Jesus and redemptive violence

At the heart of the critique of the traditional doctrine of (penal) substitutionary atonement is a moral revulsion against the idea that a good God would think it necessary to use violence to bring about the redemption of humanity. Chuck Queen, for example, whose argument against substitutionary atonement I reviewed last week, asks what kind of God would require the “death of an innocent victim” in order to satisfy his “offended sense of honor” or pay off a penalty that he himself had imposed in the first place. “Would a loving parent make forgiveness for the child conditioned upon a violent act?”

The problem with this line of thought is that in the Gospels Jesus appears, on the one hand, to predict future violent events which he regarded as direct, concrete expressions of the will of God, and on the other, to have thought of his own death as being entailed in them. In other words, he is not quite the out-and-out pacifist that we would like him to be.

Here is the evidence…

Parables of violence

Matthew has Jesus deliver two parables to the chief priests and elders, back-to-back, in which the enemies of God are violently destroyed.

First, the owner of the vineyard of Israel will put the wicked tenants to a “miserable death” when he comes (Matt. 21:41). In Mark and Luke the language is more prosaic, but the effect is the same: “He will come and destroy the tenants…” (Mk. 12:9; cf. Lk. 20:16).

Secondly, when a king is snubbed by those invited to wedding feast for his son, he sends his troops to destroy “those murderers” and burn their city (Matt. 22:7).

Luke doesn’t have the violent punishment of the guests who excused themselves—they are merely excluded from the banquet. But his version of the parable of the talents culminates in the brutal punishment of the citizens who hated the nobleman and refused to accept his rule over them: “But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me” (Lk. 19:27).

These prophecies of the coming violence of God provide the eschatological context for interpreting the significance of Jesus’ death for Israel.

The vineyard story is based on Isaiah 5:1-7, which is a prophecy of the violent Babylonian invasion as punishment for the sins of Israel. Having failed to find the fruit of righteousness (“he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed”), the owner of the vineyard removes the protective wall, and the vineyard is trampled over and becomes waste ground. It seems reasonable to assume that Jesus’ parables envisage a similarly catastrophic judgment on first century Jerusalem. Matthew’s development of the parable of the wedding guests certainly has the fate of Jerusalem in view—“the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it” (Matt. 23:37).

A den of robbers

Jesus explains his actions in the temple (Matt. 21:12-13; Mk. 11:15-17; Lk. 19:45-46) by citing Jeremiah 7:11: “Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the LORD.” What follows makes it clear that the violent destruction of the temple would be an act of God: “Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel” (Jer. 7:11–12). In effect, Jesus has spoken a word of judgment over the temple; he has declared its coming destruction.

The apocalyptic vision

In the Olivet discourse Jesus predicts a time—before the current generation of Jews has passed away—when nation will rise against nation, Jerusalem will be surrounded by armies, there will be great distress upon the land, people will fall by the sword and will be led into captivity, the temple will be thrown down, and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles (Matt. 24:7, 15-22; Mk. 13:8, 14-20; Lk. 21:10, 20-24).

Earlier in Luke’s Gospel he wept over the city because they did not know the time of their “visitation”: “your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you” (Lk. 19:43–44).

Not peace but a sword

Jesus knew that his mission would cause violent divisions within Israel, with members of the same family handing each other over to violence. He had not come to bring peace to the land—he does not mean the whole earth here—but the sword (Matt. 10:34-36; cf. Lk. 12:51-53).

Jesus is deliberately evoking Micah’s description of the day when God would strike his rebellious people “with a grievous blow, making you desolate because of your sins” (Mic. 6:13). The godly have perished from the land. No one can be trusted, “for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house” (Mic. 7:6).

Jesus has in mind the breakdown of Jewish society in the period leading up to the day when God would strike his rebellious people.

Jesus’ death and the violent end of the age

Since all this happened more or less as predicted, there is no need to regard it as figurative language. The only question is whether Jesus thought of it as divine judgment. I don’t see how we can escape the conclusion that he did. It is the owner of the vineyard, the king who puts on a feast for his son, who is directly and explicitly responsible for the extreme violence that will be done to Jerusalem, its leadership and its inhabitants. If the nobleman who receives a kingdom is Jesus, then it appears that Jesus thought of himself as the one who would execute judgment on rebellious Israel in this fashion.

