By: Robert D Brinsmead
Jesus flew in the face of conventional wisdom and justice. His teaching about justice/love appeared to be shocking, even scandalous, but not if one was in tune with the OT prophets who rejected the offering of sacrifices as being the foundation of God’s merciful justice. Jesus taught us to practice unconditional love and forgiveness – that means, not just a love for those who love us but a love toward those who hate us, persecute us and do all manner of harmful things to us. The very fact that he ate with custom collectors and sinners in the context of the meaning of that in an Eastern culture was evidence that they were accepted in spite of being unacceptable – there was no prior condition even of repentance in his invitation to eat together, as illustrated in the case of Zaccheus where repentance followed the revelation that Jesus intended to eat with him. In that culture one could not eat with an unclean person whom you or God had not forgiven because breaking bread together was a symbol of no barriers and a mutual fellowship and acceptance before God.
Unconditional love/forgiveness is an expression of the authentic human spirit. Good parents exhibit it. The marriage vow (for better and for worse) aspires to it. The remarkable Ghandi and Mandela practiced it. Did Mandela demand that those who jailed him for 28 years come before him to apologize or to give public evidence of their repentance before he forgave them? Not at all, for if that was to be the case, one would have to evaluate a debtor’s sincerity and the rest of it. But Mandela did not wait for any of that – he put out the hand of reconciliation. So Jesus on the cross and Stephen at his execution, “’forgive them, for they know not what they do,” “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” The great prophet of the Ba’hi religion also taught unconditional forgiveness in the clearest fashion.
In Matthew 5 Jesus exhorts us to practice unconditional love/forgiveness and so become the light of the world – as he goes on to show, this way of living points a way to what the supreme Abba is like. In this very passage Jesus says we are not to practice an eye for an eye (atonement based) kind of justice – no payback, no revenge, no punishing those who have wronged us – and when we do that, it becomes the human reflection of what God is like – or by so doing, you will be like the supreme Abba. Not only is there no atonement suggested, but this teaching rules out the possibility of God demanding repayment, compensation, pay back, atonement, etc. Does Jesus ask us to do something that God does not do? Is our unconditional love to surpass the actual practice of God, or is it to reflect, as in a mirror, the unconditional love of God? Why is there no atonement in the story of the prodigal son? Does the father bring the sacrificial lamb or the fatted calf? And if as three of the Gospels teach, Jesus met with his disciples for the Passover meal, why was there no pascal lamb to be eaten, no sprinkling blood on the door lintels, etc. Because earlier in the same day, Jesus was in the temple precincts to repudiate the whole institution of animal sacrifices like the OT prophets before him. That’s why they killed him as the priests killed the prophets before him. He saw the entire sacrificial system for what it was – inhumane, sadistic and revolting – and he repudiated it as a whole strand of Jewish thinkers did, including the Ebionites.
The teaching of the blood atonement for sin is sadistic and inhuman. It implies that the only reason human sacrifices in the past were rejected is because they were not of sufficient value to make an atonement for sin.( Anselm) The teaching of the blood atonement belongs with the doctrine of an eternal ongoing punishment for the lost. It is not a projection of God’s character but of the animal side of the human inheritance that the better angels of our human nature calls us to overcome. I have written extensively on the reasons the doctrine of the blood atonement must be vehemently rejected. There are a lot of good authors, Catholic, Protestant and Jewish that canvass the same basic arguments. Jewish theology has always rejected the doctrine of forgiveness on the basis of blood atonement by appealing to the teaching of the OT prophets. They clearly rejected it. Divine forgiveness is based on nothing but the merciful justice of God (see Psalm 51) – or as it says in Hosea (cited by Jesus) “I will have mercy and not sacrifice.” And Psalm 51, “You[God] do not require sacrifice otherwise I would give it.”
God is not a celestial Shylock demanding God’s pound of flesh before God can forgive. Besides, in ordinary logic, if the debt is paid, there is nothing to forgive. The God who does not forgive until or unless the debt is paid does not really forgive at all. And the doctrine of hell certainly backs up this image of an unforgiving Deity. We need to look no further for the reason Christian society has been so unforgiving and bloody.
The teaching or gospel of Jesus, as illustrated by the Q, shows us there is a real tension or contradiction between the Jesus gospel and the gospel of the great Church. The first Jesus people were Jewish, the first church was at Jerusalem – and Jewish “Christianity” did not accept either the teaching of Jesus, divinity or his blood atonement for sin? It certainly was not accepted by the brother James nor any of the extended/subsequent family of Jesus.
Here is another interesting NT feature. The author who has written the largest body of material in the NT is the author of Luke/Acts – more than Paul wrote! There is no doctrine of atonement, nothing about Jesus dying for our sins in this body of NT literature. This is especially true for the book of Acts. The early preaching of the apostles in Acts, especially Acts 2 and 3, does not hint that Jesus’s death was a sacrificial atonement that saves. It was simply presented as the martyrdom of an innocent one, or an act of murder. The good news was the resurrection. The doctrine of atonement was developed as an apology for the scandal of the messiah dying the death of a man who appeared to be cursed. It was not, however, developed by the Jewish wing of the church, but by the Gentile wing – same goes for the Eucharist in that the Gentile interpretation of drinking the blood of Christ would be an offence to all good Jews.