Pope Benedict’s retake of “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25)

Pope Benedict writes in his latest book (2011) “Jesus of Nazareth II”:

When in Matthew’s account the “whole people” say: “his blood be on us and on our children” (27:25), the Christian will remember that Jesus’ blood speaks a different language from the blood of Abel (Heb. 12:24): it does not cry out for vengeance and punishment, it brings reconciliation. It is not poured out against anyone, it is poured out for many, for all. … Read in the light of faith, [Matthew’s reference to Jesus’ blood] means that we all stand in the need of the purifying power of love which is his blood. These words are not a curse, but rather redemption, salvation. Only when understood in terms of the theology of the Last Supper and the Cross, drawn from the whole of the New Testament, does this verse from Matthew’s Gospel take on its correct meaning.

Benedict’s reflections, writes Matt Reynolds in “Christianity Today” follow in the tradition of Nostra Aetate (“Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions”). In this Second Vatican Council document, Pope Paul VI declared that, while “the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ,” the crucifixion “cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today.” The Jews, Paul VI wrote, “should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures.” The declaration “decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”

With regard to Benedict’s paragraph above, Reynold says: “Like Benedict’s book, Nostra Aetate firmly places Jesus’ death in the context of his messianic mission, proclaiming that ‘Christ underwent His passion and death freely, because of the sins of men and out of infinite love, in order that all may reach salvation.’”

Although it is true that “Christ underwent His passion freely” out of love, it does not follow that if God had ordained the “passion” that men were not responsible for it; as we read in Matthew:

[20] When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. [21] And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” [22] And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” [23] He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. [24] The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” [25] Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so” (Matthew 26:20-25 ESV).

There are several other texts that illustrate this point, for example, the incident with Joseph and his brothers:

“[15] When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” [16] So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died, [17] ‘Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. [18] His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” [19] But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? [20] As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:15-20 ESV).

To return to the pope’s commentary on “let his blood be on us and how children,” here is the text in context:

[21] The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” [22] Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” [23] And he said, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” [24] So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” [25] And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” [26] Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified (Matthew 27:21-26 ESV).

The pope has totally distorted the meaning. His take has nothing to do with biblical truth, something to do with sophistry, and everything, in my view, to do with politics.

Rhetoric” teaches how to use language for persuasive effect. Persuasion is important, but back of it should not only be a sound knowledge of how language is used, but the integrity to not do a humpty dumpty.

When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all” (Through the Looking Glass).

There is also the more serious issue of the Roman Catholic Church’s (RCC) claim to be the infallible interpreter of scripture. Not only has Benedict dumped on to his sheep a distorted interpretation of Matthew 27:25 above, but he has contradicted the traditional interpretation held by the popes before Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate. What other reinterpretations are on the cards?

Related posts

 Psalm 25 – Judge me, O Lady, for I have departed from my innocence: What have they done to the mother of my Lord?

 Buddhism, Judaism and Catholic Nostra Aetate).

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6 thoughts on “Pope Benedict’s retake of “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25)

  1. Do you think when the people (the Jews) said: His blood be on us and on our children!” they were under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?, i.e they said those words infallibly? The same applies to Pilate, was he under the guidance of Holy Spirit when he said ““I am innocent of this man’s blood”? As a monergist you may believe so. In monergism God is like movie director who appointed actors and actresses to play their role according to the script (i.e. the Bible), i.e what they say, do and even their fate in the movie are predetermined.

    • Vivator, first let me say how much I appreciate your thorough comments.

      To respond:
      All of scripture, as the majority of the early church fathers believed, is
      God-breathed. All this means is that whatever appears in the Bible, God wants it to be there. The next step is to look at what is there and treat it as we would any chunk of language discourse where we obey the rules of language use. In the case of Pilate’s “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” we look not only at what the words mean in a dictionary (semantics) but what these words mean in the total context (which we call “pragmatics,” or “sociolinguistics,” or “language in use”) part of which is the historical context. So, we have to establish “pragmatically” whether Pilate really was innocent of “this man’s blood.” One may say that Pilate was innocent, another may say that he was not; but what is relevant to our argument is that Pilate said those words in the context acceding to the request of (some, many) Jews to have Jesus crucified. With regard to pope Benedict’s interpretation of Matt 27:25, namely:
      “the “whole people” say: “his blood be on us and on our children” (27:25), the Christian will remember that Jesus’ blood speaks a different language from the blood of Abel (Heb. 12:24): it does not cry out for vengeance and punishment, it brings reconciliation. It is not poured out against anyone, it is poured out for many, for all. … Read in the light of faith, [Matthew’s reference to Jesus’ blood] means that we all stand in the need of the purifying power of love which is his blood. These words are not a curse, but rather redemption, salvation. Only when understood in terms of the theology of the Last Supper and the Cross, drawn from the whole of the New Testament, does this verse from Matthew’s Gospel take on its correct meaning.”

      This is not anywhere in the context of “his blood be on us and on our children” (27:25). Is, though, what Benedict says about Jesus blood true for a Christian? Of course; all Christians must believe that. The point is that what Benedict is saying does not apply to the context of Matt 27:25. Here is the verse in its context:

      [21] The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” [22] Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” [23] And he said, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” [24] So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” [25] And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” [26] Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified (Matthew 27:21-26 ESV).

