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Who was really responsible for the execution of Jesus—Roman soldiers or Jewish leaders? In this episode of The Bible for Normal People, J. Christopher Edwards joins Pete and Jared to explore early Christian narratives that began shifting culpability for the crucifixion from Roman soldiers to Jewish leaders, and highlighting how these misconceptions rooted in the New Testament have contributed to anti-Judaism throughout Christian history. Join them as they explore the following questions:

  • What’s the thesis of the argument around these Christian narratives changing?
  • Where do we find evidence of Roman soldiers becoming Jewish executioners of Jesus in the New Testament?
  • Where in the text do we find the idea that all Jews of all generations would carry guilt of the execution of Jesus?
  • How do we know that there wasn’t a historical memory of Jewish leaders and people executing Jesus, and that’s why we find that narrative in the Bible?
  • Why is the execution of Jesus presented differently in different accounts of the event?
  • What examples do we have of this thesis in the second century and beyond?
  • How has the idea that Jews killed Jesus created anti-Judaism within Christianity?
  • What can we learn about the Gospel writers from this change in narrative?


Pithy, shareable, sometimes-less-than-280-character statements from the episode you can share.

  • It wasn’t advantageous for early Christians to maintain the original story of Jesus’ execution at the hands of Roman soldiers. — J. Christopher Edwards @theb4np
  • I think that the Bible encourages us to criticize it. I think it wants us to. — J. Christopher Edwards @theb4np
  • In our earliest gospel of Mark, we have in parabolic form this claim that Jewish actors execute Jesus. — J. Christopher Edwards @theb4np
  • Luke’s gospel is really the first gospel that actually “records” Jews as being the ones who execute Jesus. — J. Christopher Edwards @theb4np
  • According to Luke, the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, they’re the ones who execute Jesus. — J. Christopher Edwards @theb4np
  • What Mark says happened between Jesus and Pilate is different than what Matthew says, is different than what Luke says, is different than what John says. — J. Christopher Edwards @theb4np
  • Certainly in the early 2nd century and beyond, only Jews execute Jesus in all retellings of the crucifixion narrative. And that’s certainly not what happened to Jesus of Nazareth. — J. Christopher Edwards @theb4np
  • Maybe the temptation for folks, especially from faith backgrounds, would be to think of the New Testament writings as some pristine historical recounting of what happened to Jesus of Nazareth. — J. Christopher Edwards @theb4np

Mentioned in This Episode

Read the transcript

Pete: You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People, the only God ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns. 

Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.

[Intro music plays]

Now it’s time to tell you about the next class in our Summer School series! Our July class is called “Go To Hell?: Alternatives to Eternal Damnation” taught by the brilliant Jaime Clark-Soles.

Pete: The class will cover topics like: The History and Meaning of Hell, Hell and God’s Morality – and our Morality, how does hell fit with the idea of justice?

And it’s happening LIVE on July 25th from 8:00pm-9:30pm ET. As always, it’s Pay What You Can until the class ends, and then it costs $25 for the recording. Or, if you want extra credit and to support what we do, you can sign up for our hall pass which gets you access to all three courses in the 2024 Summer School series, which also includes a class on universalism and another on the apocrypha. You’ll also get a bonus gift for your support! 

So if you want the hall pass, want to sign up for our July class on Hell, or to look at our whole summer lineup go to That’s (that’s the number 24). 

Pete: And as always, these classes, and all our classes are included in our Society of Normal People membership for just $12/month, which you can find at

Jared: On today’s episode, we’re talking about how the gospel writers invented Jesus’s Jewish executioners with J. Christopher Edwards. 

Pete: Yeah, John is professor of religious studies at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, and his most recent book is Crucified: the Christian Invention of the Jewish Executioners of Jesus, which is the focus of our podcast today. 

Jared: Very interesting. So we hope you enjoy this conversation with J. Christopher Edwards.

[Teaser clip of John speaking over music] 

J. Christopher Edwards: “Certainly in the early second century and beyond, only Jews execute Jesus in all retellings of the crucifixion narrative, and that’s certainly not what happened to Jesus of Nazareth. And in between those things is the New Testament. I think that the Bible encourages us to criticize it, you know, like, I think it like wants us to.”

