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Is Palestinian Liberation Theology biblical? Part 1

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

For most evangelicals, the narrative of the Gospel climaxes in Yeshua’s death and resurrection. “Salvation is found in no one else” (Acts 4:12 NIV). But others see Jesus in a different light—separated from his ultimate task. “Under this rubric he has been thought of as mystic, moral teacher, religious visionary, political and social reformer, cultural critic and renewal movement leader.”[1]

Recreating Jesus

We tend to re-create Jesus into our own image, while he created us in his image (Gen 1:26). “Albert Schweitzer wrote a detailed exposé of how nineteenth-century portrayals of Jesus regularly re-created [Jesus] in the image of their authors.”[2] And this continues today.

Feminist scholars discovered feminist Jesus. Many Black pastors see Jesus like Moses, freeing the slaves. Social justice advocates, like Shane Claiborne, create Social Reformer Jesus,[3] campaigning against the death penalty. There is LGBTQ-friendly Jesus. More recently, we’ve seen American Revolutionary Jesus, who carries a gun on his sash and is more concerned about losing his rights than winning the lost. They find a sliver of truth about the Messiah but sometimes deny His greater purpose. They’ll promote passages that justify their cause while ignoring other passages that contradict it.

Palestinian Jesus

“Palestinian Jesus” is the creation of Palestinian Liberation Theology (PLT). Liberation theology is the Central and South American-birthed belief that attempts “to combine Marxist social and economic analysis with Christian theology.”[4] “It argues that we should reconstruct the whole of Christian theology by seeing it through the ‘axis of the oppressor and the oppressed.’”[5]

The biggest problem with liberation theologies, as well as the other ones mentioned above, are they “privilege change in society—sociopolitical advancement—over the forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God the Creator.”[6]

I will seek to show that PLT is not a biblical theology but, rooted in offense, it is an antisemitic philosophy that is willing to discard scripture and rewrite history. We will focus mostly on the writings of the father of PLT, Naim Ateek.

According to two adherents:

“PLT employs the Palestinian experience as the point of departure in its theological reflection. The Palestinian experience becomes the lens of interpretation for scripture and tradition, bringing PLT into the methodology of liberation theology.”[7]

Most liberation theologies “have used such motifs from the [Exodus] story as paradigms of their own situation.”[8] This would be too problematic for Ateek. He says, “[T]he way its message has been abused by both religious Zionists and Christian fundamentalists, who see in it a call for the physical return of the Jews to the land in this century, makes it difficult for Palestinians to appropriate at this time.”[9] Ateek does not believe the plethora of prophecies that speak of Israel’s regathering are relevant today. Furthermore, he doesn’t believe that Yahweh in Exodus reflects God, but is, “an uncritically primitive concept of God,”[10] because it “invite[s] the need for the oppression, assimilation, control, or dispossession of the indigenous population.”[11] In other words, in PLT, the Exodus story is tragic in that it ends with Israel processing someone else’s land.

PLT is about justice for the Palestinians but not necessarily about bringing them to God. Muslims, orthodox Christians, or even atheists can all enjoy the justice PLT seeks. Conversely, Exodus was about Yahweh establishing his people. He says, “out of all nations you will be my treasured possession…a kingdom of priests” (Exod 19:5-6).

Ateek prefers the Ahab/Naboth motif. King Ahab’s wife Jezebel falsely accuses Naboth so Ahab can steal his vineyard. Naboth is killed in the process. Elijah prophesies judgment on Ahab and Jezebel; they both die horrible deaths. Israel is the unjust Ahab/Jezebel. Naboth represents the dispossessed Palestinians. But Ateek ignores the fact that Ahab repents and God relents (1 Kgs 1:29). Furthermore, while Elijah stands for justice here, Ateek calls him a murderer elsewhere![12]

Problems with PLT

Interpreting scripture through your experience.

Naim Ateek’s personal story is tragic. His family was forced from their home near the Jordan Valley and relocated to Nazareth. However, one must be careful not to interpret scripture out of pain. As stated above, PLT is formulated through “the Palestinian experience,” as opposed to scripture alone. Many years ago, Palestinian Alex Awad produced a video at Israel’s Security Barrier, inviting people to come and study the scriptures at the “Wall.” This would be like a Jew asking people to come study the Bible at Auschwitz, using emotion to manipulate theology.

