There is a heretical concept within Christianity accepted by many so-called “Christian” groups. It is characterized as heretical because it is nowhere to be found in Scripture and contradicts Scripture. In fact there are verses in the Old Testament clearly testifying that God loves the Jews (for example Leviticus 26). Nevertheless it is important to understand how it worked as an impediment to their return to the Land as well as setting the expectation, for some that their return to the Land would never happen. Some thought it would happen perhaps in the Millennial Kingdom but it was generally thought that there would be no return to a sovereign Jewish State before that time. Those that do not accept a Millennial Kingdom clearly stated six times in Revelation chapter twenty reject the Jews ever having a homeland. Replacement Theology and its general hatred of the Jews gave rise to significant persecutions culminating with the Nazi Holocaust. In the end, this actually provided the impetus for them to have a homeland again.
Both Jews and Gentiles populated the early Church for the first two hundred eighty years while the headquarters was located at Jerusalem. James the Lord’s half-brother was the first bishop of Jerusalem and presided over the first world wide Church Council. At that time the issue of Gentiles coming into the Church gave rise to a dispute over whether the Gentiles needed to become Jewish first and then accept Christ. This of course would require the males to be circumcised and keep the Law. It was decided that the Gentiles did not have to keep the Law and therefore neither did anybody else in order to experience the salvation that Christ provided. It was further determined that the freedom that was in Christ provided for one to follow the Law, keep the Jewish holidays, and in general follow the Jewish Temple culture if they desired to do so. It was not obligatory just optional.
As the Church grew in the early years many Gentiles came in and Jews were converted as well. The Roman civil authorities persecuted both groups. This was partially carried out due to the Bar Cochba incident and because the Christians were considered a sect of Judaism. There did not seem to be any significant disputes between Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ in the early Church. The Jews who did not recognize Christ as their Messiah did not accept the Jews who became Christians, or the Church in general as a valid expression of God’s outworking. One exception to this was Gamaliel a Pharisee and teacher of the Jewish Law. He said, “if this new Christianity is of God it will flourish and cannot be stopped” (Acts 5: 39).
When the Roman Emperor Constantine issued his Edict of Milan (commonly called the Edict of Toleration, 313 A.D.) it ended the Christian persecution and set the stage for Christianity being merged with the state. [i] It would not happen during his reign but in the reign of his second successor Theodosius I. On February 27, 380 A.D. he published the so-called “Edict of Thessalonica” (decree “Cunctos populos”, Codex Theodosianus xvi.1.2) and ordered that all their subjects should profess the faith of the bishops of Rome and Alexandria (i.e., the Christian faith).
We desire that all peoples subject to Our benign Empire shall live under the same religion that the Divine Peter, the Apostle, gave to the Romans, and which the said religion declares was introduced by himself, and which it is well known that the Pontiff Damascus, and Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic sanctity, embraced; that is to say, in accordance with the rules of apostolic discipline and the evangelical doctrine, we should believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit constitute a single Deity, endowed with equal majesty, and united in the Holy Trinity. We order all those who follow this law to assume the name of Catholic Christians, and considering others as demented and insane, we order that they shall bear the infamy of heresy; and when the Divine vengeance which they merit has been appeased, they shall afterwards be punished in accordance with Our resentment, which we have acquired from the judgment of Heaven.
Dated at Thessalonica, on the third of the Kalends of March, during the Consulate of Gratian, Consul for the fifth time, and Theodosius.[ii]
He was essentially saying everyone but Christians are demented, insane and will be punished. He directed this punishment at the Jews and encouraged others to do the same. So from this point on we have early Church fathers expressing the same vehemence toward the Jews.
This forced all members of the Church at Rome to become Christians. Since Christianity is based upon personal faith and being chosen by God, false professions of faith to avoid death threats were detrimental to the purity of the professing Church at Rome. The result was a severe paganization of the Christian Church. The group at Rome became populated with pagans and grew significantly in numbers. This growth caused this Church to think of themselves as more significant than other regional churches. They called themselves the Roman Catholic Church and declared their headquarters at Rome.
This merging of Church with State brought the Dark Ages upon the world and many unbiblical practices entered the previously pure, but persecuted, Church. Some of these are: baptismal regeneration; clergy celibacy; The Eucharist (Transubstantiation), indulgences, Mary as Co-Mediatrix; penance and others.