Unless Jesus was an extremely inattentive reader of the Jewish scriptures, we must also conclude that he drew on the prophets precisely to make the point that his Father in heaven—not some remote Old Testament demiurge—would again punish his people in the same catastrophic fashion as he had done in the sixth century.

He is presented to us as the spokesperson for a God who will use large-scale, indiscriminate violence—delivered by the armies of Rome—in order to punish rebellious Israel.

But if that’s the case, I think we also have to conclude that these prophecies of the coming violence of God provide the eschatological context for interpreting the significance of Jesus’ death for Israel.

Jesus’ crucifixion by Rome anticipated the crucifixion of thousands of Jews a generation later by the armies of Vespasian and Titus. Rome routinely crucified Jewish insurrectionists. Josephus describes the wretched fate of a certain Jew “who, by Titus’s orders, was crucified before the wall, to see whether the rest of them would be affrighted, and abate of their obstinacy (Jos. War 5:289). During the siege the starving residents of the city—ordinary people—had no choice but to go outside the walls to scavenge for food. We are told that hundreds were caught each day by the Romans and crucified within sight of the walls.

So the soldiers out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest; when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies. (War 5:451)

This was the punishment of rebellious Israel—or to put it more pragmatically, the punishment that Israel would bring upon its own head by refusing to acknowledge “the things that make for peace” (Lk. 19:42).

Jesus simply drank the cup of God’s wrath, so to speak, in advance. The cup put before him in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:39; Lk. 22:42) was the cup of God’s wrath, the “cup of staggering”, that Jerusalem would soon be given to drink (cf. Is. 51:17, 22; Ezek. 23:31-33).

There is a substitutionary element to this narrative. Jesus suffered so that God’s people might have a future. He opened up a narrow path leading to life. He gave his life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28; Mk. 10:45). He was destroyed so that not all of Israel would be destroyed.

But this cannot be read as a general theory of atonement. His followers would have to drink the same cup, undergo the same baptism, and carry their own crosses (Matt. 16:24; 20:22-23; Mk. 8:34; 10:38-39; Lk. 9:23). Their deaths would be substitutionary in more or less the same way.

Drawing the line

So the whole story is premised on the impending destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, interpreted according to the terms of the covenant as God’s final punishment of his rebellious people. Jesus suffered this punishment in anticipation, innocently, and others would suffer with him—including Paul.

It was the disastrous revolt against Rome and the overwhelming imperial backlash, therefore, that finally brought the old covenant to an end. Redemption entailed divine violence because it was part of that end-game.

The overthrow of pagan imperialism, which was also foreseen in the Old Testament—the victory of YHWH over the nations—would be achieved not by violence but by the word of God, the testimony of the saints, the faithful witness of the martyrs.

peter wilkinson | Tue, 04/04/2017 - 23:21 | Permalink

Just a couple of questions really. How does the death of Jesus anticipate the crucifixion of thousands of Jews a generation later by the armies of Vespasian and Titus? Crucifixion was the punishment for insurrectionists before and after Jesus. His death was not unique in that sense. The twist is that he wasn’t an insurrectionist, and was innocent, so shouldn’t be regarded as anticipating anything.

In what way, according to you, was the death of Jesus substitutionary (and penal)? You seem to confuse this with opening up “a narrow path leading to life”, which, as I understand you, was to be by not opposing Rome with force. Unfortunately, this did not work well for Jesus, if you read the story that way. It was a narrow path that led to his death, and also the deaths of most, if not all, of the apostles.

You cite “gave his life as a ransom for many”, and then associate its meaning with substitutionary penal atonement. That is a leap too far. At least provide some evidence for interpreting the verse in that way.

You cite the parables as providing evidence for a God who judges with violence, and associate their meaning with OT prophecy. Yet the two genres are very distinct. Anything read in the parables has to be understood according to their genre, and not confused with direct literal historical prediction.

None of the verses you have cited concerning the temple destruction or destruction of Jerusalem in Matthew and Luke explicitly mentions judgment as violent punishment. The meaning of “visitation” requires further treatment and discussion. Only in Luke 21:22, which you do not mention, is the word ekdikēsis variously translated “vengeance” (AV), or “punishment” (NIV). But what does the word (and the phrase “days/time of vengeance/punishment”) actually mean? Was it God’s vengeance/punishment or Rome’s? If God’s, was God really meting out direct retribution on Jerusalem by the crucifixion of Jews? Are we really to believe that mass crucifixion was God’s way of exercising justice, or even that God does literally take vengeance in that way?