[Ad break]

Pete: All right, John, welcome to the podcast. It’s great to have you here. 

J. Christopher Edwards: It’s great to be here, Pete. 

Pete: And to talk about a difficult topic. Let’s just start with what is your thesis? What are you offering us here in this discussion that you wrote a book about? 

J. Christopher Edwards: I think that when people imagine the crucifixion of Jesus, if they close their eyes and try and see Golgotha, and they try to envision Jesus being nailed to a cross, they will envision the people nailing him to the cross as men with maybe a metal helmet, a metal breastplate, maybe a red crest on the helmet, along with a red cape. So they’ll see Roman soldiers. 

And Jesus of Nazareth was certainly crucified by Roman soldiers. That’s certainly what happened to Jesus. And people see that, of course, because they think about primarily, you know, the Jesus movies or an Easter play or something like that. But for early Christians, it was not advantageous to maintain sort of the story of what actually happened to Jesus—that he was crucified for political crimes, preaching about a kingdom of God, by state actors. Right?

If I created a new religion, Pete and Jared, and I wanted you to follow it, you probably wouldn’t want to follow it if I told you that our founder was executed by U.S. Special Forces or something like that, right? So it wasn’t advantageous for early Christians to maintain the original story of Jesus’ execution at the hands of Roman soldiers.

So very soon after Jesus’ execution, a couple of decades go by, and you can see that Christians are replacing the Roman soldiers with Jews as Jesus’ executioners, and that’s gonna be something that’s gonna be very new, a very, very new idea to your listeners. If you go out 100 to 150 years after the crucifixion of Jesus, and you see, you read about early Christians, early Christians who retell the story of Jesus’ crucifixion—you can’t find a Roman soldier who executes Jesus. It’s all Jews, all the time. And that’s certainly there, it’s pervasive in the 2nd century and beyond. And it’s already there if you keep that in your mind, and you go back to read the New Testament text, you can see that it’s already presenting itself in the New Testament.

So, this very difficult tradition, the sacred error so prevalent throughout Christian history is right there in the New Testament. So that’s, I think that’s part of what I’m trying to point out to people that they’re not going to be aware of. 

Jared: All right. Well, let’s dive right into some of the evidence for this. Where do we find this, you know, specifically, because I think a lot of our listeners come from a background where they read the New Testament and understand the New Testament. So maybe starting with the New Testament, where do we find evidence of this? 

J. Christopher Edwards: Yeah, absolutely. So, in our first gospel, the gospel of Mark, you can already see that the gospel is moving in this direction. In Mark chapter 12, you have a parable, parable of the tenants. And in Mark chapter 12, Jesus tells this parable to religious leaders of a man who leases land to tenants. And he sends people to collect the produce from the land. The first people he sends are slaves, and the tenants beat and abuse the slaves.

And then he sends his son, because he thinks that they will respect his son. But the tenants see that it’s his son, and then they end up killing him. And the religious leaders whom he’s telling the parable to, they know, it says, Mark says he knows, they know that he’s told the parable about them. And so in this parable you have the tenants, the religious leaders, killing the beloved son, the son of the owner of the vineyard—who is Jesus. So in our earliest gospel of Mark, we have in parabolic form this claim that Jewish actors execute Jesus. 

And we also have what’s kind of there in Matthew’s gospel, this idea of an intergenerational Jewish guilt. What do I mean by that? And so in Mark’s parable, the tenants, the same tenants who killed the slaves, and I should say, by the way, that the slaves of course represent like the prophets, right? The same tenants who kill the slaves end up killing the beloved son. And so you have this idea of a continuity of opponents to God’s messengers, right? That they’re kind of like all the same. And that’s a point that then gets accentuated in Matthew’s gospel. 

So, in Matthew chapter 23, when Jesus is giving his woes against the religious leaders, he accuses them of being one with everyone in the past who has persecuted or killed God’s prophets. So he said to them, for example, in Matthew 23:34, so Jesus speaking to his contemporary listeners, he says, “I send you prophets, sages, scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, some whom you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah.” 

