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What is all this in the media about anti-semitism?

Tue October 9th, 2018

The on-going row in the labour party about anti-Semitism seems like it will never end. There is much in the press about the rise of anti-Semitism across Europe too. It seems like there is a tradition about hating the Jewish people and some make it a key point in their belief system and others are very subtle about it.

Should we tolerate anti-Semitism? No-way! We should never side with people who discriminate by race, whoever it is. The Jews have suffered enough, and we should feel for them, as Christians are the most martyred population of all.

Are there really Christians out there who are anti-Jewish? Can it be right to be a Christian and hate the Jews? After all Jesus said “Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22 NIV). At the start of this article let me make my position quite clear – I am not anti-Semitic or anti-anyone for that matter. To despise people for their race is without doubt un-Christian, and I won’t tolerate it!

Recently someone asked me if I had “replacement theology”; I think that many around me wondered what this person was talking about, but I understood. If you don’t get it either, then all will become clear in a moment.

In the nineteenth century the rising power of the Zionist movement swayed the British government and much of the church hierarchy. 

Dispensationalism

The Zionists found support from the work of John Nelson Derby who had devised a scheme that put history into divisions called ‘dispensations’ in an effort to explain Biblical prophecy. Other people had tried this but Derby constructed a whole view of the end-times that was to say the least “extra-biblical”.  Derby’s teachings didn’t get far in the UK until he made friends with American Cyrus Schofield, whose popular ‘Bible with notes’ included Derby’s teachings – this gave Derby credibility. At a time in which liberalism was overtaking the church, true Christians were looking for a more faithful interpretation of the Scriptures and found Schofield’s Bible to be the gold standard. D. L. Moody became convinced by dispensationalism, and thanks to him and his Bible Training Institute, it became the doctrine of choice for a substantial number of evangelicals. Key points of Derby’s teaching were the concept of the last age of man being driven by the Jews rather than by the church. History shows us that this type of belief was not known in the church until the 19th century, which immediately sets off alarm bells. Zionist politicians rode bareback on the wave of dispensationalism in the church and alliances were formed that are still in place today, particularly in the USA. In the church you will sometimes see ‘Christian Zionists’ who may take extreme views on what a Christian is. To a Christian Zionist, the opposite viewpoint is that the Church has replaced Israel, which in a way it has (it is the community that God has established), and in a way it hasn’t (Israel is still Israel and they can still ‘be grafted in’ Rom.11:23). This opposite view is known as ‘Replacement Theology’. 

Truth

The Jews were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans; it is not anti-Semitic to say this, as it is simply a matter of truth! (Luke 23:23-24, Acts 2:36)  

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” Acts 2:36 

The majority of persecution of the church in the early years was not by the Romans but by the Jews; it is not anti-Semitic to say this, as it is also the truth.(Rev.2:8,  Acts 9:23, 13:45, 14:2, 14:19 etc.)

Rom 11:28 Regarding the gospel, they (the Jews) are enemies…

The problem we face in the 21st Century is that if you say anything (fact or fiction) about a Jew that can be processed in a negative way, you are anti-Semitic!  If a man rams into the back of my car because he didn’t see me break, it is his fault. If I subsequently find out that he is Jewish, it doesn’t change a thing! His responsibility cannot be ignored because he is ‘one of God’s chosen people’. This is a loaded statement because it is scriptural for me to call myself ‘chosen’ also! 

But you (the church) are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9 NIV 

In the church there is neither Jew or Gentile. So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal 3:26-28 NIV 

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Rom 3:22-24 NIV 

Some theologians accuse Paul or John of being anti-Semitic, but to say that is to approach the Bible with an aggravated dispensationalism or a personal ideology that elevates the Jews into a higher position. How could Paul, a Jew, be anti-Semitic? John was also born a Jew and was one of the original 12 apostles. Telling the truth doesn’t make you anti-Semitic, if that is all you do! A problem arises when accusations are made against people who are only alluding to the truth.

Is Paul Anti-Semitic?

Circumcision is considered in the western world as a ‘Jewish’ ritual, although it has been practiced by other nations and groups throughout history. Paul tells us that circumcision does not set a person apart before God – it is the state of the heart that matters.

