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NOTE TO PAGE 250.
THE following are the explanations that are given in the New Testament of the death of Jesus. We have grouped them according to their similarity or dissimilarity, not according to the persons who have put them forward.
1. Since, as we have shown above (p. 247), until quite a short time before his death, Jesus did not regard it as an eventuality ordained by God for the salvation of mankind, and since he was obliged to think that, being the Messiah, he was destined triumphantly to establish the kingdom of God, (a) in view of the Baptist’s end and of the machinations of his own enemies (Lk. xiii. 31-33; Mk. xii. 6-8), he can at most have believed that possibly, but by no means necessarily, God would assign him the cup of death as the decisive stroke. (b) The idea which approaches this most nearly is that found in the speeches of Peter in Acts (iii. 13-15, 17; v. 30) according to which the execution of Jesus was a sin on the part of the Jews, though an unwitting one. (c) Chapter iii. 18 implies only a slight advance upon this: Jesus’ death was ordained by God in fulfilment of the predictions of the prophets. This does not by any means include the idea that its purpose was the salvation of mankind; in that case, the expression could not have been directly preceded by iii. 13-17.
2. Jesus’ death implied a purpose as regards his own person, (a) Heb. v. 7 f., he is to learn obedience by his 270suffering; (b) Jn. xii. 23 f. 5 xvii. 1, 5, he had to return to heaven, whence he had come down; (c) xvii. 19 a, he had to sanctify, that is to say consecrate, himself for this return by means of death.
3. Jesus by his death fulfilled a purpose with reference to the final condition of the world, (a) Jn. xiv. 2 f., xii. 32, xvii. 24, he had to prepare for his friends a place for their future abode in heaven; (b) Heb. ix. 21-24, x. 19 f., he had to consecrate, by the sprinkling of his blood, that sanctuary which, on the analogy of the earthly temple, the author conceives as existing in heaven. Here for the first time in our list of interpretations we come upon the idea that Jesus’ death was an offering, and, in this instance, an offering of initiation.
4. From another point of view his death is regarded as a sacrifice of exemption from an unmerited misfortune. (a) Thus Jesus himself explained his death at the celebration of the Supper, by representing it as a paschal offering (see above, p. 248). On this perhaps rests also the idea that the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep (Jn. x. 11, 15), as well as that reflection of Caiaphas (xi. 50) which is intended to represent a truth not only from his own point of view but also from a higher standpoint: it is better that one man should die for the people, and that the whole people should not perish. Moreover, it must be remembered here that Jn. describes Jesus’ death in such a way as to make all the details agree exactly with the commands about the paschal lamb, his manifest purpose being to suggest that Jesus was the true passover lamb, by whose death these commands were once and for all fulfilled and abrogated (see pp. 126-130). (b) In Col. i. 24, Paul is represented as one who continues the work of Jesus Passion, since as the vicar of Jesus he fills up the gaps 272left in Jesus’ sufferings. That is to say, by giving up his life, Jesus was able to concentrate the fury of his living enemies upon himself, and could thus divert it from his followers, but he could not at the same time ward off the fury of all their future enemies. To divert this, others had to sacrifice themselves later, and Paul is felt by the author to be the only such offering that needs to be taken account of, the Apostle being an object of veneration to him. (Paul himself cannot have written this; he would never have admitted that Jesus left gaps in his sufferings, and that he himself was so far on a level with Jesus as to be able to fill them.)
5. Again, it has been interpreted as a covenant sacrifice. (a) In this way also Jesus explained his death at the celebration of the Supper (see above, p. 248 f.). (b) The Epistle to the Hebrews (ix. 15-20; x. 29) makes a markedly different use of this idea, since it has in mind, not, as Jesus had, the general nature of a covenant, but in quite a special sense the Old Testament ordinances regarding the ceremonial observed when God solemnised his covenant with the people of Israel on Sinai.
6. Before we consider the idea of atonement in its most prominent application, as a reconciliation with God, we must view it (a) in a quite different aspect, that is to say as a reconciliation between the Jews and the Gentiles by the admission of both into the Christian body. To effect this was the purpose of Jesus’ death according to Eph. ii. 13-16; it was therefore a peace-offering, (b) Similarly it is said in Jn. xi. 52, in extension of the idea of Caiaphas referred to above (4 a), that Jesus’ death must have been not merely for the Jewish people, but also for the bringing together and uniting of the dispersed children of God. Here, however, the special point is not the removal of the conflict 273between Jews and Gentiles, but, more generally, the founding of the Church as one which was to embrace the whole world. Perhaps we may include here also what in Jn. xvii. 19b is added as another purpose in addition to that of consecrating himself by his death for entrance into heaven: his disciples are by this means initiated in the truth. At least, the continuation, xvii. 20-23, in which Jesus prays that his disciples may all be united in communion with God and with himself points to this explanation of the obscure words.
7. In Eph. v. 25 f., the death of Christ is represented as a means of sanctification or consecration of the Church, and this consecration is imparted to its members by baptism. Baptism, however, is regarded as a bath which effects purification from sin. Here, then, for the first time in our list of explanations we meet with the idea that the death of Jesus meant the removal of sin; but the Old Testament pattern presupposed is always a kind of offering which (as above, 2 c) produced sanctification, that is to say, consecration, and so such a condition of purity as is necessary if people are to regard themselves as consecrated to God.
