by Barclay M. Newman
Christ has made peace between Jews and Gentiles and He has united us by breaking down the wall of hatred that separated us… On the cross Christ did away with our hatred for each other. He also made peace between us and God by uniting Jews and Gentiles in one body. (Ephesians 2.14, 16: Contemporary English Version)
Jesus was a Jew. Peter was a Jew. Paul was a Jew. The disciples were Jews. The apostles were Jews. The first Christians were Jews. Nicodemus was a Jewish leader (John 3.1).
Yet the frequent appearance of the Jews in negative contexts of the New Testament has led some readers to wrongly conclude that the Christian Scriptures speak of two categories of people — Christians and Jews, the “good guys” and the “bad guys?’ But nothing could be further from the truth.
In most of the New Testament the Jews is best understood to mean “the other Jews” or “some of the Jews” or “a few of the Jews” or “the Jewish leaders” or “some of the Jewish leaders” or “a few of the Jewish leaders.” Never does it refer to the nation as a whole. Above all else, to assume that every generation of Jewish people should be held responsible for the death of Jesus is without historical foundation. It was Pontius Pilate — the Roman Governor — who sentenced Jesus to death! And those men who nailed Jesus to a cross were Roman soldiers!
“Christ has made peace between Jews and Gentiles, and he has united us by breaking down the wall of hatred that separated us” (Ephesians 2.14) stands as a witness against those who would use any portion of the New Testament as a weapon of warfare for inciting anti-Jewish sentiments. To do so is to deny the efficacy of the work of Christ, as well as the overall message of the New Testament itself. Those New Testament accounts of early conflicts between “Jesus Jews” and “the (other) Jews” should not be distorted into justification for racial hatred today. And a truly faithful translation of the New Testament requires that the translator should constantly seek ways in which false impressions may be minimized and hatred overcome.
In every passage of the CEV New Testament, the basic concern was to produce a faithful and stylistically appropriate translation of the meaning of the Greek text. As a result of this overriding concern for accuracy and style, there are fewer passages in the CEV where the phrase “the Jews” can be wrongfully understood as a reference to the entirety of the Jewish community, whether past or present.
Whole … Part
Obviously any negative reference to “the Jews” in the New Testament cannot include the totality of the Jewish community, since the followers of Jesus are themselves Jews. So it becomes the responsibility of the interpreter-translator to determine precisely who is intended in any given passage. Sometimes this task is easy; sometimes it is difficult. What follows is merely a sampling of places from the Gospel of John where “the Jews” is represented by some term that indicates only part of them. In verses where “the people” occurs in the CEV, it was felt that the context clearly implies that these are Jewish people. In other contexts “Jewish” seemed a necessary modifier.
(a) John 1.19-20: “The leaders in Jerusalem.
(b) John 2.18: “The Jewish leaders asked Jesus …”
(c) John 10.19: “The people took sides”
(d) John 11.54: “Stopped going around in public” (= “openly among the Jews”)
(e) John 18.12: “… the temple police” (= “the Jewish officials”)
(f) John 18.31: “The crowd replied …”
A few other passages outside the Gospel of John that fall into this same category are:
(a) Acts 25.2: “… some Jewish leaders.
(b) Acts 25.7: “… the leaders from Jerusalem …”
(c) Acts 26.7: “… some of their leaders.
(d) Acts 26.21: ” … some men grabbed me …”
(e) Romans 3.2-3: “… the Jews … some of them …”
Flow of the Narrative
Good English style requires that persons be first identified fully, then in lesser degree (often by pronouns) throughout the remainder of the narrative, and this attention to matters of stylistic detail resulted in fewer negative references to “the Jews” in CEV. Once again, a few pas¬sages from the Gospel of John:
(a) John 2.18, 20: “The Jewish leaders … the leaders …”
(b) John 5.10, 15, 16, 18: “the Jewish leaders… the leaders … They … the leaders.
