The gospels frequently mention the struggles Jesus had with the Jewish religious leaders who resisted Jesus’ teaching. They were jealous of Jesus’ success and the multitudes that flocked to him for healing, miracles, and teaching. And they sought to kill him for it.

It’s easy to perceive the New Testament as anti-Semitic, and some have interpreted it that way with dire consequences. But the New Testament does not condemn Jewish people. The harsh words are reserved for some religious leaders. In most other cases, Jewish people are respected in the New Testament. But Christians have not always understood things this way.

Anti-Semitism in Church History

The turning point happened in 380 A.D. when emperor Theodosius issued the Edict of Thessalonica, making Nicene Christianity the Roman Empire’s official religion. Most other Christian sects were deemed heretical, lost their legal status, and had their properties confiscated by the Roman state. Imagine.

This act was the consummation of work begun by Constantine in 312 when he became the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. The church gained political power, and things did not go well for people of other faiths.

Theodosius attempted to acknowledge the civil rights of Jews, pagans, and heretics as equal to those of Christians. But the church opposed this when Bishop Ambrose made the emperor back down. Ambrose wrote in one of his epistles: “Whom do [the Jews] have to avenge the synagogue? Christ whom they have killed, whom they have denied? Or will God the Father avenge them, whom they do not acknowledge as Father since they do not acknowledge the Son?”

Imagine a church that defends its rights but does not uphold the rights of others. I’m glad that doesn’t happen anymore!

We Have Verses

All this set the scene for centuries of oppression of the Jews by Christians. Jews were called the Christ or God killers based on some verses in the New Testament: When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”

Of course, that statement doesn’t mean that it should or would happen. However, many Christian leaders used that declaration to punish and persecute Jewish people through the centuries.

Consider Paul’s words to the church in Thessalonica: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. I understand Paul’s frustration with a group of Jewish Christian converts who followed his ministry to the Gentiles to undermine it. But Paul’s frustration is not an excuse for anti-Semitism.

In Peter’s Pentecost sermon, he said, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” Peter’s words are only partly true. The Jewish leaders had no authority to crucify anyone. However, some of them did prompt the process. The Roman Empire crucified Jesus under the control of Pontius Pilate.

These and other verses have been used over the centuries to promote anti-Semitism. It became fixed in the popular mind that the Jews had crucified Jesus and that their descendants bore hereditary guilt. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has some excellent articles on this.

Martin Luther

From Augustine in the 4th century to Martin Luther in the 16th, some Christian theologians condemned the Jews as rebels against God and murderers of the Messiah.

Luther spoke about destroying Jewish houses, schools, and synagogues and destroying their books. He wrote, “All cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them.” And he suggested that no protection be afforded Jewish people when they travelled. Luther’s anti-Semitic rants undoubtedly formed the foundation for Hitler’s attempted annihilation of the Jewish race.

In Luther’s essay, On the Jews and Their Lies, he describes Jews as a “base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth.” Luther wrote that the Jews are “full of the devil’s faeces…which they wallow in like swine,” the synagogue is an “incorrigible whore and an evil slut.” We look back in horror that such hatred could be uttered by a person we consider one of the great reformers of the Christian church and faith. But that is the record of history.


The church’s anti-Jewish stance has led to absurd conspiracy theories blaming the Jews for the world’s tragedies. Jews were accused of poisoning wells in 14th-century Europe, causing the Black Death. In more recent times, it’s been suggested that Jews are plotting to take over and control the world, an image that was central to the rise of Naziism.

While some positive steps to combat anti-Semitism have been taken by the Roman Catholic church, it still exists, particularly among evangelical Christians who embrace Christian nationalism, cultural Marxism, or belief in a New World Order, a conspiracy where “a cabal of powerful elite figures wielding great political and economic power is conspiring to implement a totalitarian one-world government.” Of course, Jewish banks like the Rothschilds are implicated in this plot.

Back to Scripture

In general, the New Testament does not criticise Jewish people. Jesus and Paul were scathing of anyone attempting to keep people away from God’s grace, but no race is demonised, and no people group is upheld as more important than any other. Paul’s letter to the Romans announces, All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace.” All doesn’t leave anyone out!

One of the standout examples of Jewish inclusion is a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law who was honoured by all the people. The apostle Paul was Jewish, studied under Gamaliel, and thoroughly trained in the Law. Charles Ellicott, the distinguished English Christian theologian, described Gamaliel as one of the heroes of Rabbinic history.

Gamaliel was the grandson of Hillel, the representative of the best school of Pharisees, the tolerant and large-hearted rival of the narrow and fanatic Shammai. Interestingly, Jesus and the early church aligned closer to Hillel’s theology than its limited and extreme alternative. That’s a good lesson for 21st-century Christians.

