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What Jesus did NOT die on the cross for

With this post I would like to invite people to engage in the question of the meaning of the death of Jesus. I have been growing up with a very calvinistic (Jesus died as a ransom for our sins) tradition of Jesus’ death on the cross. In recent years I have questioned more and more this prerequisite I grew up with: The purpose of Jesus’ coming was to die for us. Before I want to make my point I want to say that I myslef see different approaches in the NT about this question. The position I am going to present is not a perfect one. However, and otherwise I wouldn’t post this topic, I believe it is a better one (meaning more biblical one) than the calvinistic (or should I say evangelical) position. It goes as follows:

  1. God did not send his son with the purpose or aim to die for us.
  2. Jesus died for our sins, yes, but God did not need the death of his son to forgive sins.

Not to be misunderstood: Yes: Jesus came down on the earth; He lived a just life; the people (both Romans and Jews) cruxified him; He rose from the death; He ascended into heavens.  This is the story of Jesus. This is what happened to him. The above two statements I questioned are assumptions, or interpretations of the story of Jesus that I do not find strongly supported in the Bible.

The reason I believe many christians support the idea that God sent his son to die for us is twofold: a. this is what they are told from sunday school on and is portrayed as one of the fundamentals of christianity; and b. is based on the assumption that since God foreknows everything and therefore also Jesus’ death he must somehow also have ordained it.

I would like to start of with a very interesting parable that Jesus himself is telling. If you have a moment, please read the parable at the beginning of Mk.12, the so called ‘parable of the tenants’. Very interesting here is verse 6. Accoring to this verse God did not send his son to death; but was hoping the people would respect him; since he is his son. According to this parable it was not the landlord’s intention that his son wiould be killed, even though this was the risk he took.

This is how I feel most of the NT is in harmony with. God sent his son to reconcile the world to himself. It indeed was a risky enterprise but the intention of his mission was not to die (a dead Messiah also in jewish tradition was not something that was expected), but to live and bring the people of Israel back to their God. I think we misread many passages in the NT. Many verses talk about God ‘giving’ his son. I don’t know exactly why, but we always sweem to read ‘death’ in it. If Jesus gives his life then he gives his life! He might give his death also, but only in so far as his death is part of his life. In John 3.16 for example I can’t see a reference of Jesus death. It talks about his life; not his death. For example. no one really thinks of the death of christians (even though death might be a consequence) when reading Romans 12,1. ‘give life’ or ‘sacrifice’ does not necessarily imply death. (even though it can).

I do not see ‘a law from the Old Testament’ that Jesus had to die for. According to Hebrews is Jesus explicitely NOT a priest in the tradition or accordance with Levi which tribe performed the killing sacraments, but according to Melchisedek, who was before the law was given, and therefore the tradition of sacrifices was started. So all those sacrifices do not really apply to Jesus (in my opinion), neither is he the fullfillment of those.

According to Paul in  Romans 5:18 it is the righteousness, and not his death that brought about justification before God.

Also, from the times of Abraham by the latest, it was forbidden to offer human sacrifices to be killed. God could not possibly violate this law by purposely sending his own son to death.

If God is God then he really does not need a human sacrifice (or if you are trinitarian: a sacrifice of himself) to forgive sins. How on on the basis of what other than his souvereignity and mercy in the parable of the lost son in Luke 15 then did the father forgive his son when he asked to come back? Jesus was telling this parable BEFORE his death. How can Paul say that Abraham was justified by his faith?  No sacrifice has been offered.

The evangelical view of these things in my opinion dismisses the scandal that took place. They killed Jesus! Hey, they killed Jesus! Evangelicals wake up; they killed Jesus!!!!!!!!!! They killed the only one that was righteous! No, God did not kill him; they did! He came and healed and loved and helped. And they killed him!!!! That is a scandal! They killed a member of God’s family!!! This is unbelievable!! Don’t just accept this as ‘an OT law’ or ‘because they had to’, or because’God sent his son to die’. As if God and the mean Romans / Jews would have collaborated in the murder of Jesus! No!!!! it is a murder and nothing less. And if there was a law that Jesus had to die for it is the law that humans can’t stand rightous people and people that do not compromise and are not corrupt.

And here is the amazing story: Even though we humans killed the son of God; killed a beloved member of God’s family: God’s one and only son; God is not at the end with us. He did not give us up. He uses what has happened against him and his son as a sign of love. as a sign of love that the world has never seen before: The cross is an invite to come and become a son and a daughter of God like the one they killed. To also come to God’s family. And as an eternal sign that God is souvereign and this is really true: he rose Jesus from the death and started the biggest track of humankind: we can all follow Christ towards God. No, this isn’t theology or a new theory besides Calvin. this is just telling of what happened with Jesus and with God. Or you might call it narrative theology; I don’t know.

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The inevitability of death

I’m sure you’re right that we tend to over-interpret texts under the influence of dogmatic tradition. The parable of the tenants is perhaps a good example: the landlord sends the son in the hope that the tenants will respect him (Mark 12:6); death is, if you like, only an ‘accidental’ consequence, though I suppose you could argue that the father must have understood the dangers involved.

This raises an interesting question, however. How otherwise might Jesus have been the means by which God reconciled the world to himself? If as a prophet he had had the success that Jonah had at Nineveh and Jerusalem had repented, chosen the narrow path that leads to life, what would have been the outcome? No destruction of the city? Would there still have been an outpouring of the Spirit? Could a restored Israel, with Jesus as king and a reformed Temple system, have become the means by which the world was reconciled to God? It’s not entirely inconceivable, but I have a feeling that the giving of the Spirit to all people of the covenant and the inclusion of Gentiles were fundamentally incompatible with the survival of the system of temple and law. In a sense it was inevitable that Israel would be judged, destroyed, scattered in order for the world to be genuinely reconciled to God. But if that is the case, it was also inevitable that a prophet who so sharply opposed stiff-necked Israel and who proposed so radical an alternative would suffer at the hands of that people. In effect, the tenants were bound to kill the son and bring judgment upon themselves (Mark 12:9) if the landlord was ever to get the fruit of the vineyard.

In any case, don’t these texts strongly suggest that death was foreseen as a consequence of the sending of the Son?

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)

And taking the twelve, he said to them, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise." (Luke 18:31-33)

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Gal. 4:4-5; cf. Gal. 3:13: Christ ‘redeemed’ us by becoming a curse for us.)

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)

Misleading parables

Hello Paulchen … you raise some interesting points.

But personally I think it is risky to deduce doctrine from parables (unless supported by explicit statements in other passages) because I think the main purpose of parables was to sting people into a response rather than to illumine their cerebral understanding. I don’t think they are meant to correspond with reality in every detail. For example, I do not conclude that God literally abandons his 99 faithful sheep when looking for the lost, nor do I conclude that God is female on the basis of the woman seraching for her lost coin. I tend to derive doctrine from the didactic passages of the Bible, and use the parables instead to hit me emotionally and motivate me.

A few more passages to add to Andrew’s list:

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. Romans 3:23-25

[Christ] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. Hebrews 9:26

For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through [Christ] to reconcile to [God] all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. Colossians 1:19

In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of [God’s] grace, which [God] lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to [God’s] purpose, which he set forth in Christ. Ephesians 1:7-9

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief. Isaiah 53:10

Also, I do not see how Christ’s death could demonstrate God’s love for us unless his death had an objective significance. If my next door neighbour’s house is on fire, I would not be demonstrating love by running into the midst of the flames and risking my own life unless I was trying to rescue someone.

Hi Andrew, HI Phil, thank

Hi Andrew, HI Phil,

thank you very much for your stimulating responses. I would like to answer but unfortunately I need to go and hope to respond later to your very valuable comments.

As I said in my opening statement -  I can see different lines or tradidtions in the NT about this question. I do not believe the Bible has to be harmonious here as it is also not in other themes. (but this could be an entire different post altogether that I would suggest). However as mentioned before I still do believe there is grounds not to believe in a God that sent his son with the purpose of dying on the cross for us.

Before I get back to this in more details; I just ask you to respond to the two other points I made in my opening statements how a. God could allow a human sacrife to be made; and b. on which basis God fagave Abraham, the lost son in the parable (sorry Phil, I do think parables have a lot to say about how God relates to us), and all the other saints mentioned in Hebrews 11 as the ‘heros of faith’, wich rightousness was not connected to the blood of Jesus.

Thank you and talk to you all soon,



Hi Paul

Regarding your point about God allowing a human sacrifice, I’m not sure if this is relevant but Jesus was not an innocent 3rd party. I do not believe God exacted retribution by sacrificing someone else to atone for sin. The love revealed on the cross is self-sacrifice: God himself became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth (pace Theocrat!) and so God took the sins of the world on himself through his Son. The law-maker, king, and judge voluntarily paid the penalty required by his own law. This trinitarian perspective illuminates the love of God beautifully.

Also, I don’t see why God should necessarily be bound to keep every commandment he expects us to keep.

I am not sure on what basis God forgave Old Testament believers such as Abraham. But perhaps Christ’s death on the cross was efficacious for all believers in the Old Testament era as well as for subsequent believers. God is not limited by time (he inhabits eternity) and therefore Abraham’s sins could conceivably have been atoned for by Christ on the cross even though the crucifixion occurred after Abraham sinned. I can’t prove that idea but it seems feasible to me, and therefore I would not personally use the fact of Abraham’s salvation as evidence that Christ’s death did not accomplish anything objective.

Best wishes … Phil


I am back and I would like

I am back and I would like to respond to your comments.

I would like to say that many of the verses you bring up are valid. I do not want to appear as trying to twist all meanings until they fit my position. 

There are two things I would like to say to this: I see different traditions in the Bible about different subjects. It is not by chance that we have pentecostals, evangelicals, catholics, jehova’s wittnesses, southern baptists etc in our midst. Until we understand that within the Bible there actually are different traditions we will ever continue to argue. There are always verses that support our sides, and as long as we believe all the other verses must be in harmony with the ones we follow - I wonder how even heaven will stop us fighting over Bible references. Within the Bible there just are in my view point different traditions.

The second thing I want to say is that I see most verses you quoted in the light of Mk. 12,1-11 especially Mk. 12,10-11:

The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone; [2]
11 this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.’

God turned this scandal, this unbelievable event into the means of his salvation - into the strongest sign of his love and acceptance. So Jesus’ death became the propriation; the ransom, the means of peace or whatever else Christ’s death was ascribed to. But this all happened only in retrospective rather than in looking forward to it.

If nothing else comes out of this discussion I hope to achieve at the least with this post is to question the (in my understanding) unbalanced view of Christ’s work of salvation in his death only. This might be as wrong as to say (and this sentence might even go agains my own viewpoint): salvation was achieved by Jesus’ life only.

Ok, now I want to respond to some comments / verses quoted. (the ones I don’t respond to suport well your point) 

Andrew writes:

This raises an interesting question, however. How otherwise might Jesus have been the means by which God reconciled the world to himself?’

As mentioned in my previous statement; Paul suggests in  Romans 5:18 it is the righteousness, and not his death that brought about justification before God. No death of the Messiah is needed here.

…Could a restored Israel, with Jesus as king and a reformed Temple system, have become the means by which the world was reconciled to God? It’s not entirely inconceivable, but I have a feeling that the giving of the Spirit to all people of the covenant and the inclusion of Gentiles were fundamentally incompatible with the survival of the system of temple and law’

I do not suggest a  survival of the system of temple and law as the means carried out for the salvation of the Jews and Gentiles. Hebrews 7,11-18 especially verse 18 makes it clear that Christ as a Priest according Melchisedek and not Levi continues the priestly tradition before the sacrificial tradition started and therefore makes the sacrificial tradition a passing one. The interesting thing here in my opinion is that is done not by fullfilling the sacrificial tradition with a sacrifice of his own, but by being of a different kind of priesthood.

