Scholars Alleging the Gospel of John Is Anti-Semitic Is Anachronistic

Many modern scholars of the New Testament allege that the Gospel of John is anti-Semitic. Some don’t go that far, but assert it is against Judaism. The primary reason for this allegation that the Gospel of John is anti-Semitic is that its frequent expression “the Jews” is thought to be derogatory if not disparaging.

The expression “the Jews” occurs sixty times in the Gospel of John. But it is not always used derogatorily. Sometimes, “the Jews” in this Fourth Gospel clearly refers to Jews who reject Jesus, if not those who persecute his followers. But other times, the expression “the Jews” in John is not used negatively. Also, the book that follows the Gospel of John in the New Testament–the book of Acts–has the expression “the Jews” fifty times, and no one alleges its author Luke used this expression anti-Semitically.

Scholars who accuse the Fourth Evangelist of being anti-Semitic nevertheless accept the common view that he, or the multiple authors of John, was Jewish. So, it is a hard sell to most Bible readers to accept the accusation that a the Jewish author of the Gospel of John was anti-Jewish!

The primary reason that many distinguished New Testament scholars nowadays think that the Gospel of John is anti-Semitic is that they believe this gospel was written and published during the 90s. From this presumption, they argue that the so-called “parting of the ways” between Judaism and Christianity was already in process. They reason that this division began to occur not long after the First Jewish Revolt that occurred in AD 66-70. That resulted in the Romans destroying the temple at Jerusalem in AD 70 and a subsequent partial exit of diaspora Jews from their ancestral homeland. With the animosity between Jews and both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians maturing somewhat by the 90s, these scholars believe that this animosity expresses itself in the Gospel of John that was published at that time. But Daniel Boyarin, in his landmark book Borderlines, claims the parting of the ways between Christians and Jews did not begin to take place until the mid-second century, mostly with patristic writer Justin Martyr misconstructing a heresiology.

I suspect this allegation that the Gospel of John is anti-Semitic is wrong-headed largely due to the common presumption that this gospel was written and published in the 90s. I side with John A. T. Robinson about this. He was one of England’s most outstanding New Testament scholars of the twentieth century. Robinson wrote extensively that all New Testament documents were written and published prior to the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem in AD 70. His main reason was that none of these documents, thus including the Gospel of John, provide any evidence that their authors were familiar with the destruction of Jerusalem’s temple, and there is some evidence that they may have been ignorant of it (See Robinson’s Redating the New Testament [pp. 254-311] and The Priority of John, 459 pp.) Since Robinson wrote on this subject, an increasing number of scholars have been so persuaded, that all New Testament documents, even the book of Revelation, were written prior to AD 70.

If the Gospel of John was indeed written in the 60s, as Robinson claims and I believe, contemporary scholars are reading a matured anti-Semitic attitude of early patristic writers from a later era back into the previous apostolic period. That would be an anachronism.