Fraser denies that Jesus was a Sacrifice

Just when you thought he’d quietened down and stopped spouting unbiblical nonsense, Giles Fraser has been at it again this weekend in this wonderful column in the Guardian.

But what would I have made of yesterday’s Good Friday service? Could I really have coped with all that sacrificial imagery so commonly applied to the death of Christ? For this is also a region with a frightening reputation as a centre for ritual murders.

Thinking about the celebration of Holy Week in my new adopted cathedral brings home to me quite how important it is for Christians to insist upon a non-sacrificial reading of the death of Christ. For too long, Christians have put up with a theory of salvation that has at its core the idea that God requires the sacrifice of his own son so that human sin can be cancelled. “There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin,” we will all sing. The fact this is a disgusting idea, and morally degenerate, is obvious to all but those indoctrinated into a very narrow reading of the cross.

No, Jesus is not a blood sacrifice to appease a vicious God. The story is not an endorsement of the idea that sacrifice brings peace with God but an attack on it. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” Jesus insists, going on to side with the scapegoats themselves. The Gospel is clear. I am with the hunchback. I am with the one cast out. He became one with the rejected and the cast out. And thus he suffered the same fate. This is not to endorse sacrificial theology but to condemn it.

Yet despite this clear identification with the victim, much official Christianity holds on to the sacrificial reading of Christ’s death. The present pope has insisted that the Eucharist must be seen as a sacrifice rather than as a meal among friends, and evangelical Christians remain committed to their theory of Christ being sacrificed to offset human sin. Lord have mercy.

Where to start? Well let’s begin with Isaiah 53:

But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.

Now of course, I’m just a humble curate and Giles is an academic genius, but even I can see what the text says – “transgressions”, “chastisement”. Love that chastisement – it’s the Hebrew מוּסַ֤ר and there’s simply no way you can translate it to mean “not punishment but actually just suffering because life has picked on me”.

Let’s move onto verse 10:

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

“His soul makes an offering for sin” – אִם־תָּשִׂ֤ים אָשָׁם֙ נַפְשֹׁ֔ו. What does that mean? Offering here is the expression “to set for”. The grammar is very clear – the Messiah offers himself in exchange for sin, as a substitute for it. There is simply no getting around it – the very thing Fraser denies is explicit in the text.

Fast forward to Paul. Romans 3:25 says that Christ “offered himself as a sacrifice, a propitiation” – The Greek is “ἱλαστήριον“, the place where sins are forgiven. So Paul is clear – Jesus becomes the place where sins are forgiven, but Fraser’s penultimate paragraph is determined to deny the need to forgive sins. Yes, the atonement is also about handling our hurt and suffering (go and read Isaiah 53 again if you don’t get that), but it is more than that. The cross is the place where the punishment for my sin is enacted.

More Paul from 1 Cor 5:7-8. Christ is the Passover Lamb, the one who is wounded and killed so that judgement passes over the Hebrews. The Greek is ἐτύθη and you could translate that as “has been slaughtered” or “has been killed”, but almost every single translation goes for “has been sacrificed” because those doing the translation work understand exactly what the reference to the Passover sacrifice is about.

But the killer is the Letter to the Hebrews. Here the word “sacrifice” is unambigiously just that – a sacrifice. For example, in Hebrews 7:27 the first sacrifice (that performed by the High Priests) is the Greek θυσίας and there is no question about this being “sacrifice”. Christ is then described as the one who “did this once for all” (referring to that previous action – the explicit offering of a sacrifice) when he “offered himself up” – ἀνενέγκας. This “offering up” is almost always used in the context of offering a sacrifice (i.e. James uses it in James 2:21 to talk about Abraham offering up Isaac). The other possible uses of the word (“go up”, “bear the burden”) don’t make sense of the verse *unless* you first argue that the High Priests actually bore on themselves the sacrificial punishment for the people.

But if you’re not convinced by this then move to Hebrews 9:26 – Here the “sacrifice of himself” that Jesus commits is that original θυσίας that was used of the High Priests’ sacrifice. You simply cannot translate it another way. Christ is a sacrifice.

