Was Paul Anti-Semitic? Revisiting 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 -- By: Michael A. Rydelnik

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 165:657 (Jan 2008)
Article: Was Paul Anti-Semitic? Revisiting 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16
Author: Michael A. Rydelnik

Was Paul Anti-Semitic?
1 Thessalonians 2:14-16

Michael A. Rydelnik

Michael A. Rydelnik is Professor of Jewish Studies,
Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, Illinois.

A few years ago Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ incited fears that the movie would awaken largely dormant Christian anti-Semitism. In fact when the movie premiered, a number of newspapers and a national newsmagazine ran a photograph of a sign in front of a church that partially quoted 1 Thessalonians 2:14–15: “The Jews . . . killed the Lord Jesus.”

These verses have long been considered a thorny passage for Jewish-Christian relations because they seem to blame the Jewish people uniquely for the death of Jesus. The Christ-killer accusation, historically a frequent basis for anti-Semitism, is known as the “deicide charge.” It alleges that all Jews are guilty of killing Jesus, and 1 Thessalonians 2:14–16 is cited as a basis for Christian anti-Semitism.

Paul wrote, “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.”

Best evaluated 1 Thessalonians 2:14–16 and concluded that it “shows Paul holding an unacceptable anti-Semitic position.”1 The

problem with this passage is that it seems to contradict Paul’s loving attitude toward the Jewish people found in Romans 9–11. More specifically, as noted above, verse 15 seems to uphold the deicide charge, in apparent contradiction to the historical record of the Gospels2 and Acts 4:27–28. This article examines and evaluates several attempts to deal with these difficulties and then proposes a solution.

Traditional Interpretation

The traditional view of these words is that they are Paul’s blanket condemnation of the unbelieving Jewish nation as a whole. Denney writes, ...

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