In any case, don’t these texts strongly suggest that death was foreseen as a consequence of the sending of the Son?’

Yes, I agree with you. But my point is that ‘foreseeing’ does not equal ‘ordained’ or ‘planned out’.

As an example I want to remind us of the many missionaries that were sent out by Herrnhut missionaries to black Africa. The missionaries mostly took with them their coffins. Not because their aim or goal or fullfillment of their mission was to die - it was to live and preach the gospel - yet with the (sometimes very likely) risk to suffer an early death.

 you quote:

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)

the meaning ‘giving his life’ might as well point to his life (in action in justice in finishing the circle of sin and death by rightousness) and therefore provide a ransom for many; rather than thinking of his death. But of course it is also possible that Mark thought of Christ’s death.

And taking the twelve, he said to them, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise." (Luke 18:31-33)’

again as I said before - the fact that Jesus (and the father) or the prophets knew what was going to happen does not mean it was ordained by God. this is telling the story in the future. it is interesting to see that no theology is laid in Jesus foretelling of his death and resurection. it is merely telling of what was going to happen.

Phil, you wrote:

The law-maker, king, and judge voluntarily paid the penalty required by his own law.’

and you write:

Also, I don’t see why God should necessarily be bound to keep every commandment he expects us to keep.’

I do not believe God required a death penalty of his son. As mentioned above based on Hebrews I don’t think Jesus was the fullfillment of the Levi’s sacrificial tradition. Also, if God is souvereign, and apparently not bound to his own laws or commandements;(even though I think he is by his own choice and example) why can’t he forgive humans freely, based on his mercy and Christ’s rightousness? Do you really believe he needs a sacrifice in order to be able to forgive sins? Is there a secret magic or prohecy that required a  death of the Messiah? I do not see that as something that was expected of the Messiah.

God was always known as the One that has the power to forgive sins. Especially by Jews of the first century. I really do not believe he was limited by a sacrifice that had to be offered.

With your comment about the person in fire and comparing that to Christ I fully agree. But this was my point all along. Christ, as to say, is running into the fire to rescue the neighbour in need. He is not running into the fire to be killed (since a dead rescuer does not help the neighbour); yet by rescuing him he took the risk to be killed himslef. This is exactly how I see the sending of Christ into the world as mentioned above.

Proof-texts again!

Hi Paul

I agree with you it is easy to support almost any viewpoint you want by selecting a few isolated proof-texts. Here is one you could use to bolster your position:

Jesus said: "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth." John 18:37

But here are a few more that contradict your position:

And being found in human form, [Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Phil. 2:8 Who was Jesus obeying if it wasn’t God?

At the Last Supper, Jesus said to his disciples: "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." Mat. 26:28 At that point in time Jesus could have fled to safety in Egypt and avoided crucifixion, but instead he went to his death deliberately and purposefully.

In the garden of Gethsemane, when Peter tried to defend Jesus from being arrested, Jesus said to him: "Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?" (John 18:11)

I agree with your comment that foreseeing does not mean ordained, but Acts 2:23 says: "[Jesus] was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross."

I agree with you that the parables can teach us much about the way God relates to us, but I think it is possible to read more into the parables than Jesus intended. For example, at first glance the parable about the rich man and Lazarus seems to be teaching that all poor people will go to Heaven and all rich people will go to Hades, because in the next life we will receive a reversal of our earthly circumstances. "You in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish." Luke 16:25

As an example of God not being bound to keep every law he expects us to keep, "Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God." Romans 12:19 However, I would agree with you that all of God’s actions are entirely consistent with the moral laws he has commanded us.

My illustration about running into my neighbour’s house if it were on fire is linked to Romans 5:8. "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." I do not see how Christ’s death on the cross can demonstrate God’s love unless his death had a deeper purpose than a mere demonstration. If I risk my life to rescue my neighbour from his burning house, then I would be displaying my love for him. But if I run into a burning house where no-one is trapped, I am just demonstrating my foolishness.



a question of perspective

Dear Phil,

thank you for your answer. I think the most important reason why people like you and me read something different in a text is the position where we are coming from. Most of the above verses you mentioned above, I actually find quite affirming for my position - but again; this is because I am looking at it from a different angle. But since my angle seems not much looked at; i think it is worth presenting…

And being found in human form, [Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Phil. 2:8 Who was Jesus obeying if it wasn’t God?’

I fully agree with you that Jesus was obedient to God and that this obedience to God ment finally his death on the cross. However, having death as the outcome of his obedience again does not prove that this was the intention of his coming. In my view this was the consequence of wicked men dealing with a son of God (as we will see later in acts).

At the Last Supper, Jesus said to his disciples: "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." Mat. 26:28 At that point in time Jesus could have fled to safety in Egypt and avoided crucifixion, but instead he went to his death deliberately and purposefully.’

Again: Jesus chose to be fully obedient to God. He decided not to turn the path of his story around by miracelousely asking supernatural help or by running away. He was obedient to God who ‘put him in the hands of wicked sinners’; whatever outcome this will have (he knew it was death; yet based on foreknowledge, not because God was unable to forgive otherwise), he accepted.

‘I agree with your comment that foreseeing does not mean ordained, but Acts 2:23 says: "[Jesus] was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross."’

Yes, Jesus was handed over  even by God’s set purpose. This is what I hold all along. This confirms actually the parable. Jesus ,by God, was handed over to men. (Like in the parable to the tenants of the landlord). What basically happens here is that the Will of God is; whatever the will of the tenants in the parable or here the ‘wicked men’ ist. Without option of going back. without backing out by supernatural power (as suggested by jews at the cruxifiction) or by Peter in Gethsemane and others. Jesus is totally given in the hands of humans. And there will is being done since God and Jesus has willed it so. How else can Peter blaim the crowd in his famous sermon? If it was God’s plan he couldln’t tell them off and blaim them that they killed the Messiah. This wouldn;t make sense. so no; this verse does not work against my viewpoint at all.

As for the validity of the parable in Mk I keep referring to: how else whold you interpret this? also in the light that it is bedded in the very important OT prophecy of the stone that became the cornerstone? Here is not ‘just’ parable as you qualified it before, but also ‘dogma’.

Thanks for interacting with me in this subject, Phil.

He died for sins

Dear Paul

Unlike you, I was not brought up in an evangelical or calvinistic tradition. As an adult, when I first heard the traditional interpretation of Christ’s death, I found it extremely attractive and satisfying. Now, some years later, it is still very fresh and appealing to me. However, I am seriously trying to look at it from your perspective and so I have carefully re-read your original essay. You state that you do believe Christ died for our sins. I would be very interested if you would expand on that statement to explain exactly in what sense you believe he died for our sins. Many thanks … Phil

thank you for sharing with

thank you for sharing with me about your background. 

Christ dying for our sins I see in the light of God turning the death of Christ into something most central (the the stone that became the cornerstone). The cross became the means of salvation and the most powerfull statement of God in this world.

However, the Bible also talks about other means of forgiving sins other than the death of Christ. The God of Israel has always been known as a God who can forgive sins and is not bound to a sacrifice. When God has seen faith, obedience and faithful prayer and confession, He was always willing to forgive. In 1.Samuel 15,22 obedience is put over sacrifices, and in Psalm 79,9 the ground on which the intersessor asks forgiveness is on the basis of God’s name, not a sacrifice.

In Mark 1,4 in John the baptist’s ministry it was through the baptism of repentance that served as the means of forgiveness of sins. Mark 1,4

The Jews at the time of Jesus also trusted God that he can forgive sins. This is why they got so alert when Jesus was forgiving sins in the name and authority of God (Mark 2,7 , Luke 7,49 ) It was enough for Jesus to tell someone that their sins were forgiven. So forgiveness here on the basis of his word.

Similar also see even 1 John 2,12: Forgiveness on account of Jesus name.

It is interesting to look at the beginnings of the Church; after Jesus death and resurrection and to see what people were told about Jesus death and forgiveness. Acts is very interesting in this regard.

If you read the account in Acts 2, the first ‘evangelistic’ sermon after Jesus’ death and resurrection ever held; there are some crucial parts that are missing in an evangelical point of view: Jesus death and resurrection is just told as a story and related to Old Testament prophecies; yet the people are being blamed for killing the Christ. No reference to his death as a ransom or such. And when the crowd asks what they should do now, Peter replies in Acts 2,38: Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins ..’ 

Again: baptism and repentance on the basis of His name here is the grounds on which to receive forgiveness of sins

 Acts 5,31, Acts 10,43, Acts 13,38, Acts 26,18 are similar references. Nowhere in Acts, therefore in the beginning of the christian church, is the view of Jesus death as the means of forgiveness of sins yet developed.

Saying this I am not suggesting it is wrong or ‘added by the church’ or whatever. I  do believe it is part of the ‘cornerstone process’ as mentioned before.

I just beleive this side or tradition within the Bible is just overlooked very much.God is being protrayed as someone who is bound to some kind of law and can’t forgive sins unless someone is sacrificed. Biblical evidence both in the Old and New Testament is just being overlooked or reinterpreted ‘in the light of Christ’s death on the cross’, as they would say.

The fact that God can turn something horrible into something beautiful and amazing doesn’t mean that God has planned the horrible.

To say the verses above and many, many others that God and Jesus have forgiven freely are all referring towards the sacrificial death on the cross in 30 AD is cheap hermeneutics in my understanding.

I hope I could give you an answer and I am looking forward to your input.

Re: thank you for sharing with

The issue then is that it is clear forgiveness occurred before Christ’s sacrifice. But, this need not be a problem. Consider that all acts of God’s grace is in lieu of Christ’s death-sacrifice in the future. What I am describing would be something that works like an escrow account. We can see from Gen. 3:15 that Christ’s life/death had begun to have an effect on human history. We must assume that this plan was already in effect (before creation), not because God knew history in advance (God does not know things in advance in that sense since time isn’t linear, rather it works better when we understand that God exists in every time) but because Jesus promised to represent humanity (Rev. 13:8, 5:12, 5:3-8).

I think representation is therefore a better terminology than substitution in regards to Jesus’ death. If Jesus substituted humanity in death, then his death has little application. But if he represents humanity, then he can’t do that without dying like all humanity needs to die.

Representational soteriology then is probably a more effective way to understand Christ’s death.

Regarding Abraham’s faith counted as justification. Again, Christ’s death-sacrifice works through the time-line backwards. It’s the reason the saints were in Abraham bosom (paradiso) and not hell, like the rest of humanity.

Jesus is the first from the dead(1 Cor. 15) and then becomes the first of humanity who slept. He could not be the first of the family of saved humanity if he did not die as humanity.

Re: thank you for sharing with

Hi, siku.

If you read around this site, you will find that one of the issues that keeps coming up is the question of what sort of story is being told in the Bible - or perhaps better how do two types of story in particular interact. The current discussion about the identity of the ‘least of these, my brothers’ in Matthew 25:31-46 is a good example.

The first story is the more familiar one: it is a story of universal salvation, according to which God sent his son into the world to die for the sins of all humankind, so that they would not ultimately ‘die’ but would go to heaven to be with God.

The second story is rarely heard in popular preaching and teaching but it is becoming increasingly influential in ‘emerging’ conversations: it is a story of the calling and salvation of a people, who come to experience through the atoning death of Jesus the life in the Spirit and the potential of new creation that characterize the age that follows the era of Law-based Judaism; and it is essentially (though not exclusively) through the story of this people that the creator God engages with the whole world.