So you have this idea that when Christians are going to accuse Jews of executing Jesus, they’re not going to accuse just kind of like a handful of malevolent Jews in the year 30 CE. It’s going to be about Jews of all generations who’ve always opposed God’s prophets.

Pete: Well, John, can I just interrupt there? Just I mean, I think to tie it in a little bit, just to be really clear, I mean, for our listeners, what you’re saying is that this shift from Roman culpability to Jewish culpability—and not just a few Jews who were present—and I’m going to assume you would agree with this, there were some Jews who didn’t want Jesus around. So, I mean, in terms of, like, some of the hierarchy, perhaps…

J. Christopher Edwards: Maybe. It’s very hard to say, you know, I mean—

Pete: Well, that’s a good point. It is hard to say. But the shift is already in the earliest gospel that we have, which is Mark, right? And then, you know, Matthew takes that. And I guess, you know, maybe is he, is he a step further along in the process?

J. Christopher Edwards: Matthew adopts Mark’s same parable. I probably got a little off track in mentioning Matthew, because Matthew’s just important for, uh, really developing this idea of Jewish guilt across the centuries. And that’s what later Christians are going to pick up. Later Christians are going to accuse Jews of executing Jesus and they’re going to mean like, the Jews that they know being like one with the Jews that executed Jesus. This idea of generational guilt. 

Luke’s gospel is really the first gospel that actually records Jews as being the ones who execute Jesus. Right? So in both Mark and Matthew, Jesus is executed by Roman soldiers, but there’s like a little bit of inconsistency there in the gospels of Mark and Matthew, because both Mark and Matthew claim that Jews execute the prophets. So essentially the message in Mark and Matthew is “you guys executed the prophets, but the Roman soldiers killed Jesus,” right? So that like, there’s a, like a little bit of an inconsistency there that is done away with in Luke’s gospel. 

So in Luke chapter 23 when you read the crucifixion narrative there, in Luke 23:33 the verse just says that they executed Jesus. And so you’re like, well, who is this “they” who execute Jesus? And if you trace that “they” back across the verses, you know, you say, who are the subjects of the verbs going back? It takes you all the way back to Luke 23:13. And you find out that the “they” who execute Jesus are the chief priests, the leaders, and the people. So according to Luke, the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, they’re the ones who execute Jesus. 

And that’s very consistent with pretty much everything else in Luke and Acts. If you think about in the apostles’ preaching in the first 10 chapters or so of the Acts of the Apostles, the major message that the apostles have to the people in Jerusalem is “you crucified Jesus. You’ve killed him.” That’s like 10 times or so they say it. And if you think about, like, the death of Stephen, for example, in the early chapters of Acts, the author of Luke/Acts is bending over backwards to portray Stephen’s death as being the exact same as Jesus’s death, as being imitating Jesus’s death.

For example, both Stephen and Jesus, you know, make reference to the son of man seated at the right hand of the father. Both Jesus and Stephen ask God to forgive the people who are doing violence against them. And then the final parallel is, of course, is that the same people who are killing Stephen, you know, the author wants you to think these people also are the ones who executed Jesus, which are Jewish characters.

And then in Luke 24, on that famous story on the road to Emmaus, when, uh, Jesus is walking with those two characters who don’t know who he is and he asks them what happened and they say to him, “our chief priests and leaders crucified Jesus.” I mean, they just sort of say it flat out, right? So in Mark and Matthew, you have Roman soldiers who execute Jesus, even though that’s not really consistent with their broader message that like, of course, Jews have executed the prophets, right?

But in Luke, you know, you don’t have that discrepancy anymore. In Luke Acts you have Jewish characters that execute Jesus, and then that runs on through the 2nd century, 3rd century, and beyond.

[Ad break]

Jared: So, I want to go just to the question, because I think some listeners might have this question around the reason that we have in our New Testament that there are the chief priests, say, or the Jewish leaders are culpable is because that’s actually what happened historically. So, why do we automatically go to, there is a reading in to distance ourselves from Roman culpability. So let’s put it on the Jewish leaders. Why wouldn’t we just say, well, maybe this is just what happened, and they’re just recording what happened?

