Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Josephus on the repentance of John the Baptist

Josephus makes four points about message of John the Baptist.

John exhorted Jews to begin to live righteous lives towards one another and piety towards God. In other words, John preached the necessity of what Jews referred to as repentance, teshuva, the turning from sin to obedience to the Law.

John required that those who responded to his message to undergo a baptism. He understands it first as a purification of the body, playing the same role as the traditional mikvah. Josephus strongly denies that John claimed any power to forgive sins. Josephus says that John’s baptism was not for the remission of sins, but was for the purification of the body due to the fact that the soul was already purified by the people’s return to righteousness prior to coming for John’s baptism. The Gospel writers appear to indicate that John’s baptism of repentance was for the remission of sins. Luke and Mark both report that John came “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Matthew and Mark state that people were confessing their sins to John.

John insisted that the cleansing of the "soul" resulted from the repentance and not from baptism. What he means by the "cleansing of the soul" is the forgiveness of sins, which he insisted was conditional upon repentance and not baptism.

Josephus's interpretation of the baptism that John required Jews to undergo was that it was a "consecration of the body," seeing that the "soul" was already cleansed by means of repentance. Probably, by the "consecration of the body," Josephus is referring to ritual lustration. If so, John offered the possibility of both forgiveness and ritual purity.

Copyrighted 2005

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


The synoptic gospels all note that John Baptist came preaching calling to the crowd that they should repent for the kingdom of God is approaching. John baptized with water unto repentance. Although the word, “repent” makes a few more appearances in Matthew and Mark after the initial pericopes with John the Baptist, “repentance” disappears.

Asking someone to repent is asking the person to turn from his or her evil ways. Repentance is more complex. Judaism teaches: "The Day of Atonement atones for sins against God, not for sins against man, unless the injured party has been appeased.” The last clause, "unless the injured party has been appeased”, suggests that for at least one crime, murder, there can be no complete repentance, since there is no way to appease the injured party. I suspect that the same is true where high ranking church officials cover-up years of institutional child abuse. Jewish tradition holds that teshuva consists of several stages: The sinner must recognize his sin, feel sincere remorse, undo any damage he has done and pacify the victim of his offense, and resolve never to commit the sin again.

The New Testament does not explain what “repent” and “repentance” mean suggesting that these passages were written for a Jewish audience. It being so much easier to seek forgiveness from God than from your neighbor, it is understandable that the requirements of repentance were relaxed for Gentiles.

Luke stresses more than the others the need for repentance. All three Synoptics have this saying of Jesus: “I did not come to call righteous people but sinners”; only Luke adds “to repentance.” Luke will not let us escape the demand for repentance. Luke tells us that Jesus uses the repentance of Ninevah as a rebuke to the present unrepentant generation and that he even uses the failure of Tyre and Sidon for the same purpose. Jesus invited his audience to reflect on Pilate’s killing of the Galileans and on the death of those on whom the tower in Siloam fell. He said, “Unless you repent you will all perish likewise.”

When there is repentance, there is joy in heaven. The Lucan Jesus in successive parables repeats this statement. Repentance means an end to sinning. When this happens there is joy beyond this earth. Matthew has a parable about a shepherd looking for a lost sheep and his joy in finding it. In Luke’s version of the story, Jesus says “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

True Repentance is hard to perform. Consequently, Matthew and Mark had to rewrite Luke to make it palatable by reducing its significance. Matthew and Mark also introduced the theology of the cross missing in Luke. These two changes are related.

Copyrighted 2005

Monday, September 26, 2005

Theology of Paradise

Paradise is God’s abode. Thus Jubilees 8:19 states that Noah “knew that the Garden of Eden was the holy of holies and the dwelling of the Lord.” The translators of the Septuagint called the Garden of Eden planted by God himself, with a river running through it, paradeisos. Therefore it is remarkable and significant that the Lucan Jesus uses this Greek word on the cross when he tells the criminal, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Although Luke does not tell us where paradeisos is located, Paul understood it to be heaven.

Verses 39-43 is unique Lucan material in which assurances of the rule of Jesus in his kingdom is affirmed by a criminal. The reply of Jesus, “Today, you will be with me in paradise,” assures the criminal immediate entry into paradise.

Why did Jesus grant the Good Thief entry into the Kingdom of Heaven?

