Can punctuation be anti-Jewish? At least one scholar thinks so. Frank Gilliard has argued that a single comma gave generations of Christians a very wrong impression of the Jewish people, tragically leading to much antisemitism throughout history. In 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15, most English translations have something along the lines of “…the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out” (NASB). That sounds like an extremely strong anti-Jewish statement. But what if there should be no comma after the word “Jews”?

Ancient texts were almost always written without punctuation. Any commas, periods, question marks, and the like represent later additions by editors and translators. The choice of punctuation can make a big difference for the meaning of a sentence. If someone writes, “We must oppose the judges who take bribes,” this sounds like a good and principled stand in favor of justice and against a minority of corrupt judges. But if someone else writes, “We must oppose the judges, who take bribes,” the use of the comma implies that all the judges are corrupt and must be resisted. (In grammatical terms this is known as the difference between a restrictive and a nonrestrictive clause.)

In addition to what Gilliard called “the antisemitic comma,” many translations of 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15 have another problem, too. The context strongly suggests that “Judeans” would be a more appropriate translation than “Jews.” The NKJV does make this adjustment, but still paints the whole group with the same broad brush: “…the Judeans, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us.” David Matson has proposed to fix both problems at once in the following way: “…the Judeans who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets.” The Messianic Writings version uses a different kind of comma to try to show that the text is speaking only of some people in Judea: “…the Judeans, those who killed both the Lord Yeshua and the prophets, and drove us out.” Perhaps the clearest way to express this would be: “…those [particular] Judeans who killed…”

According to the Gospels, most Jews – and most Judeans – strongly supported Jesus/Yeshua of Nazareth, while a tiny minority wanted him killed. Losing sight of this fact, later editors and translators often produced texts that made readers think instead that the entire Jewish people had murdered this “powerful prophet” (Luke 24:19). The claim that “the Jews killed Christ” then fed into anti-Jewish hatred and violence across the globe for many centuries. In this day and age, many traditional translations and theologies are slowly being corrected, and perhaps even the “antisemitic comma” will soon be a thing of the past!

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73 COMMENTS

  1. What a brilliant insight into what such a subtle thing as a comma can do to create a major difficulty. Thank you Dr. Schaser.

    • Hi Rob, I agree that this is a brilliant insight… I wish I had been the one to make it 🙂 The above article was actually written by our Professor of Jewish History, Dr. Shaya Gruber — he’s a very bright guy!

    • Thank you both for your very generous comments! I’m only the messenger here; the brilliant insight is Gilliard’s.

      • He was crucified by Jewish (Judean) leadership. True, this was not a majority vote but marked as the whole race of Jewish people agreed. There are many things that Trump is doing that a majority of the American people do not agree with. He speaks and act as the leader of the nation. They crucified Christ, it was not the majority but an act of G_d. Nothing happens without His approval to work out the end. There is an end ladies and Gentlemen!

        • James, thanks for commenting. It’s worth noting that crucifixion was a Roman form of execution, and the Jewish leadership explicitly had no authority to crucify (even according to what many consider the most “anti-Jewish” Gospel version: John 18:31). Certainly, there were machinations that involved some of the Jewish leadership, but — as you point out — that is very different from the whole Jewish nation! Incidentally, even the Catholic Church now officially says it is wrong to blame “the Jews” for the death of Jesus. Did you by chance read the linked article at:
          https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/jews-reject-jesus-2/

        • More to the point, James, there are many things President Trump is doing that the majority of Americans DO agree with. But the vocal minority, supported by the left-wing media have made many too frightened to speak out in support of Trump.
          I wonder if this is also what happened on that crucifixion day.

          I predict that Donald Trump will be re-elected for a second term.

          • I so wish people would not bring politics into the conversation as there are people here who approve of Trump. James, You take our thoughts off what we are learning because people do like Trump and support him or he wouldn’t be president.
            Ashley, thank you for speaking up. I was hesitant because as you alluded the left have been so loudly and unfairly critical of us who support Trump we tend to take the high road and refuse to debate. Thus giving those folk the illusion of being right. Now, having said that I will henceforth refuse to make the Bible a political tool and respectfully ask others please do the same. Remember Paul said just because you are allowed to say or do something doesn’t make it right. Should these comments simply become another way to browbeat those of us on the right, I’ll have to quit reading them. And by not reading the comments I will lose a great benefit of the group.

