My problem is this: the language of blood sacrifice was appropriate to people used to the sacrifices that were part of ancient temple worship, but is totally alien to our world…
Moreover, an atonement theology that says God sacrificed his own son in place of humans who needed to be punished for their sins might make some Christians love Jesus, but is an obscene picture of God. It is almost heavenly child abuse, and may infect our imagination at more earthly levels as well. I do not want to express my faith through a theology that pictures God demanding blood sacrifices in order to be reconciled to God. [John Dominic Crossan, Who Is Jesus? (Westminster: John Knox Press, 1996), 115.]
Reading the above quote from John Dominic Crossan of the “Jesus Seminar,” I am reminded of a story often told by R.C. Sproul of Ligonier Ministries
. Sproul relates:
Some parts of the Bible are so clear and simple that they are offensive to those suffering from intellectualarrogance. A few years ago I was lecturing about how Christ’s death on the cross fulfilled the curse motif of the Old Testament. In the middle of my lecture a man in the audience interrupted me, saying loudly, “That’s primitive and obscene.” I asked him to repeat his comment so that everyone present could have the opportunity to hear his complaint. When he repeated it, I said, “You are exactly right. I particularly like your choice of words, primitive and obscene.” The entire history of redemption is communicated in primitive terms from the episode of the encounter of Adam and Eve with the serpent to the devastating destruction that God visits on the chariots of Egypt in the Exodus to the crass and brutal murder of Jesus of Nazareth. The Bible reveals a God who hears the groans of all of His people, from the peasant to the philosopher, from the dull-witted to the sophisticated scholar. His message is simple enough for the most simplistic of His fallen creatures to understand. What kind of a God would reveal His love and redemption in terms so technical and concepts so profound that only an elite corps of professional scholars could understand them? God does speak in primitive terms because He is addressing Himself to primitives. At the same time, there is enough profundity contained in Scripture to keep the most astute and erudite scholars busily engaged in their theological inquiries for a lifetime.
If primitive is an appropriate word to describe the content of Scripture, obscene is even more so. All of the obscenities of sin are recorded with clear and forthright language in the Scripture. And what is more obscene than the cross? Here we have obscenity on a cosmic scale. On the cross Christ takes upon himself human obscenities to redeem them. [R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1977), 15-16.]
And so Crossan is not the first person to have a “problem” with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our redemption on the cross. In fact, people have always had a problem with the message of the cross, from the very beginning of the Church, as explained by the Apostle Paul:
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
19 For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.''
20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom;
23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness,
24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
26 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.
27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty;
28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are,
29 that no flesh should glory in His presence.
30 But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God and righteousness and sanctification and redemption
31 that, as it is written, "He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.'' (1 Corinthians 1:18-31 NKJV)
Notice that in this passage, Paul entirely shatters the argument that "the language of blood sacrifice was [employed because it was] appropriate to people used to the sacrifices that were part of ancient temple worship." Rather, the sacrificial language used by the apostles was actually more offensive to the Jews due to their cultural background. For the religious Jews prided themselves on remaining entirely separate from anything that was ceremonially unclean, and certainly from anything that was cursed, but Paul taught:
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written: Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree. (Galatians 3:13 HCSB)
And 1 Corinthians 1:23 also makes it clear that the apostles did not change their message to be more culturally relevant to their audience, even if they were scoffed at for the content of their preaching. So it is obvious that the Good News of the Christian faith is the message of the Cross: the message of a "blood sacrifice" made by Jesus on our behalf. Anyone who wishes to change this message should hear the words of the Apostle:
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than what we have preached to you, a curse be on him! As we have said before, I now say again: if anyone preaches to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him! (Galatians 1:8-9 HCSB)
[This blogpost was originally published on 8/28/05