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is the final part of the unique Lucan triad, the parables having in common the theme of lost and found or recovered. For those who have studied the various implications, it is the story of the ultimate outcast, a person reduced in status to feeding pigs, expressed in the language of economics. Darrell Bock has said the message is that “absolute reversal results from repentance . . . .”

The story of the 'Good Thief' is another example of a story unique to Luke that had one meaning to the High Priest and another meaning for us. The prophets repeatedly told the people 'repent and be saved.' The prophets taught that it was never too late to turn from your evil ways. The Good Thief did repent on the cross and the Lucan Jesus said to him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” The High Priest believed that repentance was the key to salvation and therefore would have appreciated this story. It was the ultimate last minute act of repentance. The behavior of the Good Thief was consistent with Jewish belief that even someone who had gone astray could return to the fold of the covenant by repenting. Both the Prodigal Son and the Good Thief had repented.

Matthew and Mark omitted these stories of the Good Thief and Prodigal Son because for them the key to salvation was not repentance. The new focal point is the theology of the cross, which admittedly is missing from the Gospel of Luke.

Although Ravens notes this omission “causes problems,” it would be intellectually more honest to acknowledge that Luke is pre-Pauline and that the doctrine of the theology of the cross represents a later stage of theological development. Luke has no theology of the cross nor does he condemn the animal sacrificial system. The theology of the cross not only replaced the animal sacrificial system and the temple establishment led by the High Priest, it also essentially reduced the need for repentance.

Luke stresses more than any other New Testament writer the need for repentance. With Gabriel's announcement about John to Zechariah while he is serving in the Temple, Luke portrays Israel as a people in need of repentance. The need is repeated in the Song of Zechariah and is implied in John's message of repentance.

Luke's theology of repentance is very Jewish. There could be no remission of sins without repentance. The sacrifices are performed because God commanded the Jews to do so. The sacrifices were only effective if there was true repentance. When the prophets of Israel directed harsh criticism against sacrifice, their real target was not the sacrificial system as such but insincere atonement and the perfunctory way in which the offering was made.

The common denominator in the passages we have examined in our series on “the theology of prayer in Luke” is the connection between Jesus’ prayer and the cross: Luke 3:21;
5:16; 6:12; 9:18-27; 22:39-46; and 23:46. Luke’s theology of prayer primarily connects the cross and prayer. The purpose of the cross is to establish the kingdom of God (9:28-36; 22:39-46), and thus Jesus’ prayer points to the arrival of the kingdom.

The solemn affirmation of Jesus to the request of entry into the kingdom clearly indicates that the death of Jesus and the coming of the kingdom are events in immediate succession. While the criminal expects life at the Parousia, Jesus grants entry “today.” What Jesus promised is clear. The kingdom is either present or immediately follows the death of Jesus. This final prayer on the cross is a firm declaration that the kingdom of God has been established by the completion of the ministry of Jesus.

It arrived for the Good Thief on Good Friday when he entered into Paradise.

Copyrighted 2005

Sunday, September 25, 2005

On the Cross

The hour of death of Jesus was the ninth hour, which Luke elsewhere tells us is a time of prayer. Scholars, such as Bock, Marshall and Plymate, understand the cry of Jesus on the cross as a prayer of trust. Furthermore, the prayer is related to the kingdom of God. Verses 39-43 is unique Lucan material in which assurances of the rule of Jesus in his kingdom is affirmed by a criminal. The reply of Jesus, “Today, you will be with me in paradise,” assures the criminal immediate entry into paradise. The solemn affirmation of Jesus to the request of entry into the kingdom clearly indicates that the death of Jesus and the coming of the kingdom are events in immediate succession.

While the criminal expects life at the parousia, Jesus grants entry “today.” What Jesus promised is clear. The kingdom is either present or immediately follows the death of Jesus. This final prayer on the cross is a firm declaration that the kingdom of God has been established by the completion of the ministry of Jesus.

Copyrighted 2005

Saturday, September 24, 2005

In the Garden of Gethsemane

Only Matthew identifies the place where Jesus went to pray as the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke identifies the special place where he prayed during Holy Week as the Mount of Olives. John tells us Jesus and his disciples crossed over the brook Cedron where there was a garden. Mark says they went to a place that was named Gethsemane.

Luke places his emphasis on the statement of Jesus, “pray not to fall into temptation” which appears at the beginning and end of this section. The temptation probably refers to the series of events that follow: the arrest, the trial and the crucifixion.

