Posted by: smstrouse | March 31, 2017

Preaching John without Blaming the Jews

Henning_StJohnPassionFor Christ’s sake, don’t malign the Jews this Holy Week and Easter.

On Good Friday, many of us will be reading the Passion According to John. And while some people know that this latest of the four gospels reflected the growing split between Judaism and the followers of Jesus, not all will understand the context.

The phrase “the Jews” appears nineteen times in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). We don’t have to look very far for evidence of the damage done by anti-Jewish rhetoric. Language matters. Repetition nineteen times only reinforces hateful stereotypes.

But we don’t have to look very far for help, either.


For example, in The Inclusive Bible (TIB), “the Jews” appears only six times, when the reference is to the title “King of the Jews.” In seven places, “Temple authorities” is used to convey the part played by Jewish leadership is the crucifixion of Jesus. In other places “the Jews” is omitted entirely. For example, in contrast to John 19:20 in the NRSV, which reads “Many of the Jews read this inscription,” TIB has “Many of the people read this inscription.” And in verse 21, where the NRSV reads: “the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews . . . ”, TIB has: The chief priests said to Pilate, “Don’t write ‘King of the Jews . . . ’”.

Then on Easter 2, the gospel reading will include John 20:19: “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.” The Inclusive Bible suggests that we change it to: “In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were locked in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Temple authorities . . .”

sermons-without-prejudiceAnother really great resource is a website: Sermons without Prejudice: How to Avoid Anti-Judaism from the Church’s Lectionary. Its stated purpose is “to counter this anti- Semitism by addressing the anti-Judaism that some New Testament readings may convey.” Authors Richard K. Taylor and David P. Efroymson give suggestions for lectionary texts on “Problem Passages and Their Resolution.”

UnknownAnd then there’s the book Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews: A Lectionary Commentary by Ronald J Allen and Clark M. Williamson, in which they “explain the polemics in their first-century setting but criticize them historically and theologically. They also suggest ways that preachers can help their congregations move beyond these contentious themes to a greater sense of kinship and shared mission with Judaism.”

All of these scholars (and if you know of others, I’d be happy to hear about them)  have done us a great service. So there’s no excuse not to use care in our worship language.  If we didn’t do it before our current national climate became so toxic toward people of other religions – especially Islam and Judaism – we have an obligation to do it now.

Words do matter.









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