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Deicide: The execution of Jesus

Who is/was responsible, according to historical Christianity?

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Who is to blame for Jesus' death?

Until the advent of modernism in the late 19th century, essentially all Christian groups accepted the concept of Biblical inerrancy. That is, that the authors of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures (Old and New Testament) were inspired by God in such a way that their writings were free of error. Thus the stories in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John which describe Yeshua's arrest, his trial before the Sanhedrin, the interview before Pilate, death sentence, beating, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, and appearances before his followers, and ascension upwards to heaven were regarded as precise descriptions of real historical events. If some CNN reporters were able to time-travel back to the early 1st century CE, they would be able to record every event exactly as described in the four gospels.

Some key phrases from the gospels' description of Yeshua's trial are helpful in assessing the blame for Jesus' death. In the probable chronological order, the five gospels which contain information on Jesus' trial and execution state:

bulletGospel of Peter:
bulletMark 15:11 to15: "...the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them. And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews? And they cried out again, Crucify him. Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done? And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify him. And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified."
bulletMatthew 27:20 to 23: "The chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas [to be released] and to have Jesus executed...'What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?', Pilate asked. They all answered 'Crucify him.'...they shouted all the louder. 'Crucify him'...Pilate...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, 'Let his blood be on us and on our children!' "
bulletLuke 23:18-24: "...they cried out all at once, saying, Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas: (Who for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison.) Pilate therefore, willing to release Jesus, spake again to them. But they cried, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. And he said unto them the third time, Why, what evil hath he done? I have found no cause of death in him: I will therefore chastise him, and let him go. And they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified. And the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed. And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required."
bulletJohn 19:12: "From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, 'If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar...Take him away. 'Crucify him!' " 1

The passage in Matthew has probably been responsible for more deaths of innocent people than any other passage in the Bible -- more even than the Exodus 22:18 injunction to "not suffer a witch to live."  Jewish historian Haim Cohen commented:

"None of the many charges leveled at the Jews...has held so obdurately against them as unassailable proof of guilt and responsibility for the crucifixion as has this exclamation of theirs 'His blood be upon us and our children'." 2

The early church believed that the Jews were responsible for pressuring Pilate to sentence Yeshua to crucifixion. As stated in Matthew, Jews at the time accepted full responsibility for the act. Further, they acknowledged that their children would equally share in the blame. Christian denominations interpreted the word "Children" to mean all of the descendents of all of the Jews, including:

bulletThose who formed the mob;
bulletThose in Jerusalem who were not involved in the demonstration;
bulletThose elsewhere in Judea who were unaware of Yeshua's arrest; and
bulletThose elsewhere in the Roman Empire who, in all probability, had never heard of Yeshua.

The Church apparently did not question whether it is ethically possible for people to transfer their responsibility for committing a sinful act to innocent persons:

bulletOnto to their children, and to their children's children, and all future descendents.
bulletOnto other persons who were not involved in the demonstration who were located elsewhere in the world, and their descendents,

A later quotation of Jesus:

bulletLuke 23:34: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do..."

appears to call for forgiveness of those responsible for Jesus' death. However, this verse seems to have been ignored by the Church as far as the Jews were concerned.

Justin Martyr (circa 100 to 165 CE) and Irenaeus of Lyon (circa 130 to 200 CE) developed the concept of "supercessionism." This is sometimes called the  "theology of displacement" or "replacement theology." By calling for Jesus' execution and by rejecting his teachings, the Jews were seen as losing their favored position as God's chosen people. Christianity displaced Judaism in God's eyes. The Christian Church became regarded as the 'true' or 'spiritual' Israel.2

"Since they broke their ancient covenant with God, He made a new one with a new people drawn from the Gentiles. As punishment for their crime, the Jews lost their Temple and were exiled from their land. The lethal combination of the theology of supersession (which gave the world the "Old Testament" in place of the Jewish Bible) and the myth of the deicide people made the Jews a permanent target for Christian hostility and contempt, destined to be preserved in misery that would be the eternal mark of their perfidy." 3

The supercessionism doctrine was largely accepted within the church by the 4th century. As a result of these beliefs, the church engaged "in all manner of anti-Semitic acts of abuse, discrimination, outright hostility, and finally genocide -- the Holocaust -- because they were taught that God was through with the Jews." 4

Many Fundamentalist and some other Evangelical denominations today reject anti-Semitism while still accepting the theology of displacement. Many view Jews in the same light as Buddhist, Hindus, Muslims, etc: as unsaved individuals destined for punishment in Hell for not accepting the gospel message and trusting in Jesus as Lord and Savior. They teach that God has abandoned the Jews as his chosen people, and that he transferred these honors to the Christian church. These denominations stress the importance of evangelizing Jews. This generates considerable anger within the Jewish community. Most Jews do not appreciate attempts to convert them to Christianity.

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References:

  1. English translation from the original Greek in the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).
  2. (The Trial and Death of Jesus of Nazareth, p. 171)
  3. "Saving our souls," The Southern Shofar, Birmingham, AL, at: http://www.bham.net/shofar/1996/0796/ss0796.html
  4. Edward Alexander, book review of "Christian Antisemitism," listed below. Reprinted from the Congress Monthly, Vol. 61, #1, (1994), American Jewish Congress. See "The Nizkor Project," at: http://www1.ca.nizkor.org/ftp.cgi/documents/reviews/
  5. Arthur F. Glasser, "A Reflection on 'Let's Get Biblical!' Rabbi Tovia Singer's Lecture Series", Pages 2 & 3, at: http://www.jews-for-jesus.org/CASE/BIBLICAL/Glasser/

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Site navigation:

 Home > World religions > Judaism > Jesus death > here

 

or Home > Christianity > Personalities > Jesus > Jesus death > here

 

or Home > Christianity > Relations with other religions > Jesus death > here

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Copyright 1998 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1998-JUN-23
Last update: 2006-MAR-15
Author: B.A. Robinson

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