The prayer concerns discipleship. Consequently the prayer prepares Jesus and his disciples for the impending crisis of the cross. The prayer also prepares them for the kingdom of God as the appointed time is approaching.

Copyrighted 2005

Friday, September 23, 2005

Just a Few Words

Last July, I started a series on prayer in Luke hoping to understand the theology of prayer in the Gospel of Luke. I think I have had an epiphany with to respect to my understanding of the theology of the Gospel of Luke, which I will share with you shortly.

The key phrase is not Theology of the Cross, but Theology of Paradise. I will introduce this approach by discussing prayer in the Garden followed by prayer on the Cross.

I will then suggest a new approach to understanding the Gospel of Luke!

copyrighted 2005

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Technorati Tags

I started using tags July 26, 2005 at which time “religion” was one of the 250 most popular tags. Today religion is not one of the most popular tags. I do not know if “Katrina” or something else has replaced “religion”. I suppose this development says something about the composition of the reading interests of the blogging universe.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Birthday announcement

December 23rd 2005 will be the 200th birthday of Joseph Smith, translator of the Book of Mormon and founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Today the members of this religion number more than 12 million. This religion is one of the fastest-growing faiths in the world, with 56,000 young missionaries in the field spreading the word. There will be many articles, publications, films and books including a “Newsweek” magazine special feature later this fall. There have already been a number of Mormon conferences. I plan to say more later.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

First to the Jews, then to the Gentiles

We are told that the message of the Acts of the Apostles is that Paul first preaches “the good news” to the Jews in the synagogues, the message is not accepted, the Jews reject the message, then Paul turns to the Gentiles and preaches “the good news” to the Gentiles. This theme is amply supported by repetition by Paul of the same sequence of the events. The ending of Acts and the interpretation placed on the Parable of the Wicked Tenants are cited as further supports this argument. But is it correct?

Rodney Stark, using his solid background in the sociology of religion, has shown that the mission to the Jews probably succeeded.[i] The early part of Acts (1-15) was not written for Gentiles. Acts is not particularly edifying for Gentile Christians with its proclamation: “to the Jews first and also the Greek.” This is, in fact, corroborated by the concepts of cultural continuity, expansion through preexisting social networks and the findings of Rodney Stark. For the reasons presented by Stark, the first missionaries concentrated on Hellenized Jews. The audience of Luke-Acts was predominantly of Jewish background[ii] as was the target of Stark's missionaries. A number of scholars have challenged the essentially Gentile composition of the Lucan audience by noting the Judaic roots of Christianity as emphasized by Luke. Fletcher-Louis writes “there is a growing consensus, spearheaded by the work of Jacob Jervell, that accepts essential interaction with Jewish concerns and a Jewish readership.”[iii]

In Acts 13:45, we read: “But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted what was spoken by Paul, and reviled him.” John Kilgallon has suggested that we need to understand these particular Jews being depicted in this verse against the background of the zealotry having its roots in the centuries of vigorous defense of Jewish religious convictions. Kilgallon goes further indicating that these zealous Jews in Pisidian Antioch are not objecting to the message of “the good news” as such but the fact that Paul is preaching “the good news” outside the synagogue to mere pagans. Inside the synagogues, God fearers hear the message and there is no objection being raised to their presence or their involvement with Judaism.

Returning to the key phrase, “they were filled with jealousy,” we recognize the word, “jealously” is being translated from the Greek word, zealos. More importantly, this “jealousy” occurs before any statement is made about Paul turning to the Gentiles.

Since I believe the verse 45 is a key verse in understanding the sequence of events in Acts and the proper interpretaion of these events, I plan to further investigate this verse and the history of interpretation of this verse. I would be interested in ascertaining how Jervell and “the mighty minority” treat this verse.

After I posted this article, Torrey Seland at Philo of Alexandria posted his comments on a book review of Surviving Sacrilege by Steven Weitzman. Perhaps we can better understand Acts 13:45 if we recognize “the struggle for cultural survival of ancient Judaism, their efforts to preserve religious traditions and the tactics that early Jewish culture employed to sustain itself in the face of intractable, sometimes hostile realities.” Perhaps these certain Jews described by Luke viewed the actions of Paul as threatening cultural survival.