J. Christopher Edwards: The point is, is that there’s a trajectory. So no one’s recording what happened. So like what Mark says happened between Jesus and Pilate is different than what Matthew says, is different than what Luke says, is different than what John says.

Jared: So the diversity of the text itself may already raise the question of, okay, well, we’re not getting straight history. And so what we need to figure out is why—

J. Christopher Edwards: Yeah, there’s no such thing as straight history with these things. Yeah, absolutely. 

Jared: So it’s a question then, really, of just why is it presented in this way? And when you gather the evidence, there’s a clear trajectory of we see the movement where Mark doesn’t flat out say it, but Luke does. And so we start that trajectory then. And then it goes past the pages of the New Testament into the early church where we see it more and more. 

J. Christopher Edwards: Yep. Certainly in the early 2nd century and beyond, only Jews execute Jesus in all retellings of the crucifixion narrative. And that’s certainly not what happened to Jesus of Nazareth. And in between those things is the New Testament. And frankly, some of the New Testament texts like Luke and John are probably a lot closer, temporally, to these texts in the second century that flat out just say, Jews killed Jesus.

And that’s pretty much what Luke says as well, than they are to the events of Jesus of Nazareth. I think maybe the temptation for folks, especially from faith backgrounds, would be to think of the New Testament writings as some pristine historical recounting of what happened to Jesus of Nazareth, especially when you’re talking about the heart of the crucifixion narrative, and then to think that things like went awry in the 2nd century. But I think what I’m trying to say is the 2nd century writers and beyond claim that Jews execute Jesus, and I would like to say that how could we think that the New Testament texts which are right up against them temporally, are just like immune from that.

Of course, we would expect to find that stuff in the New Testament. Of course, we would expect to find the New Testament texts going that direction.

Pete: It is striking, John, that it’s pretty explicit. Like in, in the story of, I guess, this may be Stephen’s martyrdom, I don’t, I don’t remember, but the God of our ancestors raised of Jesus, whom you yourselves killed by hanging him on a tree.

J. Christopher Edwards: Oh yeah. 

Pete: That’s electric language. It’s important. Now, the thing is, I mean, let, can we, let’s transition to John a little bit here, because that’s the big one, you know, that people always talk about and they don’t talk about it as much with maybe Matthew, Mark, or Luke, but, and I, just to transition for me, I’m just, I’m looking at your book and it’s helpful to me where you say that it’s important to state that while Luke Acts does blame Jesus actors for crucifying Jesus, it consistently limits its accusation to the unbelieving Jews of Jerusalem, which seems to be a little different than Matthew, but that’s not the point. But we’re moving beyond that, aren’t we, with John’s gospel? 

J. Christopher Edwards: Maybe, yeah, I think actually Luke is more the climactic one, just because Luke clearly says Jewish actors execute Jesus. He doubled down on it in Acts, and he just states it really clearly in that statement in Luke 24:20, parallel Stephen’s death, et cetera. In John, yes, you’re right. It’s not the Jews of Jerusalem, it’s just the Jews. Right? John just generalizes about the Jews, the Ioudaioi

In John’s gospel, if you just like read John 19:14-18: “Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover and it was about noon and he, Pilate, said to the Jews, the Ioudaioi, here is your king. And they cried out away with him, away with him, crucify him. And Pilate asked them, shall I crucify your king? And the chief priest answered, we have no king but the emperor. And then he, Pilate, handed him over to them, the Jews, to be crucified. So they, the Jews, took Jesus, and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to the place of the skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha, and there they, the Jews, crucified him.” 

But later in John chapter 19, you have a reference to the soldiers crucifying Jesus. So in John, you kind of have two claims, right? When it just narrates the actual crucifixion of Jesus, it says the Jews crucify him. But later in that same chapter, there’s like a sideways comment to say when the soldiers crucified him. 

Pete: I mean, it reminds me a little bit, John, I mean, this is a little bit to the side here, but you know, what caused the division of the monarchy in the Hebrew Bible? Well, is it Solomon’s bringing of foreign wives and then building altars in Jerusalem? Or is it his son’s bad political maneuvering? So there’s like a theological and sort of like a less theological reason. I’m just saying it’s, it doesn’t parallel exactly what you’re saying, but I mean, it could just be that there are angles given, but the prominent angle in John is Jewish crucifixion of Jesus. And maybe less so Roman—like he can’t ignore it. 

