[Luther] originally sought to attract the Jews toward conversion by presenting a more humane and accepting alternative to the Church’s anti-Judaism... Luther believed that the Jewish condition, their debased survival, was the result of persecution by the Church. He believed that freed of the burden of the Church they would welcome conversion to his “reformist” Christianity. His failure to attract converts produced an emotional reaction similar to that of Paul, fifteen centuries earlier.And what a reaction. Disturbingly, he grounded his vitriol solidly in scripture.
But he also gives sources for his charges: Paul, for “Jews as blind” regarding Jesus; John, for identifying the Jews with Satan; and Matthew, for charging them, and justifying their punishment as deicides.The question that few seem to want to address is whether the New Testament is inherently antisemitic. Antipathy to Jews has been the church's constant companion since the parting of the ways; pogroms, crusades and inquisitions viciously targeted Jews long before the Reformation. John's gospel has always been particularly problematic, and it isn't surprising to find that Luther drew more heavily on it than any other.
Therefore John's gospel is the one, fine, true, and chief gospel, and is far, far to be preferred to the other three and placed high above them. (NT Preface)In fact, Louis Ruprecht maintains: "Luther argues against the Jews precisely as John's Jesus did. They possessed the scriptures that anticipated Christ's coming, they saw him face to face, and they were given the chance to believe in him. Their failure to do so invited their complete rejection and abandonment by God... Jews became, in Luther's later years, symbolic of everyone who had been given the chance to accept the evangel and then rejected it. This is precisely how John saw the Jews..." (Ruprecht, This Tragic Gospel, 166-167.)
Isn't maintaining that the New Testament is "merely" anti-Judaic to strain at gnats; the distinction is barely relevant in light of the way it has been read down the centuries until some seventy years ago. Is it acceptable to simply interpret the problem away with a little exegetical flourish? Is it enough to plead that these passages are regrettable "wartime literature" from a time the church was trying to distance itself from the Jewish rebellion? What comfort is there in maintaining that the New Testament writers were largely ethnic Jews themselves, and that the polemic was a misunderstood 'in-house' spat?
One of my more 'evangelical' lecturers a few years ago asked the question - and it was meant to be a rhetorical one eliciting a knee-jerk 'nay' - whether the Holy Spirit could possibly let the church be misled on a significant matter. He was referring to doctrinal development. It was an incredibly weak argument in that context, and seems even weaker if it's redirected at the portrayal of Jews and Judaism in the New Testament. Is anti-Judaism part of a 'take it or leave it' package deal along with the 'love chapter' and the beatitudes? Can we "twink it out" without doing irreparable damage to the whole?
Uncomfortable questions deserve honest answers too, not just apologetic waffle.
Or is it ethical to just ignore the issue, as most of us do, read our Bibles selectively, and hope that the problem will just fade away?