John's Gospel

The Way It Happened

John :42-44, The Earliest Christian Church, part IV of IV

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on my own initiative, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

//Continuing yesterday’s topic of similarities between the Ebionites, that first Christian church stemming from Jerusalem, and the Johannine writings, we now come to a crucial parallel. It’s this matter of supposed anti-Semitism. Today’s words condemning the Jews are placed by John on the tongue of none other than Jesus. Did Jesus really speak such damning words to the Jews? I don’t know. In today’s verse, he tells them that they follow the devil, not God; that their father is the devil, not God. But this friction between the Jews and the Christians in the first century was felt in both directions.

You may be familiar with the famous “twelfth benediction,” recited in Jewish synagogues to curse Christians. It is thought to have been placed in the common prayer in about 80 A.D. These “Christians” who were cursed by the prayer were probably Jewish Christians, considered by practicing Jews to be a heretical subgroup of Judaism. Epiphanius writes that the Jews curse the “Nazoreans” three times a day. (Early Christians were known as Nazarites.) Jerome indicates that it is the Ebionites whom the Jews are cursing.

Does it not make sense, then, that the Christian sect most likely to condemn their opponents, the Jews, would be the Ebionites? And which gospel most strongly condemns the Jews? The fourth one. This friction between traditional Jews and apostate Christian Jews is strongly reflected in the gospel of John, where Jesus roundly condemns “the Jews,” saying they never knew the real Father. And this is hardly the only passage in John’s Gospel condemning the Jews.

Jesus, of course, was a Jew; John was a Jew; all of the apostles were Jews. Yet Jesus condemns the Jews. It’s clear that he was speaking not of a race of people, among whom he would be counted, but of his religious opponents. Opponents of the early church, the Ebionites.

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