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Rejection of Jesus

This article is about historical rejection of Jesus, both in and outside the New Testament. For people who have renounced Christianity, see Apostasy in Christianity.

The New Testament includes a number of incidents of the rejection of Jesus during his lifetime, by local communities and individuals.

Hometown rejection

In the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Mark there is an account of a visit by Jesus to his hometown with his followers. On the Sabbath, he enters a synagogue and begins to teach. It says that many who heard were 'astounded', and that they were offended, asking "is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?". It adds that he could do no 'deeds of power there' except to heal a few sick people. Amazed at the community's lack of belief in him, he observes that "Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house."(Mark 6:1-6)

The account given in the Gospel of Matthew edits this account by having those in the synagogue describe Jesus as the 'son of the carpenter' and stating that he could not do many deeds of power (rather than none).[1] (Matthew 13:54-58)

The Gospel of Luke moves this story to the beginning of Jesus' preaching in Galilee, to introduce what follows.[2] In this version, Jesus is described as performing a public reading of scripture; he claims to be the fulfillment of a prophecy at Isaiah 61:1-2. (Luke 4:16-30)

In Matthew and Mark the crowd is also described as referring to Jesus as being the brother of James, Simon, Joseph, and Judas (in Mark they also mention, but do not name, Jesus's sisters) in a manner suggesting that the crowd regards them as just ordinary people, and criticising Jesus' quite different behaviour.

Luke adds that Jesus recounted stories about how, during the time of Elijah, only a Sidonian woman was saved, and how, during the time of Elisha, though there were many lepers in Israel, only a Syrian was cleansed. This, according to Luke, caused the people to attack Jesus and chase him to the top of a hill in order to try to throw Jesus off, though Jesus slips away. Some scholars conclude that the historical accuracy of Luke's version is questionable, in this particular case citing that there is no cliff face in Nazareth.[3]

The negative view of Jesus' family may be related to the conflict between Paul the Apostle and Jewish Christians. A. N. Wilson suggests that the negative relationship between Jesus and his family was placed in the Gospels (especially in the Gospel of Mark) to dissuade early Christians from following the Jesus cult that was administered by Jesus’ family: "…it would not be surprising if other parts of the church, particularly the Gentiles, liked telling stories about Jesus as a man who had no sympathy or support from his family."[4] Jeffrey Bütz[5] is more succinct: "…by the time Mark was writing in the late 60s, the Gentile churches outside of Israel were beginning to resent the authority wielded by Jerusalem where James and the apostles were leaders, thus providing the motive for Mark’s antifamily stance… (p. 44)." Other prominent scholars agree (e.g., Crosson, 1973;[6] Mack, 1988;[7] Painter. 1999).[8]

Rejection of the cornerstone

Events in the
Life of Jesus
according to the Gospels
Life of Jesus
Portals: 16px Christianity 16px Bible
See also: Mark 12

Matthew 21:42, Acts 4:11 and Mark 12:10 talk of Jesus as the stone which the builders (or "husbandmen") rejected. 1 Peter 2:7 discusses this rejection of Jesus. This references similar wording from Psalms 118:22.

Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum

According to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke the Galilean villages of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum did not repent in response to Jesus's teaching, so Jesus declared their damnation to Hades (Matthew 11:23, Luke 10:13-15).

Not welcomed in a Samaritan village

According to Luke 9:51-56, when Jesus entered a Samaritan village, he was not welcomed, because he was going on to Jerusalem. (There was enmity between Judeans and their Temple in Jerusalem and Samaritans and their temple on Mount Gerizim) His disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven on the village but Jesus reprimanded them and they continued on to another village.[9]

Many disciples leave

John 6:60-6:66 records "many disciples" leaving Jesus after he said that those who eat his body and drink his blood will remain in him and have eternal life (John 6:48-59). In John 6:67-71 Jesus asks the Twelve Apostles if they also want to leave, but St. Peter responds that they have become believers.

