January 24, 2010

Question for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Question Mark   

If Jesus died for our sins, what did he live for?


  1. The idea that "Jesus died for our sins" is a purely human one, apparently driven by a perceived need to explain the death if Jesus in rational terms. The Jewish tradition of scripturally warranted expiational sacrificial provided a convenient theological framework for this notion, which subsequently became part of Christian orthodoxy, a development that Dominic Crossan has called “the most unfortunately successful idea in the history of Christian thought”.

    In its most extreme form, this insane theology embraces the notion that Jesus "lived" (i.e. that he came to earth) precisely in order to make this sacrifice, since "there was no other good enough".

  2. Lionel: Romans 14 7-9 might be a starting point.

    7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

    Canon Magee:
    matthew 20:28 has some bearing surely:
    "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

    John Sandeman

  3. I guess Lionel my response to the question is that the two can't be separated. Incarnation and Atonement are two aspects of the same eternal gesture, the unexpected gift of costly love. Thus all the second chapter of Paul to the Philippians.

  4. My question was intended to be provocative, of course, but I do think it is a worthwhile question.

    Bruce’s comment reminds me of the folk hymn “I Wonder as I Wander.” It begins: “I wonder as I wander out under the sky/How Jesus our Savior was born for to die.”

    Even if you reject Hugh’s dismissal of “Jesus died for our sins,” one has to ask if Jesus’ ministry was irrelevant. Surely not, I would think. Yet Paul seems to know very little about it and not care very much.

  5. Lionel, I think your recollection of "I wonder as I wander" is right on target. There seem to be two poles in the conversation about the Work of Christ. One, as per Canon Magee's note here, tends to focus on the ethics, politics, and "spirituality" of Jesus's life and teachings. The other focuses on the metaphysics of propitiatory sacrifice. The central strand of Christian thinking has been that both are essential, that neither can be properly understood or appropriated without the other.


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