Let’s be very clear on this – Hebrews 9:26 says that Christ is a sacrifice, the exact same kind of sacrifice that the High Priests performed day after day to cover the sin guilt of the people. Fraser says “No, Jesus is not a blood sacrifice”. Who are we going to believe?

Jacob at the Mockingbird Blog has an interesting insight on all this:

Jesus says in John 10:18 “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” In John 19:30 we are told that Jesus gives up his Spirit. Indeed, a theology of the cross sees the world through suffering and death, but not with the view of, “poor me and poor Jesus.” Rather a theology of the cross points out that Jesus suffered and died alone because all of us poor misunderstood victims, are actually at odds with God and were in the crowd shouting “crucify him.” As Forde points out, a theology of the cross allows us to call “a spade a spade.” It sees all of us not as victims who are just misunderstood, but as the victimizers who have killed Jesus. It is a theology that sees us as sinners for whom Jesus became sin and died in order to forgive (2 Cor. 5:21).

Therefore, a theology of the cross, as opposed to simply inoculating our conscience to sin and our own culpability in it, finds us guilty of the sin that we have committed, and states that we should be justly condemned for it, while at the same time stating our penalty has been paid for and we are 100% forgiven. A theology of the cross keeps us in our proper place, as helpless sinners, and keeps Christ in His proper place, as our Lord and Savior.

Profound. The attempt to deny the sacrificial death of Jesus is an attempt to avoid the consequences of my sin. That’s worth us all considering.

Update : Matt Kennedy at Stand Firm nails this perfectly:

What do we call a judge who acquits a guilty person on the basis of a loving personal relationship?

Corrupt.

The first comment on the thread completes the story:

… or merciful, if the guilt is applied justly to another who is willing to serve the penalty to render the decision effective.

http://www.the-highway.com/cross_Packer.html

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28 Comments on “Fraser denies that Jesus was a Sacrifice

  1. I understand there is great complexity about and cultural translation needed for concepts like “Hilasterion,” but have never quite got the idea that the Cross is simply Jesus saying “I love you so much that I’m going to throw myself under a bus.” Unless the object of his love was in serious danger of getting mown down by said same bus, and Jesus’ act pushed me out the way, in some sense, why would that be an expression of love rather than lunacy?

    • Well exactly!!! I’ve actually avoided the whole argument about the hilasterion because there are much better supports of the sacrificial atonement in the Letter to the Hebrews.

      While Evangelicals need to get to grip with the fact that the atonement is not just for the sins I committed but also for others’ sins that I have suffered by (and I once had a conversation with Andy Hawthorne where I opened him up to this idea which is blatant in Isaiah 53, though it would be interesting if he remembers it), a good Biblical theology grapples with the very clear teaching that Christ becomes the curse that I should have become. Anything less than that and we simply get a “God loves me so much that he decided to become like me” theology that completely ignores the consequences of sin.

  2. “The attempt to deny the sacrificial death of Jesus is an attempt to avoid the consequences of my sin.”

    I think you are right, Peter. My first reaction when I read this kind of rejection of traditional teaching is not so much to engage with the argument – that will never convince the one who holds this kind of view – but to ask why is he saying it.

    In my experience, the theology of those who follow the Inclusive Church movement, which Dr Fraser is involved with, tends to reject, or at least heavily downplay, the idea of sin and judgement. This in turn makes the theology of the “open table” at communion (a central tenet of Inclusive Church) more coherent.

    But sin and judgement are not some wicked and nasty scheme thought up by cynical theologians. Apart from being utterly biblical, from beginning to end, they are realities in our everyday lives. How many of us can truly say that we do not see every day sin and its consequences (judgement) in our own lives and the lives of those around us?

    The point of Our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross was that when we join ourselves to it, we know that we are being saved: through faith there is hope, and love, and love is stronger than death — sin will not destroy us.

