Michael Tobias: Jesus and Atonement

Blogger Michael Tobias writes in his post, Jesus and Atonement:

In the nearly 2000 years of the history of the Christian church, there have been several interpretations of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Many have used new imagery to reflect the changing times.

But the imagery that sticks and continues to be used is the imagery of the Day of Atonement sacrifice and scapegoat…simply because the writers of the New Testament used it and it has become associated with “God’s Word,” as in, inerrant.

Lamb of God

Michael goes on to say,

The problem with this imagery is that it portrays God as a King who is too pure to engage with “sinful” creatures and who is angry because his “subjects” continually disobey his laws and fail to meet his standards.

Jesus paints a starkly different portrait of God.

In this short post, I think Michael does an excellent job contrasting this view of God against the loving Father Jesus shares with us. I recommend it highly; you can read Michael’s post at:

http://www.michaeljtobias.com/jesus-atonement/

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36 Responses to Michael Tobias: Jesus and Atonement

  1. michaeleeast says:

    An excellent post.
    And right on target!

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  2. Marc says:

    Is sin an infraction or an infection? Western Christianity with its “Satisfaction Theory” of the 12th Century, and its “Penal Substitution Theory” of the 16th Century, sees sin primarily as a legal infraction of God’s laws. Eastern Christianity has retained the early concepts of Atonement called the “Ransom Theory” and the “Christ the Victor Theory.” Both of these ancient concepts view sin as more of an infection in need of healing. I believe that Christianity would be far better off to dispose of the added baggage of the 12th and 16th Centuries, and return to the concepts of the Atonement prevalent in the early Church.

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    • michaeleeast says:

      Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” Mark 7:8 (NRSV)

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      • Marc says:

        The further removed from the early Church a theological concept and teaching appears, the more likely it is to be a mere human tradition and potential baggage in need of discard.

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        • Marc, why do you assume this? Did God stop speaking to people at some point?

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          • Marc says:

            Hi Michael. The canon of Scriptures is closed and the Church sorted out a lot of issues in the seven Ecumenical Councils. Within the boundaries of this Holy Tradition found in the Church, the Holy Spirit illumines the faithful with greater understandings that take into account history and technology. However, much of what I read here and elsewhere is personal opinion that falls outside of Holy Tradition.

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          • Marc, can you offer how you delineate between “Holy Tradition” and “mere human tradition?” I get the impression that you are a Roman Catholic. Is that an accurate assumption?

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          • Marc says:

            Michael, I am an Eastern Orthodox Catholic Christian. The jewel at the center of Holy Tradition is the Holy Bible. Holy Tradition also includes the worship practices and prayers of the Church, the life experience and writings of the saints, the findings of Ecumenical Councils, Church art and architecture Orthodox Christians do not rely upon a magisterium like the Roman Catholics, but upon the boundaries of what the Church has believed since the seventh Ecumenical Council. Those boundaries have provided for a continuity in dogma and worship, while accepting a broad range of opinion on the revelations of Scripture, nature, and history.

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          • Okay, thanks for that clarification, Marc. You mentioned that Holy Tradition includes the writing of the saints. How does one become a saint? Also, you use the term “church” a great deal. Does that refer only to the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church, or the worldwide body of Christians or some other grouping?

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          • Marc says:

            Michael, When I refer to the Church, I refer to the Church in heaven and the Church on earth as one communion. All Christians should be striving to enter the heavenly Church and experience the first resurrection, which is eternal life.

            Regarding the Church on earth, I believe the weight of the historical evidence supports that the current family of Orthodox Churches have preserved the one holy catholic and apostolic Church and Holy Apostolic Tradition most fully.

            All true Christian are saints, but since the beginning of the Church in A.D. 33 there have been men and women who have shown extraordinary spiritual gifts in their lives and are accepted as part of the apostolic model for the faithful to follow.

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          • Marc says:

            Please be more specific Michael. What is it in the ninth chapter of John that you think is applicable to our conversation?

