Summary: Who killed Jesus?

WHODUNIT (MK 14:40-43)

Nobody could have predicted the controversy that erupted over the Aramaic-speaking, English-subtitled movie “The Passion of the Christ.” Months before the film’s release, rabbis went on the offensive and questioned publicly the appropriateness of such a movie. It seems that every year in Europe past when Passion plays were staged around Easter, many Jews would suffer mindless persecution and be called Christ killers.

Polls that surfaced subsequently were divided if the Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death. ABCNEWS asked 1,011 adults the question “Are Jews Today Responsible for the Death of Jesus?” Overall, 8% - less than 10% - believed so.

The Pew Research Center, however, in its poll of 1,703 adults, found a higher 26 percent of respondents believe Jews were to blame for the Crucifixion. The greatest increase was among young people and blacks. Thirty-four percent of those under age 30 now believe Jews were responsible, whereas 42 percent of blacks hold that view. The survey did not ask whether respondents believe Jews today should be blamed for the Crucifixion.

The Greek word for “kill” (apokteino) occurs 76 times in the Bible – 49 times in the gospels alone. So who killed Jesus, according to the Bible? Were the Jews or the Romans the bad guys? Was Judas Iscariot or Pontius Pilate ultimately responsible?


For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:18)

After this, Jesus went around in Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life. (John 7:1)

21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (Matt 16:21)

A fourteen year old Jewish boy asked a rabbi on

Q: “I am a fourteen year old Jew. I have a lot of Christian friends, and I have one certain friend that has a very strong opinion of Judaism and Jews. He keeps telling me that the Jews killed Jesus, and I am going to hell if I don’t let him in my heart. What really bothers me is the thing about the Jews killing Jesus…Did the Jews kill Jesus?”

A: “Your friend certainly has a "old-fashioned" view of things, since official Christian doctrine, which once spread that lie about the Jews, no longer does.

Of course, it was a disciple, Judas, who betrayed him to the Roman authorities, and all the disciples were Jews. Some of the Christian sources depict a scene in which "the Jews," given the choice of saving Barabbas or Jesus from crucifixion, chose Barrabas…So, even here, some Jews had indirect responsibility for his death. Finally, from a political point of view, we know that some Jewish leaders - appointed by the Romans - may have wanted Jesus out of the way because he seems to have been a political threat. After all, if indeed he claimed to be "king of the Jews," the Romans would have wanted him silenced, and Jewish leaders may have been "under the gun" to silence him.

The final decision, of course, lay with the Romans, who alone used crucifixion as a means of killing criminals and who alone had authority to impose the death penalty.

Now, even if Jews were involved in Jesus’ death, I might add that that was then, and this is now. Certainly, no Jews since Jesus died played a role in his death. Furthermore -- and most importantly -- since it was Jesus’ resurrection that began Christianity, if anything we should be praised for having him killed!”

Verse after verse, chapter to chapter, and gospel after gospel say that the Jews sought to kill Jesus, but not that they killed Jesus. They were guilty of plotting and seeking to kill Jesus, but not the very act itself. “The Passion of the Christ” was supposedly adapted from the gospel of John but John was most explicit in saying that the Jews “sought” to kill Jesus, but not the hit itself. The apostle records that the Jews tried all the harder to kill Jesus for breaking the Sabbath, calling God his own Father, and making himself equal with God (John 5:18) . Jesus stayed away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life (John 7:1). People in Jerusalem were aware the Jews were trying to kill him (John 7:25), but they never concluded the Jews killed Jesus. Jesus, unapologetically, also accused the Jews of seeking to kill him (John 8:37, John 8:40). The NIV said they were ready and determined to kill him. By John 11, the chief priests and the Pharisees even called a meeting of the Sanhedrin to kill Jesus (John 11:47, 53). Again, the attitude and aim of the Jews were firm and clear but not the final act.

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