Apparently certain purveyors of the claim that he was a Palestinian believe that because Rome occupied Israel, Jesus necessarily should be called a Palestinian. But there’s a problem with this logic. A big one.
Rev. Jeremiah Wright made headlines saying at a Washington, D.C. rally that Jesus was a “Palestinian,” apparently on the theory that he was born in Palestine. Journalist Daoud Kuttab said as much, calling Jesus both Jewish and Palestinian: Jewish because his parents were Jewish (setting aside the belief about the virgin birth), and Palestinian because his birthplace, Bethlehem, was in Palestine.
Beyond these two people, Palestinians have been saying this for years, all in the name of peace and religious open-mindedness and inclusiveness as the best motive, but to delegitimize Israel as a Jewish state as the worst motive.
If readers would like to look up the references, they may go to Biblegateway.
What would Jesus say?
Often in published versions of the Bible, the words of Jesus are put in red font in the four Gospels and in other parts of the New Testament when his words are being quoted or he speaks in a vision that a follower may have. Many regard his specific words as extra-special. Here they are, in the following references. The two slashes indicate a parallel passage in Matthew, Mark, or Luke.
Matthew: 8:10 //; 10:6, 23; 15:24; 19:28
Luke: 4:25, 27; 7:9 //; 22:30
John: 1:47 (Jesus calls Nathanael an Israelite)
In all these “red-letter” passages – the actual words of Jesus – he calls his country only Israel.
What did others say in the Gospels about Israel or Palestine?
In these verses people other than Jesus are speaking or writing. Narrator means the authors of the Gospels.
Matthew: 2:6 (prophecy from Micah); 2:20 (an angel); 2:21 (narrator); 9:33 (appreciative crowd); 15:31 (narrator); 27:9 (prophecy from Zechariah and Jeremiah); 27:42 // (mocking crowd)
Mark: 15:32 // (mocking crowd)
Luke: 1:16 (angel); 1:54 (Mary’s Magnificat); 1:68 (Zechariah, father of John the Baptist); 1:80 (narrator); 2:25 (narrator); 2:32, 34 (Simeon); 24:21 (an anonymous disciple and Clopas, probably Joseph’s brother, so Jesus’ uncle)
John: 1:31 (John the Baptist); 1:49 (Nathanael); 12:13 (the crowds during Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem)
All of these people matter-of-factly call their nation and Jesus’ nation by the name Israel, and nothing else.
What about the rest of the New Testament?
What do the New Testament authors other than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John call the nation where Jesus ministered and his movement was born? Here are all the references:
Acts: 1:6; 2:22, 36; 3:12; 4:10, 27; 5:21, 31, 35; 7:23, 26, 37; 9:15 (Jesus’ words in a vision); 10:36; 13:16, 17, 23, 24; 21:28; 28:20
Romans: 9:4, 6, 27, 31; 10:1, 19, 21; 11:1, 2, 7, 25, 26
1 Corinthians: 10:18
2 Corinthians: 3:7, 13; 11:22
Hebrews: 8:8, 10; 11:22
Revelation: 2:14; 7:4; 21:12
All of the passages refer only to the name Israel. Some call its citizens Israelites, and no other name.
Does the New Testament refer to the name Palestine?
There are no references to this name anywhere in the New Testament (and of course neither are there references in the Old Testament).
Could Jesus have called Israel by any other name?
In their writings that cover many subjects and historical periods, these historians and travelers occasionally use the name Palestine, usually in the context of Syria and its southern environs: Herodotus (c. 485-420? BC); Josephus (c. 37 to post-100 AD), a Jewish historian; Suetonius (69/75 to post-135 AD); Arrian (c. 90-180? AD) (go to the link and type in Palestine); Appian (c. 95 to post-163 AD); Pausanias (second century AD).
Referencing these historians and travelers is not to say that Jesus (or the New Testament authors) read them, particularly the ones who lived after Jesus and the authors! Rather, these historians and travelers imply a wide time span and regions and historical periods in which the name Palestine could circulate and become part of the common linguistic coinage.
Therefore, Jesus had the choice of the name Palestine or Israel. But he chose to remain within the biblical tradition, calling his country Israel. The New Testament authors also chose the biblical tradition, exclusively.
Was Jesus a Palestinian?
As noted in the Introduction to this article, Palestinians and their allies in the media and Rev. Wright think so. However, in Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38, his genealogy is presented. No rationalist has to believe it theologically to understand that Matthew and Luke were keen on placing Jesus firmly in the biblical tradition, certainly not a Greco-Roman one.
Once again: Bible Gateway
Clearly, the best records we have demonstrate that Jesus was thoroughly Jewish – historically, culturally, and ethnically–and a citizen of Israel, not Palestine.
He did not consider himself a Palestinian.
To return to the main thesis and purpose of this article, what do the Scriptural facts say about names and origins? This article lists all of the references in the New Testament to Israel or Israelite. There are no references to Palestine in the Bible. That name was never part of the vocabulary of Jesus or the New Testament authors, even though they had the choice to call it such. Jesus would not recognize the label Palestinian for himself.
Today, some extra-political readers may not like this conclusion, but at least they will no longer be confused. And at least they will no longer be able to confuse others with misinformed rhetoric.
Clarity and historical accuracy are the goal of this article.
From these basic, incontrovertible Scriptures, readers may draw their own conclusions about politics today, if at all.
But historically, neither Jesus or his disciples believed he was a Palestinian. They rejected the Greco-Roman label. Rather, he was Jewish and an Israelite. They accepted biblical history–the Bible itself.