    The biblical principle is that there can be no intercession without sacrifice, and no sacrifice without bloodshed. Christ’s sacrifice, once and for all, means that we have an open channel through the sacrament of his body and blood in Holy Communion.

    I could go on, but I think everyone will get the point from hereon in.

  3. Funnily enough, Giles Fraser’s sideswipe at “sacrificial” notions of the Lord’s Supper really helped clarify my thinking on this. (I generally find it easier to start my thinking at the sacraments and work my way out from there, rather than the other way round.)

    While I don’t believe the Supper is itself a sacrifice, it is a sacrificial meal, where we eat and drink the body and blood of the Christ who was sacrificed once for all.

    So it’s a proof by contradiction: if Jesus did not die as a sacrifice for our sins, then that means the Supper can’t be a sacrificial meal. But the Supper is a sacrificial meal. Therefore Jesus died as a sacrifice for our sins.

    And yes, I recognise the logical flaw in that argument (namely, it assumes what it proves). But like I said: start from the sacraments and work out from there, and you can’t go too far wrong. (Unless you get the sacraments wrong, of course. But let’s not go there. ;-) )

  4. The cross and resurrection are profound symbols invested with multiple layers of meaning and encompassing our understanding of sin, suffering, love, power, authority and the interaction between God and man. We need to fight the modern tendency to reject the message of the cross as atonement for sins as “offensive or obscene” for the message of the cross may be “foolishness to the world, but to us who are being saved it is power and hope.”

    Of course, Jesus is not ” a blood sacrifice to appease a vicious God.” It is the word “vicious” that gets it all wrong! Jesus is God’s sacrifice of his “dearly beloved son”, our all powerful God willingly making himself vulnerable and being torn asunder for his love for a sinful, hating humanity. It is not the old, human sacrifice, an endeavour to be repeated again and again, but a new once and for all atonement, an act of undeserved love and grace. Along with the cross come all the ideas of our debts cancelled, our ransom paid, of access to grace, redemption, mercy, a saviour who pleads our cause, turns our expectations upside down. All these should surely be a source of intense sweetness, joy, boundless gratitude to any Christian. But the cross is not complete without the resurrection. As Rowan Williams writes in “Resurrection”, “If we come in search of the God of our condition at Easter, we shall not find him.”

  5. Hello all,

    Peter, I don’t doubt your analysis of the texts but I would like to raise a couple of things not mentioned so far. If I’m reading rightly Giles Fraser is attacking a theology of the cross that has God taking out his anger on Jesus – a theology which (he argues) can quite easily be used to justify scapegoating violence. Hence his reference to the ritual murder of a disabled man in Ghana. Your post doesn’t address this, it seems to me – you sound as though you’re slightly ‘talking past’ GF. Also, is it fair to say you’re defending a penal substitution view of the atonement here? Just asking as it’s not explicit if so (just as GF is not explicit that that’s what he’s attacking, if I’m understanding him).

    Sue, you say above: “Of course, Jesus is not ‘a blood sacrifice to appease a vicious God’” – and I’m with you, but some theories of the atonement do suggest that there is vengeance in God, and picking up John H’s reference to the Eucharist: isn’t one of the things we celebrate there, that the cross and resurrection are our forgiveness? But if so, how can there be vengeance in God? – forgiveness cannot have anything to do with revenge.

    John (comment #4) asks why GF says what he says – one guess could be that if many folk have in the back of their minds an idea that God is vengeful and that Christian talk about the cross underscores this, perhaps this is what GF is trying (however inadequately) to tackle. Perhaps he wants to suggest that God is not vengeful (hence his quoting of “I want mercy and not sacrifice”), maybe in hope of removing what for some is a barrier to faith?

    I don’t think this is just fussing about words, but seems to me that ‘sacrifice’ is quite a slippery word here. I’m not sure that Peter and most of us in this thread, are using it in the way that GF is – though I may be wrong. Does ‘sacrifice’ mean that at the cross, the Trinity splits and the Father immolates the Son – an Abraham who actually does kill Isaac? (the image I’m assuming Giles Fraser is lambasting – though I’m not trying to point fingers about who might actually hold to this). Or does it mean that God offers – sacrifices – his son, his very self to vengeful humans so as to be our forgiving victim (which seemed to me what your post is close to saying Sue – hope that’s fair)?

