A number of scholarly works have concluded that the
Gospel of John is woefully anti-Semitic because it
appears to employ the term "Jews" pejoratively with
frequency and also portrays a supposed conflict
between Jesus and the Jews of his time. While time
will not permit us to fully probe all of the pertinent
issues concerning this topic, I would like to use some
texts from John 4-5 as case samples to argue that the
Fourth Gospel is not an anti-Semitic work.
To the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well, Jesus
"Ye worship ye know not what; we know what we worship,
for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh and
now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the
Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father seeketh
such to worship Him. God is a Spirit, and they that
worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth"
(John 4:22-24 21st Century KJV).
Notice that Jesus shows a spiritual solidarity with
his fellow first-century Jewish brothers and sisters (Gal. 4:4-5)
since he insists, "we know what we worship."
However, Jesus does not merely affirm a spiritual kinship with
his contemporary "brothers" (Ps 133:1-3) but he also
makes a statement that appears to lack any element of
anti-Semitism. He declares that "salvation is
of the Jews." How could such a proposition be
construed as anti-Semitic?
Some readers of John's Gospel may, however, point to
the conflict recorded in chapter 5:15-18:
"The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus
who had made him whole. And therefore did the Jews
persecute Jesus and sought to slay Him, because He had
done these things on the Sabbath day. But Jesus
answered them, 'My Father worketh hitherto, and I
work.' Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill Him,
because He not only had broken the Sabbath, but said
also that God was His Father, making Himself equal
When reading pasages of this nature, one must note
that certain Jews are being discussed. Such texts do
not serve as blanket judgments against all first-century Jews.
The Gospel of John makes this point quite clear. For instance,
Jesus treats "the Jews who believed him" (Jn 8:31-32)
much differently from those who try to kill him. The
important point to keep in mind is that we have a
religious agon depicted in John's Gospel, not a racial
or ethnic one. Jesus' disagreements with certain Jews
should not be wrongly interpreted through the lens of
modern-day prejudices. Peter Ensor, in fact, may be
right when he suggests that the "Jews" whom Jesus addresses
in Jn. 5:15-18 are possibly contemporary religious
leaders--if he is right, then Jesus clearly is not
denigrating all Jews.
See Jesus and His Works: Johannine Sayings in
Historical Perspective. Wissenschaftliche
Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, Reihe 2; 85.
Tubingen: JCB Mohr, 1996.