Revisionist history

While Ateek’s story is tragic, it is not complete. This is a theme throughout his books. He reports on the “atrocities” of Israel but is nearly silent on Arab terror. It is true his city Beisan was taken by Israel. He fails to mention that Beisan was to be included in the 1947 Partition Plan that the Arabs rejected. Worse, he says nothing about Beisan being a center for Arab terrorism against Jews from 1936-1939.[13] While this may not justify what his family suffered, it is crucial information.

Ateek claims, “As a direct consequence of the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, 750,000 Palestinians—Muslims and Christians—fled in fear or were driven out at gunpoint by the Zionist forces.”[14] He fails to mention that the surrounding Arab states called for the Palestinian Arabs to flee, so they could attack Israel. They assumed the war would be quick, the Zionists would be defeated, and the Arabs would return. In February 1949, the Jordanian newspaper Falastin blamed, not Israel, but fellow Arab nations for the refugee problem.

“The Arab states which had encouraged the Palestine Arabs to leave their homes temporarily in order to be out of the way of the Arab invasion armies, have failed to keep their promise to help these refugees.”[15]

On May 15, 1948, “[T]he Mufti of Jerusalem,” the most popular Arab leader in Palestine,[16] “appealed to the Arabs of Palestine to leave the country, because the Arab armies were about to enter and fight in their stead.”[17]

The Holocaust

Ateek’s words regarding the Holocaust reveal a grave disconnect to the severity of the worst genocide in Human history[18].

We will look at this more closely next week.

[1] Marianne Meye Thompson, “Jesus and his God” in The Cambridge Companion to Jesus (Cambridge Companions to Religion), ed. Markus Bockmuehl (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), chap. 3, Kindle. [2] Craig Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2009), 208-209. [3] Shane Claiborne, “About,” Shane Claiborne, accessed August 14, 2021, [4] Chris Cook, A Dictionary of Historical Terms (Bexley: Gramercy, 1998), 217. [5] John M. Frame, “Liberation Theology,” The Gospel Coalition, accessed on February 21, 2023, [6] Tom Raabe, “5 Major Reasons Liberation Theology Is Terrible Theology,” The Federlalist, October 12, 2020, [7] John S. Munayer and Samuel S. Munayer, “Decolonising Palestinian Liberation Theology: New Methods, Sources and Voices,” Studies in World Christianity, Volume 28 Issue 3 (Oct. 2022): 287-310, [8] Naim Ateek, Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1989), foreword, Kindle. [9] Ateek, Justice and Only Justice, 86. [10] Ateek, Justice and Only Justice, 86. [11] Ateek, Justice and Only Justice, 87. [12] “Chapter 9:51–56: Jesus rebukes his disciples who wanted to call fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans who refused to welcome Jesus in their village. By so doing, he was calling into question the murderous behavior of the prophet Elijah, who called on fire to come down from heaven and consume a military captain and his fifty soldiers (2 Kgs 1:9–16).” Ateek, A Palestinian Theology of Liberation, chap. seven, Kindle. [13]In modern times the town was one of the centres of Arab terrorism, 1936–39. Part of the territory allocated to Israel by the United Nations partition plan of November 1947.” “Bet She’an, Israel,” Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed on February 22, 2023, [14] Ateek, A Palestinian Theology of Liberation, chap. 2, Kindle. [15] Lance Lambert, Battle for Israel (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1975), 138. Lambert lists many quotes from Arab leaders in 1948 calling for the Arabs of Palestine to flee. It is a historical fact. Here are videos where Arabs testify to this, here, here, and here. One testifies that they were told they would be back home in 10 days to two weeks. [16]The Mufti was appointed by the British to oversee Muslim affairs. Haj Amin al-Husseini was Mufti in 1948. He was an ally of Hitler and was connected to the 1929 riots that led to the deaths of 133 Jews and 116 Arabs. Philip Mattar, “The Role of the Mufti of Jerusalem in the Political Struggle over the Western Wall, 1928-29,” Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 19, No. 1 (January 1983), 104-118, [17] Lambert, 139. [18] “List of Genocides,” Wikipedia, accessed March 1, 2023,

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