Salvation, Zacchaeus and the Gospel of Luke

It is sometimes argued by Muslims that the story of Zacchaeus in Luke chapter 19 is incompatible with the Christian claim that salvation is the result of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

In the story, Jesus meets a wealthy but widely despised tax collector, Zacchaeus. To everyone’s astonishment, Jesus invites himself (!) to Zacchaeus’ home, and (presumably) has a meal and a conversation with him. Zacchaeus, upon hearing Jesus’ teaching, pledges to give half of his wealth to the poor, and to repay anyone he has ever cheated. In response, Jesus says the following:

“Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Thus, in this passage, salvation ‘came’ to Zacchaeus as a result of his clear act of repentance. Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection are never mentioned. Muslims conclude that, for Luke the evangelist, salvation has nothing to do with Jesus’ death and resurrection, and everything to do with an individual’s sincere repentance.
Let us try to state the argument more rigorously:
(1) For Luke, salvation comes as a result of individual repentance.

(2) If for Luke, salvation comes as a result of individual repentance, then, for Luke, salvation does not come as a result of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

(3)Therefore, for Luke, salvation does not come as a result of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

 

This argument is deductively valid, i.e. its conclusion is entailed by its premises. But are its premises both true?

Premise (1) is clear enough from the gospel text. But what motivates premise (2)? The thought seems to be that, if salvation comes as a result of individual repentance, then Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are redundant with respect to salvation. If one can receive salvation simply by repenting, then why bother with this whole ‘life-death-resurrection’ drama?

I submit that this ‘redundancy’ charge is ill-conceived, because it rests on a fallacy of ambiguity. The expression, ‘X comes as a result of Y’ is ambiguous. It could mean:

‘In order to acquire X, one must Y’

Or,

‘Y makes it possible to acquire X.

Suppose X = bread. If we take the first interpretation of ‘X comes as a result of Y’, then ‘Y’ would have to stand for ‘going to the shop to buy bread’. If on the other hand we take the second interpretation, then Y could stand for ‘The baker’s baking of the bread’.

Now, suppose I heard you say, ‘Bread comes as a result of the baker’s baking of the bread‘. Imagine I objected to you by saying, ‘No, you’ve got it all wrong! Bread comes as a result of going to the shop to buy bread!’ You’d be baffled. If you were patient enough to deal with me, you would explain to me that I hadn’t noticed the ambiguity in ‘X comes as a result of Y’. Once we take that ambiguity into account, we see that both sentences can be true at the same time.

Likewise, I claim, regarding premise (2) of the above argument. The truth of the statement ‘Salvation comes as a result of individual repentance’ does not rule out the truth of ‘Salvation comes as a result of Jesus’ life death and resurrection’, if we take these statements to mean (respectively):

‘In order to acquire salvation, one must individually repent’

 

‘Jesus’ life, death and resurrection make it possible to acquire salvation’
I conclude that premise (2) of the argument is false, and hence that the argument is unsound. Jesus’ claim that ‘salvation has come’ to Zacchaeus’ house does not entail that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is unnecessary.

 

Objections: 

1. It can’t be that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection make it possible to acquire salvation, because Jesus’ death and resurrection occurred after Zacchaeus acquired salvation.

Why not? The fact that I can acquire some good X can be made possible by some future fact Y. For example, if a friend treats me to a meal at a restaurant, the fact that I can eat a delicious meal is made possible by the fact that my friend will pay the bill after the meal. So, I don’t see why Zacchaeus’ acquiring of salvation couldn’t be made possible by events that occurred after he acquired it.
 2. But Luke the evangelist didn’t believe that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection had anything to do with salvation!

Really? Consider what Luke writes in the sequel to his Gospel account, the Book of Acts:

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28)

It is hard to see why Luke would would include this in his account if he didn’t believe that Jesus’ death had anything to do with salvation.