      Here is Benedict again:
      “Read in the light of faith, [Matthew’s reference to Jesus’ blood] means that we all stand in the need of the purifying power of love which is his blood. These words are not a curse, but rather redemption, salvation.”

      Yes, read in the light of (the Christian’s) faith, we all indeed stand in need of the power of love that is in the blood. And if Christians say the words “His blood be on us and on our children!,” that (namely, Christians all need the power of the blood) is what they should mean. It is, however, Benedict’s conclusion to what the Jews (some, many) meant that makes no sense, namely Benedict’s:

      “Only when understood in terms of the theology of the Last Supper and the Cross, drawn from the whole of the New Testament, does this verse from Matthew’s Gospel take on its CORRECT meaning.”

      In other words, the Jews who insisted to Pilate that Jesus be crucified didn’t- according to Benedict – mean “let his blood be on us, and our children.” Benedict says that the Jews “really” meant that the power of love was in the blood of the person they were clamouring Pilate to crucify.
      There exist exegesis and eisegesis. I don’t know what to call pope Benedict’s retake on Matt 27:25. Exogesis?

      • Reflecting on this passage today, I found this post through a quick search. I just wanted to say that I don’t really read the language you’ve quoted from the now former pope the same way you do. I don’t see anything in what he says to suggest that the crowd didn’t mean what they said as an acceptance of responsibility for Jesus’ death (i.e., “for evil”), just that after the resurrection, in light of the purpose and meaning of Jesus’ blood, that self-imposed curse is redeemed (“for good”). Your quotation from the story of Joseph is salient and analogous – there is no question that Joseph’s brothers intended evil when they “killed” him, and took responsibility for it when they apologized. The subsequent events don’t change the brothers’ meaning, but they do reveal the true meaning and purpose of their words and actions. With the benefit of revelation and hindsight, Joseph sees that God intended their “curse” for good. In light of the resurrection, we are able to see Matt.27:25 the same way.

        • Jordan,your “In light of the resurrection, we are able to see Matt.27:25 the same way.” I suggest you may indeed take these words out of the context of Matthew 27 and apply it to a different context, but then all this is an isolated bit of discourse used to serve an unrelated context. This is not exegesis nor eisegesis but “exogesis.” Of course, if you’re a Roman Catholic, the RCC holds the keys to scripture, in which case, the pope must be extrapolating from the text not intruding into it.

  2. Pingback: Review of Simon Schama – The Story of the Jews 2: Among Believers | LeftCentral
  3. Reblogged this on OneDaring Jew and commented:

    Ann Barnhardt, a Roman Catholic, is a very knowledgeable and courageous person. I thought, though, her use of bacon strips as bookmarks in her Qur’an-burning episode was going too far. What I want to raise here is her interpretation, which is probably her popes’ interpretation, of what she says is “the ten most beautiful words in the New Testament,” which she says should be music to Jewish ears. Instead, thanks to stupid Christians, she adds , these words make Jews to shudder.

    In the first part of her Boston speech, she says (minute 8:14):

    “Now to the ten most beautiful words in the New Testament. Every Jew watching this has heard these words and shudders every time they’ve heard them. These ten words have been twisted by stupid, ignorant people, who justify horrific acts of evil against the Jews for 1978 years and counting, And many of these people will claim to be pious Christians. Well, we’re going to fix this deal once and for all. The ten most beautiful words are: “Let his blood be on us and upon our children.” These are the ten words shouted by the Jewish crowd as Pontius Pilate was sentencing Jesus. I say these words internally at every Mass because these are the words that give hope to humanity. These are the words tht open the gates of heaven. These are the words by means of which our salvation is accomplished….”

    Continues into Part 2

    [Words in square brackets are mine].

    “…at every Mass, the temporally [in time] transcendent sacrifice at Calvary, which is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ himself, which is re-presented [NOTE not “represented” – that is, merely remembered] to God the Father by the power of God, the Holy Ghost. This is accomplished through the transubstantiation of bread and wine as prefigured by the priestly kingdom of Melchizedek in Genesis Chapter 14. This sacrifice is the Todah sacrifice of Israel, which is the only sacrifice to be offered in the post-messianic age and do all eternity according to ancient rabbinic teaching. The Todah sacrifice is the sacrifice of thanksgiving. The word “thanksgiving” in Greek is (pause) “Eucharist.”

    There you go, my Jewish kin, the Eucharist should now be no skin off your shnozz.

    I won’t comment on Barnhardt’s “Todah” reference but on what should be the “ten most beautiful words” for Jews. It is difficult to see how one can – confining oneself to the context of the passage in which “Let his blood be upon us and upon our children” appears – interpret this to mean a blessing [simcha], the greatest blessing! f[Barnhardt] for the Jews. Surely, the Jews who said those words (the words Barnhardt says internally at every Mass) couldn’t have meant that sending Jesus to cross was the answer to all their sacrifices and prayers.

    Roman Catholicism, because of its belief in extra-biblical revelation, brings more (or less) – to the scripture – they will deny his – than what is found there. I suggest that concerning the “ten most beautiful words,” Barnhardt, in submission to Rome, has followed Pope Benedict XIV’s lead, which I discussed in the post I repost here.

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