J. Christopher Edwards: Right. I like to focus on Luke Acts because John makes that sideways comment about the soldiers later in the chapter. It’s sort of like a get out of jail free card, I think, for people. So, I really like to, like, really hang everything on Luke Acts because in Luke Acts, they’re just like, no doubt, like Luke claims Jews execute Jesus.

Pete: Well, John, can I ask a question here? Uh, something that I think you see this in study Bibles, for example, just like maybe footnotes and things like that, especially with John. And this is like a standard thing to say, that difficulties in the synagogue with Jewish believers in Jesus and non Jewish believers and the tensions between them might have driven John to present things the way that he did, or maybe, maybe the author of Luke Acts as well. I mean, do you think there’s credibility to that? Or do you have another angle like the synagogue stuff? Whatever? 

J. Christopher Edwards: It’s honestly, it’s hard for me to see behind these texts. I’m reticent to try and make those claims. I’d rather just sort of like, focus, like, say, this is what the text actually says, um, and we have to confront it. I’m, I just don’t know. So provisional. But since you mentioned study Bibles, some of these translations of, like, Luke and John edit out, intentionally, I presume, the text’s claim that Jews execute Jesus. So when it will talk about, it’ll say they execute Jesus. They’ll just like put in there “soldiers”. They’ll just take that they, which obviously refers back to Jews, and they’ll just translate it as soldiers. Like the new international version does that, which, you know—

Pete: [Sarcastically] They’re just clarifying the meaning, John, what are you talking about?!

J. Christopher Edwards: [Laughing] Exactly. I supposed…

Jared: Can you just walk us through at least some of these examples as we get into the second century, where does it go from there? You talked about this trajectory. And I think that helped my instinct of starting later is like, well, you see it, it’s harder to ignore when you see the trajectory and the development.

J. Christopher Edwards: Right. So again, like I said, I mean, in the second, third, fourth, fifth centuries, you know, on up until forever, basically, you can only find Jews executing Jesus. And you can find Christians claiming that the Jews they know are one with the Jews who executed Jesus because you can, you have that generational guilt.

And on that point, it’s just worth pointing out that it wasn’t until, like, the 2nd Vatican Council where the church formally, like, says, like, you can’t say the Jews of all time are, like, guilty of, you know, whatever violence against Jesus. So, it just sort of, like, shows that it’s not, like, something that’s, like, buried in the distant past. And whenever I’ve talked to, like, Jewish friends of mine about this, and if you come from Christian world, you won’t be really aware about this, but I mean, certainly Jews know that Christians, like, have accused them of killing Jesus. So it is something very present, but just in terms of, like, some of the developments that we might find interesting.

So, Justin Martyr is, uh, 2nd century. And Justin Martyr has that same idea of, like, the Jews who disobeyed at Sinai are the same, you know, as the Jews who killed the prophets, or the same as the Jews who killed Jesus, or the same as the Jews who are currently opposing us in our Christian community, right?

So that’s where the rationale comes from, like, you guys, my next door neighbors, you killed Jesus because you’re one with every, all this whole line of disobedient Jews. But what Justin does is he does something kind of interesting, is he rather than just saying that, he also sees continuity between Christians who experience persecution from Jews. So Justin believes that his Christian community is currently persecuted by Jews and well, he’s heard rumors, I should say, that Christians were persecuted by Jews during the Bar Kokhba revolt. 

Pete: Which is when? Just highlight that a little bit for our listeners. 

J. Christopher Edwards: In the second Jewish revolt against Rome, which of course didn’t turn out very well.

Pete: Like the 130s? Is that it? Roughly 130s? 

J. Christopher Edwards: Yes. Yeah, in the early 2nd century. So he wants to say that people who experience persecution from Jews are like, one with Christ. Christ is one with them. In other words, Jews crucified Jesus and they’re like continuing to crucify Jesus in the experience of the contemporary church. Right? 

