"In his 2011 book, Pope Benedict XVI, besides repudiating placing blame on the Jewish people, questioned the historicity of the passage found only in the Gospel of Matthew which has the crowd saying, "Let his blood be upon us and upon our children" (Wikipedia). How does this questioning fit in with the Catholic doctrine of biblical inerrancy?

  • To make a clarification: I do not believe in collective Jewish guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus then, or at any point of time. I do not believe in collective guilt at all for that matter.

2 Answers 2


Scripture is inerrant. Man is not.

The Bible needs to be interpreted. Even a translation is an interpretation, because the translator needs to decide what a passage means in order to put it into another language to be read at a different point in history. It is also necessary to determine whether transcription errors have crept in over time.

  • The Catholic Church has Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation promulgated in 1965 by Pope Paul VI following the Second Vatican Council:

    1. ... There exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.6

    2. Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2:42, Greek text), so that holding to, practising and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort. 7

      But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on8, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church9, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.

      It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God's most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.

    1. cf. Council of Trent, session IV, loc. cit.: Denzinger 783 (1501).

    2. cf. Pius XII, apostolic constitution, Munificentissimus Deus, Nov. 1, 1950: A.A.S. 42 (1950) p. 756; Collected Writings of St. Cyprian, Letter 66, 8: Hartel, III, B, p. 733: "The Church [is] people united with the priest and the pastor together with his flock."

    3. cf. First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Chap. 3 "On Faith:" Denzinger 1792 (3011).

    4. cf. Pius XII, encyclical Humani Generis, Aug. 12, 1950: A.A.S. 42 (1950) pp. 568-69: Denzinger 2314 (3886).

    Thus the authentic interpretation of the word of God, showing how God has revealed himself through the efforts of man in attempting to act according to the will of the Spirit, is entrusted to the Magisterium. "This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed."

    What this method of interpretation does is — to draw an analogy from mathematics and statistics — smooth out any "outliers" in the data. These may be singular passages in Scripture as here, or wacky individual teaching about Scripture.

    It may well be that Matthew's account accurately reports what the writer heard at the time from those around him in the crowd; perhaps the Spirit wanted the writer to encourage his Jewish audience to consider Christ's fate at the hands of the mob, having adduced many Old Testament prophecies to prove him the Messiah, and that passage was the clumsy human result. It doesn't necessarily mean that God intends the entire Jewish people to be blamed in perpetuity — and for what? For bringing about salvation!

    So one can say that the Bible is inerrant, because "all scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Tim 3:16) But in order that it is profitable, it needs to be interpreted. The Catholic Church does it in one particular way.

  • In Protestantism, Richard Hooker (1554–1600) formulated the "three-legged stool" of Scripture, Tradition and Reason, with each of those concepts depending on the other two. There isn't the Magisterium in non-Catholic Churches, but it can be seen that in order to interpret Scripture, the deposit of Tradition is needed, together with the exercise of Reason to make sense of any apparent inconsistencies. "All scripture is given by inspiration of God", but it still requires human action to write it down in the first place — and that writing-down is limited by their own understanding and world-view — and to make sense of it thereafter.


This is a loaded question like "when did you stop beating your wife?", as it takes for granted a counterfactual premise, specifically that Benedict XVI questioned the historicity of the crowd saying, "Let his blood be upon us and upon our children". But B_XVI did not question the historicity of the crowd gathered before Pilate saying that, but the historicity of the literal understanding of the description of that crowd by Matthew, namely "all the people" (pas ho laos), as comprising all the Jews living at that time or even all the Jews in Jerusalem at that time.

In Mark's Gospel, the circle of accusers is broadened in the context of the Passover amnesty (Barabbas or Jesus): the "ochlos" enters the scene and opts for the release of Barabbas. "Ochlos" in the first instance simply means a crowd of people, the "masses". The word frequently has a pejorative connotation, meaning "mob". In any event, it does not refer to the Jewish people as such. In the case of the Passover amnesty (which admittedly is not attested in other sources, but even so need not be doubted), the people, as so often with such amnesties, have a right to put forward a proposal, expressed by way of "acclamation". Popular acclamation in this case has juridical character (cf. Pesch, Markusevangelium II, p. 466). Effectively this "crowd" is made up of the followers of Barabbas who have been mobilized to secure the amnesty for him: as a rebel against Roman power he could naturally count on a good number of supporters. So the Barabbas party, the "crowd", was conspicuous, while the followers of Jesus remained hidden out of fear; this meant that the vox populi, on which Roman law was built, was represented one-sidedly. In Mark's account, then, in addition to "the Jews", that is to say the dominant priestly circle, the ochlos comes into play, the circle of Barabbas' supporters, but not the Jewish people as such.

An extension of Mark's ochlos, with fateful consequences, is found in Matthew's account (27:25), which speaks of "all the people" and attributes to them the demand for Jesus' crucifixion. Matthew is certainly not recounting historical fact here: How could the whole people have been present at this moment to clamor for Jesus' death? It seems obvious that the historical reality is correctly described in John's account and in Mark's. The real group of accusers are the current Temple authorities, joined in the context of the Passover amnesty by the "crowd" of Barabbas' supporters.


We know from John's Gospel that the crowd had gathered at the stone-paved square in front of the praetorium ("Lithostrōton") (Jn 19:13). Is it just reasonable to think that all adult Jews at that time, or even all adult inhabitants of Jerusalem, could fit in that square? It is clear that what Matthew means by "all the people" is "all the people in that place at that moment", not "all the people of Jerusalem" and even less "all the Jewish people".

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