    Am very tired which will be my excuse for the flaws in, and tone of, this post! At the risk of tedium I would like to suggest that folk read James Alison on this – for a remarkably rich way of looking at the atonement. See http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=2331 and http://www.jamesalison.co.uk/texts/eng11.html

    In friendship, Blair

    • Hi Blair,
      I am saying God offers his son ( and himself as Jesus is God) to vengeful humans as a forgiving victim ( but also that there is more than this …bear with me)In the cross we must confront ourselves as victims and sufferers but also as victimisers and oppressors. I see Christ’s whole incarnation as God voluntarily choosing vulnerability over might, love and self sacrifice over the ability to force and violate others. There is then a radical message to humanity to do likewise, I think it is a message written throughout the gospels. In this context, sin is one concept central to the cross – I certainly don’t want to downplay the sin we see in ourselves and in our world( and yes, I am an inclusive church person!)
      However, God is more than “victim” or “an image of ourselves” – see my comment on the resurrection). The cross offers a God who suffers with us and by our actions, resurrection offers power, a power which transforms us and cannot be fully defined by us. Of course there is more to the cross, it is a symbol which we invest with meanings from the simplest to the most complex and we do have to be careful to think what ideologies we place upon the cross ( for example the anti semitic ideas that the Jews were culpable as a race because of Christ’s death) I think in the resurrection we are warned against the tendency to appropriate the cross to our own agendas,
      “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, he is risen.”

      • Hello Sue,

        wow – thank you. Wish I could write posts like this…

        To be honest I wasn’t meaning to try and sum up your whole previous post in one phrase… although reading it again now that is how it reads. But thanks again – I especially like your line, “In the cross we must confront ourselves as victims and sufferers but also as victimisers and oppressors”.

        in friendship, Blair

  6. Excellent article Peter, and with the following comments a well-reasoned and biblical response to Giles Fraser’s article. I noticed the same type of beliefs as Fraser’s emerging from non-Christian reviewers of ‘The Passion of the Christ’ and immediately thought of the phrase ‘the offense of the Cross’. The sacrifice of Christ for our sins leaps out of any open-minded reading of Scripture, however offensive the concepts of sin and judgement may be to the post-modern mind. Well done on your site and your continuing work to promote Christian orthodoxy!

  7. Blair,

    I think a simple question can be asked which will help clarify the position of God towards sin. What do you think it means when the Bible says that God is wrathful towards sin? (i.e. Paul’s multiple use of the concept in Romans)

    • Hello Peter,

      I fear this is undue pedantry but I didn’t refer to “the position of God towards sin” in my comment above… And I might not need to say this, but I am not trying to ‘minimise sin’ in my comments on this thread… Anyhow, I’m not denying that the Bible speaks of God as being angry (towards sin, and indeed towards sinners) in Paul, as you say. But I don’t think that simply ends the discussion.

      For a start there’s the risk of being unduly anthropomorphic and talk of God’s wrath being a projection of human anger and / or guilt. Surely talk of God’s wrath needs very careful handling…. you’re a pastor, I’m not, but I can imagine a situation where someone comes to you in fear and shaky faith because their image of God is angry and overbearing.

      And then, what about the point that God is like Jesus – given that in Jesus God reveals himself? Again I am not trying to deny or erase “woe to you Pharisees” texts, or the story in John 2 about the moneylenders being driven out of the Temple. So yes, you could say that Jesus was ‘wrathful towards sin’ in such passages… but what about the sheer visceral compassion of “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more”, or his frequent saying to people that their sins are forgiven, “go in peace”.