Moreover, Luke clearly thinks that there is a close link between the “lamb” of Isaiah 53 and Jesus, since his account of Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8) has Philip claim that the passage is really about Jesus. As we know, the ‘lamb’ in this passage suffers for the “transgressions” and “iniquities” of others (Is. 53:5). Again, it would be very odd for Luke to mention this if he didn’t agree with Philip’s interpretation.

In addition, Luke’s Jesus explicitly says that the Messiah had to “suffer these things and then enter his glory” (Lk 24:26). The Messiah’s death was necessary, it wasn’t some unfortunate accident.

Finally, Luke’s account of the last supper explicitly mentions that it happened on “the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed” (22:7) before describing Jesus feeding his disciples, not with actual lamb but with bread, which he calls “his body”. It’s true that some early manuscripts omit the subsequent lines about the wine and the blood ‘poured out for you’. But frankly, even without the latter, it is clear enough that for Luke, Jesus is the “Passover lamb”, as indicated above.
Why, then, does Luke not include explicit claims like the one found in Mark 10:45, about the Son of man giving “his life as a random for many”? He would certainly have been aware of such claims. But given the above evidence, it would be rash to infer that he disagreed with them. Luke could have been motivated by stylistic considerations – perhaps he preferred to show the significance of Jesus’ death rather than stating it explicitly. All writers know that sometimes, less is more.



Categories: Christianity, Gospels, Islam

32 replies

  1. Thanks for your article Chris! It’s great you get straight to the point. When you say ‘It is sometimes argued by Muslims…’ actually that’s usually me. I wrote the piece you linked to. And I stand by what I wrote.

    Just to clarify my position: you claim I argue that ‘the story of Zacchaeus in Luke chapter 19 is incompatible with the Christian claim that salvation is the result of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.’

    I do not say this anywhere. Alleged incompatibility is not my point.

    This is my argument:

    For Luke salvation and forgiveness of sin does NOT depend on Jesus’s atoning death. Rather, like an Old Testament prophet Jesus calls the people of Israel to sincere repentance and faith in the One God. Jesus as such is not the object of his proclamation, a fact that is curiously ignored by many Christians today.

    So firstly, I notice that Luke portrays Jesus as a prophet, like the Jewish prophets of old when he claims the mantle of the great prophets Elijah and Elisha (see Lk 4: 16-30). There are many examples throughout this gospel of his call to heartfelt repentance and faith in God who longs to show mercy to his people: consider the wonderful parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15; the pious crowds recognition of his prophetic vocation in 7:16; the prophetic call to people to obey the Law which leads to eternal life in 10:25-27; the simple call to sincere repentance in 13:1-5; how justification before God is based on sincere humility before God in 18: 9-14; how salvation came to the house of Zacchaeus that day because of the tax collectors sincere repentance and willing restitution. And so on..

    In all these examples (and there are many more) forgiveness, salvation, eternal life and justification are all on offer to a sinful people without any notion of a human death being the precondition of forgiveness/salvation. This message can be understood entirely in traditional Jewish categories.

    The later Pauline themes of justification by faith in Jesus alone (Romans) and eternal life through faith in Christ are completely absent. Jesus preaches a compassionate God – not himself.

    It is against this pervasive gospel narrative that we should consider the story of Zacchaeus in Luke chapter 19 and how salvation came to the house of Zacchaeus that day because of the tax collector’s sincere repentance and willing restitution. It fits perfectly with the overall soteriology of Luke.

    I accept the common scholarly solution to the Synoptic problem: that Matthew and Luke used Mark in writing their own gospels (along with Q, M & L). Redaction criticism is a fascinating field of study. I note then that Luke OMITS Mark 10:45. This omission is very significant:

    Mark 10:45
    ‘For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

    I conclude that this deliberate omission is not arbitrary given Luke’s clear soteriological themes outlined above. For Luke Jesus is NOT a ransom or an atoning sacrifice for sins. He is a prophet martyred by his own people because of his message. The only place in Luke’s gospel that could be taken as alluding to Jesus’s death as a sacrifice is Luke 22:17-20. But the NRSV footnote says

    ‘ancient authorities lack, in whole or in part, verses 19b-20 (which is given…in my blood).’

