The Backstory to Jesus's Atonement

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  1. ScholarlySeeker

    ScholarlySeeker Active Member

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    The Backstory to Jesus’s Atonement

    While the New Testament can be gleaned (and ought to) for the basis of Jesus’s atonement, the theme itself, from the Early Jewish (were they Christian yet?) in the New Testament (hereafter NT) comes from their scriptures, the Old Testament (hereafter OT). Unfortunately there is no systematic presentation of atonement in Jewish scriptures, and much that has been left out, or outright changed for theologically biased reasons, both ancient and modern.[1] We have some ideas though about how it worked, even though, we need to be alert that there is more than just one interpretation, and no single interpretation can possibly be labeled as “the correct one.”

    Leon Morris noted the many views and scriptures interpreted which have interpreted animal sacrifice as the blood meaning “the life” which is supposedly the emphasis. After careful examination he concludes, properly so, that this is just incorrect, interesting though that is. Sacrifice is not about “offering up life,” it is not about “the bestowal of life,” it is in the whole offering, rather than just a blood offering that is involved. It is “dam [blood] in the OT indicates that it signifies life violently taken rather than the continued presence of life available...in short, death rather than life.”[2]

    The various animal sacrifices in Leviticus were for various kinds of issues of crime and guilt, one of which, the passover lamb was involved. This could have been the basis of symbolism which attached to Jesus as the lamb, but perhaps not. The problem here is it was never used in the manner of expiation of anything. On closer exegesis, Morris noted that, while true the Passover was never used to take away sin, “there is evidence that all sacrifice was held to be expiatory, and this includes the Passover.”[3] The πασχα, the Passover, is “an exemption, immunity,” for the Jews remembrance of delivery from the Egyptians.[4] This was the meal Jesus held with his disciples “... the conception of Jesus’ Last Supper as the Passover meal goes back to the theology of the three Evangelists and that of the Christian groups behind them.”[5] “From the beginning the Lord’s Supper served to make present the salvation that came in Jesus in which the community symbolically shared in the celebration of this meal.”[6] The αιμα μου της διαθηκης - “my blood of the covenant,” of Matthew 26:28 compares with Luke 22:20 - η καινη διαθηκη εν τω αιματι μου, “the new covenant in my blood.” The predicate nominative of a verbless clause, and the syntax here is the preposition phrase actually points to the means by which the covenant is initiated. It can mean “sealed” or “ratified.”[7]

    This is a continuation of “important Passover allusions” such as - וַיִּקַּ֤ח משֶׁה֙ אֶת־הַדָּ֔ם וַיִּזְרֹ֖ק עַל־הָעָ֑ם וַיֹּ֗אמֶר הִנֵּ֤ה דַם־הַבְּרִית֙ אֲשֶׁ֨ר כָּרַ֤ת יְהֹוָה֙ עִמָּכֶ֔ם עַ֥ל כָּל־הַדְּבָרִ֖ים הָאֵֽלֶּה - And Moses took the blood and sprinkled [it] on the people, and he said, "Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has formed with you concerning these words." (Exo. 24:8).
    This supper also may well be alluding to the “New Covenant” of Jeremiah - הִנֵּ֛ה יָמִ֥ים בָּאִ֖ים נְאֻם־יְהֹוָ֑ה וְכָֽרַתִּ֗י אֶת־בֵּ֧ית יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל וְאֶת־בֵּ֥ית יְהוּדָ֖ה בְּרִ֥ית חֲדָשָֽׁה: לֹ֣א כַבְּרִ֗ית אֲשֶׁ֚ר כָּרַ֙תִּי֙ אֶת־אֲבוֹתָ֔ם בְּיוֹם֙ הֶֽחֱזִיקִ֣י בְיָדָ֔ם לְהֽוֹצִיאָ֖ם מֵאֶ֖רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם - “The time is coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt…”
    Interestingly, we may very well have two more generative texts behind this Last Supper at Isaiah 53:11-12, and Jeremiah 3:31-34. Zechariah 9:11 also refers to “the blood of my covenant with you.” “The actual Passover service revolved around the four promises of Exodus 6:6-7, each one coming to be associated with the drinking of one of the four cups of wine. The cup of Matt 26:27 appears to have been the third one, the one drunk just after the supper in conjunction with God’s promise to redeem His people.”[8]

    “The paschal lamb, a year-old lamb or kid, slain as a sacrifice (Exo. 12:27). According to Josephus, the number of lambs sacrificed at Jerusalem in his time was 256,500. They were slain between the ninth and eleventh hour, which is from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. Metaphorically used of Christ at 1 Corinthians 5:7. The whole Passover is sometimes called the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the paschal festival.”[9]

    Paul explicitly calls Christ “our paschal lamb, has been slain,” at 1 Cor. 5:7. Again it has been noted that “the Paschal victim was not a sin-offering or regarded as a means of expiating or removing sins.” And developing this further, we note that “the Passover is already associated with atonement in Ezek. 45:18-22.” Note however, this is the blood of the young bull and the atonement was for the spreading of blood all over the temple door, posts, etc., to cleanse the building of sin, פַּר־בֶּן־בָּקָ֖ר תָּמִ֑ים וְחִטֵּאתָ֖ אֶת־הַמִּקְדָּֽשׁ. In verse 15 we find they are to take the lamb for the banquet meal - וְשֶׂה־אַחַ֨ת מִן־הַצֹּ֚אן מִן־הַמָּאתַ֙יִם֙ מִמַּשְׁקֵ֣ה יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל, and this specifically for atonement וְכִפַּרְתֶּ֖ם from the verb, kaphar - to cover over, pacify, from a primitive root to placate, translated in the majority of cases as “to make atonement.” Dunn, whose analysis I am using here, says the link was probably already forged by Jesus’ time with “the double association of the Last Supper with the Passover and with Jesus’ blood poured out for many (Mark 14:24). There the language is unavoidably sacrificial and signifies atonement.”[10]

