Deicide: The execution of Jesus:
Who is/was responsible.
Who is to blame for Jesus' death?
Until the advent of modernism in the late 19th century,
essentially all Christian groups accepted the concept
of Biblical inerrancy. That is, that the authors of the Hebrew
and Christian Scriptures (Old and New Testament) were inspired by God in such a way that
their writings were completely free of error. Thus the stories in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke
and John which describe Yeshua's arrest, his trial before the Sanhedrin, the interview before
Pilate, death sentence, beating, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, appearances before his followers, and ascension upwards to heaven were regarded
as precise descriptions of real historical events. If some CNN reporters were able
to time-travel back to the early 1st century CE,
they would be able to record video of every event exactly as described in the four
Some key phrases from the gospels' description of Yeshua's trial are helpful
in assessing the blame for Jesus' death. There were on the order of 40 Gospels of Jesus'life written, but only four made it into the official canon of the Bible. In their probable chronological order,
the five gospels which contain information on Jesus' trial and execution are:
- Gospel of Mark 15:11 to15:
"...the chief priests moved the people,
that he should rather release Barabbas unto them. And Pilate answered and
said again unto them, What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye
call the King of the Jews? And they cried out again, Crucify him. Then
Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done? And they cried out the
more exceedingly, Crucify him. And so Pilate, willing to content the
people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had
scourged him, to be crucified."
- Gospel of Matthew 27:20 to 23:
"The chief priests and the elders
persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas [to be released] and to have Jesus
executed...'What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?', Pilate asked. They
all answered 'Crucify him.'...they shouted all the louder. 'Crucify him'...Pilate...took
water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. 'I am innocent of this man's blood,' he
said. 'It is your responsibility!' All the people answered, 'Let his blood be on us and on
our children!' "
- Gospel of Luke 23:18-24:
"...they cried out all at once, saying, Away
with this man, and release unto us Barabbas: (Who for a certain sedition
made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison.) Pilate therefore,
willing to release Jesus, spake again to them. But they cried, saying,
Crucify him, crucify him. And he said unto them the third time, Why, what
evil hath he done? I have found no cause of death in him: I will therefore
chastise him, and let him go. And they were instant with loud voices,
requiring that he might be crucified. And the voices of them and of the
chief priests prevailed. And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as
- Gospel of John 19:12:
"From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free,
but the Jews kept shouting, 'If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar...Take
him away. 'Crucify him!' " 1
- Gospel of Peter Fragment 1, Section 1 & 2 This Gospel is unique in that it states that it was Herod the Great who condemned Jesus to be crucified, not Pilate:
"But of the Jews no man washed his hands, neither did Herod nor any one of his judges: and whereas they would not wash, Pilate rose up. And then Herod the king commanded that the Lord should be taken into their hands, saying unto them: 'All that I commanded you to do unto him, do ye'." 2
The passage in Matthew has probably been responsible for more deaths of
innocent people than any other passage in the Bible -- more even than the
Exodus 22:18 injunction to "not suffer a witch to live." Jewish
historian Haim Cohen commented:
"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'." 3
The early church believed that the Jews were responsible for pressuring
Pilate to sentence Yeshua to crucifixion. As stated
in the Gospel of Matthew, Jews at the time accepted full responsibility for the act. Further, they
acknowledged that their children would equally share in the blame. Christian
interpreted the word "Children"
to mean all of the descendents of all of the Jews, including:
- Those who formed the mob in front of Pilate;
- Those in Jerusalem who were not involved in the demonstration;
- Those elsewhere in Judea who were unaware of Yeshua's arrest; and
- Those elsewhere in the Roman Empire who, in all probability, had never
heard of Yeshua.
The early Church apparently
did not question whether it is ethically possible for people to transfer their responsibility
for committing a sinful act to innocent persons:
- Onto to their
own children, and to their children's children, and all future descendents.
- Onto other Jews who were not involved in the demonstration who were
located elsewhere in the world, and their descendents,
A later quotation of Jesus:
- Luke 23:34: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do..."
appears to call for forgiveness of those responsible for Jesus' death. However, this
verse seems to have been ignored by the early Church as far as the Jews were concerned.
The concept of "supercessionism" was derived from the early Church blame of the Jews for Jesus' death.
Justin Martyr (circa 100 to 165 CE) and Irenaeus of Lyon (circa 130 to 200 CE)
developed the concept of "supercessionism." This is sometimes called
the "theology of displacement" or "replacement theology." By calling for Jesus' execution
and by rejecting his teachings, the Jews were viewed as losing their favored position as
God's chosen people. Christianity displaced Judaism in God's eyes. The Christian Church
became regarded as the 'true' or 'spiritual' Israel.3
"Since they broke their ancient covenant with God, He made a new one with a
new people drawn from the Gentiles. As punishment for their crime, the Jews lost their
Temple and were exiled from their land. The lethal combination of the theology of
supersession (which gave the world the "Old Testament" in place of the Jewish
Bible) and the myth of the deicide people made the Jews a permanent target for Christian
hostility and contempt, destined to be preserved in misery that would be the eternal mark
of their perfidy." 4
The supercessionism doctrine was largely accepted within the church by the 4th century. As a result of these beliefs, the church engaged:
"... in all manner
of anti-Semitic acts of abuse, discrimination, outright hostility, and finally
genocide -- the Holocaust -- because they were taught that God was through with the Jews." 5
Many Fundamentalist and some other Evangelical denominations today reject anti-Semitism
while still accepting the theology of displacement. Many view Jews in the same light as
Buddhist, Hindus, Muslims, etc: as unsaved individuals destined for punishment
in Hell for not accepting the gospel message and trusting in Jesus as Lord and Savior.
They teach that God has abandoned the Jews as his chosen people, and that he transferred
these honors to the Christian church. These denominations stress the importance of evangelizing Jews. This generates considerable anger within the Jewish community.
Most Jews do
not appreciate attempts to convert them to Christianity.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. Only hyperlink 2 is active.
- From the King James Version
of the Bible (KJV) as translated from Greek to English.
- Joshuah Williams, "The Gospel of Peter," The Gnostic Society Library, at: http://www.gnosis.org/
- Haim Cohen, "The Trial and Death of Jesus of Nazareth," Harper & Row, (1971). Page 171.
- "Saving our souls," The Southern Shofar, Birmingham, AL, at: http://www.bham.net
- Edward Alexander, book review of "Christian Antisemitism," listed
below. Reprinted from the Congress Monthly, Vol. 61, #1, (1994), American
Jewish Congress. See "The Nizkor Project," at: http://www1.ca.nizkor.org/
- Arthur F. Glasser, "A Reflection on 'Let's Get Biblical!' Rabbi Tovia
Singer's Lecture Series", Pages 2 & 3, at: http://www.jews-for-jesus.org/
Copyright 1998 to 2015 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1998-JUN-23
Latest update: 2015-APR-21
Author: B.A. Robinson