    Finally,

    On the Acts 8 passage you mention it does include a reference to Isa 53:7-8: Jesus is a “sheep…led to the slaughter,” but there is no explicit language making his death a sacrifice for sins; the emphasis is on Jesus’s willing submission to an unjust death (8:32-33).

    Concerning Acts 20:28, Dale B. Martin comments

    I am tempted to suggest that this may be one of those instances when the author of Luke-Acts is drawing on a source: it seems to express a theological notion that he doesn’t really “own”. At any rate, we don’t get the idea from Luke and Acts that Jesus is a God who suffered or that his death is a sacrifice “for us”.

    Martin, Biblical Truths: The Meaning of Scripture in the Twenty-First Century, p 186.

    ———–

    By the way did you consciously follow Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica where he lists series of objections and gives his conclusions?

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    • “Redaction criticism is a fascinating field of study. I note then that Luke OMITS Mark 10:45. This omission is very significant:

      Mark 10:45
      ‘For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

      I conclude that this deliberate omission is not arbitrary given Luke’s clear soteriological themes outlined above.”

      It certainly is a significant omission. It would be like if a Muslim omitted “and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah” from the Shahadah. Given that Luke no where else links salvation with Jesus’ death and resurrection, it is curious as to why he would omit Mark 10:45.

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    • Hello Paul, many thanks for your detailed response. Indeed, I heard you put forward an argument along these lines in some Speaker’s Corner videos, so I was aware of the connection.

      It’s entirely possible that I partially misunderstood your original argument. Even so, it seems to me that many of the worries you raise regarding the soteriology of Luke’s Gospel are already addressed in my article.

      For instance, your main argument is that there is a “pervasive narrative” in Luke, according to which salvation / justification is received through “sincere repentance”, “sincere humility before God” etc. As you note, this theme is manifest not merely in the Zacchaeus narrative, but throughout the Gospel account, e.g. the parable of the prodigal son and so forth. It’s true that evangelical Christians often don’t take these passages seriously enough. But, as I have argued, none of this rules out Jesus’ death and resurrection as the means by which salvation is made possible. The fact that Luke insists on the need for sincere repentance should not, in and of itself, lead us to think that Luke denies the importance of Jesus’ death and resurrection for salvation. Luke may believe that one must sincerely repent in order to be saved, *and* that Jesus’ death and resurrection makes salvation accessible.

      Of course, if Luke gave us no indication that he believed in the necessity of Jesus’ death for salvation, then it would be reasonable for us to conclude that he didn’t. But my article endeavoured to show that, in fact, he *does* give us such indication. You object to my point on the Last Supper account on the basis of a variant in the manuscripts. But if you have another look, you will read me saying that, even if we ignore the uncertain part of the text, there are still strong reasons to think that Luke identifies Jesus with the Passover Lamb.

      Regarding Acts 8, while it’s true that the portion of the Isaiah text that Luke cites doesn’t explicitly speak of atonement, it is implausible to think that Luke would have been unaware of the rest of the Isaiah passage, which certainly does speak of atonement. And, if he disbelieved that Jesus died an atoning death, it is unlikely that he would have connected Jesus with this passage at all.

      Regarding Acts 20:28, I don’t think it matters whether or not he is drawing in a source. If he disagreed with atonement theory, we would not expect him to draw on a source that *affirms* atonement theory.

      Regarding Luke’s omission of Mark 10:45, I certainly agree that it is not arbitrary. But if you look at my article, you will find that I offer an alternative explanation, namely, that Luke was motivated by stylistic concerns. If, as I have argued, there are strong reasons to believe that Luke did regard Jesus’ death as having soteriological significance, then the theory that he omitted the verse because he disagreed with it is implausible. Besides, if Luke was in the habit of omitting passages that support atonement theory by virtue of a theological disagreement, he would also have omitted Acts 20:28.