So although it may be meaningful to speak of the death of Christ as an event that had both a retroactive and proactive impact on human history, I think we risk distorting the biblical argument if we do not first interpret it within the story about Israel. In this context it makes a lot of sense to see Jesus’ death as a continuation of the mercy of God towards a persistently rebellious nation - it flows naturally from the covenantal relationship. Likewise, at a time when Israel as a nation was heading towards a devastating war against Rome, it makes a lot of sense to see Jesus’ death by crucifixion at the hands of the Romans as an atoning substitution so that at least part of Israel might escape the ‘wrath’ of God.

Re: thank you for sharing with

Hi Andrew,

Of course, when we keep the death-sacrifice narrative strictly withing Israel’s narrative, then Christ need not die. The story needed to have ended with them accepting him as King. This, I fully appreciate. we would have something similar to what would have happened if Adam did not eat the fruit. A perfect priest interceding for all a communitas (Israel) instructing the world. ironically, that’s exactly what is happening. The perfect high priest is indeed in his temple, and the communitas is infecting the world, injecting fresh blood into the world community. But, for this inverted communitas (the spiritual Israel) to come about, Christ needed to die.

I will say therefore, that for natural Israel’s narrative, there needed not to have been a blood sacrifice. In that case, God’s continuing mercy was that God came among them- not to die- but to be among them (Matt 1:23). here, all the prophecies from Hosea were to be fulfilled and of course, all talk of death becomes superfluous.

Having said that, even when we keep our narrative strictly within the bounds of Israel’s covenant narrative, there are problems. the reason why we resort to radical interpretations of prophecy is simply because the narrative structure has broken down.

Israel’s narrative for hundreds of years had been eroding- evolving into an unrecognizable entity. 10 tribes and ark had disappeared and the temple was destroyed (considering God didn’t seem to want a temple at all). God had demonstrated a knack for adapting the law. In Leviticus, a eunuch was a sexual irregularity and therefore could not partake in full ritual rites. By the time we get to the prophets, that decree was rescinded. Not one of the ‘greater glory’ prophecies was ever fulfilled (I mean orthodox interpretations here). Then God comes not in victorious splendor, but in a humble shelter.

When we look back at Israel’s narrative, with every apparently broken promise, it begins to look like god is talking about something else. he always was.

The communitas should have operated and was always designed to operate like section of a tribe who are removed to live outside the community for a while, only to return with fresh blood, new skills and a new spirituality the whole tribe is then invigorated. The communitas is distinct from the community, even if they are part of the community. this was how israel was designed to operate under God’s rule and finally under the messiah. But, I am convinced, this was no original plan- i think it’s more like- ‘if you guys do the right thing, this is what would happen, but i know ya’ll won’t do it, so i’ll just create a much much better plan anywayz.’

i think, Israel’s narrative was breaking around the seams, and i think it was always designed to behave that way. i think the disciples finally understood this when the lord ascended, and i think it is why (partly) they could call Christ God, despite obvious incongruous reality (I mean unfulfilled orthodox interpretations of prophecy regarding the nation of Israel).

i have not been able to read all the posts, so forgive me if I am off track (only slightly off I hope).

What about the Lamb?

Just a quick, off-the-cuff comment. Isn’t it the case that Jesus’ being the ‘lamb of God’ is directly indicative of his being a blood-sacrifice for the general remission of sins? Christ came as the son of God, a priest, a king, and a lamb. He came to share the wisdom of God, lead his people, love, alter church doctrine, and then to die as a direct, lamb-like sacrifice for the sins of humankind (in basic accordance with a system of reconciliation that God Himself had created). Why does it have to be one or the other? If there are, indeed, two or more threads of belief in the bible about why Jesus came, is there any reason that all of those beliefs should be untrue?

It seems like you’re missing out on a few key points of the passages you’re quoting. ‘My blood poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’ I still do not understand how this is not in equivalency with saying ‘My death is for the forgiveness of sins.’ It seems somewhat convulted to try and make a claim that the death was inevitable but not necessary. I see your approach to this issue as a reaction to the way that churches and preachers have lost emphasis on the life/teachings/purity/etc. of Jesus. I agree with you that the focus on his death and only his death is a wrong focus, since it is only one part of Christ’s perfection. But it IS an important part. His righteousness is important, his death is important. His righteousness is important as an example for us to follow, but it is also necessary within the context of his forgiving death: the best sacrifices were the most pure, and a sacrifice for every sin ever committed had to be the purest kind of all: God tempted yet still living sinlessly in human flessh.


Dear Brett,

 The picture of the lamb is not just used for Jesus, but also for the followers of Jesus. In my humble understanding of biblical terminology ‘lamb’ is used as a picture of ‘pure’, ‘sinless’ and ‘obedient’ and serves therefore as a perfect picture for Christ who encompasses all those adjectives fully. To think of ‘sacrifice’ when thinking of the lamb is again a matter of perspective, that I don’t share.

If you refer to the ‘lamb of God’ in John 1,29 used by John the baptist; it is important to look at the historical context of ‘Yom Kippur’ - in Leviticus 16. John is referring to the ‘scapegoat’ in verse 10 that is send alive in the desert to Asal. So not really a referral to a blood sacrifice here.

To your comment:

He came to share the wisdom of God, lead his people, love, alter church
doctrine, and then to die as a direct, lamb-like sacrifice for the sins
of humankind (in basic accordance with a system of reconciliation that
God Himself had created).’

I would like to know to which system of reconciliation you are referring to that Christ as the lamb had to be sacrificed for.

Thank you for your comments. 


the last supper and Jesus' death

Brett, I just realized that I have not responded to Jesus words in the last supper that you mentioned. I am not sure to which gospel you are referring, but I take it as for Matthew 26,26-30. It is true that it seems like Jesus refers to his death here. I think he does too to some degree (especially because it is the night before); yet I do believe we get only a partial understanding of this when looking towards his death only. Also; it is a matter of perspective again. It usually doesn’t even cross our mind not to think of Jesus death here. But here I am presenting a different kind of view. I am not saying that this is a better one or one that has no problematic features; but I think the same applies to the traditional view, which might be even more problematic.

First of all: I do not think Jesus’ desciples thought of Jesus death when celebrating this Passoah with their master. All the records we have available confirm that all of them were shocked and suprised when the murder of their master happened. They didn’t expect it

Jesus was indeed celebrating a new coveneant with them. The difference here to most Old Testament covenants: it was celebrated with wine! So in other words you could read it also like this:

This is my blood’ like Jesus saying: in the Old Testament covenants were sealed with blood. As the messiah;he takes wine. Wine is the sign of the messiah. this is new. This wine represents the blood in the Old Testament and ‘replaces’ it. This is the ‘blood’ of the new covenant.’ I don’t think this interpretation is twisting around Jesus words more than a traditional interpretation. The difference is whether you look backwards or forwards. I suggest Jesus says the wine represents the blood from the Old Testament - traditional view says the wine represents the blood of the cruxifiction. In any case it is still wine! I think the desciples have thought of the Old Testament, not looking forward to his death. (even though Paul in Corinthians might have thought of the crucifixion).

Also - wine in the NT has always been used to celebrate. (see for example the wedding in cana).

Wine was and is used to affirm common purpose, agreements and aim in some kind of festive setting. To use wine as a representation of Jesus’ murder that was about to happen doesn’t seem fitting to me of what the character of wine was and what it represented otherwise.

Also, in verse 29 Jesus says that he is not going to drink the fruit of the wine until with his desciples in the father’s kingdom. If Jesus is going to repeat this event (othewrwise he wouldn’t have said it in this context) in his father’s kingdom, it a. confirms the character of celebration inherent in this ‘last supper’; b. it points to the understanding that Jesus has not thought of his death with the wine, since there is no reason why he would so with his desciples once in his glory. the emphasis at the second coming of Christ will not be his humbleness and death, but his victory.

Similarily the picture of the bred doesn’t have to point towards Jesus death. In John 6,35 Jesus says ‘I am the bred of Life’. Bred was everything for the people in Palestine. Jesus wants to be everything for his desciples. Also, in John 6,55 Jesus can say ‘For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink’.

Apparently it must be possible when eating his flesh and drinking his blood not to think of Christ’s death on the dross; at least in John 6.

so far for now.


Last supper

The point about the last supper and having it again in the kingdom is the reference in Luke Emmaus road when they do have it as part of the resurrection story. So the early Christians are saying that the leadership in what it is doing now is legitimate, which of course is the whole point of the resurrections story anyway - who saw him and in what order, says Paul, and that the resurrection includes Jesus only being recognised when a theological point is made, that is they see it now, followed swiftly by Jesus’ disappearance untio the next one. Or take the story where Thomas is invited to see the wounds, the point being people should have faith as he did not. The stories are about the first of the resurrected, and that the early Christian community is led to understand that he did return, that there are no more such appearances, and all of them have legitimised the leadership, the apostles.

So casually people say, this is what Jesus said, this is what he meant, when the whole thing is a process of writing decades later to a early Christian communities following a leadership that has origins in meeting Jesus at the resurrection. The gospels are resurrection filtered in terms of everything in them, as is the rest of the New Testament. This is faith, by the way, not an event. What is not present is history as any historian would understand it, and actual history of motives and actions of Jesus has to be teased out and is more often than not completely unavailable, leaving us necessarily to focus on the early Christians.


No problem

I don’t have a problem with you holding your views, Pluralist, but I do have some problems with the rather exclusive way in which they are presented. They are, after all, a point of view - and not everyone who disagrees, and holds to a (broadly) historical view of the gospels, is an ignorant fundamentalist.

I never knew that the Emmaus road story was about the disciples celebrating the eucharist with Jesus in the kingdom of God. (Is that what you mean by saying that it legitimates ‘leadership in what it is doing now’?) I thought it was simply three people taking a meal together - ‘breaking bread’.

I agree that each of the resurrection appearances of Jesus was significant - was there ever an occasion when Jesus is recorded as doing anything which was not in some way theological? But I just don’t think your interpretation of things stands up. There simply wasn’t time for the mythologising of Jesus by the early church to have taken place, in a way that denies the possibility of any historical basis of the things described in the gospels. 

Whatever else he was doing, Paul was passing on a tradition of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15), which if it was not based in actual events, undermined the whole basis of belief. He may have been mistaken, or a consummate fraudster, but what he is passing on purports to be historical, not mythical, tradition.

Faith, in this case, is based on reasonable and convincing evidence - much of which Paul presents. It is not a departure from history into the mythical. There were too many people around to cross-question those who had witnessed these ‘events’, and too many who had vested interests in exposing the whole thing as a sham, for the gospels to be an elaborate theological charade.

I think the key to your point of view is your statement that ‘the supernatural is a dead duck’. Again, I wonder what leads you to this conclusion, and how you support it, but if it is held, then the outworking of your interpretation becomes more logical - and God is no more than a figment of our imagination.

Not minuted

>I thought it was simply three people taking a meal together - ‘breaking bread’.<

 Of course not. It carries the significance that as the meal would next be taken when the kingdom had arrived, this was a declaration that the kingdom had arrived, or as good as. It isn’t just a meal, it carries significance. As far as I can see, when I read it, it does not look like an event at all. It looks like a series of underlined messages put into dramatic form.

>There simply wasn’t time for the mythologising of Jesus by the early church to have taken place, in a way that denies the possibility of any historical basis of the things described in the gospels.<

 Well thirty years is plenty time at the minimum for all sorts of thoughts to take place, and the decades pass afterwards, as well as a whole variety of places and audiences.

 It’s not a matter of being fundamentalist, it is realising when something is primarily a theological statement and where the history is in fragments. We don’t even have this kind of accuracy in today’s age of recording and communication, never mind this ancient society where someone said this and then someone said that and then did this. You equally believe what you like, but don’t expect me to think that this is somehow minutes taken at a meeting.


we are not the experts

it seems like this conversation is going a bit away from the original thread I was intending. Maybe it would be good to start a new thread with the point you actually want to get across.