    Dunn further notes, in Paul, the several places of his using the phrase “in/through his blood,” cannot be adequately understood except as a reference to Christ’s death as a sacrifice.”[11] “Rev 1:5 calls Jesus the One who has redeemed, i.e. ransomed (λυσαντι) us from our sins by His blood. One cannot be more precise about Rev 1:5.[12]

    Endnotes
    1. Margaret Barker, “The Great High Priest,” T&T Clark, 2003: Ch. 3.
    2. Leon Morris, “The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross,” Eerdman, 3rd ed, 1965, p. 112, 114, 119, 121.
    3. Morris, p. 131.
    4. Spiros Zodhiates, “The Complete Word Study Dictionary, New Testament,” World Bible, 1992, p. 1126.
    5. Gunther Bornkamm, “Jesus von Nazareth,” translated by Irene, Fraser McLuskey, Harper & Row, 1959: 162.
    6. Jens Schrӧter, “Von Jesus Zum Neuen Testament,” translated by Wayne Coppins, Baylor Univ. Press, 2013: 68.
    7. Martin M. Cult, Mikeal C. Parsons, Joshua J. Stigall, “Luke A Handbook on the Greek Text,” Baylor Univ. Press, 2010: 671; Robert Hanna, “A Grammatical Aid to the Greek New Testament,” Baker Book, 1983: 140.
    8. G. K. Beale, D. A. Carson, “Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament,” Baker Academic, 2nd print, 2008: 90-91.
    9. Zodhiates, “Ibid,” p. 1127.
    10. James D. G. Dunn, “The Theology of Paul the Apostle,” Eerdmans, paperback, 2006: 216-217.
    11. Dunn, “Ibid,” p. 217.
    12. “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,” Eerdmans, reprint 1985: 4: 336.
     
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  2. stranger

    stranger wolfwing, a feral angel

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    For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul. -- Leviticus 17:11

    There was something special to God about the blood. The Israelites were given strict commandments to be very careful in how they treated it.

    So what does the blood represent? It is the life of the flesh, true. It is very valuable. This is a temporal understanding. But what of our eternal life, what does it mean there? One possible answer is that the blood of the eternal realm is our essence, our spirit, our heart. Not just the source of temporal life, the life of the flesh, but of our eternal soul.

    In this understanding, Jesus not only gave his body, but his very heart, for those he loved. He held nothing back of himself. It was a sacrifice driven by love and therefore very valuable. It was also perfect given his sinlessness.

    I could be way off. There have been books written which examine the intricacies of his sacrifice. "The Law of the Offerings" is a good one, by Andrew Jukes. To me personally, it is the love which makes a sacrifice valuable, and in blood sacrifice, the love drives one to give all, right down to the eternal essence. Nothing is withheld from those who are loved.

    16 For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.
    17 For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.
    18 Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood.
    19 For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people,
    20 Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you.
    21 Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry.
    22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission
    . -- Hebrews 9:16-22

    In his perfect sacrifice abides all sacrifice which would come after; drops of water in his vast ocean. Imperfect sacrifices made perfect in that ocean, covered by love, precious because they were often the widow's mite. It was all the person had to give. It was not much, but it became important because it was not withheld and it was given in love.
     
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  3. RJM Corbet

    RJM Corbet God Feeds the Ravens Admin

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    This is obviously true: blood was to be treated with respect, as the very essence of life.

    But I think it was the giving to God of a valuable animal -- and not the killing or blood -- that was meant to be the essence of sacrifice? Herd animals were the most valuable assets a man possessed in tribal times. The true concept of sacrifice was corrupted by humans to become the idea that it was the blood upon the altar that was pleasing to God, and not the act of giving a valuable animal from the herd.

    One of the many things achieved by Christ’s incarnation was to restore the right principle of sacrifice, as Himself the last blood sacrifice.

    Christ’s sacrifice is taken and confused by many people – deliberately sometimes, I believe – to accuse the Christian God of accepting human sacrifice. Combined with the memorial consumption of body and blood of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist, this misunderstanding justified the persecution of early Christians as depraved and cannibal.

    Tacitus on Christ
    … a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind …

    The same shock is sometimes expressed at the idea that God demanded from Abraham the human sacrifice of his son. However the real sacrifice demanded from Abraham was to give to God the thing he valued most in all the world. It was not about the killing or the blood?

    IMO
     
  4. stranger

    stranger wolfwing, a feral angel

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    Yes, I agree. It was about intent, the desire to give all, the love, the trust. Sacrifice is given, what is taken depends upon the fire of God. In the case of Christ, all was consumed. There is uncertainty in sacrifice. All is offered however, everything. All that a person is and will ever be. IMO too, as always. So many things we don't know.
     
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  5. RJM Corbet

    RJM Corbet God Feeds the Ravens Admin

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    Ancient maps say: Here be dragons. More recent maps detail more recent knowledge of the territory. But the territory described is still the same.
     
  6. stranger

    stranger wolfwing, a feral angel

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    The Hunt Lenox Globe, yes I remember... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Here_be_dragons
     
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  7. ScholarlySeeker

    ScholarlySeeker Active Member

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    And the Jewish spirituality also brings this directly home to our own thinking and hearts. It is kavanah, the intent, the determination. The Shema was never just read, or looked at. In praying it, we pray it, say it with REAL intent, believing, as Abraham did in Gen 15:6, and it will be reckoned to us in righteousness.
     

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