      And, what about “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all” – how to read passages about God’s wrath such that we don’t end up with an image of God with an angry shadow side? (I’m not implying I have an answer by the way…)

      Quoting others can be a cop-out… but there’s a lot in these words of Herbert McCabe’s:
      “We are quite naturally prone to say that God is angry with us when we sin. And, of course, the Bible speaks frequently of the wrath of God… And this is a perfectly good way of talking. But the language is figurative. It makes an image of God. There is nothing wrong with such imagery as long as we do not let it confuse us into thinking that it represents the last word on God. As St Thomas Aquinas tells us, we need a lot of images for God. In particular, we need conflicting, incompatible and grotesque ones. The more images we have, says Thomas, the less likely we are to identify them with God and the more likely we are to realize that God is the incomprehensible mystery behind all images” (Herbert McCabe OP, ‘God, Christ and us’, p61).

      in friendship, Blair

      • I still think we need to engage with the wrath of God. What is it? What is it against? How is it exercised? Why is it exercised?

        These are important questions that Fraser simply ignores to fit *his* anthropomorphic theology.

        • Most of the references to the wrath of God in Romans ( to which you refered earlier) seem, to me, to center around the idea of the salvation / unbelief of the nation of Israel and the inclusion of the gentiles ( if you mean chapters 9, 10, 11 – I’ve only had a cursory look.)There also seem to be some ideas in there that have been interpreted in a calvinistic way about the elect and predestination , “What if God, choosing to make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath – prepared in advance for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory?” ( Romans 9: 22-23)

          Paul seems to be grappling with the concepts , note all the questions and hypothesis – “what if.” I am not sure how all this relates to the cross and Christ’s sacrifice, if this is the bit you meant, Peter. I’m struggling to make sense of this in the light of the cross – any suggestions?

          • Reading through the whole of Romans it seems to start by establishing man’s sinfulness, then move on to the problem of the law and how the law condemns , then onto the problem of mercy making sin seem “good” as it brings God’s mercy , “Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase?” ” Is the law sin?” We also have the ideas of justification by faith and then those ideas which lend themselves to Calvinistic thought. It seems to me that the ideas most closely pertaining to the cross come in Chapter 8 verses 28 -39.

        • Hello again folks,

          I haven’t done the work that you have Sue I admit – but Peter, at the risk of sounding impatient, I was trying, if very briefly, to engage with the wrath of God in my reply above. Would you be willing to have more discussion about anything I’ve raised – especially the point from my first comment about whether talk of the wrath of God means there’s vengeance in God, and how forgiveness can have anything to do with this?

          Also wondering why you call Giles Fraser’s theology anthropomorphic – couldn’t see anything in his article to back that up, granted that he isn’t arguing his case especially well.

          in friendship, Blair

          • I’ll take that in reverse.

            Fraser’s theology is anthropomorphic because he comes at things not from the perspective of “what is Scripture saying that I must listen to” but rather “does this feel OK to me”. If he doesn’t like what Scripture says, he ignores it – that makes his theology based on what he feels, not what Scripture says (and, as I have shown above, Scripture says the exact opposite to what he feels).

            I think you would need to deal with passages like Romans 12:19-21 before you dropped the idea of God being vengeful. John Piper though has a great piece on the subject here.

            • I have no problem with the idea of God’s righteous anger ( although it may be an idea unpopular today.) I feel anger when I hear of atrocities and injustice ( I see sin as the harming of ourselves and others), how much more does God, who is holy and righteous? I actually think the idea of God’s anger in the scriptures and in the Piper piece is just as anthropomorphic as is Fraser. We alltend to make God in our own image; a vengeful and punitive culture or individual will tend to emphasise the punitive and vengeful aspects of God, one focused on social injustice will emphasise these aspects in their theology and selections of scripture – and we are ALL selective (even you, Peter) in what we choose to focus on and none of us have a “definitive” picture of God, God is ineffable and beyond our comprehension. I actually think it is mystics who often move beyond a constraining anthropomorphism, I once read a bit in Julian of Norwich’s works where she describes God “laughing merrily” at sin and the devil ( because they are ultimately doomed and he has overcome.) Yet at another time she write of the pain of sin as so ugly that God only allows her a glimpse of it as it would be too much for the human soul to bear. As for Romans 12 ;14-21, it does tell us that vengeance is God’s but it doesn’t say how he will take or exercise that vengeance. Also, if you look at the whole passage it could be a description of the work of the cross, ” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Isn’t this what Christ did on the cross, in other words, as I’ve argued before, a God who has the utter right and ability to exercise power and vengeance chooses vulnerablity and mercy instead.