You seem to know exactly what is historical and what not, and that the NT was written so much later. Don’t you think you put yourself on a quite high position to know better of which texts are original than the people who studied this kind of material 50 or hundred years after the stories have actually happened? It would be like someone claiming in 2000 years from now to know your father better than you do. For example the church father Irenaeus claimed to have been a desciple of the John that has written the gospel of John and confirmed his historicity. You can call him a liar or whatever you want - but at least you should acknowledge the claim he is is making. The same applies to the gospel of Luke, for example. It was set up as a record of what has actually happened. You  could argue whether he got all the details right or not - you could even say he made it up intentionally if you want - but you must acknowledge his claim of writing a historical record. And to say you know it better 2000 years after Luke, John or Irenaeus themselves; you might need just a bit more reason or evidence than you seem to have, I feel.

But anyway - if you would like to discuss things like this; I invite you to start a new thread.

take care,


what is the point?

hi all. in order to frame my central comment, i must say that i think that the platform this site offers for meaningful and diverse conversation around emergence is fantastic, but i find myself questioning why some people continue to engage others on this board.

with regards to this thread, i’m thinking about yourself, Pluralist. in a previous post about the line of David, you state: "No I do not believe in a God that Jesus believed in, one to bring in the Kingdom of God very soon. Not at all, he was wrong. I think God is a human invention."

i’m not suggesting that this discussion occur in a homogenized vacuum. however we surely have to take certain basic beliefs to be the foundation of the emergent conversation, such as "God exists" and "Jesus was not in error". Pluralist describes himself as a buddhist humanist christian who sees God as a human invention.

i think we need to be careful in how far we allow threads to drift from the core issue, especially when the person leading the thread away from the central issue doesn’t even believe in the existence of an almighty God.

i am confused as to why a self-confessed atheist who believes Jesus was mistaken would spend so much time putting copy together for this board. maybe there exists an underlying agenda that we we need to be aware of.


So people are drawing boundaries. For your information, though it may not matter, I treat the eucharist seriously and participate in it, I make time to attend services - why would I do this? I have an MA in Theology, a PhD in Sociology (of religion) too, if this is relevant. There is no agenda other than to contribute from time to time to a reasonably intelligent discussion area (that is to say not purely academic). Perhaps I ought to stick to Surefish and leave some of you in peace. Are you frightened of theology? 


frightened of theology?

Pluralist, i hardly think people here are frightened of theology - quite the opposite in fact. to me the conversation seems quite vigorous and dynamic. like a lot of people on this site, you raise some interesting points that are generally given a fair hearing. however i think u need to appreciate the fact that unlike yourself, the vast majority of people active on this site accept the existence of God. a buddhist discussion board would only give me a certain amount of consideration as a theist. as an atheist contributing to a christian board, i think people are generally engaging you in a meaningful and respectful manner and that it’s unrealistic of you to expect more than you’re getting. by all means take part but remember the nature of the board, namely a bunch of christians - not atheists - wrestling with what it means to be relevant as a christian and as the church, in a post-modern world.

No position

I don’t put myself in any position at all, nor am I proposing any originality for what I have said. I can’t help what certain people in the past claimed - there are claims all the way down Christianity’s history for the authenticity of texts and relics. There are techniques recently and now that do allow for getting behind the claims and making intelligent comments about sources. If this is difficult for some people, imposing modern views about authenticity and sources, well so be it. We have a better understanding of historiography, and it matters.


History, legend, the gospels and the resurrection

I enjoy your contributions, Pluralist, more particularly the issues you raise. I would hate to think that you have fled from the frying pan of fundamentalist persecution on surefish, only to land in the fire of post modern intransigence on opensourcetheology.

Your comments on modern historical method would not only throw into doubt the historicity of the gospels, but most ancient history, and the methods of ancient historians. Herodotus arranged events to suit his theory that history reflects the outworking of human jealousy and greed. Thucydides applied a doctrine of necessity to historical interpretation. Much the same could be said about Livy, Josephus, Caesar, Tacitus, Suetonius. And of course, the gospels. It is not that these historians were trying to falsify history, or were unaware of the difference between legend and fact. They were perhaps more aware than we are that all history involves selection, and reflects the point of view of the writer.

This does not mean that ancient history is unreliable, any more then modern history. But we should be aware that something like an Enlightenment myth operates in modern history, that only now is the distinction between subjects and objects being understood. Post Enlightenment history is projecting its own myth onto history.

Just to combine a response to two posts in one: I think you are confusing, in 1 Corinthians 15, what Paul says about the resurrection of Christ (past) with the resurrection of believers (future). There is nothing contradictory about the phrase ‘spiritual body’ as Paul uses it; it distinguishes this kind of body from the ‘perishable’ body, described in some detail in 1 Corinthians 15:42-50, ‘spiritual’ being the adjectival form of the word used to denote the Holy Spirit.



Think outside the box

Why does Jesus have to be saving us from Sins (as defined by transgressions against God). Why can’t he be saving us from Sins (as defined by that which hinders a healthy relationship with God). Why did he have to run into the burning building? because you can’t yell SAVE YOURSELF! from outside of a building. The Jews during his life were so trapped in their own burning building that subjected them to oppression, guilt, and unjust hierarchical standards. Jesus went in and saved them from their own self inflicted fires. He offers the same redemption. Whatever burning building we are sitting in facing spiritual death, he offers to pull you out, put you on a stretcher and give you eternal life. And he does it all without God requiring his beloved son to die so that you can be saved. He does it by showing you that he will die for you, that his body was nothing and his spirit lives on and you could have that too.

Mind of Jesus

It always baffles me when people speculate on why Jesus died on the corss. Seeing as we do not know what planning went into the period prior to arrest (which is open to speculation, not all of it welcome to Christian beliefs), seeing as the trial story involving the sanhedrin is almost certainly wrong, seeing that we do not know what state his mind was in (a clue is Gethsemane, but this is arguably a place to run away from, as some might well have done), how on earth can this question be answered? He was not stoned, so there was no religious offence, nor should there have been, and the story regarding Pilate not wanting to do it is a nonsense of his over involvement in what would have been to him a trivial killing. People write that Jesuswent to the cross for love, which is no reason for the authorities to actually do the deed (it was not a form of suicide - was it?), and the whole theology relies on a type of authority that kills perceived nuisance makers.

So questions include, did Jesus deliberately put himself in harms way? Did Jesus use Judas in the planning or was he really a betrayer (for those with a supernatural bent, did God use Judas while Jesus was unaware!)? In other words, did Jesus expect the big event of the Kingdom of God to come in and set about making his personal sacrifice, all to no avail?



Yes, I agree that a new thread would be useful, but I suspect that the discussion might need to include some better informed  knowledge of the influence of theology over the last 100 years or so.

We have already talked about Barth - with his reaction against historical criticism, and his attempt to take theology out of the historical realm into the transcendent world of revelation.

We would also need to add the huge influence of Bultmann - who denied any possibility of access to the historical Jesus, and the traces of whose thought I see in Pluralist’s contributions. But his position has been considerably modified by his followers.

Then there is the  influence of linguistic and literary critical philosophy on theology - again apparent in Pluralist’s comments. We might move on to the ‘Jesus seminar’ - which seems to be a resurrection of older historical methods - but with the new twist of grading the statements of the gospels according to their historical probability.

And on and on. But Pluralist’s position (if one could be so definite as to call it that), is that the supernatural does not exist; the resurrection is a myth (and the narrative of the gospels likewise), and therefore the crucifixion of Jesus does not sensibly lend itself to any theological interpretation.

And that is a logical conclusion to come to - one with which Paul would be in agreement - "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless, and so is your faith … If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men… . And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins." 1 Corinthians 15:14,17,19.

With no resurrection of Christ, then we are totally free to submerge Christian faith into a linguistic phenomenon. We can harmonise the faith with other religions, and pick and choose at will which aspects of it we will keep, and which we will reject. It would all come down to subjective interpretation.

If there was a literal resurrection of Christ, as Paul asserts, and clearly argues for, (and which Jews would have understood as such), then the next step is to look at the meaning of his death, and the purpose of his life. Once you start down this road, all kinds of theological issues begin to come together.

In this respect the work of Tom Wright is so important - in pressing for an understanding of the Christian faith which is essentially based on the historical narrative of God’s dealings with Israel, and the fulfilment of their story. It is important because it also addresses issues which have gripped theology since World War Two, and places itself in a line of theology as it has developed since the 19th century - not ignoring the positions of theological giants who have been so influential in shaping the form of our belief, and dare I say it, of Pluralist’s intriguing perspectives on faith of all kinds as well.


No he doesn't

Paul does not assert a literal version of resurrection. You perhaps misunderstand him as well as me. He asserts a spiritual body (we might quip that it is like a square circle) and he puts it into the context of authority. His view of resurrection is tied up with the general resurrection and the rapid coming of the Kingdom, so if the resurrection is not happening (he says to those who find it not of their belief) then none of it can be so, in other words the Christ belief is tied up with the whole package as he takes the Jewish belief into a universal belief of that rapid coming of the kingdom.

Tom Wright isn’t the only theologian around, you know! You also (partly) misunderstand my position which is one that particpates in the Christian story, but not in a world view that has simply gone by, that being the supernatural. It is not essential for participation in the exchange rituals of Christianity or the meanings of the tradition.


Literal and non-literal

I don’t see how the distinction between literal and non-literal comes into it. It is a modern idea to make resurrection a metaphor for something else. Paul makes a distinction between a physical body and a psuchikon body, but the critical point is that resurrection constitutes a victory over death and a continuity of the person beyond death: ‘it is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body’ (1 Cor. 15:44). The fact that it is a ‘spiritual body’ does not mean that resurrection is not literal: it gave the believers at Corinth sufficient grounds to face the fear of death.

I agree that his view of resurrection is tied up with the ‘rapid coming of the Kingdom’, but as I’ve said elsewhere, that expectation needs to be interpreted against a background of Jewish apocalypticism - and on that basis I think it was entirely realistic to expect the kingdom to come soon. I think it did come soon.

I also don’t honestly understand how with integrity you can claim to participate in the Christian story while denying the element that makes it essentially ‘Christian’. The story of Christ is fundamentally and irreducibly the story of one who out of loyalty to the God of Israel suffered at the hands of Israel’s enemies, including the enemies within, and who was vindicated through resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God. Without the hope of resurrection, as Paul insists (1 Cor. 15:17), the claim to be Christian is entirely pointless, futile.

Totus Christus

I don’t know if you’ve come across David Bosch’s Transforming Mission, but he makes the same point as part of a comprehensive overview of the historic understandings of salvation. It’s very, very dense academic prose, but it’s really worth slogging though:

We are forced by circumstances to reflect anew on this entire matter. Perhaps a rereading of the biblical notions of salvation, done from the perspective of the realization that both the traditional and modern interpretations of salvation have proved inadequate, will help us here. For its understanding of salvation the first model - that of the Greek Patiristic mission - was oriented to the origin and beginning of Jesus’ life… The orientation of Western mission was toward the end of Jesus’ life, his death on the crosss… In both instances, salvation was located on the edges of the life of Jesus… The third model, that is, the ethical interpretation of salvation, was oriented to Jesus’s earthly life and ministry. It admittedly introduced a more dynamic element into our understanding, but in such a way that, in the final analysis, it made Christ redundant.

