Rev. Todd Baker is a Staff Theologian at Zola Levitt Ministries.
This article appeared originally in the June and July 2002 issues of the Levitt Letter.
Part 1 — the following portion first appeared in the June 2002 Levitt Letter.
Todd’s brilliant article below details the beginning of the Jewish “blood libel” accusation. The old story of Jews using blood (which they are forbidden to eat) in baking their Passover bread has been resurrected recently by the Saudis. These friends of ours truly rival the Nazis in their hatred of the Chosen People. Rev. Baker deals with the whole question from Scripture to the Saudi telethon. — Zola
When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands and said, “I am innocent of the blood of this Just person. You see to it.” And all the people answered and said, “His blood be upon us and on our children.” (Matthew 27:24–25)
Matthew 27:25 arguably stands out as one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted passages in all of Holy Scripture. Of the proposed interpretations for Matthew 27:25, the anti-Jewish interpretation is the oldest and most frequently cited in the history of the Church. This view says the Jewish people are permanently guilty and condemned in the eyes of God for their murder of Jesus Christ. As such, the cry of “His blood be upon us” means that the Jewish crowd in Jerusalem admitted full guilt for killing the Lord Jesus Christ and thereby invoked God’s curse upon themselves and their descendants until the end of time. This interpretation first surfaced in the writings of the early church fathers in the second century AD. It became universally accepted by the Middle Ages. The result, among other things, was the slanderous accusation that all Jews were “Christ killers” and “murderers of God.” Sadly, this is still a widespread belief in the Church today.
The anti-Jewish interpretation of Matthew 27:25 provided a convenient excuse for outright persecution and slaughter of the Chosen People and the unwarranted replacement of Israel in God’s plan with the Church by Replacement Theology. Jewish historian Haim Cohen painfully observes the terrible judgment wrongly made against the Jews because of the prevalence of the anti-Jewish interpretation of Matthew 27:25. He writes:
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.” (The Trial and Death of Jesus of Nazareth, p. 171)
Furthermore, it can be said without fear of exaggeration that the devastation imposed and inflicted on the Jewish people by the Church’s anti-Jewish reading of Matthew 27:25 has shed oceans of Jewish blood issuing into a ceaseless stream of misery and desolation that horribly culminated in Hitler’s Holocaust. In light of this it is extremely important that the true meaning of Matthew 27:25 be obtained so that the Chosen People can be free of the false accusation of “Christ killers” that is constantly imputed to them, resulting in the inevitable persecution and murder of the Jews that follow.
The true meaning of Matthew 27:25, like any other Bible verse, is found within the context in which it is written. When looking at the context of Matthew’s Gospel (specifically, chapters 26 and 27) it is quite obvious that the entire Jewish race was not totally responsible for having Jesus crucified. Matthew 26 and 27 informs the reader that one individual and three distinct groups were responsible for the death of Jesus Christ. They are (1) Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus into the hands of the Jewish authorities (Matt. 26:14–16; 47–50); (2) the Jewish leaders. This group was made up of Caiphas the High Priest, the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes. They united to form the Sanhedrin of Jerusalem which tried Jesus on the charge of blasphemy (Matt. 26:47, 57–67; 27:1–2, 5, 18, 25); (3) the Romans, comprised of the Procurator Pontius Pilate who handed Jesus over to be crucified and the Roman soldiers who actually nailed Jesus to the cross (Matt. 27:11–37); (4) the Jewish mob of Jerusalem. Though their role in Matthew 27 seems passive and subordinated under the control and influence of the chief priests and elders, their guilt in the death of Christ cannot be overlooked. They had the opportunity afforded them by Pilate to have Jesus released, but they chose instead a criminal named Barabbas (Matt 27:17, 20–26).
From the context of Matthew 26–27 Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus applies only to Judas, the religious leaders of Jerusalem, and the mob of Jerusalem before the judgment seat of Pilate. It was the unbelieving Jews of Jerusalem and Israel, not all Jews in general, whom Matthew and the New Testament indict for their failure to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and their complicity in His death.
In part 2 we will look in depth at how Matthew’s words themselves tell us exactly who “our children” are.
Part 2 — the following portion first appeared in the July 2002 Levitt Letter.
