One of the commonest criticisms levelled at the gospel of John is that it is “anti-Semitic”. This view derives from John’s repeated use of the denominator “The Jews” that seems to create a negative separation in the narrative between Jesus and the Jewish context of the narrative. The Jews are “of their father the devil” and there are long conflicts within the narrative where Jesus seems to be in repeated argument with their positions which are clearly seen to not be his own. It is well known that Luther’s characterisation of the Jews and National Socialism’s use of Luther in demonising the Jews, drew heavily on John’s writings, with the Nazis even publishing verses from John as propaganda pieces.
This essay draws attention to the theological nature of John’s writing and the important distinction between anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. The gospel certainly assaults the religion as practiced by the Jews and uses the phrase “the Jews” often to refer to the most senior spiritual leaders within the people, rather than to the people as a whole. It emphasises that John presents salvation as coming from the Jewish nation (John 4), has heavy use of Semitic idiom and draws heavily from the Hebrew scriptures; the charge of anti-Semitism cannot be reasonably maintained.
A PDF is found here.