[i]. Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, (Princeton 1996), 49-71.
[ii]. Anderson, EQ 69:3 (1997), 195-215.
[iii]. Fletcher-Louis, 19; footnote 83 on page 19 mentions Jervell, Drury, Salmon, Sterling, Evans, Ellis; and 'mixed community' with respect to Esler and Tyson.

copyrighted 2005

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Enigma of the Expression ‘Azazel’

Nowhere in the New Testament is the goat for Azazel identified with Christ. However, two early Christian interpreters, the author of the Epistle of Barnabas and Tertullian, make this identification. They believe that both goats referred to in Leviticus 16 are representations of Christ. Perhaps, it should not surprise us that both the author of the Epistle of Barnabas and Tertullian identify the second goat with Christ, because in Hebrews 9:28, Christ is spoken of as bearing the sins of the people.

I plan to read more about the scapegoat tradition. The enigma is not the role of the goat, Azazel; the enigma is the role of the High Priest.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Virtual Rome

Virtual Rome

Thursday, September 15, 2005

What is a Biblioblog?

Brandon Wason’s query, What is a bibliographer? and the comments responding thereto raise a number of interesting questions. What is a community? What constitutes membership in that community? And do we need to discuss bibliotherapy?

I see myself as a non-academic commentator on everything pertaining to the writings of Saint Luke and as someone with ecletic reading habits and random writing habits providing occasional critical and hopefully original biblical studies. Usually when I post something not pertaining to the writings of St. Luke, my pen has been kidnapped or I have been sidetracked by a stray thought or I am between or in the midst of a work project or a Lucan project.

Torrey Seland provides: “A weblog for news and comments relevant to scholarly studies . . . .” Helenann Hartley succinctly states: “Reflections on daily life, religious news and biblical studies.” My blog merely states: “Dedicated to the writings of St. Luke.”

Most of the bloggers, myself included, are providing information about a specific subject. We are more like bibliographic librarians if there is such a category. I doubt if any biblioblogger is claiming to be primarily providing critical biblical studies. Mark Goodacre, “one of the high priests of the biblioblog cult”, says biblioblogs are “Blogs which have a primary focus on academic Biblical Studies” which he further defines as having “a focus on critical Biblical scholarship.” Mark also adds: “I would also add that the word "academic" is especially important -- it makes clear that the subject matter is written by academics for academics and those who enjoy reading academic material.”

Does the blog article itself have to focus on critical biblical studies or merely be written by an academic with comments about critical biblical studies someone else has conducted? Perhaps Mark will clarify his definition, including providing a definition of “biblical”. I have a rather broad definition of biblical that would include the writings of Josephus and Philo as well as the written sources utilized by Luke and Paul.

I would be interested in knowing which blogs meets the definition Mark Goodacre is providing. I know I do not because I am a trial attorney. I also would like to know if his definition also requires these critical biblical studies to be peer-reviewed? Perhaps those individuals who have published articles in academic journals become “academics” but then which journals are considered academic? I do not claim to be an academic as a result of any published journal articles.

Loren Rosson, III, who provides many interesting blog articles, as do many others whose names I have not provided, jumped in after my blog article was completed with a definition “that probably at least two-thirds” should relate to biblical studies. I mention Rosson because his writings on busybody certainly constitute critical and often original biblical studies and he does post frequently. I do not know if he is an academic or independent scholar.

I suspect those who are in the community provides links to other blogs considered to be in the community and this system of linkage via blogrolls etc. constitutes one’s belief, or someone else’s belief, that he or she is a member in that community. I have no such belief and my blogroll merely reflects my eclectic reading habits. As you know I have included Dilbert.

I apologize for not providing footnotes or links. I am too busy trying to determine if I would be making any misrepresentations including myself in a community of which I may not be a member.

copyrighted 2005

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

I have been footnoted

Mark Goodacre continues to provide his valuable service of highlighting the latest from Review of Biblical Literature.

I want to mention the following review
Rius-Camps, Josep and Jenny Read-Heimerdinger
The Message of Acts in Codex Bezae: A Comparison with the Alexandrian Tradition Volume 1: Acts 1.1-5.42: Jerusalem

because I have been reliably informed that I have been footnoted. Although the reviewer notes that the authors insist on "the thoroughly Jewish context of the Bezan text," he omits one of the reasons listed in support thereof, that Luke was addressing his gospel to most excellent Theophilus, the high priest, citing my article,
‘À la recherche de Théophile’, in Saint Luc, évangéliste et historien (Dossiers d’Archéologie 279 [2002-3]), pp. 64-71 (66).