          • Shalom, everyone! James did make a simple and pertinent point by mentioning that Trump is the current leader of the USA but not all Americans agree with what he does. I think it would be hard to argue against this basic observation, whether one likes the guy or hates him, as the follow-up comments also prove. 🙂 The last comment actually makes a very similar point: the mere fact of being a leader, or for that matter being criticized as a leader, doesn’t tell us the actual level of popular support (high or low). That said, we all realize that people in the US and around the world — including the staff of IBC! — hold a very wide range of opinions about the current American president. So I agree with the recommendation to try here in this forum to stick to issues of history and thoughtful reading. One can easily find political battlegrounds… there is no shortage of them elsewhere!

          • Loved that insight on the comma article here Dr Gruber…….I found very enlightening as to the correct Hebrew understanding…….Correct application certainly opens up deeper meaning…….Thanks again…….

      • I agree with the above comments. We shouldn’t fool around with language – particularly when there is no basis for it. This is, after all, theology – not standup comedy.

    • The comma is so detrimental to the context if placed in the wrong position. Take for instance Luke23:43, when the comma is moved from “you” and inserted immediately after “today”. The promise of Christ is still maintained. Many people believe at death therefore they go straight to heaven.

  2. This comma problem also pops up in the New Testament – translated of course from Greek rather than Hebrew.
    For example, in Ephesians 4; 11& 12: KJV 11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
    In verse 12, the comma after “saints” should not be there. Many modern translations appear to have sorted this one, but many people still only read KJV.

    • Thanks for the comment, Ashley. I haven’t looked specifically at this verse, but for sure there are multiple such places where commas and other seemingly miniscule choices can have big effects!

      • I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise, No commas in original Christians believe Jesus was in the grave So where was Thief”. Thief said Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Future. change comma now reads today, present you will be with me future

  3. My understanding has always been that only some Jews etc.
    Also I was taught that on the cross: Our Lord Jesus said “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”.
    I am sure that whoever they were they were forgiven. If our Lord forgave then who are we to hold a grudge.
    We cannot be anti-Semitic ever. Our Lord was Jewish. The world hates the Jewish people because
    They hate the one true G-d.

    • Hi Maree, re: “we can’t be anti-Semitic…” I recommend 3 books: Don Finto – Your People Shall Be My People Dr Michael Brown(2019) – Our Hands Are Stained With Blood Sandra Teplinsky – Why Still Care About Israel? You may well change your thoughts regarding this. Shalom.
      Thanks for article

  4. Sangat mendasar sebuah koma bisa menunjukan sebagian atau keseluruhan, sebuah didikan yang sangat baik bahwa memang perlu mengerti injil lebih dalam, hanya sebagian besar yahudi yang turut membunuh Tuhan sebagian kecilnya malah mengakui Ia mesias, terima kasih prof.

  5. While I understand the rationale my question would be what prophets that group of Judeans had killed? I think the comma explanation would only make sense if that group had killed both Christ and other prophets. I think by incorporating the prophets as well there is a more historical emphasis in that statement.

    A better argument would be Psalm 2 which has the leaders of all the nations reviling against the Lord’s anointed.

    • It’s a good question, Chris. This statement sounds related to a saying that may have been current in the first century, i.e., the idea that prophets meet their death in Jerusalem (the capital of Judea). Historically speaking, this was not true for every single prophet, of course; but the saying makes a point. Its implication seems to be that ruling authorities don’t like prophets who challenge them — which fits in very well with the portrayal in the Gospels (as well as with most human history everywhere in the world). See Matt. 23:37; Luke 13:33-34; compare Matt. 14:3-5; Mark 6:14-29.

    • It’s important also to recognize the main sense of the verse in 1Thess. Shaul/Paul and his co-authors are saying that a subset of people in Thessaloniki have suffered at the hands of “countrymen” (συμφυλετῶν, i.e., people of the same tribe/region/polity/etc.), and that the same thing has also happened in Judea (some Judeans have been persecuted by other Judeans).