Rejection as the Jewish messiah

Jesus is rejected in Judaism as a failed Jewish Messiah claimant.[10][11][12] Belief in the divinity of any human being is incompatible with Judaism:[13][14]

  • The Torah says "God is not a man (איש : ['iysh]) that He should lie, nor is He a mortal (בן–אדם : [ben-'adam]) that He should relent. Would He say and not do, speak and not fulfill?"[15] (Book of Numbers Bamidbar 23:19).[13][14]
  • "The point is this: that the whole Christology of the Church - the whole complex of doctrines about the Son of God who died on the Cross to save humanity from sin and death - is incompatible with Judaism, and indeed in discontinuity with the Hebraism that preceded it."[16]
  • "Aside from its belief in Jesus as the Messiah, Christianity has altered many of the most fundamental concepts of Judaism." (Kaplan, Aryeh)[17]
  • "...the doctrine of Christ was and will remain alien to Jewish religious thought."[18]
  • "For two thousand years, Jews rejected the claim that Jesus fulfilled the messianic prophecies of the Hebrew Bible, as well as the dogmatic claims about him made by the church fathers - that he was born of a virgin, the son of God, part of a divine Trinity, and was resurrected after his death. ... For two thousand years, a central wish of Christianity was to be the object of desire by Jews, whose conversion would demonstrate their acceptance that Jesus has fulfilled their own biblical prophecies."[19]
  • "No Jew accepts Jesus as the Messiah. When someone makes that faith commitment, they become Christian. It is not possible for someone to be both Christian and Jewish."[20]

On the Jewish side, the accounts of Jewish rejection of Jesus are prominently featured in the Birkat haMinim of the Amidah and the Talmud. The Talmud indicates that Rabbi Gamaliel II directed Samuel ha-Katan to write another paragraph for the central Amidah-prayer, inveighing against (early Christian) informers and heretics, which was inserted as the twelfth paragraph in modern sequence (Birkat haMinim).[21]

On the Christian side, the accounts of Jewish rejection of Jesus are prominently featured in the New Testament, especially John's gospel. For example, in 7:1-9 Jesus moves around in Galilee but avoids Judea, because "the Jews/Judeans" were looking for a chance to kill him. In 7:12-13 some said "he is a good man" whereas others said he deceives the people, but these were all "whispers", no one would speak publicly for "fear of the Jews/Judeans". Jewish rejection is also recorded in 7:45-52, 8:39-59, 10:22-42 and 12:36-43. 12:42 says many did believe, but they kept it private, for fear the Pharisees would exclude them from the Synagogue, see also Council of Jamnia.

File:Medieval manuscript-Jews identified by rouelle are being burned at stake.jpg
An illustration from a medieval manuscript. Top: Jews (identifiable by rouelle) reject Jesus. Bottom: Jews are being burned at stake.

According to Jeremy Cohen,

"[e]ven before the Gospels appeared, the apostle Paul (or, more probably, one of his disciples) portrayed the Jews as Christ's killers[22] ... But though the New Testament clearly looks to the Jews as responsible for the death of Jesus, Paul and the evangelists did not yet condemn all Jews, by the very fact of their Jewishness, as murderers of God and his messiah. That condemnation, however, was soon to come."[23]

Emil Fackenheim wrote in 1987:

"... Except in relations with Christians, the Christ of Christianity is not a Jewish issue. There simply can be no dialogue worthy of the name unless Christians accept—nay, treasure—the fact that Jews through the two millennia of Christianity have had an agenda of their own. There can be no Jewish-Christian dialogue worthy of the name unless one Christian activity is abandoned, missions to the Jews. It must be abandoned, moreover, not as a temporary strategy but in principle, as a bimillennial theological mistake. The cost of that mistake in Christian love and Jewish blood one hesitates to contemplate."[24]