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          • I don’t know. I’m just following instructions 😉

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    • sheila0405 says:

      Marc, I think you are on to something. Sin is a disease. You know that in Roman Catholicism, we believe that a person’s soul is wounded by sin, and that the wound causes a person to be weak, and more prone to making wrong choices. We believe that the stain caused by that spiritual wounding is cleansed in the waters of baptism, uniting us perfectly to Christ, but that we need to continue to make right choices in our lives. We are restored to right relationship with Christ through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I’m not at all familiar with Easter Orthodoxy in regards to the issue of sin and how it is handled in the life of the Christian. But I do like what you had to say. The Eastern Churches, being so ancient, have really good theology to share. I look forward to hearing more from you on this and other issues that are discussed on this blog.

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      • Marc says:

        Sheila, I think we are both experiencing Holy Apostolic Tradition in our understanding of salvation as being multifaceted. We begin the journey of salvation with our confession of faith and Baptism. We continue our journey through striving to overcome our sins (wounds and infections) through Penance (Reconciliation) and partaking of the Eucharist. We complete our journey in the particular judgement at death when we are judged (diagnosed) and receive the final therapies (purification) to enable us to realize the fulness of the first resurrection with the saints in the Heavenly Church. Because we cannot know the outcome of the particular judgment, we leave those outside our communion to the mercy of God, praying that they may also find their way into the Heavenly Church.

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  3. Chas says:

    It is a mystery to me why the early Christian writers claimed that Jesus was resurrected, when they knew perfectly well that no-one whom they knew personally had ever come back to life after death. Presumably they felt the need to try to explain eternal life, but couldn’t see the difference between physical life and spiritual life: the physical life ends, but the spiritual life continues. They would also presumably want to have Jesus outdo the miracles that had been claimed for Elijah and Elisha.

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    • Chas, I think Jesus was resurrected though I am uncertain exactly what that involves. I think his resurrection was real and personal, but I don’t think it necessarily involved resuscitation of a physical corpse. And I think it was more than Jesus being ‘resurrected’ in the hearts of his followers.

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      • Chas says:

        To me it is more a case of dying physically, but not spiritually. Since we have moved into the Presence of God, we, like Jesus, will go on to live more fully in the Presence of God: to know Him as we are known.

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  4. sheila0405 says:

    I was raised to believe that God could only deign to even look at us through the shed blood of Jesus. Our sinfulness was stressed all of the time. The fear of hell was routinely used to cause people to come forward at altar calls to “get saved”. My first trip to the altar was due to a profound fear of hell. Throughout my life I have found that fear is a poor motivator. I believe God wants us to approach him as our loving creator, not trembling before him with terror. We respond freely to his love, not because we are imprisoned by abject horror at our (deserved) fate.

    However, the world is filled with sin. We routinely break God’s call to love others as ourselves. Our lack of love must find atonement. In that sense, Christ dies for the sins of the world. The price has been paid. Jesus himself said that no one takes his life away, that he has the power to lay it down and then pick it up again. He said that when he would be lifted up, he would draw all men to himself. The problematic Gospel passage for me is the one in John 3, in which Jesus says that those who don’t believe in him have the wrath of God abiding on them.

    I’d love to see more on this idea of atonement. Perhaps you could share with us your own views on why it is that Jesus died. This is an area which has been a source of confusion for me for a few years.

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    • michaeleeast says:

      Sheila, (I know this question was not directed to me but) –
      I believe that Jesus died because he became a threat to the authorities of the time – the Pharisees and the Romans – the Pharisees because he said he was the Son of God which directly challenged their authority, and the Romans because he was called King of the Jews, which was a direct challenge to the authority of Caesar.
      I don’t believe that God wished Jesus death at all but took advantage of the situation to raise Jesus from the dead and show humankind the reality of eternal life.

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    • Hi Sheila, I certainly identify with your past experiences about hell, fear, altar calls, and the blood of Jesus. It was exactly like that!

      I have a question. You said: “Christ dies for the sins of the world. The price has been paid.” What is the price and to whom has it been paid?