As a result many in the Christian community at large began to speak out against the Jews. One such individual was John Chrysostom. At Antioch in 387 A.D. he preached eight virulent sermons against the Jews.[iii] He was characterized, as being prone to an oratorical style, which was elaborate, sinewy, and incisive.[iv] The following is a quote from one of those fiery messages:
Don’t be surprised if I’ve called the Jews wretched, for truly they are wretched and miserable since they spurned the numerous blessings which came into their hands from heaven, and they took great pains to throw them away. Tell me, if someone had killed your son, could you bear to lay eyes on them? Could you bear to listen to their greeting? Wouldn’t you avoid them as you would an evil spirit, as the devil himself? The Jews killed your Master’s Son—do you have the effrontery to go with them to the same place? The one who was killed has honoured you to the point of making you his brother or sister and co-heir, whereas you treat him with dishonour to the point of honoring those who killed the Master and crucified the Son, and worshipping in their company twenty during the festivals, and going to their impure places, and entering their unclean doors, and taking part in the table of demons. (I’m persuaded to call the fast of the Jews ‘the table of demons’ because they killed God.)[v]
In light of the above quote it is not surprising that the Jews took on the label within the early church of “Christ Killers.” This is interesting since it makes obvious the Church’s faulty understanding of the Scriptures. Christ made it very clear; He laid down His life willingly (John 6:51; 10:15 etc.). God Himself was the perpetrator of this event not the Jews. People did not read the Scriptures accurately or completely then just as they don’t today. If they did, they would never as genuine Christians ever have developed Replacement Theology. Perhaps the earliest inkling of this heresy came from Ignatius of Antioch (70-107 AD) who suggested that the Church is the New Israel.[vi]
Chrysostom’s contemporary, Augustine (354-430 AD), was somewhat more restrained toward the Jews. He affirmed Paul’s teaching in Romans that we have a duty to love the Jews but he shared the view of other Church Fathers. He thought that Judas was the image of the Jewish people. From Augustine came the theory that the Jews are a “witness-people” destined to live as testimony to both evil and Christian truth, but who were not to be killed, for “like Cain they bore a sign Let them live among us, but let them suffer and be continually humiliated.” [vii] He may have said they should not be persecuted but by his comments he implicitly endorsed their persecution.
Though opposed to mass murder of Jews, France’s Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153 AD) declared that they were “a race who had not God for their father, but were of the devil.” Following the custom of theologians of his day, he had taken a Scripture (John 8:44) and applied it to the whole Jewish people for all time. Perhaps the concept of Replacement Theology that was the strongest incentive for future generations to persecute the Jews came from the Protestant German Reformer, Martin Luther (1483-1546 AD). He originally hoped that they would accept his form of the faith, even initially praising their contribution to Christianity. However, when he did not succeed in converting the Jews, his attitude changed dramatically. In his work Concerning the Jews and Their Lies (published 1542) Luther wrote:
“All the blood kindred of Christ burn in hell, and they are rightly served, even according to their own words they spoke to Pilate. Verily a hopeless, wicked, venomous and devilish thing is the existence of these Jews, who for fourteen hundred years have been, and still are, our pest, torment and misfortune. They are just devils and nothing more.” Firstly, their synagogues should be set on fire Secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed Thirdly, they should be deprived of their prayer-books and Talmuds Fourthly, their rabbis must be forbidden under threat of death to teach any more Fifthly, passport and travelling privileges should be absolutely forbidden to the Jews Sixthly, they ought to be stopped from usury Seventhly, let the young and strong Jews and Jewesses be given the flail, the axe, the hoe, the spade, the distaff, and spindle, and let them earn their bread by the sweat of their noses We ought to drive the rascally lazy bones out of our system Therefore away with them. To sum up, dear princes and nobles who have Jews in your domains, if this advice of mine does not suit you, then find a better one so that you and we may all be free of this insufferable devilish burden – the Jews.” [viii]
In a sermon given shortly before his death he called for the immediate expulsion of all Jews from Germany. This would be implemented in a later period during the greatest persecution the Jews had on this earth to date, the Nazi Holocaust under Adolph Hitler.
Daniel E. Woodhead Ph.D.
[i] Sheldon, Henry C. History of the Christian Church Vol I The Early Church, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA 01961-3473, 1988 pp. 331; 379-395
[ii] Bettenson, Henry ed. Documents of the Christian Church, London: Oxford University Press, 1943, pp. 31
[iii] Barnavi, Eli. A Historical Atlas of the Jewish People-From the Time of the Patriarchs to the Present, New York: Schocken Books, 1992, 70.
[iv] Britannica, Encyclopedia. A New Survey of Universal Knowledge, Chicago: William Benton, Publisher, 1962, Book 5,pp. 666.
[v] Allen, Pauline; Mayer, Wendy. John Chrysostom. London: Routledge,
2000 (accessed 10 July 2008) available at http://World Warw.questia.com/Index.jsp; Internet, 164.
6 Michael, Robert. Holy Hatred: Christianity, Antisemitism, and the Holocaust. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, p. 112.
[vii] Flannery, Edward H., The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty-Three Centuries of Antisemtism, published 1985
By Paulist Press, 997 Macarthur Boulevard, Mahwah, N.J. 07430, U.S.A. pp. 52-53
[viii] Luther, Martin, Concerning the Jews and Their Lies, reprinted in Talmage, Disputation and Dialogue, pp.34-36, as cited by Brown, pp.14-15. Brown, Michael L., Our Hands Are Stained with Blood: The Tragic Story of the “Church” and the Jewish People, published 1992 by Destiny Image Publishers, P.O. Box 310, Shippensburg, PA 17257, U.S.A