“So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.’ And all the people answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’” (Matthew 27:24-25, ESV).1
This scripture, of course, describes the situation after Jewish leaders had Jesus arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Jewish officials wanted to put Jesus to death because he was a threat to their own leadership and power.
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When Jesus was then brought before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor tried to find a way to release him, because he found no fault, but the Jewish leaders would not agree with his opinion. By Roman law, Jews could arrange for the arrest of prisoners but were not allowed to order the execution of anyone, so Pilate bore the ultimate legal responsibility for Jesus’ death pronouncement. But since the Jewish leaders lobbied very hard for Pilate to give them what they wanted, moral responsibility for our Lord’s death lies with the leaders of the Jews, who were representing the Jewish nation.2
The Jewish attendants at the event were chanting and clamoring for Jesus to be executed although Pilate wanted to spare his life. It had always been Jewish policy to persecute through the means of others,3 and when the mob screamed and yelled, Pilate thought they would riot. So the governor gave in to their demand and told them if they wanted him dead, to go ahead and do it themselves, and then he washed his hands of the decision.4
The Jews agreed, hence their statement that Jesus’ blood would be on their own hands. And although that made way for the crucifixion, law demanded that Roman soldiers handle it. According to Catholic records, the justification for the death sentence derived from this scripture is called the ‘Jewish deicide’ (killing of a god).5 This meant that, collectively, the Jews would always be responsible for killing Jesus.
This thought of ‘Jewish deicide’ came about in the early Catholic Church and wasn’t repudiated until the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s under Pope Paul VI. The statement he issued withdrew the claim of all Jews’ responsibility.6
Regardless of what the Catholic Church thought at the time, there were only some Jews at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion that can be held responsible, and not any of a later time. No matter what Jews thought in latter generations, their descendants cannot possibly be held responsible for the tragedy any more than present day white, black, red, or yellow people can be held responsible for the slavery of blacks more than a hundred years ago in the Americas and Europe. (For more on past slavery problems, see “Slavery, Race, and Reparations – Did God Curse Black People?” listed in References & Notes.)7
The reason for the Vatican’s turnaround on policy seems to me to be more about propaganda, than honest belief. Especially since the atrocities upon Jews were revealed during World War II, Catholic leadership knew that Jewish persecution had stained relations between Catholic and Jewish faiths for centuries. The Pope’s announcement politically improved interfaith relations.8
In answering the question concerning if Jews killed Jesus, the official answer from the modern Jewish community is no. They state that Jesus was sentenced to death by Romans, as crucifixion was a Roman form of execution, not a Jewish one. Refusing to take the blame, they also further state, that the ‘blood cry’ of Matthew 27:25 (“His blood be on us and on our children”) was used to justify centuries of Christian prejudice against Jews.9
I think when the Jewish community complains about this Christian ‘blood cry’, they are lumping most Christians as part of the Roman Catholic Church, with which they have had many feuds for two thousand years. In reality, most non-Catholic Christian denominations have been rather favorable to Jews in general, because they were God’s chosen people. But most Jews cry anti-Semitism when a Christian says that Jews were responsible for his death, although such hatred is not true. Anti-Semitism is hostility or prejudice or discrimination against Jews,10 but explaining an event and backing it up biblically is not hatred, it is fact.
In minimizing the Jews encouraging our Lord’s death sentence, another Jewish source repeats that the decision to crucify ultimately rested with the Roman governor and that the Gospels overemphasize the Jewish role in Jesus’ death.11 I think not; if anything the Jewish role is actually underemphasized.
Other Scripture that is Not Often Mentioned
Most arguments concerning this subject don’t mention a very important quote from the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. “For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind” (1 Thessalonians 2:14-15).
Although Paul was a Jew, he was writing to the early Christian church who were mainly Gentiles. He plainly stated those who were responsible for Jesus’ death were Jews. He also added that the early prophets in the Old Testament also suffered persecution at the hands of Jewish leaders — they first rejected the message,12 then persecuted the messenger. If anyone knew Jewish persecution, it would be Paul. After all, he was a Jew and he once persecuted Jewish converts that followed Jesus.13
And anyone who accuses Paul of anti-Semitism — because he accused the Jews of killing Jesus — misunderstands the text. He was speaking not for all Jews, but to only the minority in Judea involved in anti-Christian persecution.14
Some others say that Paul was warning them that Rome was trying to persecute the new Christian church. That cannot be true, because Rome did not persecute Jews until after Christ’s death. It was during the reign of Nero, following the fire that burned Rome in 64 AD, that the first major empire-wide persecution of Christians began as an official Roman policy. The truth can’t be avoided: Jews prosecuted Jesus.