I’m not sure you have demonstrated your assertions quite as conclusively as you think. Certainly, it would be odd if Jesus was so intimately associated with God, as in one way or another we both believe he was, that he should weep over the catastrophe coming on Jerusalem when that catastrophe was inflicted by the God he represented. If God’s justice means anything, Jesus should have affirmed the destruction in some way. That he didn’t suggests it wasn’t, doesn’t it?

1. Jesus is executed by Rome as a false “king of the Jews”, alongside two militants, in the place of Barabbas, “who had committed murder in the insurrection” (Mk. 15:7). The elders of the people charged him with anti-Roman subversion: “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king” (Lk. 23:2). He was innocent, of course, but that was the whole point. He suffered for the sins of the many in Israel who were on the broad road leading to destruction.

2. I think you missed my point. I only said that there was an element of substitution in the narrative: Jesus was destroyed by Rome, part of Israel was not destroyed by Rome. His death opened up a way to life. I also made the point that this did not apply to the apostles. In this sense their deaths were also substitutionary. Have a look again at what I wrote.

3. What else would the verse mean if not that Jesus gave his life in the place of the life of others? If a ransom is paid in order to gain the release of a person who would otherwise be killed by the captors, the money is “substituted” for the captive. The kidnapper no longer has the person but has the money instead. Likewise, if a life is given as a ransom, the life is substituted. But it’s not a theory of how “atonement” works. It is a metaphor for what happened in history.

4. There are plenty of parables in the Prophets, including Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard, which ends with the destruction of the vineyard. See above. Like the Old Testament prophets Jesus was sent to Israel and like them he spoke in parables. In fact, the whole strategy was taken from Isaiah:

This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “‘“You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’” (Matt. 13:13–15)

5. For the background to “the time of your visitation (episkopēs)” consider:

What will they do on the day of visitation (episkopēs)? For the affliction will come to you from far away. (Is. 10:3 LXX)

And God will bring his hand against the ornament of heaven and against the kings of the earth. And they will gather them together and shut them up in a fortress and in a prison; through many generations will be their visitation (episkopē). (Is. 24:21–22 LXX)

They were put to shame, because they failed; yet they were not ashamed like people being put to shame, and they did not know their disgrace. Therefore they shall fall in their fall, and they shall perish in a time of visitation (episkopēs), said the Lord. (Jer. 6:15 LXX)

Notice also that Jesus compares the coming catastrophe to the flood and to the destruction of Sodom, both of which were acts of divine judgment against wickedness (Lk. 17:22-30).

The biblical background suggests that the “day of vengeance” was God’s:

In a day of vengeance (ekdikēseōs), I will repay, in a time when their foot slips, because near is the day of their destruction and things prepared for you are at hand. (Deut. 32:35)

The days of punishment (ekdikēseōs) have come; the days of your recompense have come, and Israel will be afflicted… (Hos. 9:7)

If you object to the God of Jesus punishing his people violently, what are you going to do with the whole of the Old Testament? That was the historical experience of the people. Did God send the Babylonians to punish his people as Habakkuk said he would? Jews before and after AD 70 believed that the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple was divine punishment.

6. Why shouldn’t Jesus the prophet weep over the foreseen punishment of the wicked tenants? Besides, he said as much earlier:

Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. (Lk. 13:33–35)

Thanks for your responses to my questions. I tend to think you are begging the question though, in the sense of assuming your conclusion before you have proved it.

In 1. we are in total agreement about the historical reasons for the death of Jesus. Insurrectionists were crucified; Jesus was accused of being an insurrectionist; he was crucified; yet he was innocent. Nothing in that outline of the historical reasons for his death proves your final sentence: “He suffered for the sins of the many in Israel who were on the broad road leading to destruction”. It’s a non sequitur.

In 2. you make an unproven syllogism: “Jesus was destroyed by Rome, part of Israel was not destroyed by Rome. His death opened up a way to life”. The conclusion is not proved by the first two statements, or anything you have said. I also think you have missed my point. The apostles died (as well as Jesus). This could hardly be said to demonstrate the “narrow way which leads to life”, which you say was true of the death of Jesus. You are assuming another interpretation of the deaths of both Jesus and the apostles, and whatever that is, you have not demonstrated it. But whatever you think of the deaths of the apostles, it’s the death of Jesus which is at issue here. How did his death open up a way of life?