Last month we examined the various interpretations of Matthew 27:24–25 and how the misunderstanding of these verses in their context has often led to anti-Semitism through the course of Church history. But what does this passage actually say? Are all Jews forever cursed because of this incident? Let’s take a look at the Scripture itself.
The meaning of “children” in the cry of the crowd in Matthew 27:25 does not mean all the subsequent descendants of those Jews who rejected Christ in Matthew 26 and 27. The word in the Greek text of Matthew can also mean a child of parents. In the context of verse 25 it refers to the offspring of the unbelieving Jews of Jerusalem who shouted for Christ to be crucified. This at once limits the meaning to only one generation and corresponds with the judgment of Jerusalem in AD 70.
The same word and meaning for “children” used in Matthew 27:25 is also used in Luke 23:28 where Jesus predicts the destruction of Jerusalem that would fall on them and their “children” for the city’s rejection and mistreatment of Him. In Matthew 23:37–39 Jesus rebuked the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem for not letting Him take them and their “children” under His protective wing. The scope of God’s judgment for the crucifixion of His Son applies and was limited to the city of Jerusalem and certain inhabitants among the religious leaders and common people who orchestrated the plot to have Jesus killed. It does not extend to their Jewish descendants or national posterity in Israel today.
To read the cry of Matthew 27:25 as an eternal curse on the Jewish people is therefore to press the language beyond its Biblical context. Jewish guilt for the death of Christ in Matthew rested upon a small number of the nation who were there, and to read into these words a curse on all Jews forever is ludicrous (after all, Matthew and his fellow apostles were Jews). Like everyone else in the present age of grace, Jews will not be judged corporately, but judged individually on the sole basis of their acceptance or rejection of Jesus as Messiah and Lord (John 3:36).
The cry of Matthew 27:25 was not a bloodthirsty wish, curse, or prophecy, but rather a cultural idiom of the ancient Near East used to verbally express individual or group responsibility for a solemn action taken. The use and meaning of this expression goes back to the Old Testament (see Deut. 19:10; Josh. 2:19; 2 Sam. 3:28–29; I Kings 2:33; Jer. 26:15; Ezek. 18:13). Pilate’s unwillingness to condemn Jesus prompted the Jerusalem crowd to take responsibility for it themselves, hence the cry “His blood be upon us….” The guilt for the murder of Christ belonged to these Jews alone who stood before Pilate demanding that Jesus be crucified. It was not passed on to all Jews born after them.
The blood of Jesus that was cried out for by the Jerusalem crowd in Matthew 27:25 did not bring the Jews eternal condemnation, but was instead the divine means of their eternal redemption and the forgiveness of sins, even for the sin of killing the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ’s prayer from the cross to God that He would forgive those who killed Him not only included the Romans but also the very Jews in Matthew 27:25 who wanted Him crucified (see Luke 23:34)! Later, on the day of Pentecost, the remission of sins through Christ’s shed blood was offered to these same Jewish conspirators by Peter as recorded in the book of Acts. God had not already condemned them, or for that matter all Jews, for the death of Christ. The offer of God’s pardon through Christ was in fact extended to all of them and their “children” if they chose to repent (Acts 2:22–39; 3:13–26; 4:4–15). Since Jesus was willing to forgive His own people for their complicity in His death, Christians should realize God can easily save and forgive their Jewish descendants, who played no direct role in the crucifixion of the Messiah.
If indeed Matthew 27:25 meant the Jews are in fact condemned as a race for killing Christ, should not the Italian descendants of the ancient Romans also be condemned for nailing Jesus to the cross? Those within the Church who have favored the anti-Jewish interpretation of Matthew 27:25 would do well to at least be consistent with their racist interpretation. The reason they are not is because they are exclusively biased against the Jewish people.
The anti-Jewish interpretation of Matthew 27:25 is simply false because it plainly contradicts the general teaching of Scripture regarding the present and future reality of the Jews being God’s Chosen People (Romans 9–11). This kind of misinterpretation of Scripture is dangerous because such a meaning has helped spawn and stimulate Christian anti-Semitism via the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Russian pogroms, the Holocaust, and more subtly, Replacement Theology.
Christians must repent and ask for forgiveness from the Jewish community for the long historical mistreatment of the Jews done in the name of Jesus Christ. This can start with the Church’s theological abandonment of the reckless anti-Jewish meaning of Matthew 27:25 that condemns and labels all Jews with the infamous stigma of “Christ killers.”