Persecution and murder of any kind are hateful to God, and no zeal of any kind can excuse it. Although the gospel of Christ is abhorred by many and the teaching of it is hindered in many ways, those who forbid the preaching of it do not please God. Such people are enemies of both God and the salvation of his people.15
While this Bible study is interesting, about whom to blame in the hours prior to our Lord’s crucifixion, here is something philosophical that many people never think about — an idea with a much deeper and profound meaning. Since Jesus died for us — to regain the eternal life we lost through sin — we are all responsible for his death. It wasn’t just the Jews, or the Romans, or any one group in particular; the whole human species, as imperfect sinful beings, must take part in the blame for Jesus’ death.
If Adam and Eve had never sinned — and all their future generations had never sinned — no one would have died, and there would have been no reason for Jesus to die on the cross. In consideration of these last thoughts, when we ask who is responsible for Jesus’ death, we all are. “Even Paul taught that our sins are the reason Jesus died; we all share responsibility in his death (Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 1:4; 1 Timothy 1:15).”16
The song selected for this study is “Who Killed Jesus” sung by Katie Irvin. She is a pastor’s wife and lives on a ranch in the United States. Selected lyrics are below and a link to her music video is listed in References & Notes.17
Who killed Jesus many years ago?
Was it Roman soldiers with their tools of war,
Driving nails through hands that did no wrong,
Mocking and abusing, crowning Him with thorns?
Was it Pontius Pilate? He was governor,
Trying to decide the case that day,
Finding that the Savior had no fault of His own.
Who is guilty of a crime so low? I would like to know.
Copyright © 2023, Dr. Ray Hermann
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References & Notes
- All scripture is quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway/Good News Publishers, 2016). Used with permission.
- Le Beau, Bryan, et al., The Historical Jesus Through Catholic and Jewish Eyes, (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2000), p. 78.
- Ellicott, C. J., A Bible Commentary for English Readers, (London: Cassell and Company, Limited, 1905-1906), vol. 8, p. 133.
- Haynes Jr., Clarence L., “Who Killed Jesus?” (Christianity, 29 December 2022), https://www.christianity.com/wiki/jesus-christ/who-killed-jesus.html
- deicide: the killing of a divine being or symbolic substitute of such.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).
- “Jewish deicide”, (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 September 2023), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_deicide
- Hermann, Ray, “Slavery, Race, and Reparations – Did God Curse Black People?” (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 27 August 2020), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/slavery-race-and-reparations-did-god-curse-black-people/
- Martin, Michel, “Pope: ‘Jews Are Not Responsible For Killing Jesus’”, (NPR, National Public Radio, 4 March 2011), https://www.npr.org/2011/03/04/134264425/Pope-Jews-Are-Not-Responsible-For-Killing-Jesus
- “What Do Jews Believe About Jesus?” (My Jewish Learning, retrieved 5 September 2023), https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/what-do-jews-believe-about-jesus/
- Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).
- Rakhamilova, Zina, “No, the Jews did not kill Jesus”, (The Jerusalem Post, 8 August 2023), https://www.jpost.com/opinion/article-753998
- Luter, A. Boyd, CSB Study Bible: Notes, (Nashville TN: Holman Bible Publisher, 2017), p. 1905.
- Sanders, E. P., “St. Paul the Apostle”, (Encyclopedia Britannica, 20, July 1998), https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Paul-the-Apostle
- Cabal, Ted, (Ed.), The Apologetics Study Bible, (Nashville TN: Holman Bible Publisher, 2017), p. 1497.
- Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), vol. 6, p. 625.
- Cabal, Ted, (Ed.), The Apologetics Study Bible, (see above).
- “Who Killed Jesus?” Artist: Katie Irvin; Songwriter: Mickey Holiday; (© 1970 Singspiration, Inc.; uploaded to YouTube 26 January 2023). Used under ‘fair use copyright’ for teaching under Section 107 of the United States Copyright Act of 1976 — MUSIC VIDEO: https://youtu.be/bq3C8EBgIgM