3. I did not say “He gave his life as a ransom for many” was not a substitution. I believe it was. The issue is whether the substitution was also penal. That’s what you are assuming without having proved it. And so do many others. The “ransom” idea lends itself to other interpretations besides being also penal. In fact penal and ransom do not logically fit together.  Ransom is, as you say, a metaphor for what Jesus did. But you provide an explanation of the metaphor which I think is questionable. You explain it in terms of kidnappers and ransom — which I think has little or nothing to do with the way Jesus is using it. You then say that in this case a life is given as a ransom. Precisely. You go on to say it’s not a theory of how atonement works, but a metaphor of what happened in history. But you are providing an explanation (of sorts), and so does everybody. Metaphors always require interpretation on some level. I am simply questioning an interpretation which you have assumed, which is that some sort of deal was arranged whereby the death of Jesus in some way mitigated the judgment on some but not all of Israel (that’s the best way I can describe it, but you haven’t really made it as clear as that). I don’t think that is the best and certainly not the only way of explaining what “ransom” means in this context.

4. The way Jesus uses parables is quite unlike the way allegories are used by the prophets. I think you have not understood the point I was making about genre. To take two examples: in the parable of the shrewd manager Luke 16:1-13, instead of condemning the man for his dishonesty, Jesus commends him for his shrewdness, and holds this up as an example for the disciples. Clearly, a like for like comparison is not taking place here, and the servant is not being held up as model of discipleship in every respect. In the parable of the persistent widow Luke 18:1-8, God is compared with an indifferent and unjust judge. Clearly that is not how we are meant to see God. In the parable of the unmerciful servant Matthew 18:21-35, the punishment the man receives is out or proportion to his offence and described in hyperbolically gruesome language. The comparison with God is not literal.  So in the parables you cite, suggestions of a literal outcome in his Israel’s history, which the hearers clearly understood, may have to be qualified against their understanding of God, or God as he is suggested by the parables, which Jesus is probably reflecting. God is both like and unlike the parable picture of Him, and His actions.

5. Word studies are always useful, but not always conclusive. If you look at the context of episkopēs in Luke 19, it can only mean the coming of Jesus in his earthly life, not a “visitation” of judgment when Jerusalem was destroyed. By then it was too late for Israel to “recognise God on the day of his visitation” and receive him as messiah. The passage clearly shows that this “visitation” was when Israel still had time for recognising him, but failed to do so.

I think your final question here is crucial: “If you object to the God of Jesus punishing his people violently, what are you going to do with the whole of the Old Testament?” Well, not the whole of the Old Testament Andrew, because as we know, there are discordant voices in the OT. But what am I going to do with the parts of the OT attributing extreme violence to God? Good question. I am honestly wrestling with that at the moment, in a way that I have avoided, or thought I had adequate apologetics for, for the last 44 years. It sounds as if you’ve never had to do that.

6. I’m not sure you have grasped my point. If the death of the tenants, or the mass crucifixion of Jews, was God’s judgment, and therefore just and deserved, why did Jesus not approve and affirm what God was going to do? That he didn’t suggests that this was not an act of judgment and justice, demonstrating God’s righteousness, which we should all approve, Jesus included. The conclusion is he wept because God wept, because it was avoidable, and God had not wanted it. It was not necessarily a straightforward righteous judgment, or even God expressing his anger against sin. I simply don’t see what your final extract is trying to prove.

1. I don’t see the problem. He looked like just another Jewish troublemaker executed by Rome. I rather think this is what Paul meant when he said that Jesus was sent “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3). His experience was exactly that of the people who would later revolt against Rome, except that he was innocent.

2. Again I’m struggling to see what your problem is. There’s no syllogism. The point was simply that there was a substitutionary element to the narrative. Two things happened. Jesus was destroyed by Rome. Part of Israel was not destroyed by Rome and entered the life of the age to come. That could be interpreted as a substitution—his life for theirs.

3. If a person pays a ransom, he or she is penalised for the sake of the captive. The captive is not penalised but liberated. By their disobedience the Jews were getting themselves into a mess with Rome. Jesus’ paid the penalty for this with his own life.