  8. I think Luther’s concept of the “proper” and “alien” work of God can be helpful here.

    God’s condemnation of sin – his wrath against sin, indeed his vengeance against sin, as most fully expressed towards his own Son on the cross – is part of his “alien” work. This is the work God does that is, in a sense, “out of character”.

    This contrasts with God’s “proper” work: forgiving sinners and turning them into “righteous, peaceful, patient, merciful, truthful, kind, joyful, wise, healthy people”, a “new creation”. This is the work God does that is most fully “in character”.

    So we are wrong to deny that God condemns sin or exhibits wrath against it. However, if this makes us feel uneasy – if we feel that “God isn’t like that” – then that is probably a good thing, because God’s wrath against sin is indeed an “alien” work rather than being at the core of his character.

    • Hello John,

      I’ve not read a word of Luther so this may be a misplaced question – but doesn’t this leave God rather ‘split’? If God can act in some sense ‘out of character’ how can I trust God – doesn’t this introduce a kind of caprice? What also slightly disturbs is that the bit you’ve quoted looks very amenable to a Jungian reading too – a God who has a shadow side. How would you read Luther’s words in light of “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all”?
      (Trouble is I haven’t read a word of Jung either…..)

      in friendship, Blair

  9. In order to help me understand the position of those of you who seek to attack Fraser’s views, I wonder how the acts of sins being forgiven pre the crucifixion in the Gospels fit into your overall schema? If Jesus can declare people’s sins to be forgiven before the atoning act on the cross, why need the cross in the first place? I am also intrigued how something like the story of the Prodigal Son fits into some of these more complicated atonement theories – it seems to me that the Father in the story does not seek to do anything but rush out to greet and kiss his wayward son – surely a radical downplaying of sin, as understood by many of the above commentators, if there ever was one? Here, we have a picture of a God who bridges the gap before an act of contrition is made, and without the need for anything you describe Peter. Chronologically, it stands as a picture of what God is like and the nature of salvation pre crucifixion, and its implications would have been clear to Jesus’ listeners.

    • Winston: this point is addressed by Paul in Romans 3, where he writes that God “put forward [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement” for the following reason:

      He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

      In other words, the cross answers the question of why God had allowed all the sins before it to go unpunished: it was God’s “divine forbearance”, pending the payment of the penalty for that sin on the cross. Hence the cross showed that God was indeed righteous, that he would not let sin go unpunished, whereas until that point he was (one might say) open to the accusation of injustice for letting people get away with evil behaviour.

      Your comment comes at the same question from a different direction. For Paul (and his readers), the question is why God could let people get away with sin for so long. For you, the question is why the cross was necessary if God could be forgiving sin before it. In both cases, the answer is the same: God was working on the basis that the cross was going to happen at the time he intended for it.

      To put it another way: God forgave people’s sins before Jesus died on the cross, because he already intended that Jesus would pay the price for sin at that future date. The penalty for those sins was put “on humanity’s tab”, as it were.

      • ‘God forgave people’s sins before Jesus died on the cross, because he already intended that Jesus would pay the price for sin at that future date. The penalty for those sins was put “on humanity’s tab”, as it were.’

        Such an anthropomorphic understanding of God. I get a sense of transactions being passed back and off in the divine economy – it is like some glorified banking system of debt, money in/out etc. This does not sound like the God we encounter in Jesus in the Gospels. I wonder if we ought to have a little bit more Jesus in all of this, and a little less Paul.

        Also, John – on your suggestion that God acted in order to answer accusations against his lack of justice, what sort of a God needs to worry about human accusation in this way?