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      • Marc says:

        Not to presume to answer for Sheila. However I think your question is answered in the “Ransom Theory of Atonement.” As I understand it, the price was the complete self emptying love of a sinless man paid to the ontological condition of death. As this condition came about due to selfishness and sin, it was reversed by the perfect love and and sacrifice of our Incarnate Lord and Savior. As we sing during the Feast of the Resurrection: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”

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        • This sounds reasonable Marc. Some people have a theory of the atonement that teaches that the death of Jesus was to ransom humanity from Satan, who had legal ownership of them; I cannot accept that theory.

          Victory over death is not the same as victory over Satan’s legal right to humanity.

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          • sheila0405 says:

            I just re-read your comment on the notion of ransom. I believe you are correct in your assertion that Satan has a legal right to humanity. If there is a Satan, he has no rights. God, as our Creator, is the one to whom we belong. I don’t think Satan usurps God.

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          • Marc says:

            Tim, As one already condemned, Satan has no legal standing before God. By deceit he stole the dominion that Adam and Eve were given in Eden. Satan’s actions brought evil and death to the spiritual realm. The ransom was not paid to Satan. What is even more disturbing is the Penal Substitution concept that would have God the Son paying the ransom to God the Father. This concept completely distorts the nature of God so I suspect it was demonic in origin. This is the worst kind of baggage in need of disposal.

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          • Marc, I agree with you that no ransom was paid either to Satan or to God. Both views are distortions and damage our understanding of who God is.

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        • sheila0405 says:

          You may not have intended to speak for me, but you answered very well. We are ransomed, bought back, from the reality of living with the reality of death. Death is our payment due for the sins we commit. See my answer to Tim for more detail. How do you read Jesus’ statements in John 3, in which he said that those who don’t believe are condemned already & have the wrath of God abiding on them? And this, just after Jesus said he didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it?

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          • Marc says:

            Hi, Sheila. Regarding John 3:18, Jesus Christ has done everything possible to save humanity except to take away our free will. If anyone decides to rejects God’s love and gift of eternal life by rejecting His illumination and purification, they have already chosen eternal death in the lake of fire prepared for Satan and the demons. This reality will be manifested by the consuming presence of God from which there is no escape.

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        • Marc, I agree with you that no ransom was paid either to Satan or to God. Both views distort our understanding of who God is.

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      • sheila0405 says:

        The price of our sin is physical death. Jesus died for us so that we can live for eternity with him one day. We are ransomed from the chains of death. I can see why you don’t accept the ransom from the clutches of Satan theory, because you don’t believe there is a real Satan. I think the story of Christ’s death and resurrection answers the age old question as to why do we sin in the first place? Why do we hurt those around us, which is, to me, the heart of sin. I do believe that Marc answered well. But my question wasn’t addressed. What did Jesus mean when he told Nicodemus in John chapter 3 that those who don’t believe Jesus is the son of God are “condemned already” and have the “wrath of God” abiding on them? He had already said that he didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save. It’s very confusing to me. What is God upset about in John 3? There seems to be some need for justice. What do you think?

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        • Sheila, I’m very skeptical about the gospel of John “quoting” from the mouth of Jesus…particularly when it doesn’t appear in the synoptics. I love John, love much of the theology there, but I take it for what it plainly is…a theological document wrapped in a narrative form in order to convince the reader of the author’s viewpoint.

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        • Sheila, you are correct that I don’t believe in a Satan. But, just to clarify, even when I DID believe in Satan I rejected the idea of Jesus’ death being a ransom of humans from the legitimate claim of Satan.

          Ransom or rescue from death, however, makes better sense to me.

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        • Chas says:

          We sin in the first place because we were already separated from the Spiritual Presence of God, so we had no protection and were unable to resist the temptation to do what we knew was wrong. Because we have been limited to man’s understanding of what he was able to perceive, we have looked at things the wrong way round. Nevertheless, God has provided us with a way to come into His Spiritual Presence. That is by believing Jesus is His son. Only when we have come into the Spiritual Presence of God can we resist doing things that are wrong. Those things are what cause suffering in ourselves, other people, or in animals. To do such things is what we call sinning.

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          • sheila0405 says:

            I disagree. There are many nonChristians who live decent and moral lives, know the difference between right and wrong, confess their wrongdoings and strive to do better.

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