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By Joshua Arnold
May 3, 2024

A bill (H.R. 6090) to make the Department of Education adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism "is unnecessarily raising concerns" about its effect on the gospel message, said Quena Gonzalez, senior director of government affairs at Family Research Council. The IHRA definition includes "contemporary examples," he told The Washington Stand, among which is "using ... claims of Jews killing Jesus ... to characterize Israel or Israelis."

But "no biblical Christian characterizes Israelis or modern Israel, just because they're Jewish, as having killed Jesus," Gonzalez responded. "Christians have long denounced this trope, going back to the church fathers of the first few centuries, and Christians today need not be concerned that this bill implicates proclaiming the gospel."

The New Testament is clear that ethnic Jews and ethnic Gentiles both stand condemned before God as sinners and can only be saved through faith in Jesus Christ. The same God "gives to all mankind life and breath and everything," and "he made from one man every nation of mankind" (Acts 17:25-26). Yet both Jews and Gentiles have broken God's law, so "both Jews and Greeks are under sin," Paul declared (Romans 3:9). "But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law ... the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift ..." (Romans 3:21-24). Now "there is neither Jew nor Greek ... for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).

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As to who killed Jesus, the Bible's most comprehensive answer holds Jews and Gentiles equally responsible -- although God was ultimately responsible. As the apostles prayed, "in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place" (Acts 4:27-28). In fulfillment of prophecy (Acts 4:25-26, Psalm 2:1-2), God so orchestrated the circumstances that representatives of all mankind -- both Jews and Gentiles, the people and their leaders -- participated in Jesus's death, giving no one group reason to boast against another.

God's sovereign involvement does not nullify human responsibility, but it does add to the significance of Jesus's death. Jesus died in this way so that he might be the Savior of the whole world. "The gospel is, that I killed Jesus by my sin," said Gonzalez. "The gospel (literally, the 'good news') is that God the Father sent His Son to die for my sins; God killed Jesus." In fact, three times Jesus said that he laid down his own life as a sacrifice for his people (John 10:11, 15, 17).

Regrettably, some people -- even some Christians throughout history--have lifted biblical texts out of context in an attempt to justify anti-Semitism. In the earliest recorded Christian sermons, preached several months after Jesus's death in Jerusalem, Jews who believed in Jesus as the Messiah rightly declared to a Jerusalem audience that they had played a role in causing Jesus's death:

"This Jesus ... you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men ... this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:23, 36).

"Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life .... To this we are witnesses" (Acts 3:13-15).

"Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified" (Acts 4:10).
"Your fathers ... killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered" (Acts 7:52).

This accusation only applied to those present in Jerusalem at Jesus's crucifixion. When the Jewish apostle Paul preached to Jews living in modern-day Turkey, he did not accuse them of Jesus's death but "those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers" who "asked Pilate to have him executed" (Acts 13:27-29). He warned these Jews not to imitate those who did not believe in their Messiah.

None of these passages condones anti-Semitism. In each instance, the Jewish preacher aims to convict his hearers of sin so that they might turn to the Messiah and repent. Thus:

"Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself" (Acts 2:38-39).

"Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus," whom God sent "to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness" (Acts 3:19-20, 26).
After "being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man," who was enabled to walk and leap by Jesus's power, Peter declared, "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:9-12).

As some men (including Paul, prior to his conversion) stoned Stephen to death for proclaiming the gospel of Jesus, he prayed, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them" (Acts 7:60).
If God intended to judge the Jewish people for having Jesus killed, then why did he offer them salvation, healing, forgiveness, and blessing? Those who twist these texts into a warrant for anti-Semitism presume to inflict a greater judgment than God, the Judge of all.

In fact, these same passages even show God's sovereign agency behind Jesus's death:

"This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God ... know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:23, 36).
"The God of our fathers glorified his servant Jesus ... whom God raised from the dead. ... What God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled" (Acts 3:13,15, 18).
"Jesus Christ of Nazareth ... whom God raised from the dead ... this Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone" (Acts 4:10-11, paraphrasing Psalm 118:22).
"Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56).
Thus it was prophesied, "it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand" (Isaiah 53:10).

Furthermore, those who would abuse biblical texts to justify anti-Semitism must overlook the New Testament's multiple positive references to Jews. Paul expressed "great sorrow and unceasing anguish" over their unbelief (Romans 9:2). Jews not only received "the oracles of God" (Romans 3:2), but "to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen" (Romans 9:4-5).

Paul further testified that God has always preserved a believing remnant among the Jewish people (Romans 11:1-5). "A partial hardening has come upon Israel," he admitted, but only "until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved. ... For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Romans 11:25-26, 29). Paul's concern -- and God's concern -- is that the Jewish people might believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to magnify God's mercy (Romans 11:32). Anyone concerned with inflicting punishments on or discrimination against the Jewish people is not aligned with God.

To summarize: Jesus willingly laid down his life according to the eternal plan of God, and both Jews and Gentiles, the leaders and the people, were equally complicit in his death. The Bible does not hold Jews especially responsible for Jesus's death, nor does it hold them especially accursed for their complicity. It certainly does not implicate the modern state of Israel and modern Israelis, who were not there, any more than it implicates modern Gentiles, who were not there. But it does hold out future hope that Jews will come to believe in Jesus.

The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism "does not criminalize the gospel," insisted Family Research Council Vice President of Policy and Government Affairs Travis Weber on "Washington Watch." Even in the one example causing confusion, the anti-Semitism "has to be attached to the state of Israel," he added, and that's not what Bible-believing Christians do. So, "for Bible-preaching churches that are preaching the gospel, this is not an issue," Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said.

Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.

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