(c) John 6.4, 41, 52: “… the Jewish festival … The people . . . They.
(d) John 9.18, 22 (twice): “… the Jewish leaders … their leaders. The leaders. ..”
Explicit … Implicit
Certain passages where the Jews occurs in the Greek text require a more delicate touch than others. In the translation of the CEV, some of these more sensitive passages were:
(a) Matthew 28.15. Here the Greek text has “this story has been spread among the Jews until this day.” But in Mark 1.5 and John 3.22, the phrase “land of the Jews” (more literally “the Jew[ish] land”) is equivalent to “Judea.” And so in the CEV this verse has been rendered: “The people of Judea still tell each other this story.”
(b) Acts 15.11. In translating “But our Lord Jesus was kind to us Jews,” the reference to “Jews” is left implicit” in the CEV: “But our Lord Jesus was kind to us.” This is legitimate, because the apostle Peter is speaking on behalf of the Jerusalem church, and “us” clearly contrasts with “Gentiles” in the same verse.
(c) Acts 21.20: “Many thousands of the Jewish people” becomes “many thousand of our people.” Here the context is once again the church in Jerusalem, and the speakers are Jews.
(d) Romans 11.14: “my fellow Jews” (more literally “people of the same flesh”) is “my own people.”
(e) 2 Corinthians 11.24, 26: The Greek text reads “Five times the Jews gave me thirty-nine lashes with a whip,” which is translated, “Five times my own people gave me thirty- nine lashes with a whip” and is in some respects even more effectual than a literal rendering. Similar is Verse 26, where “I have been in danger from rivers, robbers, Jews, and foreigners” becomes “I have been in danger from rivers, robbers, my own people, and foreigners.”
(F) Galatians 2.13: In light of “Jewish followers” (Verse 12), it was unnecessary to use “Jews” again in Verse 13, (Greek: “the other Jews”), and so in the CEV it is simply “the others.”
(g) 1 Thessalonians 2.14-15: In Greek “the Jews” are mentioned only in Verse 14, but restructuring for clarity of pronominal references is difficult to accomplish for the average reader. However, this passage reads as follows in the CEV “14And so, you were mistreated by your own people, in the same way that they were mistreated by their people. “Those evil people killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets… They keep us from speaking …” By this restructuring the reference is clear, but “the Jews” are left implicit.
(h) Revelation 2.9, 3.19: These two may be listed together, since the subject matter is essentially the same. The phrase under consideration is “who claim to be Jews.” It was felt that the real force of these words could be both faithfully and forcefully rendered as “who claim to be God’s people.”
“Jewish Meeting Place”
Although synagogue is a fairly well-known word, it is almost impossible to “sound out” by persons unfamiliar with biblical jargon, and so it is not used in the Contemporary English Version (CEV). Instead, the Greek word is translated “Jewish meeting place” or “Jewish meeting,” depending upon the context. This means the “Jewish” could possibly occur more often in the CEV than in some other translations, but not in contexts where it is likely to incite anti-Jewish sentiments. For example, Mark 1.21, 23 is translated as follows:
Jesus and his disciples went to the town of Capemaum. Then on the next Sabbath he went into the Jewish meeting place and started teaching… Suddenly a man with an evil spirit in him entered the meeting place…
To have translated “meeting place” instead of “Jewish meeting place” following the mention of “Capernaum” in Verse 21 would have suggested to the uninitiated reader a town meeting of some sort. On the other hand, “meeting place” is all that is necessary in Verse 23, because it obviously refers back to the previously mentioned “Jewish meeting place.” Here — as in other places in the Gospels where “synagogue” is mentioned — it was felt that the use of “(Jewish) meeting place” in no way implied anything negative about the Jewish community of Jesus’ day. In fact, it reminds the reader that Jesus himself was a devout Jew, who regularly attended synagogue.
Barclay M. Newman
Senior Translations Officer, American Bible Society