Abba Uses Scandals to Spread a Scandalous Message
By: Robert Brinsmead
It is very interesting that when you read the reports of the earliest preaching of the apostles regarding the death of Jesus, they don’t even hint that it was a sacrifice or atonement for sin in any sense. Peter is represented as saying (by Luke in the book of Acts almost a century later) that Jesus was a man of God who went about doing good, etc, and that “you people” have falsely accused and murdered him. The hearers are called upon to repent of this great mistake of killing Jesus. Even in the subsequent chapters of Acts, there is nothing of the blood atonement doctrine like that which oozed out of Paul about 50 CE and the writer called “John” (Gospel and Epistle after the turn of the century and during heavy persecution by Romans).
It is well known that Luke tries to smooth over as much as possible the great rift between the two wings of the church (which of course became two entirely different religions), namely, the Jewish and Gentile wings. Luke makes it out as if it were all one and the same story of advancing early Christianity. Was he trying to do what Paul did at his last visit to Jerusalem, that is, trying to overcome the growing chasm between the Jewish and Gentile Jewish people? Is this the reason he does not spell out Paul’s Christology and blood atonement in that it would exacerbate the already existing divisions? In any case, it remains that Luke/Acts is the largest body of NT literature – larger even that the Pauline letters – and there is NO blood atonement theology in this large NT strand. It is a great mistake to mix the entire NT up into one homogenized brew as if they are all really saying and teaching the same thing, which on many points of both history and theology they are not.
Jesus of Nazareth was a scandal – and from many dimensions. Many of the NT teachings or explanations are an effort to deal with this scandal. First of all. his irregular birth was a scandal that is hinted at on at least 14 times in the book of Matthew. The NT doctrine which developed, at least in part, is an apology for this and that scandal. The virgin birth story, introduced quite late by Matthew and well after Paul and Mark wrote what they had to say, was an apology for the scandalous circumstances of his conception/birth. It was a pious yet crude invention of a God who asks no permission either of Mary or of Joseph for what amounts to some kind of celestial rape as if being God gives God permission to do what God likes, as if God was the plantation owner and Mary was a mere black slave girl (I am sure you can fill in the blanks here). Luke is much more sensitive and humane than whoever it was who compiled Matthew, and Luke has another nativity story entirely that cannot on a number of fronts be reconciled to Matthew’s account.
Then there is the scandal of being a Nazarene, a dirty little village noted for producing nothing good. Then there was the scandal of being a Galilean, that hillbilly province that produced a plethora of bandits pretending to be the promised apocalyptic messiah. So a story is contrived by both Matthew and Luke about his not really being a Nazarene at all, but to suit his prophetic status, his parents were residents of Bethlehem (Matthew) or according to Luke, a contrived story about a census (at least 10 years later than the pregnancy Matthew described) that gets Jesus to be born in Bethlehem – although the last Gospel, John, has none of that in his record but is content to leave Jesus belonging to his home town of Nazareth.
One has to also ask if the Jews really had actually kept such accurate ancestral records back to David and Solomon with all their wives, and then the general practice of polygamy followed by Judah’s kings before, during, and after their Babylonian captivity? And what of the good sense of a man taking a pregnant woman so close to giving birth on a ten-day journey by foot? Then Magi following a star making turns and with gifts which included myrrh unheard of since the Queen of Sheba brought it to Solomon?
So Jesus is rightly identified as “Jesus of Nazareth” rather than “Jesus of Bethlehem.” Then there was the scandal of his being baptized by John, a baptism that was for the remission of sins. Then there was the scandal of his all too free association with sinners and looking something like what he is actually called in once place, “a drunk and a glutton.” Then there is the even greater scandal of his rejection of Israel’s apocalyptic hopes as presented by his cousin, the Baptizer. Then there was the scandal of his outrageous behavior at the temple which was really more like an animal liberation exercise of a man who hated the whole concept of offering animal sacrifices – so instead of having Jesus attack the whole thing by taking it by the throat (blood atonement of any kind), it becomes sanitized by the gospel writer as if he merely objected to some money changing barnacles that got attached to the sacred bloody rituals – but then to top off all the preceding scandals (I now believe they included the scandal that he was the lover/husband of Mary Magdalene and had a son by her called Judah – I refer here to the great work of a true scholar, James Tabor, in respect of the Tapiot tomb), there was the scandal of his crucifixion that could not have been greater if he had died as a drunk in a brothel. And at least in part, the NT doctrines about God shedding blood for the sins of the world (as if God is the villain rather than the Jews or Romans) was developed in part to deal with the scandalous circumstances of his death.
Then along comes this Wendell Krises character who audaciously says that this greatest archaeological find ever (namely the discovery of the Jesus family burial site at Tapiot near Jerusalem in which there is found the ossuaries of Jesus, son of Joseph, James, brother of Jesus, Matthew, brother of Jesus, Jose. brother of Jesus, two Marys (one proved not to be related by DNA tests), and one bearing the name Judah, son of Jesus – yes, even though Wendell says this is all probably true, he says this is small change compared to the greatest, the most stupendous, outrageous, shameful, stunning, exciting, electrifying, life-changing scandal of all – now wait for it — THE SCANDAL OF THE CHURCH DOING SOMETHING WORSE THAN PETER WHO HAD CURSED AND DENIED ANY ASSOCIATION WITH JESUS THREE TIMES TO SAVE HIS OWN HIDE, EVEN WORSE THAN THE SCANDAL OF THE JEWS AND ROMANS KILLING JESUS AS IF ANYTHING COULD POSSIBLY TOP THAT!!! – yes, here is the greatest scandal of them all, says Wendell ….. are you still on line here? …. it is the scandal of Paul, and later on the Church turning its back on the teaching of Jesus about a non-retaliating ethic based on the theology of a non-retaliating God!
Yes, the church invented a virgin birth gospel, it invented a sinless Jesus who needed no baptism of repentance gospel, it invented a thoroughly apocalyptic gospel out of a teacher who would not even have a bar of such an apocalyptic mindset, even putting apocalyptic words into his mouth – yet all this falls into the shade compared to the shameful act of another kind of crucifixion worse than the crucifixion of Jesus by Jews and Romans – and that was: the “crucifixion” and “burial” of Jesus’ breakthrough, liberating, history-shattering, history-changing words about a non-violent, non-punitive, non-payback, non-retaliatory justice that we should be practicing based on the non-violent, non-punitive, NO atonement justice of God – all clearly spelled out in Matthew 5:38-48 and the parallel passage in Luke 6.
Indeed, when the church made its atoning doctrine of the cross its iconic gospel, it did far worse than Judas who sold his teacher for thirty pieces of silver.
The central doctrine of the blood sacrifice of Jesus on the cross actually “crucified” and “buried” the teaching of Jesus while at the same it elevated the teacher himself as an object of devotion and worship.
A teaching ABOUT Jesus became the gospel in place of the teaching OF Jesus.
The great treasure of his unconditional teaching was buried by making an icon out of the man himself and putting the deification of the messenger into the room meant only for his message.
The real treasure is out there in the field, but it is seen as just another old rock on which the pilgrims stub their toes and curse on their way to worship at the shrine of Jesus. But here I paraphrase the objection of Jesus himself to this great religious cop-out: “I don’t want any of this Lord, Lord stuff, this flattery and praise of who I am and what I did; I just want you to listen to my words and do them, because they tell you what Abba would do.”