See also


  1. ^ Daniel J. Harrington (1 October 2010). Meeting St. Matthew Today. Loyola Press. p. 46. ISBN 978-0-8294-3104-9. 
  2. ^ Mark Allan Powell, What are They Saying about Luke? (Paulist Press, 1989), page 19.
  3. ^ The Complete Gospels, Robert J. Miller editor, 1992, page 126, translation note to Luke 4:29: "Nazareth is not built on or near a cliff face. Luke generally seems poorly informed about Palestinian geography. Aspects of his geography may therefore be fictive."
  4. ^ Wilson, A.N., Jesus: A life. 1992. New York: Norton & Co., page 86.
  5. ^ Butz, Jeffrey. The brother of Jesus and the lost teachings of Christianity. 2005. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions.
  6. ^ Crosson, John Dominic. “Mark and the relatives of Jesus”. Novum Testamentum, 15, 1973
  7. ^ Mack, Burton. A myth of innocence: Mark and Christian origins. 1988. Philadelphia: Fortress
  8. ^ Painter, John. Just James: The brother of Jesus in history and tradition. 1999. Minneapolis: Fortress Press
  9. ^ The Complete Gospels, Robert J. Miller, editor, 1992, Polebridge Press, ISBN 0-944344-30-5, page 140, translation note to Luke 9:53: "Samaritans would not offer hospitality to those travelling to the temple in Jerusalem, which the Samaritans regarded as an illegitimate rival to their own temple on Mount Gerasim (see John 4:20)."
  10. ^ Berger, David; Wyschogrod, Michael (1978). Jews and "Jewish Christianity". [New York]: KTAV Publ. House. ISBN 0-87068-675-5. 
  11. ^ Singer, Tovia (2010). Let's Get Biblical. RNBN Publishers; 2nd edition (2010). ISBN 978-0615348391. 
  12. ^ Kaplan, Aryeh (1985). The real Messiah? a Jewish response to missionaries (New ed. ed.). New York: National Conference of Synagogue Youth. ISBN 978-1879016118.  The real Messiah (pdf)
  13. ^ a b Singer, Tovia. "Monotheism". Retrieved 19 August 2013. 
  14. ^ a b Spiro, Ken (Rabbi, Masters Degree in History). "Seeds of Christianity". Judaism online. Retrieved 19 August 2013. 
  15. ^ Rashi: "God is not a man that He should lie": He has already promised them to bring them to and give them possession of the land of the seven nations, and you expect to kill them in the desert? [See Mid. Tanchuma Mass’ei 7, Num. Rabbah 23:8] "Would He say…": Heb. הַהוּא. This is in the form of a question. And the Targum [Onkelos] renders "who later relent". They reconsider and change their minds.
  16. ^ Rayner, John D. A Jewish Understanding of the World, Berghahn Books, 1998, p. 187. ISBN 1-57181-974-6
  17. ^ The Aryeh Kaplan Anthology: Volume 1, Illuminating Expositions on Jewish Thought and Practice, Mesorah Publication, 1991, p. 264. ISBN 0-89906-866-9
  18. ^ Wylen, Stephen M. Settings of Silver: An Introduction to Judaism, Paulist Press, 2000, p. 75. ISBN 0-8091-3960-X
  19. ^ (Jewish Views of Jesus by Susannah Heschel, in Jesus In The World's Faiths: Leading Thinkers From Five Faiths Reflect On His Meaning by Gregory A. Barker, editor. Orbis Books, 2005 ISBN 1-57075-573-6. p.149
  20. ^ Why don't Jews accept Jesus as the Messiah? by Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner
  21. ^ Ber. iv. 3; see Grätz, "Gesch." 3d ed., iv. 30 et seq..
  22. ^ "... the Jews, who killed both the Lord and the prophets." (I Thessalonians 2:14-15)
  23. ^ Jeremy Cohen (2007): Christ Killers: The Jews and the Passion from the Bible to the Big Screen. Oxford University Press. p.55 ISBN 0-19-517841-6
  24. ^ Fackenheim, Emil (1987). What is Judaism? An Interpretation for the Present Age. Summit Books. p. 249. ISBN 0-671-46243-1. 
Rejection of Jesus
Preceded by
Samaritan woman at the well
First Rejection at Nazareth
Matthew 4:13-16 & Luke 4:16-31
Succeeded by
Calling of Matthew
Preceded by
Daughter of Jairus
Second Rejection at Nazareth
Matthew 13:54-58 & Mark 6:1-6
Succeeded by
John the Baptist Beheaded