8. The stricter idea of a sin-offering, without which forgiveness of sins is not possible, is applied to Jesus’ death, (a) without any qualification as regards the predecessors of Paul, 1 Cor. xv. 3, in Jesus’ words at the Supper, but only in Mt.’s version (xxvi. 28), so that the words were certainly not spoken by Jesus himself (see above, p. 247 f.), and then in Eph. i. 7, Jn. i. 29, 36, for example, (b) With clear reference to the sacrificial ordinances of the Old Testament, in the Epistle to the Hebrews Jesus is designated a sin-offering (v. 1, 3; vii. 27; ix. 26, 28). Here it is to be noted that in such an offering the sacrificial beast does 274not bear the punishment which is strictly deserved by the person who offers it. On the contrary, on the great Day of Atonement, for instance, the ceremonial of which the author has chiefly in view, the sins of the people are transferred by the laying-on of hands, not to the goat which is sacrificed, but to the other which is driven into the wilderness (Lev. xvi.). (c) Paul assumes the contrary, and so the strictest form of the idea of sin-offering (see above, p. 249), especially in Rom. iii. 25 f.: hitherto God has not forgiven sins, but neither has he punished them, that is to say not in such a way as would have been commensurate with the sin, to wit, by the death of sinners, that is to say of all men. In order now to show that his justice, which requires some kind of equivalent, whether it be punishment or propitiation, is nevertheless operative, he brings about not indeed the punishment on sinners, but the reconciliation in Christ, by imposing upon him, as the representative of men, the penalty of death which they themselves had really deserved, (d) Quite peculiar is the teaching of the Epistle to the Colossians (i. 20), to the effect that the reconciliation thus produced extends to the heavenly powers, that is to say, to the angels (this also, no less than the passage mentioned under 4 b cannot have been written by Paul; on the contrary, according to 1 Cor. xv. 24-26, Christ is still obliged to contend with these angels throughout a long period of his exaltation in heaven).
9. The blood of Christ shed at his death is compared, not with an offering, but with a ransom to be paid (a) when Paul says that men have been redeemed by it (1 Cor. vi. 20; vii. 23; Rom. iii. 24), and to wit from the curse of the Law (Gal. iii. 18). As the person to whom the ransom must here be paid, it is not so much God who is thought of as the Law of the Old Testament, which, according to Gal. iii. 19, 275was really imparted not by God himself but by subordinate angels, and so does not give pure expression to the will of God. Paul seems to think of it as a kind of independent being which on its own authority pronounces the curse upon sinners and does not acquit them without payment of a ransom. Now a ransom cannot strictly bear punishment; but that even on this view of the matter Christ does this in Paul’s opinion, as the representative of mankind, is clear from Gal. iii. 13: “Christ redeemed us thus from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us,” that is to say an object for the curse, (b) In place of the half-personified Law appears in Heb. ii. 14 f. the wholly personified devil who has the power of torturing men for their sins while they are dying, and before this of keeping them in continual fear of death.
10. The attainment of everlasting happiness means, however, not merely forgiveness of past sins, but, quite as much, the averting of future sins; and this again (a) Paul ascribes to Christ’s death in which he finds all the salvation that has ever been brought to mankind. The reason for the experience that again and again without fail man is led to commit sin, he finds in the fact that his body consists of flesh (Rom. vii. 14-25), that is to say, of that same matter which, according to Greek philosophy, is evil by nature (p. 149). Since he regards Christ as the pattern upon which all men have been modelled (1 Cor. xi. 3), he believes further that everything which has happened to him is entirely reproduced of itself in men as well, at least in so far as they attach themselves to him (1 Cor. xv. 21 f., 48 f., Rom. vi. 3-11). And thus in Rom. viii. 3 f., he next reaches the idea, which to us is quite unacceptable, but with him was quite a serious conviction, that by the slaying of Christ’s flesh on the cross, the 276flesh in his followers was slain likewise, not in the sense that they suffered bodily death, but that the impulse in them was dead which again and again drove them to sin. (b) The First Epistle of Peter gathers up this idea in a far more simple and appropriate way (iv. 1; i. 18; ii. 24): by fixing one’s attention on the death of Jesus, one is brought to arm oneself with the same frame of mind as his, and to shrink from sin. As a result, but not as a real explanation of the death of Christ, this already occurred to Paul also (2 Cor. v. 14 f.). (c) But this frame of mind is represented in the New Testament, not as something which people can produce in themselves of their own accord, but as a being possessed by a new, independent being, the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers. And so in Jn. (xv. 26; xvi. 7) the idea is put in the form that Christ died on purpose that the Holy Spirit might be able to come down from heaven and take up His abode in believers. Chap. vii. 39 shows that in Jesus’ life-time this was regarded as impossible (see above, p. 253 f.).
We have omitted many passages, for instance even passages from the First Epistle of Jn., which reveal nothing specially characteristic, as well as those the explanation of which is not certain. Thus, for example, the description of Christ as the true witness (Rev. i. 5; iii. 14) might mean that he gave his life as security for his conviction, and this would be one of the most appropriate interpretations of his death; but it might also contain a thought which had no reference at all to his death (see above, p. 229). On Mk. x. 45, another passage which admits of several interpretations, see above, p. 249.
In spite, however, of the limited number of passages which we have dealt with, we can observe how many explanations of the death of Christ are often found side by 277side in one and the same New Testament book. Thus the Epistle to the Hebrews contains four such, the Fourth Gospel some seven or eight. We can also easily perceive that several of them, but by no means all, can be reconciled with one another. Finally, it must not be forgotten also that the New Testament contains a book which gives a rather detailed exposition of the author’s conception of Christianity, and yet does not mention Jesus’ death, and indeed hardly mentions his person—we mean, the Epistle of James.278
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