        Conversely, what justice is there in slaying an innocent for crimes that he did not commit in order to save those who legitimately should pay the price? Of course, there will be appeals to the fact that this is the nature of a loving God; however, it is still an act of love that infringes all/most human understandings of justice. It seriously calls into question why humans should want to be the children of a Father who treats his Son in this way?

        • Winston: Well, I did say that I don’t think such a “transactional” view is sufficient. It was an off-the-cuff and, yes, “anthropomorphic” statement. As C.S. Lewis would say, if it doesn’t help, drop it.

          As for “what sort of God needs to worry about human accusation?”, well really he doesn’t. And yet Paul says, “he did this to show his righteousness”. Show it to whom?

          But – oops – I’m quoting that pesky Paul again, aren’t I? As you say, let’s have some more Jesus. For example: “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many”. It seems to me that Jesus’ description of his death as a “ransom for many” is open to exactly the same objections you raise in your post. What justice is there in giving an innocent life as a “ransom” for others? Doesn’t that infringe “all/most human understandings of justice”? Doesn’t it seriously call into question why humans should want to be the children of a Father who demands his Son give his own life “as a ransom” for them?

          • John – I think the language of ransom does not have to be coterminous with ‘pay the price’ in the way that I understood you to mean earlier. For example, a ransom could be paid for those who have done no wrong.

            I am also intrigued how we extricate God from some of the schitzophrenic langauge that seems to be flying around. If the Father is sending to the Son to pay the price, who gets the price – the Father?

  10. Just noticed something…

    …don’t all switch channels :)

    Seems to me that Giles Fraser’s article refers to the ritual murder of a disabled man in Ghana, so as to say that God is not like the perpetrators of this, despite some Christian talk about the cross and the atonement which suggest he is like this. While clearly not liking the word ‘sin’, GF essentially argues that ritual murder and other such scapegoating is sinful. Isn’t this echoed in the bit you quoted from Jacob’s Mockingbird Blog – when he writes of the crowd shouting “crucify him”, and mentions us “as the victimizers who have killed Jesus”? Both GF and Jacob identify – or would identify – Jesus with the ritually murdered man, and so also identify us not God as the victimisers.

    If there’s anything in this then I also suggest that GF’s piece is not about denying or minimising sin – rather he locates it in the ritual murder (and other scapegoating, by analogy).

    I’m not saying GF’s article is perfect – it’s arguably too short for him to develop the argument and in places looks slapdash to me (eg the mention of the Pope – no reference given and it’s phrased misleadingly I reckon), as well as being provocative. But I think what he’s saying can be defended quite strongly.

    in friendship, Blair

    • Fraser is definitely against the idea of the cross being used to support the idea of “scapegoating” or being prepared to victimise and sacrifice the “other”. I don’t think a sacrificial interpretation of the cross has to support scapegoating though,in fact, I think it says the opposite. In Fraser’s defenc I think he is putting forward an idea, challenging concepts, rather than trying to insist ” this is the only interpretation” he is saying “this is a more humane interpretation to promote” I think, like myself, he would see the cross as symbol open to multiple perspectives and ( as I’ve said before) prone to being loaded with ideologies – I think this could be made a bit more explicit in his piece. I don’t agree with him about the cross not being a sacrifice because I think the point is it was a different kind of sacrifice – but I’ve already said that! I like a lot of Fraser’s writing though – and theologians do tend to try to redefine and find new ways of relating to faith and scripture. I can’t personally see anything wrong with that. After all, many of the Paulian concepts around the cross related to the Jewish faith and culture in which he was steeped. I think it is vital we learn of those and understand them – but try telling the average person on the street about Jesus as “paschal lamb” or the ” high priest in the order of Melchizedek” or “the first fruits of our redemption” and watch them flock into the churches!

  11. I know this subject may have been exhausted – but it is worth reading Fraser’s article ( Liberation at the Heart of Easter, 17th April, Church Times) in which he defends “liberation theology” with reference to the Exodus narrative.

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