In Jewish Law a ransom is paid for a life in the case of culpability (cf. Ex. 21:30; 30:12; Num. 35:31) or to redeem something which is possessed by someone else (cf. Lev. 19:20; 25:24; 25:26). The Levites are taken by God in the place of (anti) every firstborn of Israel; they are a ransom for the sons of Israel (Num. 3:12). If Isaiah 53:12 is relevant for the interpretation of Jesus’ saying, there are good grounds for thinking that there is a “penal” aspect to the metaphor as Jesus uses it: “because his soul was given over to death, and he was reckoned among the lawless, and he bore the sins of many, and because of their sins he was given over” (Is. 53:12 LXX). This does not mean that God deliberately punished Jesus, but if the Jews’ suffering was punishment for their sin, Jesus’ suffering was punishment for their sin.

4. How is Jesus’ parable of the vineyard different in literary form from Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard? You’ve ignored the central argument—the relationship to Isaiah’s parable and the reason that Jesus’ gives for speaking in parables, which directly evokes the sending of Isaiah to warn a stiff-necked people that the land will be left desolate (Is. 6:9-13). Luke also has Jesus reference Isaiah 8:11-15, which reinforces the narrative-historical orientation of the parable (Lk. 20:18):

For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”

5. I am simply pointing out that the violence is part of the story—both in the Old Testament and in the New. Israel experienced YHWH as a God of history, and history is bloody. The church has turned a blind eye to it. My argument is that if we are going to claim to be a biblical people, heirs to the story about Jesus, we have to take this aspect into account. I don’t think the solution is to allegorise it or pretend it isn’t there.

6. It seems to me that Jesus, who in Luke 13:33-35 calls himself a prophet, who tells parables like a prophet, lamented the fate of Jerusalem in exactly the same way that the prophets lamented the fate of Jerusalem. The prophet attributes the coming disaster to the folly of the people, who will bring war down on their own heads, but also regards it as the wrath of God. The historical and theological explanations are two sides of the same coin.

In each category you seem to overlook the points I was making. However, in terms of problems, my overall problem is with penal substitution as it is commonly presented, and with the underlying problem of what it says about God if he has to use violence to achieve his ends. Evidently you don’t think this is a problem, nor, in your version of things that God should punish an innocent human being as a human sacrifice to fulfil his redemptive purposes. At least in the Trinitarian version God is bearing the punishment in himself — not imposing punishment on someone separate from himself, like a human messiah. This “redemptive violence” is the subject of the thread, I thought.

I don’t know if it’s worth it, but just to clarify:

1. You haven’t said how Jesus’s death anticipated the deaths of thousands of Jews later by crucifixion, any more than any other crucified insurrectionist anticipated this slaughter. Maybe they all anticipated it? What was unique, in your view, about Jesus?

2. You have now said that the reason part of Israel was spared in AD 70 was because Jesus’s life was a subsitution — his life for theirs. Now we’re getting somewhere.

3. No — a person who pays a ransom is not penalised for the sake of a captive. He is buying them back. That is not identical to penalisation. It certainly is not what is meant by penal in “penal substitution”, where the idea of judicial punishment is at the fore. In the next paragraph you get more to the heart of the matter by looking at “ransom” in the OT. You miss the most important lutron of all: the ransoming of Israel by God in their release from slavery in Egypt. But no “ransom” was paid by God. He redeemed (ransomed — same word) them out of love by hearing their cries and bringing them out of Egypt. In Isaiah 53 there is no mention of a ransom. The suffering has been interpreted as bearing a judicial penalty for Israel’s sins. However, this suffering, and the “ransom” of Matthew 20:28 could be interpreted differently.

4. I’m not saying there is no connection whatsoever between Isaiah and Matthew’s vineyard. They both speak of Israel as a vineyard! I’m saying Jesus handles things in a very different way. He does not provide the same sort of prophetic allegory as Isaiah. He tells a story more like a folk tale, with a dramatic ending for the wicked tenants. Actually, in this case, the ending for the tenants is: “He will miserably destroy those wicked men”, and he then lets out the vineyard to others. Isaiah’s vineyard is made into a wasteland. In fact, when you look at Isaiah’s allegory, it is point for point quite different from Matthew’s story. Isaiah’s vineyard only yields bad grapes, and had not been worth the effort of cultivating it. Matthew is not making this point at all.

5. The church has not turned a blind eye to violence in the bible. It has condoned it in the Old Testament, either by saying that recipients of violence at God’s hands or the hands of His people were so wicked they deserved nothing else, or saying that God is sovereign and can do what he wants, or even by saying physical suffering and death is far less than suffering in hell (so they should be grateful?). Penal substitution as a way of understanding the atonement enshrines violent judicial punishment at the heart of Jesus’s crucifixion. The word ”atonement” has changed its meaning from when Tyndale coined it as “reconciliation” to become purging through judicial punishment. This why some today, perhaps an increasing number, are questioning this as a way of understanding Jesus’s suffering on the cross.