A Hiker’s Prayer

A Hiker’s Prayer

Since I do AT sectional hikes, I thought I would share this prayer, which was recently posted on the at-l.

“This was posted on PCT-L...and it was too good not to
pass on.. Enjoy”

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome,
dangerous, leading to the most awesome view.
May your rivers flow without end, meandering through
pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and
castles and poets' towers into a dark primeval forest
where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal
and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red
rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of
endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient
unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled
cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches,
where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the
high crags, where something strange and more beautiful
and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams wait
for you - beyond the next turning of the canyon walls.”

Edward Abbey

Monday, September 12, 2005

A Photo defining event

The President being briefed 8-28-2005 on Katrina

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The flood came

Initially I was merely going to direct you to the comments of A Penitent Blogger but I felt I had to say more. The flood came and ninety thousand square miles of American homelands were devastated. Today we reflect on the events of 9-11 and how 9-11 has changed the way we think about the world. It has introduced a mindset of distrust.

In the General Prayer read today in my church, these words were included:

“We are penitent, recognizing that we have not done enough to address the source of anger, hate, dehumanization, rage and indignation that lead to acts of violence.

In striving for national security and domestic peace we run the risk of confusing might for right and participating in the very behaviors we condemn.”

Katrina will also change the way we think about the world around us and how we view the ability and willingness of government to assist those placed in harm’s way by events in magnitude beyond our individual capacity to comprehend, react and respond. Are Katrina victims worth less than 9-11 victims?

It always amazes me how refreshing it is to hear the words and music of America The Beautiful on a day like this when we remember the horrors of 9-11 while reflecting upon the wrath of Katrina.

My prayer, if it can be called that, is that the flood of Katrina has washed away the ugliness of 9-11 and that the verses of the America The Beautiful will continues to inspire us.

copyrighted 2005

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Thinking Outside the Box

In Philadelphia, nearly everyone reads the Philadelphia Inquirer. Yesterday, I noticed an article about a new backpack that can harness the bounce in your step to power a cell phone or GPS tracking device. As an AT sectional hiker, this backpack had a certain amount of appeal to me.

The US Navy hired a professor who specializes in the movement of fish and frogs. The professor thought that the Navy was interested in improving the movement of submarines. The Navy was interested in harnessing foot power. This backpack not only generates electricity, it may in fact be a better backpack but no one designing a better backpack would allow it to move up and down while the person is hiking.

One of my neighbors developed the concept of cross-training military combat units. His unit had one of the highest survival rates among combat units during World War II. The German command blamed “the damned engineers” commanded by my neighbor as the reason for their failure during the Battle of the Bulge.

Both the professor and the engineer developed their new ideas outside their area of expertise because they were not burdened by the established teachings of the field. They developed new ideas because they both had the ability to think outside the box.

Someone once said that inspiration was 98% perspiration. However, I think that cross-training and eclectic reading are also important factors. Thinking outside the box is also 98% exasperation and may even be heresy.

copyrighted 2005

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Meaning of Meaning

George Caird in his Language and Imagery of the Bible has these interesting comments on atonement, which he notes “occurs most frequently in the Priestly Code and gives characteristic flavor to its sacrificial regulations”:

“The priests who drew up the Code had no very clear idea of what they meant by atonement or how it worked. The nearest they ever came to a definition was: ‘it is the blood, that is life, that makes expiation ‘ (Lev. 17:11). They were heirs to three centuries of criticism from prophets who had protested that sacrifices does not atone, and that it was not what God required; yet they maintained and elaborated the ritual because they felt the need for atonement.”

Monday, September 05, 2005

Feeding the Katrina 5000

There is a nasty debate going on in this country about how ill prepared we were for Katrina at the highest levels and also at the lowest levels. Our dinner guest last night said, “I would have been the mother who sent her child with the loaves of bread and two fish that our Lord used at the feeding of the 5000.” The next day our guest noted, “the feeding of the 5000 illustrated just how ill prepared the crowd was for their hike into the wilderness to reach Jesus. How can I be so critical!”

