15 April 2012

John 20:19-31

"When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples has met were locked for fear of the Jews" (v. 19)


A rabbi, when first encountering this passage, remarked, 'Interesting - as it has tended to be Jews who have been locked behind closed doors throughout history for fear of Christians!' The point was well made, as the truth of Jewish-Christian relations throughout history has often been a story of Christian violence against Jews.

Of course in John's Gospel those very disciples are themselves Jews, as was Jesus. John's Gospel - unlike the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke), which largely tend to see Jesus in conflict with certain groups within Judaism - has numerous references to Jesus or the disciples in conflict with "the Jews". This has led some to read John's Gospel as anti-Jewish. However, the Gospel itself was written by a Jew and some argue that this is an intra-Jewish argument that cannot therefore be interpreted as anti-Jewish.

The whole debate depends upon how one translates the Greek word Ioudaioi (the NRSV translates it as "the Jews"): however, in John's Gospel when the word is used it refers to different groups at different times. Some have argued that the more meaningful translation in this passage would be 'the religious authorities', ie those leaders who collaborated with the Romans.

This argument about John's Gospel is part of a wider exploration about the birth of Christianity and its relationship both to the Judaism in which Jesus was raised and Judaism today.

As Christians we are often encouraged to read the New Testament with the understanding that Judaism was a dying tradition that has been replaced by Christianity. However, the truth is more complex.

After the destruction of the second temple by the Romans and the failed Jewish revolt that ended in AD136, two movements Christianity and rabbinical Judaism survived and each developed their own traditions rooted in what is often referred to by the writers of the New Testament as 'the Scriptures'.

To Ponder

What does it mean to you that Jesus was Jewish?

What is your favourite passage from John's Gospel - what does it say, if anything, of 'the Jews'?

Bible notes author

Ray Gaston and Annie Heppenstall

Ray Gaston is inter faith tutor and enabler for The Queen's Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education and the Birmingham Methodist. Prior to that he was in parish ministry in inner city Leeds for 12 years.