6. Now you are introducing a new subject altogether: the wrath of God, which is not mentioned in any of the gospel accounts of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.

Just for the record, the alternative view of the cross, which has sometimes been called “Christus Victor”, and was widely held by the early church, is that Jesus was overcoming evil by his death and resurrection, in which we were both victims and accomplices. The battle was with Satan, whose authority derives from sin and death.  

Jesus’s encounters with Satan are important in the framing of the gospel accounts, and in John’s gospel. shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus declares that “the Prince of the World (Satan) is coming, but he has no part in me”.  The demonic powers recognise Jesus, as Messiah, but also fear of what they know will be their defeat. His death and resurrection made their defeat a universal possiblity . On the other side of the coin, Jesus’s victory is releasing the life of the age to come into the world, and the beginning of the new creation in his own resurrection.

Gustaf Aulen brought the Christus Victor idea to light again in his book on the subject in 1958, and more recently Tom Wright — though each version of it is slightly different. Wright is very coy when associated with it, for similar reasons, I suppose, to you not wishing to be associated with “preterism”. Historical approaches to Jesus prefer not to be branded theologically.

Some of my criticisms have been ignored altogether, but I won’t take that personally. It’s a nice evening and I’m being called to walk the dog, so that must be it for now.

Evidently you don’t think this is a problem, nor, in your version of things that God should punish an innocent human being as a human sacrifice to fulfil his redemptive purposes.

It’s not a question of whether I think it’s a problem. It’s a question of whether I think it’s in the text. Also, I made what to my mind is an important distinction in the previous comment: “This does not mean that God deliberately punished Jesus, but if the Jews’ suffering was punishment for their sin, Jesus’ suffering was punishment for their sin.”

1. What was unique about Jesus’ death was i) that he was the Son sent to Israel, and ii) that God raised him on the third day.

2. I thought I’d said that all along.

3. I didn’t mention the “ransom” from Egypt because that’s another metaphorical use of the term. I’m not defending “penal substitution” as a theoretical account of the atonement. But violent punishment is unquestionably part of the Gospel story. What Jesus suffered anticipated or foreshadowed the punishment of Israel.

4. Your comments on the difference between the two vineyard parables seem pretty arbitrary to me. The story is obviously different because different historical moments are in view, and Jesus targets the leaders in particular. But formally it’s hard to see how one is an allegory and the other a folk tale.

5. Punishment is an integral part of the old covenant. It’s hardly surprising that it appears in the New Testament as part of Israel’s end-game. Have a look at Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9. Or Paul’s argument in Romans 9:19-22:

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction…

6. The “wrath” of God is associated with judgment on Jerusalem at Matthew 3:7 // Luke 3:7 and Luke 21:23: “For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people.” Of course, Jesus death was regarded as a victory over evil, satan and death, but that hardly precludes the very Jewish thought that—in very historical terms—his suffering preempted the punishment of Israel. Significantly, people tend not to find the Christus Victor idea in the Synoptic Gospels.

If God seeking human sacrifice is a problem, which it should be, maybe we should ask if it really is in the text. It isn’t. Nor is God seeking an innocent victim in the text.
1. You have not addressed what I said.
2. You have been very careful to avoid saying clearly or outright that death of Jesus was a penal substitutionary atonement.
3. Ransom from Egypt is probably the most important meaning of the term. You repeat the ‘anticipation’ assertion without any supporting evidence.
4. I’ve demonstrated how little connection there is between Isaiah’s vineyard allegory and Jesus’s parable of the tenants.
5. Punishment and reward is integral to the Deuteronomic strands of the OT especially. Other parts of the OT present a different view if God, and even call into question the whole punishment/reward paradigm. Job fir example. But in the end, we are not required to take a wooden literal acceptance of the text. Jesus radically challenged such a view again and again. If we don’t bring ethical engagement with the text, we are vulnerable to a reading of it that leads to abuse, and to a distorted view of God. The text always serves the higher end of knowing God. If you don’t ask questions of where your interpretation of the text is taking you, you can end up with abusive belief which serves the opposite of the faith you profess. Trump supporting believers across the Atlantic are the proof of this.
6. All three texts you cite refer to “the wrath”, but significantly not “the wrath of God”. But this is a subject needing separate treatment.
Finally, it is precisely in the gospels where Christus Victor, or something like it, is most strongly seen. Where did you get the idea that it wasn’t?