No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Rom 2:29 NIV 

He also says that when it comes to sin, Jews and Gentiles are alike: 

For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. Rom 3:9 NIV 

Paul also makes a distinction between the broader national Israel and the smaller ‘spiritual’ Israel. Paul is making the point that God doesn’t save nations, but calls individuals from all the world, whatever their ethnicity or nationality. 

For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 8 In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. Rom 9:6-8 NIV 

Paul does not deny that in some sense Israel remains the people of God, but stresses that they cannot look to their Jewishness to guarantee them salvation. 

I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. Rom 9:2-5 NIV 

“Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. Rom 9:27 NIV 

When talking of Abraham’s seed (NKJV) or children (NIV), Paul makes it clear that being descended from Abraham doesn’t give you any unique standing before God. Ishmael was descended from Abraham, but those who believe God like Abraham did are accepted into the ‘spiritual Israel’, whether they are Israelites or Ishmaelites or more broadly, Gentiles. Rom 9:7 is most contentious in this argument, as Jews insist that the Covenant blessings all descend through Isaac, whereas Paul raises the difference between ‘children of the flesh’ and ‘children of the promise’. He is emphatic that the descendants of Isaac are not indeed members of ‘spiritual Israel’. NT Wright says ‘what counts is grace not race’. Also, in Galatians Paul tells us that it is the faith of Abraham that matters not the genetic traits: 

Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. 8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. Gal 3:7-9 NIV 

Here Paul makes it clear that the seed of Abraham is one person , Jesus , and that therefore the real covenant promises of God come through Him.  The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. Gal 3:16 NIV It is this truth that Christian Zionists would disagree with us on and accuse us of missing the point.   

Salvation Romans 10 starts with a plea for the salvation of Israel: 

Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. Rom 10:1 NIV 

It is clear that the Jews need salvation in just the same way as the Gentiles do. There is no back door marked “Jews only”. Romans 10 goes on to point out that they are at this time a disobedient people: 

But concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” Rom 10:21 NIV 

Then in chapter 11, Paul asks a rhetorical question to introduce his point I ask then: Did God reject his people? Rom 11:1 NIV He then answers it using the individual example that he himself offers: 

By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Rom 11:1-2 NIV 

This sentence should really silence those who claim Paul is against Israel. But Paul is saying that he an ethnic Jew lives not as a Jew but as a Christian. Paul also reminds Christians that as the children of Abraham are only children by faith, if they don’t believe they will be broken off too! I

f some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. 22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. Rom 11:17-22 NIV 

The reminder is clear that if a Jew has faith in Christ they can also become part of the church. 

And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. Rom 11:23 NIV 

Thank God that salvation coming to the Gentiles doesn’t exclude the Jews! 

All Israel

Christian Zionists often quote that: all Israel will be saved. Rom 11:26 NIV but it is a misquote. The Scriptures say: 

and in this way all Israel will be saved. Rom 11:26 NIV 

The scripture is offering hope that Israel can be saved through faith, the way that Paul has said and that the obedience of the Gentiles coming into the faith will precipitate the Jews following out of ‘jealousy’ (Rom 11:11-14). We could argue that Rom 9:6 says “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” and so this Israel being talked about is Jew and Gentile, but that isn’t totally clear. There is much debate as to what ‘all’ Israel means, but there is no debate in theological circles about the emphasis of this verse – that it is in this way that they will be saved. Where we can be left in no doubt is that Paul is teaching new Gentile Christians not to look down on their Jewish brothers – i.e. he is not anti-Semitic! The writer to Hebrews (ch.13) talks about those who go back to blending Judaism with their Christianity and says that they have no right to eat at our altar (v10). It also goes on to say that like Abraham we have no enduring city (no Jerusalem) and that our place is outside the camp, or outside the city of Jerusalem with Jesus (v14). These and other NT scriptures lead us to the conclusion that the Church is the community that must be upheld, not nationalistic Israel, but that we must never think more of ourselves than them, and in doing so we must not and cannot be anti-Semitic. We should pray for them, and bless them, but not try to justify them when they are wrong.