No Discrimination

Jesus and many of the people he appointed to carry on his message moved amongst Jewish people, loved and helped them, taught and healed them. The only words of censure in the New Testament scriptures are reserved for Jews and Gentiles who openly resisted Jesus or his appointed leaders.

Positive references to Jews are not the minority in the New Testament. But sadly, some Christians over the centuries have focused on the negatives and emphasised them unduly. This narrative has had an extremely destructive effect on how Christian communities have viewed and treated Jews historically.

As a Christian and church leader, I am deeply embarrassed by the church’s actions and inactions towards Jewish people. We need to own our history and apologise for it. We must express God’s love for ALL people, regardless of their racial or ethnic background.

In last week’s blog, I outlined Jesus’ way of reading, understanding, and interpreting the Scriptures as a better way than a flat or uniform method.

For the first couple of decades of my Christian life, I read the Bible as an unchanging text where every word has equal authority. The justification for this approach to Scripture is 1 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” There it is in plain language; all Scripture is equal and vital. Except, we Christians do not live or practice the Bible this way. So, how should we understand Paul’s statement?

The Context

Paul is commending Timothy for his love of the sacred writings (Gk. gramma). Using a different Greek word, Paul contrasts these with the Scriptures (Gk. graphé). The sacred writings included but were not limited to, the Scriptures.

While the writings are sacred, only the Scriptures are God-breathed, likely a term coined by Paul, who combined two Greek words (Theos & Pnau) to make a new one. The Scriptures Paul refers to are the Tanakh, or what we Christians call the Old Testament. They were (are) the Jewish Scriptures Jesus and the first-century Church used.

The New Testament

When the New Testament refers to the Scripture(s) as it does 53 times, it speaks about the Tanakh. But there became increasing awareness amongst the Church that some of the sacred writings of the apostles were also to be considered as Scripture. Peter writes about Paul’s letters, “He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures.”

The four Gospels were eventually stitched together to differentiate them from the many debatable texts that began circulating in the first century. The epistles were sent to the churches and then swapped amongst various congregations. For example, Paul writes to the Colossian Church, “After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you, in turn, read the letter from Laodicea.” Revelation was sent to seven Churches in Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey.

The Completed Bible

The Canon of Scripture, the Bible as we have it today, was completed in the fourth century. The Greek word kanon means reed or measurement. For a book or letter to qualify to be included in the Bible, it had to measure up to specific standards:

  • The writer must have been one of Jesus’ Apostles or their scribe. For example, Mark was Peter’s scribe for his Gospel.
  • The writer had to claim to have written from divine inspiration, which then needed to be confirmed.
  • The content could not contradict books already recognised as Scripture or contain any errors.

The earliest list of suggested New Testament scriptures was compiled in Rome, in 140 A.D., by Marcion. Although considered heretical[1] by many, his list established that the idea of a New Testament canon was accepted then.

By the end of the second century, all but seven books (Hebrews, 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude, James, and Revelation) were recognised as Scripture. By the end of the fourth century, all the Western Churches acknowledged all twenty-seven books in our present canon.

By the year 500, the Greek-speaking Church had also accepted all the books in our present New Testament.

Back to Paul

With that background in mind, let’s return to Paul’s statement about all Scripture being relevant. Scripture is helpful for:

  • Teaching – how to apply it to the way we live.
  • Rebuking – an inner conviction that comes from truth.
  • Correcting – to straighten out or rectify.
  • Training in righteousness – the cultivation of mind and morals.

All Scripture is helpful for at least one of these things, but that does not mean that all Scripture is applied literally or equally.


Jesus taught people that external things couldn’t defile them. In a society where religion had become all about outward show, Jesus’ teachings were revolutionary: “It is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” Mark adds the clause, “In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.” The understanding of the early Church was that the food laws of Leviticus 11 & Deuteronomy 14 were no longer relevant. How are those chapters beneficial, then? A sense of gratitude may be one answer!

Seven times in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago…But I tell you.” He corrected or amended several verses from the Tanakh, possibly showing God’s original intent and practicality of those Scriptures.

The New Testament Scriptures make Sabbath-keeping optional for Christians. Paul writes, “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord.” (Romans 14:5-6; Cf. Exodus 31:14).

What Applies and What Doesn’t?

We, Christians, need to have our lenses in place to see clearly to apply Scripture correctly. Jesus is our primary lens, as we discovered in last week’s blog and my recent sermons here and here.

We can view the Scriptures through the Gospels, reading backwards and forwards. I also suggest looking through New Testament eyes when reading the Tanakh.

