Originally published in The Chosen People, Vol. XXIV, Issue 8, October 2018.
Jewish people have often been called “Christ-killers.” Some of our own Jewish staff members have been verbally attacked with this label. Unfortunately, many people think that the New Testament supports the idea that all Jews murdered Jesus, often citing the words of Peter in Acts 2-3. In Acts 3:15, Jesus’ disciple, Peter, speaks to a crowd of Jewish onlookers in Jerusalem, saying that they “put to death the Prince of life the one whom God raised from the dead.” But are all Jewish people morally responsible for the death of Jesus?
In order to use Peter’s words as an indictment against all Jewish people, one must ignore Peter’s context and even what he says later in his speech. Peter is speaking specifically to Jews in Jerusalem who had been present in the city for Jesus’ trial and had supported His execution. Thus, Peter’s direct audience was the Jerusalemites who were supportive of Jesus’ death. The text says nothing about other Jewish people.
There is also a difference between criminal intent and negligence, with the latter being a less guilty crime. Peter says, “And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also” (Acts 3:17). Does Peter charge those directly responsible with criminal intent in murdering Jesus? No! Not even Jesus assigned criminal intent to His opponents. Jesus prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them,” — “them” being the religious leaders who supported His death —“for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The consistent teaching of the New Testament is that the Jewish religious leadership and the others who supported Jesus’ execution did so without full knowledge.
The New Testament limits its rhetoric to the Jewish leadership physically present at Jesus’ execution and even releases them from criminal intent! Therefore, the “Christ-killer” label needs to be removed and buried in a tomb, never to be raised again.