So he has this kind of like, imitation of Christ model. Like Christ was killed and persecuted by jews and now Christ is continuing to be killed and persecuted by jews as we sort of experience it ourselves, right? And he sort of encourages this idea that you want to imitate christ and imitate christ in his sufferings—I mean, right? That’s like language from Paul—but if you have this idea that Jews killed Jesus, then you will think that your own persecutions, the things that go bad in your life that you see as imitating Christ and his sufferings must also come from Jews.

So that’s a very unfortunate development in the tradition that could really just kind of go anywhere, right?

[Ad break]

J. Christopher Edwards: Another person just to highlight quickly is Tertullian. Tertullian is interesting because Tertullian brings Pilate back into the conversation. So, we didn’t really talk about this much, but if you go from Mark to Matthew to Luke to John, and just this trajectory scheme that I’ve adopted, Pilate becomes more and more sympathetic to Jesus, he’s claimed to be more and more innocent of anything wrongdoing that happens to Jesus, and then he kind of disappears a little bit in the second century, and he pops back up at the end of the 2nd century in the writing of this guy Tertullian.

And Tertullian claims that Pilate actually was a Christian. Right? He says Pilate was a Christian in his conscience. And he claims that Pilate not only was a Christian in his conscience, but he also wrote a letter to the emperor Tiberius as the first official epistle telling Tiberius about Christ’s divinity. And emperor Tiberius, Tertullian says, read it and himself was convinced and tried to convince the whole Roman Senate to recognize Jesus as a God. But they didn’t. 

And I like this because it just shows like, how much you can like, create with the passage of time. How open the past becomes with the passage of time that Tertullian is able to claim this about Pilate. But Tertullian is just really like the start of a whole like re-envisioning of a lot of these early pagan rulers, right?

Lots of later Christian writers build on what Tertullian says about Pilate’s conversion, about Tiberius’ conversion, and they add on the emperor Claudius, his wife Protonica, another guy named Abgar. So what early Christians begin to say is that Pilate and these other early pagan rulers were early converts to the Christian way of life. And that any sort of opposition that Christians have experienced from the empire isn’t from these—you know, from Pilate or Tiberius—it was from this one later guy, Nero, right? He’s like the bad guy. He like went away from the judgment of these early Roman rulers, right? 

So these early Roman rulers, unlike Nero, became Christians. Pilate became a Christian. Tiberius became a Christian. And later Christian writers highlight them because they want them to serve as models for people like Constantine, right? They want to say, “Constantine, you’re a great Christian and you’re in the line of all, you’re in the line of all these other great Christians right from the very beginning, right from like Tiberius and Claudius. You’re like one of them.” 

And the other thing, of course, that they say about these early Christian rulers like Tiberius and Claudius, is that they persecuted Jews for killing Jesus, right? So these guys, they became Christian in the imagination of these later Christian writers. They persecute Jews and then that becomes, they become like exemplars for later Christian rulers, right?

Like Pilate and Tiberius serve as examples for Constantine and Theodosius, right? And then Constantine himself, when he becomes a Christian, he has very negative things to say about Jews, he’s always referring to them as Christ killers. Of course, he’s getting that from the bishops around him. He legislates against Jews based on the fact that they executed Jesus. So you can see how this like idea that starts in the New Testament because early Christians want to settle in the Roman world and it’s not advantageous for them to settle in the Roman world where a key claim of theirs is that their religious founder was executed by the state for whatever political crimes.

So they move it over to Jews, and then that develops all the way out and then we sort of get to the sort of horrible history of like Christian anti-Judaism that is spread, spans two millennia. 

Jared: That’s fascinating. 

Pete: You know, the two things, John, that are jumping out to me here, and both I think are obvious points, but they’re jumping out to me—and that is the afterlife of this, and you just said at the end, which has been a part of the Christian tradition for a couple thousand years. And you know, I can’t say universally so, I mean, there may have been all sorts of people—I know there are stories from John Chrysostom, you know, who was annoyed with Jews who kept hanging out with Christians in his congregation, who kept hanging out with Jews. Like, why are you going to the synagogue? Come to church with us instead.

