Did the Jews Kill Their Own Prophets?
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1 Thess. 2:14-15 says: "For ye also have suffered like this of your countrymen, even as they have of the Jews; who both killed the Lord Jesus Christ and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men."

It is said, "We can only imagine how such a harsh statement affected the mentality of Christendom and inspired, almost justified, the long history of Jewish oppression." I'm sure those who saw a need to baptize their predetermined hatred took whatever they needed -- for OT and NT -- to justify their stance, twisting it as they pleased; but they, like this author, are simply removing things from the social context. 1 Thess. 2:14-16 is no more than the a version of "playing the dozens" found in all ancient writers -- and which the Jews used even amongst themselves.

That said, what of the main charge -- that Paul's comment is "virtually unsupported by scriptural evidence"?

The answer is not found in prophets who did not write books; but we may add to this: "Half have books in their names, some do not, and at least five (Shemiah, Iddo, Nathan, Gad, and Jehu) have books mentioned (2 Chron. 12:15; 1 Chron. 29:29; 20:34) that are nowhere to be found, a fact that raises the question of why God would allow his revelations to faithful prophets to vanish completely." Only 10% of the people at most in the ancient world could read and write; in ancient Israel and Judah and other ANE nations the figure was probably more like 2%. In all likelihood there were no writings to vanish, and the prophetic messages were transmitted orally -- and if we let that vanish, that's our problem, not God's.

But now as to killing prophets, the author can apparently find only deaths by natural causes (Moses), bodily ascension (Elijah), the killing of false prophets, and three "true" prophets: John the Baptist, Balaam, and Urijah, and none of these were killed by the Jewish establishment. The only kills he credits thusly are the unnumbered prophets in 1 Kings 19:10, 14. Thus it is said, "In the final analysis, there is insufficient basis to substantiate the charge that the Jews killed their own prophets..."

But then the answer emerges unwittingly:

The source of the notion in Hebrews is not even scriptural but derives from later Jewish traditions that Isaiah and Jeremiah had both been killed. Hebrews 11:37, without even mentioning his name, reflects a folk belief that Isaiah had been sawed in half. Another tradition had Jeremiah killed (method unknown) by exilic Jews who found him profoundly annoying, that part of the tradition being highly credible. However, since both of these traditions are noncanonical, no Bible literalist can accept them as evidence and must conclude that on the basis of scriptural information alone, Paul's accusation in 1 Thessalonians is unfounded.

Since when does a tradition being "noncanonical" mean it can't be accepted as evidence? No, that is not a legitmate parsing of the data set of "prophets" Thessalonians is using. More on that in a moment.

Our author offers a quote of Jeremiah 1:8, which he says "seems to indicate that Jeremiah was under divine protection: 'Be not afraid of their faces; for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD.'" In his view:

It isn't recorded that this protection was withdrawn, which God could not have done anyway without being a fink. So any notion of Jeremiah's being killed would present a severe apologetic dilemma: either God is ineffectual or unreliable. Jeremiah 27:11-19, 24 provides additional support against this notion by relating how the false prophets and priests could not persuade the princes or (most important) the people that Jeremiah should die.

It doesn't have to record the withdrawal of protection. Nor does it say, for that matter, that the protection is permanent.

On Elisha and the bears see here.

On Zecharaiah, see here.

But now for the answer. Let's quote the passage again:

For ye also have suffered like this of your countrymen, even as they have of the Jews; who both killed the Lord Jesus Christ and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men. Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.

Does something seem a little out of place here? This is a KJV rendering, and it's missing something. Let's list those charges for clarity:

  • who both killed the Lord Jesus Christ
  • and their own prophets
  • and have persecuted us
  • and they please not God, and are contrary to all men
  • Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved

Items 1 and 3-5 are all charges against Jews who are alive at the time of Paul -- the problem here is that we are reading the KJV to take this as a broad span of history, when actually, Paul is referring to the period of time when the other 4 events happened -- in other words, his own time. He is after the Jews for killing their prophets today.

Who? Stephen, James son of Zebedee; later James the Just would get on the list. That's just two by the time Paul wrote this, but it's not likely that these two were it -- nor that there were more, but likely enough for Paul to use the plural form and make the accusation.

-JPH