A plague on all three of your houses! Thus… (the money quote):

We stand in need of an interpretation of salvation which operates with in a comprehensive christological framework which makes the totus Christus - his incarnation, earthly life, death, resurrection and parousia - indispensible for church and theology. All these christological elements taken together constitute the praxis of Jesus, the One who both inaugurated salvation and provided us with a model to emulate.

Of course, Bosch is looking at salvation from a missionary perspective. But then, is there any other way to look at it?

Totus Christus in context

The totus Christus argument is very good, but why stop there? Christ’s story was an integral part of a larger story about the place, experience and purpose of the people of God in the world, and I think we will still miss the point of ‘salvation’ if we fail to grasp that narrative context. See my comments over here. You can’t simply cut the figure of Christ, even the whole Christ, from the narrative canvas of first century Judaism and retell a universalized myth of salvation around him.

I still think Christ is important (despite Bible college...)

I appreciate the point that we need to look to the whole context of what God has been doing with and through His people and continues to do. But that cannot be the center of our understanding of salvation - or at least, my understanding. I can’t speak for yours. :)

So for me, I am not interested in retelling universalized myths; I am not an anthropologist, I am a Christian missionary, and so I am interested in the person and work of Christ. That has to be the centre of my theology, and from that vantage point I can look out onto the history of God’s mission. And yes, I see a broad sweep of salvation throughout that history, but it both starts and ends in Christ (Col 1:15-20).

To turn your thoughts around; I don’t think that "Christ’s story was an integral part of a larger story about the people of God" - I think the story of the people of God is part of a larger story about Christ.

Re: Forgiveness requires death?

I’ve only just read this post and comments, so I might be wrong, but there has not been a single comment that I can see that tries to address what seems to be paulchen’s fundamental argument: forgiveness does not require death.

It is an ethical question, not a question of proof texts. What would you think of me if when ever someone sinned against me I required a human sacrifice? God prohibits this, legislating the maximum penalty that I should seek as being an “eye for and eye”. Jesus goes further and requires that we forgive others freely. Does Jesus expect a higher level of holyness from us than he expects of God?

God is supreme; there is no law that he must obey. We know that he does limit himself to make room for the universe and especially for our free will. But why would he limit himself arbitrarily to no longer be able to forgive without killing someone. Does this sound like an ethical god?

Does anyone have an answer at all to this key question that the post raised. Proof texts about what Jesus death meant or resorting to some universal law (explanations I used to be fed and even believed in the ol’ days) just don’t cut it for me anymore. From my point of view, proving that God is immoral with proof texts mocks the Bible, and subjecting God to a deeper law mocks God.

Re: Forgiveness requires death?

There is so much that could be said in response to richard’s comment - but it shows, to me, why trinitarianism is a necessity in understanding the atonement. At the heart of the crucifixion of Jesus is identification - God taking all the fractures of the universe into himself, in order to reverse the fractures that we and our forebears introduced into the universe. At the heart of God’s motives is an act of self-denial on behalf of others that has never been nor ever will be equalled. Biblically, this is expressed through the language and narrative of covenant, election and law-court. These themes come together in Isaiah 53. Forgiveness is never without cost; forgiveness without any respect for the consequences of sin, on a personal and global level, is licence to sin.

Re: Forgiveness requires death?

Thanks for your response Peter. From the ethical argument, I’m not actually concerned about the Trinity or not. My question is why people think that he painted himself into the corner of having to punish in the first place.

According to classic atonement theory as far as I understand it, God’s original requirement was that we die for our sins. Even if you change this to the idea that God required of himself some sort of “corporal mortification” (eg. Opus Dei) so that he could atone for our sins, I still don’t see how this make it eithical.

I agree that forgiveness is never without cost, as in my own experience it takes a lot of work to give up the anger and then try to restore the relationship and undo the consequences of the original transgression. In Biblical terminology this is called redemption. Redemption is self evidently necessary following on from the definition of sin that something has been damaged, at the minimum a damaged relationship. Redemption is hard work and requires the creativity, sometimes even devine creativity, in order to be achieved. This is by no means licence to sin and is in line with the eternally creative character of God. By comparison, simply killing either the sinner or a subtitutionary sacrifice is the easy way out, not something that I see God usually resorting to.

To restate my question, I do not see how human death or corporal mortification (choose your poison) is similarly self evidently necessary. I also can not accept that there is a “law-court” beyond God that requires it. The only other option I can see is that God chose to require it. On the face of it, this seems to be an immoral choice on the part of God, and I don’t see how it makes the universe a better place. Trinitarianism or otherwise does not change this.

I am not saying that this perspective “disproves” atonement theory, simply that I have not seen an explanation that adequately answers the ethical implications the theory.

Re: Forgiveness requires death?

p.s. I can see how your perspective incorporates redemption, but I don’t see how the original punishment requirement helps God to “reverse the fractures”. … or I may not be understanding atonement theory :-).

Re: Forgiveness requires death?

Richard - on one level, I’m not sure the death of Jesus on the cross did reflect a punishment requirement - at least, not in the rather simplistic sense in which we tend to frame it. I think the death of Jesus throws dust in all of our eyes when we try to explain it in a cool, logical way. But I do think that through his death, Jesus was entering into our death, and also entering into our sin, and the combined weight of all the sin and suffering of the world throughout history, in order to emerge from it as a new man, on our behalf. Perhaps what we need not to forget (as if we could!) is that death is a universal reality, and biblically, death and sin are part of the same reality. Another question to ask, then, is why do we die, and is it fair for this to be the fate mankind has in common? Maybe this gives us a pointer, in a purely objective sense, as to the what sin is, and its nature. Likewise the death of Jesus, and the nature of that death, gives me an insight into what sin is like, and what it does. A trinitarian understanding of God is the beginning of an understanding of what God was doing in the death of Jesus, as it removes us from the punitive logic of God exacting retribution on an innocent victim. God was the victim. Having said all this, I still believe that the bible frames the death of Jesus in some sense in a punitive way: justice does need to be satisfied when laws are broken - even when the perpetrator, on a personal level, is forgiven by the offended party. All of this is framed, in the bible, in a way that is peculiar to the narrative and history of Israel, and their characteristic thought forms and terms of reference - which includes the law court, as they would perceive and practise it.

Re: Forgiveness requires death?

Wow - lots of new issues to discuss!

I know this isn’t quite what you said, but I feel comfortable with the idea of God taking responsibility for the sin and death in the world by entering into it through Jesus. After all, the creator is always responsibile for the pain that his creation causes. As the creator and continuing omnipotent Lord of the universe, he is at least complicit in all pain and suffering that has been experienced in the world. I have heard some pseudo-legal arguments why this is not so, but you already know what I think of laws that supposedly transcend God. This means that He is also responsible for all the love and creativity in the universe, and I guess that is the point. He knows he is responsible for the good, so he also has to take responsibility for the bad, experience the full evil of what he has created, and then work to redeem that evil. Do you think this is compatable with what you said?

I think I disagree with the idea that death is necessarily accompanied by sin. I fact, without death I think that the creativity that God initiated would grind to a halt as all the things that cannot die use up all available space, both physical and mental (meme space). The creativity of God’s people would atrophy as new creation becomes more and more difficult, eventually beyond the resources of beings not capable of creation Ex Nihilo.

We already see this happening when originally creative institutions turn into the well trodden path that prevents God’s new seeds from finding a soft, safe place to germinate (Matthew 13:4). Those institutions define one pattern of God’s creation so precisely that they can no longer accomodate anything new. In the extreme, some end up doing the work of the “evil one” (Matthew 13:19) and try to take away the new patterns of God’s creation before anyone even understands it (see the huge amount of anti-emergent-church rhetoric, and we don’t even know what the emergent church is yet!). Often old institutions need to wither or die before the new can take root.

So is it fair that we die? If we are trapped within our ego, we seperate ourselves from our role in the continuing creation of God’s kingdom on earth. However, if we are one with each other, Jesus, and the Father, everything that happens after we pass the baton on to the next generation of God’s people is a continuing reality that we are part of. The next generation will (hopefully!) find new ways of being God’s people that we would not be able to realise. So I believe that our death is simply in the pattern of God’s creation.

The fact that death is painful does not make it evil, just like a painful birth does not make that evil. In fact they are simply different sides of the same coin. The pain of Jesus death was also the birth pains of God’s grand new pattern. The pain of letting go of the old is necessary to accept the new. Parents experience this pain as their children grow up, and then again as they die to make room for their grandchildren to take their place in the world. Ideally, old institutions would foster the development of the new, even though they may eventually replace the old.

Sin on the other hand is just death or destruction without the purpose of further creation. Jesus not only experienced the pain of death required for new creation, but also the senseless evil present in this world. The majesty of God is that even this evil can be coopted into the creation of new good in the resurrection of Jesus and the redemption of the world.

I know that Biblical writers tried to understand this dynamic in terms of law and justice, but it just doesn’t explain what happened in the gospels or fit into with what we now understand to be the dynamics of creation. I have also heard the idea that we can forgive people their debts emotionally or personally while still requiring that they pay their debts, but personally I don’t think this type of theology mirrors Jesus understanding of radical forgiveness or any modern conceptions of God’s nature. No offense meant, that’s just how I see it.

In summary, continuing creation requires death which is inevitably painful. In Jesus, we can understand God as having entered into the pain of creation, taking full responsibility for his creation, even the evil that is part of it. In doing so he transformed the pain of that evil into the birth pains of something glorious and new.

All of this is just some ideas. I am not a theologian or anything fancy, but how does this sound to you?

Re: Forgiveness requires death?

I think, probably, this is where we part company, richard. By identifying with us in our death (and sin), I was not arguing that God is making himself complicit in it. On the contrary, I was arguing that it was the greatest act of self-denial there has ever been: God never had any part in what our forefathers chose to do in turning against him, and what we continue to do today. The discussion is also beginning to take a turn which sounds to me foreign to the bible. Sin and death are biblically connected: the one is the consequence of the other. This is as true in Genesis 2-3 as it is when Paul makes the connection explicit in Romans 5. There have been previous discussions on this site about God being responsible for the pain and suffering which the world has endured, and also responsible for our sin by the very act of creating us with sinful potential. When I hear this line of logic, I begin to wonder how much pain and anger there is in those who pursue it. I think God can handle our anger, even with him; but a false image of who he is becomes the means of perpetuating pain, not receiving healing for it. 

Re: Forgiveness requires death? - God takes responsibility

I’m sorry you feel that way Peter. I appreciate the discussion we have had. I was not meaning to offend in anything that I have said, I am playing with ideas. As I said, I am not a theologian, so some of my ideas may have more dire consequences that you are aware of that I am not. If you will humour me for a couple more comments, I will attempt to show that I am not a looney tunes or a prowling liberal (with no offense intended to anyone in those groups :-) ).

On a biographical note, I have as much pain as any Western White middle-class male who was raised in a loving home and who now has an adoring wife and cute kids. Yes very painful things have happened to me, but I am embarrased to even call it pain compared to what most other people in the world suffer.

I have no intent to blame God for anything in my life. I do not believe that it is possible to saddle God with legal responsibility for what happens to me - it is a meaningless exercise. I also do not claim that any of my pain exceeds that which would be morally defensible from the perspective of an omniscient observer. However, I regard it as almost tautological that he has causal responsibility for all of my pain in the same way that my own earthly father has causal responsibility for my pain. If either of them had decided that I shouldn’t exist I would have had no pain. I am glad that neither of them made that choice.