Jesus changes some of the Scriptures, as we’ve seen above. Others ceased, such as circumcision, animal sacrifices, and food laws. At the same time, much of the Scriptures continue unchanged. Christians and Jews alike worship God, help the poor and marginalised, tithe, and love their neighbour as themselves.

Paul tells us that the ultimate purpose of Scripture is “so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” That is what Christians are to be known for.

[1] Marcion preached that God had sent Jesus Christ; an entirely new God distinct from the “vengeful” God who had created the world.

We find the most in-depth insights into the resurrection body in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, the resurrection chapter. Please read and ponder verses 35 to 50, in which Paul states his case and then illustrates it with several mini parables. He begins with two questions asking how the dead are raised and what kind of body they will have.

Question one is answered in the first part of the chapter. The dead are raised because Jesus has defeated death through his resurrection. Because Jesus has conquered death, we can, too, as we place our trust in him. Paul then turns his attention to question 2: With what kind of body will they come?

The Example of the Seed

What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed, he gives its own body.

The seed is a body that first must die. In John 12:24, Jesus said unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. No doubt, Jesus was speaking about his impending death. He died as just one man, but his resurrection has cultivated many “seeds” – the billions of people following him.

That body (seed) dies, and God gives it a new body different from the one that perishes. That’s excellent news. Your resurrection body won’t have the same limitations of tiredness, hunger, and sickness endured by the human body.

As Kenneth E. Bailey says, “the new plant that arises from the soil is not created out of the vegetable matter found in the seed. Paul is not telling his readers that in the resurrection the (flesh) will magically reform and arise using the same bone and flesh with which it died.”

This is important because sometimes Christians are unsure about organ donation and cremation because they fear it may affect the resurrection. But your new body will be made of different stuff, so have no fear.

Flesh and Sun

Paul continues this thought in the following parable. The resurrected body will be different from the natural body we possess now. Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another.

He then speaks about Heavenly bodies. Paul isn’t referring to Hollywood actors here; he has the sun, moon, and stars in mind. The sun has one kind of splendour, the moon and the stars another, and each star differs in brilliance. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead.

From our point of view, the sun dies each night and is resurrected in the morning. Even though the sun doesn’t move, we speak of it rising and setting. The moon and stars die each morning and get resurrected each evening. In the same way, death and resurrection are part of each day’s cycle.

Adam and Jesus

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable; it is raised imperishable it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.

Paul continues by using the example of the first man, Adam, and the last Adam (Jesus). The first Adam inaugurated the long chain of perishable human bodies. According to Bailey, “the last Adam, Jesus, launched a new age where the incorruptible will inherit the eternal kingdom in the new creation. Paul is referring to the coming of the kingdom of God in its fullness at the end of the age.”[1]

In this present life, all people are like The First Man, having a natural body of the “dust of the earth.” (Genesis 3:19). Almost 99% of the human body’s mass is made up of six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. Almost all of the remaining 1% comprises another five elements: potassium, sulphur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium. Our natural body, says Paul, is perishable, sown in dishonour and weakness as typified by the first Adam who disobeyed, lied to cover it up, blamed his wife, and then blamed God.

As was the earthly man, so are those of the earth. In other words, we can all relate to Adam’s story because it is our story too. We blame others and God rather than take personal responsibility. We are sinners, but that is NOT the end of the story. Like a seed precedes a plant, the natural body precedes the spiritual body.

Paul writes, “just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.” Paul refers to Jesus as the last Adam, the second man, and the heavenly man, and makes several statements about the resurrection body which is:

Raised imperishable. The resurrected body will not decay or perish (John 3:16). It will be immortal.

Raised in glory. Possessing qualities of integrity, reliability, and wisdom.

Raised in power. The ability to express the life-giving power of love like Jesus demonstrated through the cross.

Raised a spiritual body. The natural (physical) body is sown into death, and, just like a grain of wheat, it springs up as a spiritual body. This body is constituted and directed by the Holy Spirit, thus one that cannot sin, as was God’s original plan.

A Body Like Jesus’

In the resurrection, we will acquire a body that is like Jesus’ resurrection body – tangible, physical. We will not be disembodied spirits floating around on clouds playing the harp. Thank goodness! After his resurrection, Jesus walked, talked, and ate food with people. He was seen by them but also vanished and reappeared in different places. He moved with ease between physical and spiritual dimensions.

Kenneth E. Bailey writes, “In the resurrection, the believer will have a Spirit-constituted physical body. The brokenness and decay of the old body will be gone. The new body will be a physical body like the resurrected body of Christ. Such a glorious vision and promise calls for an exuberant hymn of victory,” which is how Paul ends this chapter:

“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”


[1] Bailey, Kenneth E. Paul through Mediterranean eyes, p. 460.