But any potentials for another Aryan Jesus (whether real or imagined) are irrelevant. If Jesus was in fact less Jewish than we imagine, then it’s the historian’s duty to say so. If the resulting portrait ends up being pressed into bad service, that’s a completely different issue. I happen to believe that scholars like Sanders, Fredriksen, Allison, and Freyne are much closer to the truth than the Hellenized crowd, but not out of fear that I would be condoning an anti-Semitic view of Jesus if I didn’t!
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Wrath and Atonement II
Thanks to those who have so far responded to my all too brief remarks. As Scot McKnight has noted, this is a complex minefield [I'm sticking with minefield because that's what it is!]. Again, I'm no specialist in this field and my comments should obviously be augmented by others who take a different perspective. But let me attempt to steer the discussion and thus provide further clarification of my attempted position.
Loren Rosson notes a comment from Stephen Finlay regarding The Passion where Finlay says: “It was clearly a serious and honest effort, well acted and so on. But there is no need to dwell on the gore that way...It is sadistic... But then, it really highlights just how troubling it is to say that God would ever require that of anyone, for any reason. God does not require anybody to be tortured, and certainly not as a 'payment' for someone else's sins. Atonement ideas say some awful things about God.”
It was this statement that spawned my thoughts that found it's way to a blog on wrath and atonement. In the book Recovering the Scandal of the Cross, the authors note that scholars and theologians have neglected several biblical images of the atonement, and chosen to focus on one particular image. Their chapter on A Case of Selective Memory forced me to think honestly about what I believed and why I believed it. But then I read Loren Rosson's comment:
Now, you may be wondering what this has to do with anything. But this is how I see the issue of wrath & the atonement. I was concerned that I was merely reacting to the several critiques of atonement theory that suggested it was "cosmic child-abuse" and thus went to the data to find a new hypothesis to explain it. But I'm not sure this is the case. I am convinced that my training in exegesis and philosophical analysis suggests that I am reading the historical evidence fairly and accurately. And so, in the absence of any solid exegetical arguments that show where I have gone astray in thinking [or taken a flight from understanding, as Bernard Lonergan would say] I must press forward and explore this proposal.
I can't find in the New Testament a single reference to Jesus taking upon himself the abuse of God for the sin of the world. There is no reference that directly states that, and so I'm concerned as to how and where we get this idea from. Remember, the context of my discussion here is the atonement - not the wrath of God in general. The closest reference that we get to this idea is Romans 3:25 with the use of the word hilasterion. There is great debate between Dodd ["HILASKESAI, Its Cognates, Derivatives, and Synonyms, in the Septuagint," JTS 32  352–60] and Morris [The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, pg. 125-85] as to whether this word can be used to refer to expiation or propitiation with Dodd arguing for the former, and Morris for the latter. Thus, Dodd's interpretation of Romans 3:25 was that in Jesus’ death he was not averting the wrath of God but delivering humanity from the guilt of sin.
However, my proposal however does not appear to hinge on this discussion. For I am not arguing against the view that the wrath of God was appeased at the cross. That is another discussion, that is also complex. The New Testament [NT] writers do not seem to be convinced that Jesus needed to be tortured by GOD to atone for sins. What the NT is convinced about is that Jesus, his life, death & resurrection, was an acceptable and necessary element to rectify and repair our damaged relationship with GOD. But even this is beyond the scope of what my proposal is about.
What I am questioning is exactly how the Hebrew and New Testament writers understood God's wrath to be poured out, and especially how the New Testament writers understood this and the cross. My question is far more specific. Did God the Father directly torture and kill Jesus on the cross? To this, the NT is ubiquitous in it's silence and thus we can infer no such thing. And if we were to infer an answer from scripture, my argument below suggests that the answer would be "no, the Father did no such thing." In fact, my argument below suggests that this is entirely the fault of cracked eikons, who through foolishness, stubbornness and ignorance have exchanged the truth about God for a lie.
Jesus did take upon himself the judgment of God that Israel, and thus the world, deserved. I think a strong historical case can be made that at least Jesus believed this to be the case [even if Sanders thinks this is 'weird']. And the form that this judgment took, was the Father abandoning the Son at the cross to face the free will choices and evil which tortures and kills Jesus. This is the greatest sacrifice, because the Son embraced this vocation and saw it as his ultimate expression of love, both to us and to the Father of how to reconcile people back to himself .
The Father did not strike this child, we did.
Now there is much more to be said about this, and again exegetical responses are welcomed as I grapple with this immense and complex subject. But do me a favour and allow this small proposal to at least flow through your mind and thoughts as we contemplate this great mystery... Think carefully about what the bible actually says, and what we think it says. Ad Fontes [back to the sources] is the call I herald. And as we go back to these sources, what do we see?UPDATE: See Loren Rosson's comments on Luke and the Cross.