  6. I’ve been studying deeper now for about 12 years and I agree that punctuation causes alot of problems with how the text is understood. I tend to take verses now and remove punctuation and reread them. What a difference it makes with understanding the entire context of verses before and after.

  7. Christians do not hate the Jews nor blame them for the death of Jesus. The Messiah came to bring redemption to all, his death was for ordained from the beginning, the ‘Jews’ were just the instrument the Father used. Christians love all people, it’s what was commanded of them. And Christians are proud of the Jewish heritage they inherit and the words of inspiration in the ‘Jewish’ scriptures.

    • Thanks for the comment, Ray. If you look through history and at different Christian groups around the world, I think you’ll find that your assertion is very true of some Christians and very untrue of other Christians!

      • Very true. And unfortunately still true today. Currently some vicious things being said and written about Jewish people by those professing to be ‘Christian’ and supposed scholars. Incredibly sad reality.

  8. I do believe that Tyndale and the King James translators were Godly men and trust their translation. The Lord Jesus was delivered up for envy. What were the religeous leaders envious of? Wasnt it because more people were following the Lord Jesus than looked up to them Mark 15v10? It is also stated that “No man takes His life but that He lays down His life for the sheep John 10v17-18. There is no place for anti semitism or any other race hate in Scripture. Thank you for your Post.

    • Thanks for the comment, Colin. No translation (or translator, including yours truly) is perfect. However, Tyndale was indeed very conscientious. If the KJV translators had adopted his entire version (instead of copying “only” 80% of it), very many of the anti-Jewish errors would have been avoided! The treatment of Tyndale and his translation is therefore a great travesty and tragedy of history.

  9. very interesting article. I have long known that it was the sanhedren, the priests of the Temple who wanted Jesus dead with the exception of one, who was a follower.

  10. Jews didn’t torture or kill Jesus. On the Roman occupiers could do things like that. Jesus was given a fair trial by the Sanhedrin and chose not to defend Himself,and was turned over to the Romans who convicted him as being “King of the Jews.” IN the Roman empire there was only the deified Emperor was supreme and no kings. Anyone claiming to have higher power than the Emperor was a rebel and traitor and could be crucified. In any case Jesus forgave his people who “know not what they do” from the cross. The Romans crucified thouands of Jews.

    • Thank you for these comments. The nature of the trial(s) is of course debatable. The points about historical crucifixion are a very important backdrop to the narrative.

  11. In the O.T: I also think that the scripture should read “When the enemy comes in, like a flood the LORD will raise up a Standard”. IMO, This scripture is routinely mistranslated.

    • While there may be many instances of erroneous punctuation, in the case of Isaiah 59:19 the Hebrew syntax does not really allow the exact interpretation you suggest. (כי־יבוא כנהר צר lit., “for comes like a river narrow/adversary/distress”). Yet this verse is a good example of a Biblical Hebrew text that can be read in very diverse ways:
      KJV: When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him.
      JPS: For distress will come in like a flood, Which the breath of the LORD driveth.
      NJPS: For He shall come like a hemmed-in stream / Which the wind of the Lord drives on.

  12. Your teachings opens my eyes to so many truths & changed my perspective. Limited translations nearly led me astray. Using simple language & ancient Jewish traditions makes it easier for me to understand. I need to enroll with my wife. Shalom.

  13. This was not a majority vote but marked as the whole race of Jewish people…
    This reminds me also Exodus with the golden gulf and Aaron when he said ”These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” God cursed all of them not because everybody became idolatrous but because the rest did not do anything to stop them.

    • Thanks for the comment, Giorgos. Actually, the Golden Calf episode is described in almost opposite terms to the case of Yeshua/Jesus. In Exodus 32, it is “the people” (העם) who want a new god and ask the leadership (headed by Aaron) to make one. In the Gospels, by contrast, the people/multitudes overwhelmingly support the young rabbi Yeshua, but certain groups of leaders want to get rid of him. Also, I’m not sure what you mean by “marked as the whole race of Jewish people.”