There was no mother in the gospel accounts who supplied her child with the loaves of bread and two fishes, which Jesus used to feed the 5000. But there are thousands of Americans who like the prepared mother have given generously to aid the Katrina victims.

copyrighted 2005

Friday, September 02, 2005

Origin of the Christian Doctrine of Atonement

The Gospel of Luke has no theology of the cross. Matthew and Mark do. This article explains the development of the theology of the cross in Mathew and Mark. This is a problem that the synoptic theorists have not addressed. No one has explained why Luke has no theology of the cross. Franklin puts the matter plainly: “Why has Luke avoided all references to the redemptive significance of the death of Jesus and the vicarious expressions that should have been suggested by his use of the Servant idea?[i] My theory not only explains why, it also provides an explanation of the reasons why and how the theology of the cross developed in the early church.

One of the core doctrines of Christianity is the statement that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Scholars have debated the origins of the doctrine of atonement generally referred to as the theology of the cross. The true origin of the doctrine is in the death of the Jewish High Priest. The death of the High Priest had atoning significance. The Jews believed that the death of the High Priest had atoning significance. Persons charged with accidental homicide who had fled to a city of refuge were permitted to return home after the death of the High Priest without facing prosecution [Num. 35: 11, 25, 28, 32]. The death of the High Priest was regarded as atonement for the innocent blood that had been shed. Jacob Milgrom in his JPS Torah Commentary on Numbers with respect to Num. 35:25 states 'As the High Priest atones for Israel's sins through his cultic service in his lifetime (Exod. 28:36; Lev. 6:16, 21), so he atones for homicide through his death. Since the blood of the slain, although spilled accidently, cannot be avenged through the death of the slayer, it is ransomed through the death of the High Priest, which releases all homicides from their cities of refuge. That it is not the exile of the manslaughter but the death of the High Priest that expiates his crime is confirmed by the Mishnah: "If, after the slayer has been sentenced as an accidental homicide, the High Priest dies, he need not go into exile." The Talmud, in turn comments thereon "But it is not the exile that expiates? It is not the exile that expiates, but the death of the high priest."' [footnotes omitted]. The doctrine of the theology of the cross replaced both the High Priest and the Day of Atonement.

Creed and those who agree with him note that Luke has no equivalent of the ransom saying (Mk. 10:45; Mt. 20:28), nor of Matthew's connection of Jesus's covenant blood with the remission of sins (Mt. 26:28). Luke does not connect forgiveness of sins with the death of Jesus. Whether one agrees with Creed who says there is no theology of the cross in the Gospel of Luke or with I. Howard Marshall who
asserts Luke has chosen not to emphasize a theology of the cross, the question still remains why did Luke present his material in this manner?

Luke has no theology of the cross because he believes that the death of the High Priest has atonement value. The author of Hebrews expressed his belief that the death of the High Priest has atonement value in these words: “Therefore he [Jesus] had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people.”[ii] Paul could not have written these words. His theology of the cross eliminated the need for a high priest, temple and the Day of Atonement. Rather than adopt Pauline terminology, the unknown author reached the same result by making Jesus Christ the High Priest that he might make a sacrifice of atonement for the people. The designation of Jesus Christ as the High Priest is the most distinctive theme of Hebrews and it is central to the theology of the book.

Finlan[iii] devotes an entire chapter, The Sacrificial Metaphor in Roman 3:25, to a detailed analysis of a single word, hilasterion, meaning [to be] a propitiation. For Finlan, hilasterion that also means ‘mercy seat,’ is a cultic atonement metaphor designed by Paul to be an allusion to the act of the High Priest entering the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement and sprinkling blood on the mercy seat. Neither Paul nor Finlan mention that it is the High Priest who is the actor in the cultic setting. Every NT writer had to deal with the question: what do we do with the High Priest and the related belief structure? We know from Philo that the ceremonial robes of the High Priest repeatedly vaunted in Hellenistic literature and interpreted in terms of cosmic symbolism endowed him with transcendent glory. The High Priest possessed by sanction of scripture the supreme power to interpret the law.[iv] Furthermore, particularly Jews in the Diaspora viewed the religious duties of the High Priest in the cult as a universal saving event.[v] Since the High Priest was viewed as “the captain of their salvation,”[vi] even a cynical Jew would want to treat the High Priest with the utmost respect. Paul treads carefully. Paul does not explicitly state that Jesus is the new High Priest.
As part of her explanation of Atonement as a rite of Healing, Margaret Barker in Great High Priest stated: “The priests are said to ‘bear’ the guilt of the sinner after they have performed the atonement ritual for inadvertent offenses (e.g. Lev. 10.17), yet the LORD, with the same verb, is said to ‘forgive.’ ‘Who’, asked Micah, ‘is a God like you bearing, i.e. forgiving, sin?’ (Mic. 7.18). Job asked (again reading literally): ‘Why do you not bear my transgression and cause my guilt to pass away?’ (Job 7.21). There are many examples. What emerges is that ‘carrying’ iniquity was the role of the priests, of the LORD and of the scapegoat.”[vii]