Now both my earthly father and heavenly father are even more responsible than that. My earthly father let me learn to walk. As a result I pulled a cup of boiling water on my self while pulling myself to standing using a tablecloth. I have no intention of blaming the resulting pain on my father - I am now quite good at walking without the aid of tablecloths! All during my childhood my father let me experience pain and in fact encouraged me into activities in which he knew I would experience greater amounts of unnecessary pain - I played sport as a child. Both my fathers were complicit in allowing that ball to hit my nose! My father is responsible for all that pain, not in a legal sense, not in a morally indefensible sense, but in a causal sense. He could have chosen to spare me much of that pain, but I am glad he didn’t. My heavenly Father is likewise responsible for all of that pain.

I think a key component in the amount of pain that my father was comfortable exposing me to was the amount of pain that he himself experienced as he grew up. He could identify with my pain because he had felt it. He can identify with the goal of turning me into an adult because that is what he was. He now identifies to some extent with my successes and failures as an adult because I am to a some degree the result of his decisions in raising me. If I had turned into a criminal he would not be legally responsible or morally responsible, but he would likely accept some causal responsibility for that.

I believe that this can be a useful way of understanding God’s suffering in Jesus. He accepted responsibility for his entire creation - the good and the bad - just as a loving parent should. He experienced the reality of what it is like to live in a world of pain and evil and a world of love and creativity. He judged that the pain suffers is worth it, not from an abstract point of view but from the perspective of an immanent God who has experienced all that pain. I hope that I, in a very limited way, can do the same for my children.

On the last point I think we definitely agree. God goes even further and redeems not just the necessary pain but also the evil. Against the wishes of the evil one(s), every evil action is accepted by God and twisted into something that produces even more good. This is something that my earthly father is not able to do. It is God’s infinite redeeming ability that makes me awestruck at the magnitude of his greatness.

I find it difficult to talk about pain because I myself have suffered so little. But I can not accept that God knowingly allowed my little pain but had no part in allowing others’ tragedies. I can understand that there are people furious at God for allowing their great pain, but I don’t think we should defend God from it. He accepted that responsibility when he created us and reaffirmed that commitment to us through Jesus. He feels their pain and accepts it into himself. He feels their anger and accepts that too. He is big enough to take it all until such time as he is able to redeem it.

Re: Forgiveness requires death? - Death is not always from sin

I understand that in the United States many Evangelicals are Young Earth Creationalists. From what I understand, a major reason for this is ‘no physical death before sin’ theology. I do not wish to offend anyone who holds with this theology, but many Evangelicals around the world (and even in the United States http://www.reasons.org/ ) are quite comfortable with Old Earth Creationalism. My proposition that the death of stars, plants, and animals pre-existed human sin is not considered heretical by most Christians I know, even Evangelicals. In fact the whole universe seems to be marvelously designed around the pattern of birth and death.

I would like to go further and propose that it is possible for human death to occur without sin. The first command to Adam and Eve was to procreate (Genesis 1:28). We live in a finite universe. For that procreation to continue (Genesis 2:24 seems to suggest an ongoing pattern), some people would have to die to make room.

In this way we are encouraged to follow God’s example. God limited himself so that we could exist. Likewise, we are expected to limit ourselves so that other human beings can exist. Eventually that self-limiting requires our deaths. It would be wrong for someone to try to be like God and live forever (Genesis 3:22). However, our physical deaths would never be real deaths as God always intended that he would raise people from the dead to be with him. Numerous passages make it clear that the death that was the result of eating the fruit was the second, spiritual death.

I am not saying that you should accept my proposal - it is only a proposal. However, I hope you can see that it was developed with respect of the Bible and is at least as defendable as many other theological positions.

I try to base all my thinking on the character of God as I see it presented in the Bible. I don’t mind that whoever wrote the creation account (I believe it to be an ancient account, maybe written less than 1000 years after the flood) had a slightly (we are debating minor points) different understanding than I have 3-4000 years later. What is more, I find it astounding how much Genesis 1 describes what we now know to be the pattern of development of all organisms from their original fertilised egg - separation and differentiation. I don’t understand how the author could have known this. I have discovered that the first 4 days of creation are an eerily accurate account of the early development of a human foetus. I haven’t figured out exactly how day 5 fits in (if it does at all).

I hope these last two posts demonstrate that I have said nothing even approaching heretical. I am not expecting that we will always agree, but I hope that we can continue to cooperate on developing this open source theology, even if initially our language sounds quite different.

Re: Forgiveness requires death? - Death is not always from sin

It’s OK Steve! I’m not offended by anything you have said. I agree, in a global kind of sense, God has taken responsibility for the redemption of his universe. Even before Adam & Eve sinned, the rescue plan had been conceived, according to my reading of the bible. Perhaps I have a different view from you on what God did through Jesus on the cross.

I’m also not troubled by speculation on ‘death’ - again, there was quite a discussion about this between two scientists on this site ages ago. My understanding of the meaning of death is that it is judicial, but also merciful: God places limits on the damage that can be done through those who disobey him - sin not being static, but active and incremental in a person’s life. At the end of the day though, I’m an apologist for God. I long to defend his character - not least from theologians (not yourself) who depict him in a poor light through debased forms of theology. 

Re: Forgiveness requires death?

Peter, I agree with most you said in this comment. Jesus touching human kind in all areas of their life (except sin) is very strong. Jesus became one with us in joy, sorrow, suffering, disappointment; even death. In a way he ‘redeemed’ our very experiences of humankind by touching them; so that we also can be part of his resurrection. 

What I would like to know from you, though, is what you think of when you said:

  justice does need to be satisfied when laws are broken - even when the
perpetrator, on a personal level, is forgiven by the offended party’

what is the law Jesus had to die for? Do you know of any messianic expectations of Jews that the Messiah had to die so God could forgive sins?

If death came into the world through unrightousness, isn’t the ‘means’ by overcoming this circle of sin and death the ‘act of rightousness’ of the second Adam rather than his death? (at least in it’s primary sense). In my opinion what is special about Christ is not that he died; (there were many people in history that died as martyrs); what is unprecended was that his life was free of corruption , wrong compromises and injustice. In no way I am suggesting here that Jesus was ‘just a good man or prophet’. He was the only good man. He broke the circle of sin and death (primarily!) by him being rightous. Paul suports this view in Romans 5,12-21. Having said all this I believe that Christ died for our sins and that his death and resurrection have dimensions beyond our understanding like the stone that was turned by God into the cornerstone on which everythig then rests. But the ‘Jesus came to die for us’ theology just doesn’t do it for me. I agree with you that forgiveness must cost something - but I think it is sometimes easier to ‘jump into death’ than living an entire life free of rightousness.

I still can’t see from expectations of OT times and jewish culture and the Bible in general much support of the view that God needed a death (even if it it would be a death of one member of the trinity) of some sort to forgive sins. This just doesn’t seem biblical to me but this is exactly what I hear so often in evangelical churches.

What concerns your view that the trinitarian understanding of God provides for an explanation of the death of Jesus. I understand where you are coming from, but I somehow do not feel that this adequately describes what is going on in the cruxifiction. Jesus cry:’my God, my God why have you forsaken me’? just doesnt seem to me as an ‘intertrinatarian conversation’. It is the cry of the desperate messiah crying out to his God; not understanding what is going on.

Re: Forgiveness requires death?

Paulchen - the expectation of a messiah who died for the sins of the people is there - but in a hidden sense. Isaiah 53 is entirely about the suffering and dying messiah - at least, in the sense of the Israelite (Israel now narrowed down to one person) who died on behalf of the people. Of course, that is not how this passage of Isaiah was understood, nor is it today, by the Jews. But that is how it is understood in the NT. Caiaphas says in John 11:50-51 "you do not undestand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish." Verse 51 makes it clear that he was speaking prophetically about the death of Jesus without realising it. You also have to take into account the slaughter of animals in the temple offerings. As Hebrews 9:22 says: "without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins." Hebrews 9:28 continues "so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many …". 1 Peter 3:18 says "For Christ also died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God."

I would very much rather that God didn’t plan the death of Jesus, and I am certain that he did not directly intend or plan every detail of all the suffering that Jesus went through. This is suggested in Acts 2:23 "this Jesus, delivered up by the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you cricified and killed by the hands of lawless men." Peter is careful to distinguish between God’s express plan (which cannot be anything other than the death of Jesus), and the actions of ‘lawless men’, which were not his express plan. Even though God ‘delivered up’ Jesus to death, the length of the suffering on the cross was cut short. But the whole biblical testimony is inescapable: the death was intentional.

A trinitarian view of God becomes necessary, to me, to avoid the accusation of injustice, which could fairly be levelled at God if Jesus was an innocent man who God killed to satisfy justice in an impersonal way. Fortunately a trinitarian view does not have to be invented - it is clear throughout the gospels that Jesus takes on the role and identity of God - even though this was hidden at the time the story was unfolding, and that no such ‘innocent man’ existed outside of the son of God - 3rd person of the trinity, born as a man.

You say that what you "hear so often in evangelical churches" … "doesn’t seem biblical". But you hear this in Catholic and Orthodox churches, not just evangelical ones. I would have to ask you, in view of the quotations above alone (there are many more), which parts of the bible are you going to exlcude to make your view biblical?

the trinitarian view of cruxifiction

Peter, I forgot to respond to the point you are making over and over how well the trinitarian view ‘explains’ the cruxifiction. If it was not for the trinitarian view, you argue, God would be a monster and the innocent Jesus the victim. But even the (athanasian view, I suppose) of the trinity in explaining Jesus’ death on the cross falls short to explain. Still, Jesus is 100 percent human (in addition to being 100 percent God). And Jesus is a completely separate person to those of the father. Still here what is happening is that the Father is executing his son, 100 percent human, an entirely seperate person, into a horrible death.  Please let me know why you think this makes things better. Thanks!

Re: the trinitarian view of cruxifiction

Paulchen, you said:

"And Jesus is a completely separate person to those of the father."

But Jesus isn’t a completely separate person from the Father. They never ceased to be one - even when Jesus was on earth, even when he was put on the cross. But when he died . . .

Re: the trinitarian view of cruxifiction

Well, the doctrine of the trinity explicitely says that the three persons of the trinity are separate. If not, you fall into modalism, or sabellianism, which suggests that the father, son and holy spirit is just a different face of God, but not separate persons.

Re: the trinitarian view of cruxifiction

Peter, I have some questions:

Why the trinity for atonement theory
Along with Paulchen, I still don’t get the moral significance that you place on the trinity. As far as I can see it makes no difference to the morality of the situation. If Jesus death was necessary, then either Jesus the man offered himself willingly or God offered himself willingly. So be it. If it was unnecessary then Jesus the man or God procured a symbolic assissted suicide. How does the trinity or not make a moral difference?

In the case that God had previously mandated that all people, willing or unwilling, undergo an otherwise unnecessary death - that it was required for some sort of legal justification that God created - to me that is the most morally problematic aspect of the whole situation. Not the death itself, but the previous decisions that made the whole thing necessary. I don’t see how the trinity helps here either. It has a nice symetry to it if God paid for his own previous morally questionable decision, but I’m guessing that that characterisation of God would satisfy you as little as it satisfies me.

I am not saying that Jesus’ death was unnecessary or that the trinity does not exist. Simply that Trinitarianism does not dig atonement theory out of its moral black hole. Why don’t you let it implode on itself and find out the real reason why Jesus died on the cross :-) (Sorry, I honestly don’t mind people believing atonement theory)

Why not use redemption theology rather than atonement theory?

What is wrong with the redemption theory that you offered earlier, that Jesus’ death initiated/effected healing in the world. If I can quote you:

At the heart of the crucifixion of Jesus is identification - God taking all the fractures of the universe into himself, in order to reverse the fractures that we and our forebears introduced into the universe”

It quite a beautiful way of imagining it (I am not using imagine in a pejorative sense). The trinity does make a difference in this interpretation, and Jesus death is still necessary to pay for our sins. That necessity is not to ‘pay’ some sort of legal requirement for justification, but was part of the process of fixing it up. And fixing things costs something, not because of some abstract legal necessity, but because that is inherant in the nature of fixing things.

