I examined four verses of 24 English translations of John’s Gospel: the New International Version (NIV), New Living Translation (NLT), International Standard Version (ISV) and Net Bible. In these four translations the Greek Ἰουδαῖος Ioudaios “Jews” is translated Jewish leaders. I use the four verses of the NIV as an example:
Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.
After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him.
But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear (phobia, Greek phobon φόβον) of the Jewish leaders.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
To repeat: the original Greek in all these verses is “Jews,” (Ἰουδαῖος Ioudaios) not “Jewish leaders.
These translations add “leaders” for at least three reasons:
- Political correctness – We don’t want to offend anybody, in this instance, the Jews. We don’t want to be accused of hate speech, so let’s botch what the original text really says.
- The people (the led) should not be blamed for what their leaders do. After all, many Christians argue, the Jews remain the apple of God’s eye, so if you want to be blessed. you’d better bless the Jew; and so, it doesn’t matter to God if they despise Jesus Christ. Don’t you know they want to destroy Christianity, indeed, destroy or subjugate the Goyim (Gentiles), which the Jews (Jewish leaders?) are doing in the US of A. God, as some of the recent popes have said, doesn’t care if Jews skip or skirt Christ; your brief as Christians or Gentiles is to hang, ten at a time, onto the skirt of a single Jew, as he chaperones you towards the truth and the light.
- For fear of the Jews. Question: How do we infer from the original text that the people (the led) in the context of, for example, “for fear of the Jews,” were not fearsome? “Jews” in all these verses could mean 1. only the Jewish leaders or 2. many Jews, or 3. most Jews. (We discount “all” Jews). As we can never know which option this side of eternity, we have no right to change the original.
There is one verse in the New Testament where it is indeed clear that only the Jewish leaders are implied:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” “Jerusalem” refers to the Jewish leaders, and “your children” to those they lead.
In sum, in the New Testament, when the Greek original says “Jews,” should we read “the Jewish leaders” (usually a negative connotation in the NT) instead of “Jews?” Not unless you want to whitewash Jewish non-leaders for one or more of the three reasons mentioned above.