It seems to me that you are so determined to dismiss or erase ideas that you personally find distasteful that there is little point in pursuing this further.

You have merely asserted that Isaiah’s parable is an allegory and Jesus’ is a folk story. You haven’t demonstrated anything.

You can’t cite Job against the Deuteronomic tradition, which controls the narrative all the way from Abraham to Malachi and on into the New Testament. Job, in any case, reinforces the Deuteronomic tradition: in the end, because he remains faithful, everything is restored to him. It confirms the punishment/reward paradigm. He is not being punished for wickedness but because he is being tested. He is rewarded for his righteousness.

And to suggest that “wrath” might not be the wrath of God is just silly and evasive. If the Pharisees are supposed to “repent” in order to escape the wrath to come, how can it be understood in any other way than as a reference to divine judgment? God is able to raise up children to Abraham, the axe is laid to the root of the trees, and the one to come will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. You seriously think this is not the wrath of God?

Honestly, Peter, this is getting us nowhere. Let’s leave it.

Yes, very happy to leave it, but astonished at your dismissal of very important issues of textual interpretation, and sorry that you don’t feel able to seriously engage with them.

Chris Jones | Wed, 04/12/2017 - 12:48 | Permalink


You end with this

“The overthrow of pagan imperialism, which was also foreseen in the Old Testament—the victory of YHWH over the nations—would be achieved not by violence but by the word of God, the testimony of the saints, the faithful witness of the martyrs.”

Can you spell out when you see this happening?

AndrewChris Jones | Wed, 04/12/2017 - 18:01 | Permalink

In reply to by Chris Jones

Between the Edict of Milan in 313 and the Edict of Thessalonica in 380—the period during which the nations of the empire formally stopped worshipping the old gods and turned to serve instead the one true living God.

“The overthrow of pagan imperialism, which was also foreseen in the Old Testament—the victory of YHWH over the nations—would be achieved not by violence but by the word of God, the testimony of the saints, the faithful witness of the martyrs.” [last paragraph of main post — 3 April, 2017 — 17:15 ]

“Can you spell out when you see this happening?” [Chris Jones’ question — 12 April, 2017 - 12:48]

“Between the Edict of Milan in 313 and the Edict of Thessalonica in 380—the period during which the nations of the empire formally stopped worshipping the old gods and turned to serve instead the one true living God.” [Andrw Perriman’s answer — 12 April, 2017 - 18:01]

I hope that AP is not suggesting that between those two edicts we find the fullest expression of “the word of God, the testimony of the saints, the faithful witness of the martyrs”.

It was a period of prolonged squabbling between the Arians and the Nicene. Then, between the semi-Arians and the neo-Nicene. Then the Cappadocian scoundrels came and, instead of the “one true living God”, Christians found themselves landed with a “triune god”.

That certainly made the Jews even more stubborn in their refusals of Jesus Christ, and maybe (maybe) prepared the rejection of Christianity by the founder of Islam and his Arab tribes …

There was obviously a lot wrong with Christendom, but “the word of God, the testimony of the saints, the faithful witness of the martyrs” was that Jesus had been seated at the right hand of God and, within a foreseeable future, would judge and rule over the nations governed until that point by Rome. In historical terms, I think it’s impossible not to identify that political-religious hope with the transformation that took place in the fourth century.

Are you seriously advocating that the Edict of Milan in 313 and the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 where within the purview of “the word of God, the testimony of the saints, the faithful witness of the martyrs”?

Wouldn’t this be superimposing a theological interpretation upon a strictly historical narration?

For my part my interpretation is that those two “historical bookmarks” (Milan and Thessalonica) are simply masterpieces of political expediency. On the part of the Roman Empire as well as of the Church.

Oh, BTW, talking about “christian martyrs”, there obviously were none between 313 and 380. We may call Priscillian the first “heretic martyr” (385 CE) after orthodox Catholic Christianity was declared by the three emperors (Theodosius I, Gratian, and Valentinian II) the only legitimate form of Christianity in the Roman Empire. According to the contemporary historian Sulpicius Severus:

“For his [Priscillian’s] followers who had previously honored him as a saint, subsequently began to reverence him as a martyr.” (Sacred History ii. 51)