I’m not saying I agree with redemption theology, I just think it would offer you a much stronger position for arguing for trinitarianism than you currently have with atonement theory.

From a Biblical perspective, there are sound proof texts for and against atonement theory. Are there other, wider reasons (theological or otherwise) for sticking with atonement theory? I know you have discussed this before at OST, so if you have previously answered these questions, feel free to make a link to some your earlier posts.

Re: the trinitarian view of cruxifiction

Richard - I think it’s time for a separate thread on the trinity - and whether it is piece of theological baggage that can be discarded in a postmodern age.

The first question in response to your comment is whether, biblically, some form of judicial satisfaction is required for redemption to take place. My view is that it is - and that various references I have given indicate that this is what was happening when Jesus died.

However, my point is that a simple judicial equation between the death of a perfect man and the ‘satisfaction’ of the law’s demands (call it what you will - that is shorthand) is modified beyond measure when, as I believe, God took the suffering on himself - in the form of the Son. Instead of being a monster who demands the blood sacrifice of an innocent human being, God turns the tables on ‘justice’ itself, and provides more than a ‘satisfcation’ in an ultimate form of illustration of the condequences of sin - both of Israel, and of mankind going back to Adam.

If it is God suffering on the cross, the question about what kind of ‘satisfaction’ might be offered to ‘atone’ for sin is placed in a whole new light.

That’s why I have problems with descriptions of the atonement which attempt to portray is an almost mechanical legal transaction (which it becomes outside of a trinitarian framework). But that does not mean that the ‘punitive’ dimension of the death has been discarded. Again, I think that Isaiah 53, interpreted in the form of the Israelite, the suffering servant, dying for the sins of the people, makes that very apparent.

Re: Forgiveness requires death?


 You said: In my opinion what is special about Christ is not that he died; (there were many people in history that died as martyrs); what is unprecended was that his life was free of corruption , wrong compromises and injustice. In no way I am suggesting here that Jesus was ‘just a good man or prophet’. He was the only good man. He broke the circle of sin and death (primarily!) by him being rightous.

Very interesting but what do you do about 1Peter 1:19, Rev 7:14 & 12:11?  I would think all the references to blood imply that the atonement occured through Christ’s death not his life.


Re: Forgiveness requires death?

Paula, thanks for your reply. (I will have to reply to Peter’s later). Please observe the word ‘primarily’ in my comment. this is important and if you read my other comments you understand why. I do believe that the cross is the great sign of forgiveness, love and salvation and all verses you quoted and many more are totally appropriate. But I consider them ‘secondary’. Secondary because 1. I believe based on the thrust and unfolding of the story of Jesus passion and the apostle’s preaching and in the light of the beginning of the parable in Mark 12 as mentioned above that God turned this horrible event of the murder on Jesus into the cornerstone and most amazing sign in history of his love and acceptance and forgiveness. 2. Romans 5,18 and other verses make it clear that without the rightous life of Jesus the unrightousness, sin and death from Adam’s time could not have overcome - furthermore that this is the very act that turned that circle around. His death and resurrection of course also as mentioned above were part of it. 

See - I want to make alert of something. The Bible speaks of Christ’s death and Christ’s rightous lefe as being the means of turning around the ‘curse’ that came into the world. However if someone says: By Jesus rightous life he saved the world he is being told of not understanding the Bible. If someone says: By Christ’s death  he saved the world, everything is fine. I believe both statements are wrong in itself - but evangelicals generally accept the second statement as true.

I hope this clarifies.


P.S. I have been learning from all of you since I started this topic - thank you! 

Re: Forgiveness requires death?

Paulchen - part of your argument hinges on the meaning of Romans 5:18. The word used here is ‘dikaioma’ (not ‘dikaiosune’ - which is the usual word for ‘righteousness’). My commentaries tend to confirm that the reading ‘act of righteousness’ is the correct translation of ‘dikaioma’ here, describing an event in time, not a continuous state - like a life lived out. The context also suggests a parallelism with Adam’s ‘act’ of disobedience, and therefore points to Christ’s death on the cross, rather than a contrast with a righteous life - as the source of the ‘free gift’ of life.

By the way, your written style is very suggestive to me of your personality - that is not intended to be pejorative! Could you give a few brush-strokes of who you are? My guess is that the author is feminine - though I know that is not how you have been perceived by others. My wife is part Danish, and adding ‘chen’ onto the end of a shortened form of a first name is a term of endearment - meaning (I think) ‘little’. Then again, you could be a Chinese male. (Chen sounds a bit Chinese to me). I’m not intending to be offensive - I’m just curious! 

Re: Forgiveness requires death?

Peter, I am glad you are curious! Chen indeed means ‘little’ in german, which shows you which nationality I represent. My grandfather’s name was Paul; I like the sound in german very much (not so much in english). Paul is my favorite name, and should I have a son and my wife agrees, I would like to name him Paul. My name really is Mathias - sorry this is a male name - so am I. Some of my friends think I am really old, that’s why they call me ‘Opa’. My wife, however, thinks I am not old yet. (32 years) Our marriage isn’t old either (just two month old).

I always wanted to become a missionary within indian tribes; I was so intentional that I made myself go through theological training concluding in a BA in theology. However, since 6 yeras I find myslef in Prague, Czech Republic, now managing two hostels for backpackers together with my wife,friends and about 20 workers. If you are interested, have a look at www.sirtobys.com and www.miss-sophies.com. you are welcome to come and stay with us! We also have very nice doubles and apartments for you and your half danish wife!

My wife and I are part of an evangelical church. We respect our church and our pastor very much; yet this does not mean we feel fully at home. (actually; who does?) Nevertheless we want to contribute to the life of our church. We enjoy the emerging converstation very much.


Re: Forgiveness requires death?

Part of what makes this conversation so special are the diverse voices it brings in.  I guess we have the internet to thank for that.

With regard to forgiveness, death and the blood of Jesus, I’m wondering about some of the OT witness.  In particular those passages in which God spurns the sacrifices because of the lack of justice, kindness, or humility (eg. Psalm 51, Isaiah 2, Micah 6, etc).  The passages imply that God’s true desire is for a way of life and the ritual sacricfices play a more "sacramental" role in the life of Israel.

I think it was Jonathan Edwards who said that God required either the perfect sacrifice or the perfect repentance for justice to be satisfied.  He went on to comment at great length about the former, but left the latter unattended to.  A Scottish pastor/theologian John McLeod Campbell formed a theory of atonement on the latter.  He sees in Jesus a perfect repentence.  A repentence that, if we join, appeals to God’s mercy, which triumphs over judgment.

I wonder if death was ever necessary (by that I mean sacrifice of animals) for the people to atone for their sins.  It may be that they only needed to "repent and believe the good news."  Unable to know what true repentence entailed, God offered that repentence on our behalf, even unto death on a cross.

Needless to say, I don’t think forgiveness requires death.

Re: Forgiveness requires death?

Peter, I am not sure you are right in suggesting the ‘act of rightousness’ as being the cruxifiction. the argument as I understand it that Paul is using goes like this: Adam, through his sin or unrightouusness (cause) brought death into the world (consequence). Jesus came and by his rightousness, which is the opposite of sin or unrightousness and therfore must refer to his acts during his life rather his death, has turned around and redeemed sin. (cause) As for as the consequence of sin concerns - i believe that through Jesus’ death he has redeemed death. (consequence)In my opinion this is supported by Christ being ‘obedient’ in the next verse. ‘obedience’ includes his death on the cross, but mostly I think his life.

Actually, there is an interesting forerunner in the Old Testament in which a covenant was established not on a basis of killing of an animal, but based on the act of rightousness. if you read the story in Numerus 25,  it becomes clear that the covenant and the atonement was instituted by the rightous act of Pinhas, (even if this involved killing someone, but this is not the point since the emphasis is on his rightous deed), and not by means of a sacrifice. This is interesting and should be given some attention.

What Hebrews is concerned, I think this book especially shows how Christ is NOT a fullfillment and the outcome of the sacrificial laws of the OT. Hebrews 7,11-18 should make that clear.

What concerns Acts 2,23 it reminds me rather of the parable in Mark 12. God has given Jesus in the hands of wicked men (acts), or to the tenants (Mark 12). The ‘wicked men’ or the ‘tenants’ then determined the outcome of this. And the outcome was the murder of the rightous one. As so far, God’s will was the will of the people. Staying with this picture of the tenants and the wicked men; if it was clear that death was the outcome then in so far as it is the ‘law’ of human beings to kill the one that is rightous and holy.

What concerns the parts I have to cut out in order to hold my view true that God does not require a death in order to forgive….

 On which basis did God forgive Melchisedek, Abraham, David in Psalms 51, the lost son in the parable of Jesus? What about the lord’s prayers where Jesus teaches us to pray :’forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’? God has forgiven people before Jesus has died on the cross. God was always known as the God, who can forgive freely. Samuel says: obedience is better than sacrifice (1.samuel 15,22).




Re: Forgiveness requires death?

I would add to Peter’s comment by saying that the picture of the Messiah’s righteous act in Phillipians 2 seems to be a reference to his decision to die, to give his life for others and in obedience to the father.

Re: Forgiveness requires death?

Dear Erich,

I agree with you in so far the death of Jesus was one of the consequences and outcomes that went along with Jesus’ mission being sent by the father to us. It doesn’t say, though, that he set out from the father’s secure place to die for us. But rather that death was part of what actually happened, while being obedient to the father. Again, very much in line with Mark 12.


He died for what now?

I think you are taking it a bit too far.

I would simply suggest that Jesus died on the cross because he was charged for false crimes. It is no simpler than that.

You can choose to make it more noble but it wasn’t.

Now I would agree that ‘history’ puts people in situations that can bring them to greatness and this event certainly martyred Jesus. And he certainly died because the people who falsely charged him ‘sinned’ - so I can see where perhaps this idea might have been misunderstood.

There were many good men (and women) of the time and many of them were put to death by the cross and they should all be remembered and discussed. So let’s keep things in perspective for that particular moment in time.

If God says so

I believe it is an abstract truth that death is not required for sins to be forgiven.  Death became a requirement when God so stipulated it.  From God’s perspective this may accomplish any number of things, about which in the absence of comment form him we may speculate.  Psychologically, perhaps sacrificing a lamb satisfies our own sense of justice, or satisfies our sense that we should somehow have to pay something, if only a token, for what we’ve done.  Or perhaps the shedding of blood impacts us in a way that makes corresponding events more grave and memorable.

What kind of sacrifice was it for God to offer his own son—knowing that this would neatly bring about everything he was working for, and that he could resurrect him to any kind of existance or station that would please him?  What is death for Christians, we who believe that our souls are immortal and that our life will continue into eternity in intimate relationship with God?  What does it mean to say that a grain of wheat dies, when it sprouts and produces many times its number in grains of wheat?

If I want to conclude a legal agreement, I am required to sign the contract.  "Agreement," abstractly, does not require a "signature."  But socially, important agreements do in fact require signatures—by stipulation, by convention.

One of my pet peeves are theologians who separate biblical rituals from the "real" or "spiritual" activity they represent, then conclude that Christians need not be obedient in following the prescribed rituals.  I see our relationship with God as covenantal—and I accept the stipulations and conventions as laid down by Christ and his apostles.  In the case of my relationship with God, I recognize that Christ died for me (he called it his blood of the new covenant, calling to my mind the blood of the heifer Moses divided between the altar to YHWH and the mixture sprinkled on the people).  I don’t see this as (abstractly) an abandonment of Jesus on God’s part, any more than I would consider myself abandoned by God should I myself be martyred.

