For my class on the Greek Fathers we are currently reading through some of the writings of John Chrysostom. One of my classmates, after reading Homilies Against the Jews, asked if we thought Chrysostom was anti-semitic. I found a translation of these homilies and my first impression is “Yes, Chrysostom was an anti-Semite!” In his first homily he says the feast of the Jews (the Jews themselves?) were a “disease” (I.5); he calls them “pitiable” (II.1); he says “they became dogs, and we became the children” (II.2); he says that one prophet said, “Israel is as obstinate as a stubborn heifer” (II.5) and then goes on to comment saying , “Although such beast are unfit to work, they are fit for killing” (II.6)! He says that “No Jew adores God!” (III.2) I could go on and on and on.

While I understand his concern is that Jews may be “Judaizing” (i.e. trying to convert Christians to Judaism) one cannot help but read Chrysostom as equating Judaizing with the Jews as a people. In other words he may not have liked some of the negative influences of the pagans but does he dedicate homilies against the Greeks because of their philosophy or against the Germaic tribes, per se? He may elsewhere but the point I am making here is that while the Jewish religion may be ranted against it does not seem fair that Chrysostom would rail against the Jews as well.

The Apostle Paul understood the new “Spirit” covenant to supersede and replace the old “Letter” covenant nevertheless he (a Jew himself) quickly warned the Roman Christians who were discounting the Jews as Jews. He said that the adoption of sons; the divine glory; the receiving of the law; the temple worship and the promises;  the patriarchs; and the human ancestry of the Messiah are all given to the Jews (Rom. 9.4-5). He says that, in fact, the Jews “are zealous for God” (10.2, contra Chrysostom “No Jew adores God!”). He reminds his readers that even though Israel as a whole has gone astray nevertheless God has retained a remnant (11.1-5). Finally, he warned Gentiles, like Chrysostom, “Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches he will not spare you either.” (11.20b-21)

Whether or not Chrysostom intended to cast a polemic against Judaism that sounds very anti-semitic or he really was anti-semitic seems to be debated. Whatever the case may be I think that Paul’s words should be a reminder to Gentiles everywhere at all times that we are no better at being the people of God than Israel. In fact, we are the people of God by grace alone. Equally, God has not forsaken the Jews and there is a remnant of Jews who are part of the greater global people of God. If we want to rant against Judaism as being a religion that detracts from the coming of Messiah we must always be careful to frame our argument in such a way that we are not misunderstood as attacking the Jews. If it were not for the Jews we would not have our Messiah. It was Jews like Peter and Paul who brought the message of the gospel to the Gentile world. We owe the Jewish people because of this. I think Chrysostom is a good example of how not to preach against Judaism.