:

these things have happened to you in fairness and justice, for you have slain the Just One, and His prophets before Him; and now you reject those who hope in Him, and in Him who sent Him—God the Almighty and Maker of all things —cursing in your synagogues those that believe on Christ. For you have not the power to lay hands upon us, on account of those who now have the mastery. But as often as you could, you did so....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...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 Jerusalem chosen men through all the land to tell that the godless heresy of the Christians had sprung up, and to publish those things which all they who knew us not speak against us. So that you are the cause not only of your own unrighteousness, but in fact of that of all other men.

Justin Martyr states that not only are the Jews the enemy of the Church, but they are the worst enemy of the Church. Keep in mind that this was written after the reign of Nero when Christians suffered under Roman persecution. Justin himself would be put to death by the Roman authorities, and yet despite his obvious awareness of Roman hostility to the Church, he singles out the Jews as more dangerous and more wicked. In this passage we find beliefs commonly held by Christians from the very beginning, such as the belief that the destruction of the temple was divine retribution, that the Jews preach against Jesus in their synagogues, and that the Jews are guilty of the crucifixion of our Lord. These same beliefs were shared by the 16th century reformers and subsequent generations of Protestants. It is only with the heresy of Christian Zionism in recent generations that these core Christian principles have been abandoned.

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