Re: If God says so

I might have you point of view all wrong, but are you saying that God never required *our* deaths as payment for our sin, but that as a result of our sin God required a covenant to save us, which in turn required a signature, which he chose to be first animals and then the blood of Jesus for the new covenant. So Jesus death is not to satisfy a law that requires that someone does, but it is the most solemn signature possible to underscore the new covenant that was required to save us. Through his death, which brought about the new covenant, we are saved.

Re: If God says so

I am not saying that God never required our deaths as payment for sin; I am saying that there is no transcendental law requiring him to do so.  Nor do I believe that God required a covenant to save us, merely that he decided to work with us on a covenantal basis.

From the beginning, according to the biblical narrative, God has worked with us humans on our own level. For example, he communicated in understandable words.  Covenants are very important to human society; our daily life consists in large part of a series of transactions requiring an understanding of what various parties will do for one another in exchange for what.  In dealing with us, then, God decided to use rather formal covenant formulary.  In other words, he is providing motive for us to have a relationship with him, and being explicit about how certain actions on our part will affect our relationship.

I am arguing that the shedding of blood is, in a sense, arbitrary, but that it "works" on several levels.  In the same way, God could have healed Naaman by having him drink a potion, sacrifice an animal, kill his sovereign, fast, or some other arbitrary ritual; in fact he had Naaman dunk himself in the Jordan river seven times.  This does not indicate any special medicinal value in the water of the Jordan.  However, it "worked" on several levels:  It required Naaman to perform a ritual, in effect a humbling admission that he needed God’s help and was subjecting himself to God’s instructions.  The ritual was evocative of cleansing, so was in that sense satisfying or appropriate.  It involved the number seven, satisfying perhaps a cultural idea of mystical power.

In a similar way, my point is that blood sacrifice is arbitrary.  There is no mystical power in blood per se, whether that of a lamb or of Jesus.  Any power blood has is stipulated power—it is power "by definition" rather than in essence.  Our culture could have us seal agreements by quacking like ducks or holding hands and singing "Kumbayah;" in fact, we seal agreements with handshakes, words, or signatures.

I don’t know that Jesus’ death is the most solemn signature possible for God to seal the covenant which he chose as the basis for relating to us; but God deemed it fit, and so that’s what we have.

BTW, I think our "signature" for the covenant was meant to be baptism (a symbolic participation in Jesus’ death and resurrection).  However, just as in today’s world actual physical signatures are not always required or possible (so fax signatures are accepted, or personal identification numbers [PINs], or thumbprints, or auxilliary documents), God probably waives the signature depending on circumstances, accepting good-faith gestures instead. This does not authorize a church to teach that one need not swear the covenant as stipulated.  People tend to argue that, since there is nothing magical about water, the symbol is unecessary—rather than accepting the covenant as offered.

Jesus had to die... didn't he?

Kind of a side question, but I think it has implications for the current conversation… There seems to be an implicit assumption that if Jesus had not been crucified, that he would not have died… is this an intentional assumption?

Jesus’ death was perhaps necessary so that he might a) fully identify with the human experience and b) achieve victory over physical death through resurrection. It seems perfectly reasonable to assume that Jesus was sent to die, but not necessarily at the hands of sinful men. Though saying this, the effect would have been much less dramatic had Christ died of old age (or whatever else generally killed people back then - I’m sure disease played an important role).

This allows for the world being redeemed through the life and death of Jesus, but also the obedience of Christ being demonstrated all the more through obedience to death (which, as God, Christ would not have had to obey), but not only that, death on the cross (a humiliating and painful experience).

While it may be possible to assume that had Jesus not been killed, he would have lived eternally on earth, this would (I think) topple any notion that we have of Scriptural reality. It seems more likely that he would have died and been resurrected anyhow.

Ian MacLennan Ontario, Canada

Re: What Jesus did NOT die on the cross for

To be more specific Azazel (Satan) the ruler of the kosmos killed Jesus. He used rogues among the Jews and Romans as his puppets.

My take is that Azazel was trying to get a sinless man to sin and he tortured him and nailed him to a cross believing that Jesus would break. To Azazel’s horror, he did not break and the ancient curse fell on Azael’s head
“Cursed is anyone who receives payment and kills an innocent man.” (Ex 23:7 and Deut 27:24)

This knocked Azael from his throne as Kosmocrator (Prince of this world) and his kingdom has been in decline ever since, but will lag on until the Judgment day.

God did not kill his son, or God would himself be cursed. Jesus did not commit suicide. His mission was to be a living ransom.

Earlier in his life, when Jesus was taken up to heaven and instructed by God, he understoood that Azazel had a right to hold humans in bondage to death and the fear of death because each person chose sin at some point.

However, if a sinless man would present himself to Satan as a prisoner exchange then Azazel was duty bound to release his right over humanity, as long as the sinless man once in his custody, did not sin. Azazel had never lost.

The ransom was not the Messiah’s dead body, the ransom was a living sinless man surrendering himself voluntarily into the hands of Azazel to be tempted.

Jesus knew that Azazel would push him to the point of death, if fact he was hoping he would, knowing full well that if Azazel went too far, and killed an innocent man his throne would fall. Jesus anticipated his death.

Jesus never taught that he was a sacrificial lamb, or that his blood would cleanse us. The blood atonement teaching came along later in Acts, Paul and 2 Peter (books that undo much of the Gospel taught by Jesus).

Robert Roberg
Gainesville FL

The early days of flight

I am reminded of those old films of the early days of flight - so many rickety makeshift flying machines that would rise a few feet into the air, then crash or nose-dive off a cliff. It seems to me that what we’re looking for is a way of talking authentically about Jesus’ death that will remain airborne in a postmodern, post-Christendom world. Somehow I don’t see theories such as this flying very far. But what concerns me is the possibility that all our attempts to explain the atonement are similarly quaint and unflightworthy. My view is that the best hope we have is to keep our explanations as close to historical reality as possible - not in any sense to exclude the supernatural or ‘mythical’ but to understand how the New Testament addresses the circumstances of a historical community.

Re: What Jesus did NOT die on the cross for

You are correct Paulchen,

Jesus did not die for our sins. He told us before he died how to have our sins removed:

1. Repent

2. Forgive others and the father will forgive your sins.

3. Though her sins were many, they are forgiven because she loved much.

Pretty simple, no blood required.

He died in a gladiatorial combat with Satan. If Satan could cause him to sin, humans would remain the slaves of Satan. Satan caused him to be beaten, spat upon, tortured and nailed and hung in a tree, but he failed to break Jesus.

By killing an innocent man, Satan drew the curse of Deut 27:25 on his own head and was toppled from the throne of death. His hold on humans was broken. Jesu died to break Satan’s hold on us. When he cried out Telemakos “It is finished”. It was the cry of gladiator who had triumphed over his foe.

He died for us just as a faithful shepherd will die in combat with a wolf. But it was not for our sins, it was to open an escape route from the wolf’s den. Now all those who follow the narrow path of the Gospel can escape the land of death on the Resurrection Day.

Re: What Jesus did NOT die on the cross for

It is true that there are at this time no less than seven primary explanations of why Jesus has been crucified, but there are only a very few that do find the small narrow gate perfected by Jesus’ crucifixion. There cannot not be a successful answer to “What Jesus did NOT die on the cross for?” without the true understanding of what he did die on the cross for. Your basic assumptive is the conjecture of ‘well if I can determine what he did not die for I have also determined what he did die for’. A solution is not a true solution by the solution of an unreasonable equation. True? Ask the wrong question to the answer you seek any answer is wrong.
The true reason Jesus was crucified is found in Heb. 7:12 and Rom. 5:20. Do the interpretative work by beginning at the end as in “last is first” for the true answer. A change in the law by an addition to it+ a related trespass (one sin) to only this law+the only correct Way this law can be obeyed in concert with the principle of God loves obedience rather than sacrifice. Only then will your answer be correct. Actually the opening statement that started this discussion has part of the answer you are looking for. “Tenants”

Re: What Jesus did NOT die on the cross for

What about this alternative:

Jesus came as a savior. Not from the wrath of God (which is counter to reason, which i’ll discuss later). He came to save us from Spiritual death.

Matthew 26:38
Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Jesus constantly reminds us of eternal life that can exist through him. As a Rabbi, it was through Jesus, or through his yoke, or through his teaching that people would live.

Jesus showed up in a land filled with Jews and taught the Jews how to live lives that were worthy of god, how to “wash the inside of the cup” and live in unity with the kingdom of God. He didn’t come to show us that we are powerless, inferior, and useless beings. He came to remind us that we have free will, not to limit our free will to the one decision of believing in him or not, or not even that one decision. (You know who you are, Calvinists)

He came to set the Jewish community free from the mosaic law that hindered their understanding of truth. He came to set them free from their tradition that injured their souls. He came to show them the way, the truth, and the life, and it wasn’t the fact that God was angry and only by believing in Jesus, would they ever have a relationship with God.

Let’s assume for a second that Jesus’ death by cross objectively provided atonement for the sins of man based on Levi’s tradition. God would have to have a law that he was heavily invested in humans following. Okay, so God respects free will enough to allow man to break the law. But then God allegedly becomes angry because of man’s transgressions. Anger pressuposes lack of control. That the law of god exists outside of God and that he could be affected by morality without having the choice to be unaffected by it. Morality would have to be bigger, and more powerful than God. Or God would have to choose to be angry consciously, which isn’t very God like, because it isn’t wise.

So God sends Jesus who, depending on what denomination/ school of thought you belong to, was either the son of god, God himself, or a man imbued with the holy spirit in full. Jesus comes to die for man. So we have God putting into motion a plan to appease himself through the pain and suffering of either himself, or a seperate entity closely tied with himself.

Couldn’t God have forgiven without a human sacrifice? Couldn’t he have skipped the whole life through Jesus thing and forgiven us? Or maybe there is no objective moral law and by dying as a sacrifice (subjectively as viewed by the jews of the time) Jesus showed us that powerful truth, that our sins are not transgression for which to feel guilt, but sins are that which keeps us from a healthy relationship with God. Guilt about Sins is perhaps the greatest sin of all based on this new definition of sin.

Re: What Jesus did NOT die on the cross for

I also do not agree with Paul’s argument and would strongly discourage him from developing doctrinal truths from parables. His argument that Jesus Christ did not come at God’s prerogative to die as our substitute for our sins neglects the holy perfection of God’s character. It fails to consider the Old Testament stories of God’s justice, and presumes too much on God’s grace. I am currently reading through the book of Exodus and after finishing God’s institution of the first Passover meal, I can not find anything in Israel’s character worthy of God’s grace. They had nothing over the Egyptians in deserving God’s favor. In fact, they were just as deserving of His divine wrath. And as they celebrated God’s passing over them in His judgment, God repeatedly made sure that they were aware and remembered that His grace extended towards them was made possible only by the shed blood of the lamb. God’s character is holy as Moses well knew and in accordance with His character, God’s grace could not neglect His justice. In fact, His grace demands justice. Thus, His mercy towards the Israelites meant that His justice had been dealt with. It had been absorbed by another – a substitute. And this celebration God declared an “everlasting ordinance.”
So when we then come to the Gospel of John chapter 1 verse 29, it reads “the next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” This statement points back to the Passover lamb as Israel’s substitute. Here, now Jesus is deemed the culmination of that remembrance. He is the Passover Lamb. And not only does He come to take upon Himself our punishment, but He came to grant us His own righteousness. In this way, the substitutionary exchange was total – our sins for His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Not only does Paul’s theory ignore the perfect justice of God, but it also overlooks the perfect righteousness He is and demands.

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