It is the thesis of Margaret Barker that the goat 'lyhwh' on the Day of Atonement is a substitute for the high priest (who plays the role of YHWH) in the cultic drama. It is the blood of this goat that makes the atonement (in the pre-eminent act of atonement) as a substitute for the life (i.e. Death) of the high priest/yhwh. (See e.g. M. Barker, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 2000); The Great High Priest, The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy (London: T. & T. Clark, 2003), chapter 3). In both books, Barker has fascinating interpretative observations on a number of late Second Temple texts to support her thesis.

The next step in understanding the development of the doctrine is the Septuagint that Matthew, Mark and Luke all utilized. The LXX in Isa. 53:9a, 10-11b rewrites the outcome of the servant's suffering excising his sacrificial death and any notion of vicarious atonement. Paul trained in the Hebrew MT was certainly aware of the differences between the MT and LXX. One synoptic writer used the LXX and consistent therewith has no atonement theology. Luke has no equivalent of the ransom saying (Mk 10:45; Matt 20:28) nor of Matthew's connection of Jesus' covenant blood with the remission of sins (Mt 26:28). [I accept the conclusions of Bart Ehrman that verses {Lk 22:19b-20} were added by second century scribes.]

The first followers of Jesus worshipped in the Temple every day; Paul offered an animal sacrifice in the Temple. There was no need to develop a theology of the cross for people who believed in the animal sacrificial system and the High Priest, who was the captain of their salvation, and for people who had not been excluded from the Temple. Perhaps the dispute narrated in Acts was not simply about food for widows but exclusion from the Temple and exclusion from the redistribution of food donated to the Temple. These people would have a need to develop a new theology and according to Heitmuller, it developed in pre-Pauline Hellenistic Christianity. Thus Walter Schmithals, The Theology of the First Christians, can state: "Wilckens (1982, 155) like Raisanen (1986, 21-22, 242ff) limits the criticism of the Torah by the ‘Hellenists,’ who were persecuted by Paul, to a criticism of the temple cult, which was put forth because Jesus' atoning sacrifice made the temple cult superfluous.”[viii]

I am inclined to believe that it was someone who recognized the differences between what the MT and LXX said in Isaiah 53 and that someone was probably Paul. If Paul did not develop the new theology, he was the editor and it was his articulation of the new theology that has survived in the writings.

The other two synoptic writers also used the LXX but influenced by Paul included atonement theology. Mark does recognize having traveled with Paul that the theology of Luke is pre-Pauline and very Jewish. He therefore includes the theology of the cross missing in Luke and adds the ransom saying in Mk 10:45 that appears in Matthew. This is the gospel message and appropriately there are 11 instances of EUAGGELION (4 in Matthew, 7 in Mark, 0 in Luke) in the synoptics. Therefore the origin of one of the most important doctrine in Christianity can be traced to Judaism and its High Priest.

[i] Eric Franklin, Christ the Lord (1975), 66.
[ii] Heb.2:17.
[iii] Stephen Finlan, The Background and Content of Paul's Cultic Atonement Metaphors, (2004).
[iv] Deut. 17:11-12; 33:10; Malachi 2:8.
[v] Philo Spec. I.197; II 162, 165f.
[vi] Josephus, Bell. 4.318.
[vii] Barker, 48.
[viii] Schmithals, 107.

copyrighted 2005


I have been reading comments trying to fashion a politically, theologically correct response to the devastation wrought by that Lady named Katrina!

“Looting isn't the problem. Survival is.”

“This hurricane is going to haunt us for a very long time.”

I find it disturbing what the response says about our values as a society but having said that, I still do not know what to write next as I sit here in my comfortable home, my roof intact, my family safe.

I whole-heartedly agree and commend the efforts led by bloggers such as, The Truth Laid Bear, to make this weekend, “Blog for Relief.”

I - "saluteth you, laboring fervently for you in prayers." Col. 4.

My feeble prayers will be fervently said in support of this effort. Pick a responsible charity. Amen.

If you want to help, go to Truth Laid Bear and sign up as well.