So I imagine there are people who might have not thought that, but that’s not the point. The point is that the afterlife of this has had disastrous effects. And I think, I would like to think people today are a bit more hopefully sensitive to some of the issues. And for me, the, the, the bigger issue, I shouldn’t say the bigger issue, but the, the foundational issue here that I think people are going to have to think about from listening to this, is just the Bible. You know? And just thinking about the things that are there that I’m sure people, and for good reason, innocent reasons, have just missed. And how much it just complicates. the nature of the holy texts for people and maybe to look at it with a more critical light. 

J. Christopher Edwards: I mean, I hope it just demystifies the history of Christian sort of like anti-Judaism, right? Christians have shoved Jews in like ghettos and all sorts of other way more horrible things for millennia. And it’s just, it’s grounded in, ultimately, in this tradition and in these texts. It’s kind of like an upside down pyramid. I mean, I’m sure there were all sorts, you know, there’s all sorts of developments in like Christian anti-Judaism down through the centuries, but ultimately it comes back to these texts, like these biblical texts, as you were saying, and that’s a hard thing to come to grips with.

I don’t think what I’m doing is particularly revolutionary in the big scheme of things. I think I’m, I think I’m kind of like adding something to a list that people might already have in their minds. I think people are kind of aware that the Bible says some shady things about whatever, divine violence, you know, slavery, homosexuality, women’s authority, et cetera.

You know, people already know that stuff. Um, so I think I’m kind of just adding something else onto that list that no one knows about. But I think I just want to tell people that it’s okay. I think that the Bible encourages us to criticize it. You know, like, I think it, like, wants us to.

I think this every semester when I teach Synoptic Gospels. You can just see that Matthew does not think of Mark as some, like, holy text. He thinks, you know, it’s got a lot of problems that he wants to change, you know? 

Pete: Well, Luke is explicit about it. 

J. Christopher Edwards: Yeah, but I mean like real problems, not just like you could have said that like a little bit clearer, you know? I always think of that story where the person comes to Jesus and says, like, “Good teacher, what do I need to do?” And then Jesus says, you know, “Why do you call me good?” You know, no one’s good but the one God and Matthew’s like, that is just heretical, right? He doesn’t like that. Right? So he moves the adjective good off of teacher and onto a deed.

And so in Matthew’s version, the man says, he doesn’t say good teacher, he says, “Teacher, what good deed must I do?” And Matthew’s like, aha, that’s more orthodox, right? So just like in a little move like that, like the Bible itself is telling you, like, this can be criticized, right? Like, it’s like giving you an example and, and people don’t like that because it’s unsafe, right?

It feels like the slippery slope. I like to think of it where it’s like the Bible, it’s sacramental almost, right? It’s like you engage with it and it becomes the word of God when you read it, when you encounter God in it, when you are encouraged to love your neighbor, God and your neighbor from, from engaging with it. And that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have all the blemishes, but it can do that for people who are engaged with it in the Christian tradition. So. 

Pete: And part of that is through interrogation sometimes, and questioning and debating, which, getting off my hobby horse very quickly, but that’s something that I think generally speaking, the Jewish tradition has done much better than the Christian tradition.

And, and maybe part of this is just learning that, like you said, it’s okay. It’s part of the tradition. We can handle it. And the Bible is an encultured document that addresses issues, uh, the way writers felt they needed to be addressed, but it may be the beginning and not, not the final word, but the beginning of a much longer conversation—like the kind we’re having today.

J. Christopher Edwards: Agreed. Yeah. Thank you. 

Pete: I knew you would. I knew you would, John. Well, listen, John, thank you so much for being on, for talking about a difficult topic, but a necessary one to talk about, and we just appreciate your time. 

J. Christopher Edwards: Thank you. 

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Outro: You’ve just made it through another episode of the Bible for Normal People! Don’t forget you can catch our other show, Faith for Normal People, in the same feed wherever you get your podcasts. This episode was brought to you by the Bible for Normal People team: Brittany Hodge, Stephen Henning, Wesley Duckworth, Savannah Locke, Tessa Stultz, Danny Wong, Natalie Weyand, Lauren O’Connell, Jessica Shao, and Naiomi Gonzalez.

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Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.