For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; . . . 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15 NASB
Jews – No author of New Testament documents has been more disparaged than Paul when in comes to understanding the word ioudaios (Jew, Judean). Verses like this one, taken out of the context of Paul’s entire corpus, became the biblical support for untold pogroms against the Jews. “Christ killer” was a common insult thrown against every Jew when the Church attempted to prove itself to be the new and accepted Israel. But even Paul’s harsh words in this verse must be understood in the context of his entire worldview. And when we look, we find something very different than the usual, grossly mistaken, view of the Church.
Did Paul say that the Jews killed the Messiah? Yes. Did he mean every Jew was responsible for Yeshua’s death? Obviously not! Paul was a Jew. James, John, Peter, Matthew, and the “thousands of devout men” in Acts 15 were Jews. To suggest that Paul included every Jew in his statement in Thessalonians is the equivalent of saying that every American is a slave owner and every German a Nazi. It is a tragic shame that many Christians still think of all Jews as one, uniform, guilty group. It is just as much a tragedy that many Jews think only of the rendering of Paul promulgated by this version of the Church. If only we would read all the text instead of picking what suits our tradition.
When we look at all the text, we find that Paul uses this word to describe those Jews who reject Yeshua as the Messiah and who are of a similar mindset as the Jewish ancestors who killed the prophets. But he uses exactly the same word to describe Jews who keep Torah and accept Yeshua (Romans 2:7ff. and 1 Corinthians 9:20). The same term is used to describe Jews who adhere to Torah (Galatians 2:13) and who is justified by his faith (Galatians 3:28). Paul himself recounts his Jewish heritage, proclaims his rabbinic education and practice and declares that he continues to be an adherent to Torah and a follower of Yeshua (Acts 24). Furthermore, Paul and his Jewish opponents both appeal to Jewish law when they plead their cases before pagan and Jewish authorities. If Paul considered all Jews deceitful murderers, why would he hold himself accountable to the Jewish Law?
Just in case we thought Paul was the only one who employed this term in multiple ways, we should not forget its use in the Synoptics and John. In the gospels the same distinction is made. Some Jews believe; some do not. Context distinguishes the two. The word by itself is entirely neutral.
I believe it helps to translate this verse according to its first century context and its Hebraic background. That means it would read, “For you, brethren, became imitators of the assemblies (the religious gatherings of Messianic believers of both Jews and Gentiles) of God in Yeshua HaMashiach that are in Judea, for you endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen (namely, the Gentiles of Thessalonica) even as the Messianic Jewish believers did at the hands of their countrymen (the Jews who refused to believe). It was those who did not believe who were responsible for the actions that led to the death of the Messiah (although, obviouand declares that he continues the Romans were the actual executioners).”
Context, context, context. Just as we must STOP thinking that all Pharisees were false teachers, liars and hypocrites, so we must STOP thinking that all Jews rejected the Messiah and persecuted “Christians.” The historical truth is that everyone was mixed together just as we are today. What separated them was not nationality but personal declaration. May we have the grace to allow the same thing.
Topical Index: Jews, ioudaios, 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15