(1 Thess. 2:14-16) Did Paul hate the Jews?

CLAIM: Critics argue that Paul wrote this passage, because he was anti-Semitic and racist against Jews.

RESPONSE: Nothing could be further from the truth. Paul was a Jew himself (Rom. 11:1; Gal. 1:13-14; Phil. 3:5-6), and he longed for his fellow-Jews to come to faith in Christ. In fact, Paul said, “I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:3). Clearly, Paul would give anything for his fellow-Jews—even his own salvation! How then do we interpret this difficult passage? Consider each line below:

“Killed the Lord Jesus.” While the Romans nailed Jesus to the Cross, the Jewish leaders conspired to put him in the hands of the Romans. Imagine if a white-collar criminal ordered someone to be murdered by a hired killer. Who would you blame? Clearly, you would blame both. In the same way, both the Romans and the Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death (Acts 4:27). (Yet, surely no one would consider the Bible to be hateful of Italians!)

“Killed… the prophets.” Paul was not the first one to observe that the Jews killed God’s prophets. Elijah said, “The sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets” (1 Kings 19:10; see also Neh. 9:26). Commenting on the harsh words of the OT prophets, Blomberg writes, “No one accuses the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures of being anti-Semitic!”[1] Jesus also taught that the Jews had killed the prophets (Mt. 23:31, 35; Lk. 13:34; Mk. 12:5-8), and so did Stephen (Acts 7:52).

“Drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men.” Paul’s comments need to be understood in light of the fact that his fellow-Jews were persecuting Christians and opposing the spread of the gospel. Since the gospel is the greatest conceivable message, stopping it is a horrific sin, which would truly affect “all men.”

Paul was not condemning all Jews; he was condemning specific Jews who were persecuting innocent people (e.g. himself, Jesus, the prophets, and all men). Martin observes, “The harsh words in vv. 15-16 were directed specifically at the persecutors of the faithful.”[2]

Moreover, at this time, Paul had just been chased from Thessalonica by a lynch mob. So, the subject of God’s promise of judgment was probably fresh on his mind. Of course, Paul wasn’t encouraging personal revenge, but trusting in divine judgment. Paul himself wrote, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Rom. 12:14). However, Paul also trusted that God would eventually judge evil (Rom. 12:19). In the same way, Jesus taught that we should love our enemies (Mt. 5:44), but he also believed in divine judgment for our enemies, too (Mk. 9:42).

[1] Craig Blomberg, From Pentecost to Patmos: An Introduction to Acts through Revelation (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2006), 144.

[2] D. Michael Martin, 1, 2 Thessalonians, vol. 33, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 86-87.