The late Raymond E. Brown, a Catholic priest, is considered one of America's premier biblical scholars. After his death in 1998, Francis J. Maloney edited Brown's nearly-completed "Introduction to the Gospel of John," from which this excerpt is drawn.

Although they recognize hostility between [the Gospel of John's] Jesus and "the Jews," some scholars question whether one may appropriately call this "anti-Jewish." They contend that we are hearing a dispute between one group of Jews and another, and therefore "anti-Jewish" is no more appropriate here than it would be if applied to hostility between the Qumran Essenes and the Jerusalem high-priestly family.

I agree that in its beginnings the hostility between Johannine Christians and Jews who did not believe in Jesus may have been comparable to to other inter-Jewish hostilities. Yet the situation changed. I know of no evidence that in their various intramural hostilities the Pharisees, the Essenes, and the Sadducees ever said to the other, "You are no longer Jews" or spoke of their enemies as "the Jews." In its later stage, the Johannine community seems to have regarded expulsion from the synagogue as meaning that they no longer could look on themselves as Jews. Thus John can be be described as anti-Jewish in a qualified sense when through Jesus' words it attacks those whom it calls "the Jews," from whom the (Johannine) disciples of Jesus differ religiously, if not necessarily ethnically or geographically. And even the religious difference is narrowly restricted: The Johannine Christians and "the Jews" do not differ in venerating the Scriptures and the Jewish religious heritage but in their estimation of Jesus. (50)


I have contended that a good part of the relations between Jesus and “the Jews” described in the Gospel (although related to conflicts that did arise between Jesus and Pharisees and Temple authorities in the late 20s) goes beyond what actually happened during Jesus’ lifetime. Rather, to a considerable degree the description reflects what happened to the Johannine Christians in their interactions with synagogue authorities. For example, they faced charges that they were making Jesus equal to God and thus were introducing another God alongside the God of Israel (see 5:16–18); they were put on trial before the authorities and other opponents in the synagogue; they marshaled arguments from the Scriptures and the Jesus tradition to answer the authorities; they were expelled from synagogues and reacted in alienated hostility toward their former coreligionists (ch. 9).


50. Editor's note: Ashton points out that one must 'recognize in these hot-tempered exchanges the type of family row in which the participants face one another across the room of a house that all have shared and all call home.'

Despite that community history, the Gospel gives us a literary presentation of the disputes with “the Jews” and makes those disputes the occasion of expounding a Christology for believers. John does not give an objective, dispassionate history of all the factors that entered the picture, especially on the part of the synagogue authorities. From the synagogue viewpoint, the treatment of the Johannine Christians may have looked very different.(56) The Gospel portrayal has been colored by Johannine dualism where there is only light and darkness, truth and falsehood, so that opponents are painted as blind and false. Surely there were sincere religious synagogue leaders who genuinely thought that what was said about Jesus was blasphemous (10:31–36) and thought they were acting against him and his followers out of conscience (as 16:2 surprisingly admits).

Apologetic against Jews Who Did Not Confess Publicly Their Belief in Jesus

By the time John was completed (ca. 90–110) the era of large Christian missionary inroads into Judaism has passed. Jesus had been preached to Jews both in Palestine and the Diaspora, and decisions had been made for or against Jesus. For the most part, the Jews who had accepted Jesus were now simply Christians and part of the church. If one agrees that the hostile attitude toward “the Jews” described above reflects pre-Gospel struggles, that is quite different from claiming that the purpose of the Gospel was to convert such “Jews,” or that it was a missionary document to Diaspora Jews.

There is no indication that the Johannine writers thought that “the Jews” hostile to Jesus would read the Gospel or be preached to from it. Moreover, the violence of the language in ch. 8, comparing the Jews to the devil’s brood, is scarcely designed to convert the synagogue. Rather John echoes apologetics; indeed, some of the discussions between the Johannine Jesus and “the Jews” anticipate the classic apologetic that Justin addressed to Trypho in the mid-second century. If the Gospel entered into any continued dealings with “the Jews” in the evangelist’s time, it would have been one of countering Jewish propaganda rather than of persuading Jews with a hope of mass conversions.