  14. In a living language definitions of words and rules of grammar and punctuation change. Just because we understand what something says today does not mean it said the same thing when it was written particularly if decades or centuries have passed.

    • Absolutely, Jim! The problem is that ancient texts were written without punctuation. So all modern translators have to make judgment calls about where and what to add in. This can be very controversial. For example, certainly not everyone agrees with Gilliard’s view as I’ve presented it above.

  15. Thank you. All these teachings are absolutely enlightening, love all you guys, even the comments are teachings.
    I backtracked my genealogy and it started by Ephraim (I believe), love it when people hate us because of our religion (speaking of the GOD of Isreal). HE is coming back!!

  16. Christian should understand that mainly scribes and Pharisees and “religious” leaders demanded Christ`s death–not ALL the Jews. Further; the Romans commited the actual murder. Also; the Bible explicitly states that it was the will of ” HA SHEM” That he would give his life as a ransom for ALL men

    • The fact is that we are all responsible for the crucifixion of Christ, both Jew and Gentile! As the prophet declares, “He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him and by his stripes we are healed”!

  17. John 10:15-18 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep… I lay down my life, that I might take it again.No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. (relevant words only; no space)

  18. Thank you for posting this article. Your point is well taken.
    The following seems likely to be an example of comma placement changing theology.
    “I tell you truly today, you will be with me in paradise.”
    vs.
    “I tell you truly, today you will be with me in paradise.”

  19. To me all that matters is the fact that the lamb of God had to come for us,so we can go to him, whether it was the few or the majority that rejected him makes no difference, the word had to be fulfilled, I am just thankful to be grafted into the tree!

  20. Thanks Dr. Gruber for your vivid explanation of how only a small group of Jewish people masterminded the killing of our Lord Jesus Christ.I always had the notion that it was the entire Jews that masterminded His killing.

    • Thank you, George! It’s good to hear that this helped change the picture for you. I’d suggest even more: it was a small group of Jews and non-Jews (and a killing carried out by the Romans).

  21. Consider Luke 23:43. The thief asked Jesus to “remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Jesus answered “I say to you today you will be with me in Paradise.” Should a comma appear after “you?” Jesus did not enter Paradise that day, but was laid in the tomb.

  22. Ok, maybe it’s just me. But any student of the Bible and or history has got to know that it’s always a minority of a certain ethnicity that feels “some type of way” about a person, place or thing and not the whole ethnicity. Impossible for it to be all

    • You’d think so, and yet… people so often ignore this and make sweeping statements about entire nations! Perhaps there just aren’t that many genuine students of history and/or the Bible? Thanks for the comment, Andrew!

  23. Ultimately, we all killed Jesus since we are all sinners. The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isa. 53:6). No one race or people can be singled out. Sin is a universal plague.

  24. Is there any Jew who during his lifetime
    a) killed more than one prophet and
    b) killed Jesus and
    c) drove the apostles out?

    This is not possible, so scripture may not be interpreted that way. It may speak of a certain Jewish tradition instead – with or without comma.

  25. Hello Dr. Gruber,
    I think that the Event in Matt.16.21-23 says it clear. Blood had to be shed in Order to bring the lost shep of Israel, who became “lo ami” through the Letter of Divorce, back into the new/renewed Covenant with God and whoever is willing to join…

  26. Really appreciate the Work you all are doing at IBC to give a better understanding and I think about joining your classes, thank you very much

  27. Dr. Gruber, was I taught incorrectly when I was told that the senhedran leaders were actually appointed by Herod, just to give the appearance of a priesthood? That they were not even Levitical? Needing confirmation. Thank you for this teaching.

    • Hi Cindy, actually it was the position of high-priest that was appointed from Antiochus IV and until the Temple’s destruction (including Herod’s reign). It was usually sold to the highest bidder, Levitical or not. The Sanhedrin, However, did not sell seats. It comprised chief priests, elders, and scribes who were required to possess scholarship, courage and good standing among the people. Some members of the Sanhedrin that condemned Yeshua were corrupt (and others were not), but the trial was a midnight kangaroo-court session which only some [corrupt] members attended.

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