      I rest my case: there are strong reasons to believe that Luke believed that Jesus’ death&resurrection were necessary to bring about salvation, and Luke’s insistence on sincere repentance in no way minimizes this fact.

      ______

      Regarding Aquinas, no, I wasn’t consciously imitating him. Laying out and explaining your argument before addressing possible objections is standard practice in my field, analytic philosophy. However, it is interesting that you should say this, because many argue that the modern analytic approach parallels medieval scholasticism. This is sometimes intended as a compliment, other times as a criticism.

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      • Thanks for your reply Chris and the reiteration of some of the points I did not address previously.

        Before engaging with these I want to explore further my central thesis which I feel you do not give sufficient attention to namely:

        For Luke salvation and forgiveness of sin does NOT depend on Jesus’s atoning death or a sacrifice for sin.

        The authentic teaching of Jesus is to be found in the synoptic gospels where he teaches genuine divine forgiveness for those who truly repent. In the Lord’s Prayer (in Luke & Matthew) we are taught to address God directly and to ask for forgiveness for our sins, expecting to receive this, the only condition being that we in turn forgive one another. There is NO suggestion of the need for a mediator between ourselves and God or for an atoning death to enable God to forgive. This is of crucial significance.

        In Luke’s gospel the parable of the prodigal son is a story about how God treats repentant sinners. Note that the father when he sees his repentant son returning home does not say ‘Because I am a just as well as a loving father, I cannot forgive him until someone has been duly punished for his sins’, but rather he had compassion, and ran and embraced him and welcomed him home. So God does not need a sacrifice in order to forgive anyone. As the English convert from Christianity to Islam Ruqaiyyah Maqsood wrote: ‘the split-second of turning from Christianity to Islam is the realisation of the truth of the parable of the Prodigal Son. In the parables, God is loving enough to forgive directly. That was the whole glory of the Judaism which Jesus upheld.’

        In Luke’s story of the tax collector and the Pharisee, the tax collector standing far off would not lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner’. Jesus declared that this man went home justified before God. Humility before our Lord is the key. Jesus insisted that he came to bring sinners to a penitent acceptance of God’s mercy. We see this brought to reality over and again in this gospel. In the view you advocate Chris, Jesus conceals the true ground for forgiveness of sins (the necessity of a human sacrifice that is yet to happen). Jesus not only fails to preach the necessity of sacrifice but misleads the Jews by preaching a gospel of God’s gratuitous love and mercy without sacrifice. Your view has the unacceptable consequence of a Jesus who is not honest about God’s salvific purposes.

        In fact Jesus’s teaching was fully in accord with contemporary Jewish understanding. Jesus scholar EP Sanders, in his authoritative work on Jesus’ Jewish background writes,

        ‘The forgiveness of repentant sinners is a major motif in virtually all the Jewish material which is still available from the period (Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, p18).

        This gives us further contextual evidence for Luke’s deliberate omission of the sacrificial language of Mark 10:45. It is not on merely stylistic grounds but on fundamental theological grounds that Luke deleted this verse. It contradicts the central tenet of the gospel of Jesus: the Divine mercy, compassion and love.

        For Judaism sees human nature as basically good and yet also with an evil inclination that has to be continually resisted. God being aware of our finitude and weakness is always ready to forgive the truly repentant. In Islam there is a very similar view. God is frequently described in the Quran as ar Rahman ir Rahim – the Merciful and the Compassionate.

        Jesus, mirroring the teaching of the Quran, teaches that God knows our weakness and forgives those who, in the self-surrender of faith, bow before the compassionate Lord of the universe. Once, the Prophet Muhammad reported that the Devil said:

        ‘By my honour, O Lord, I shall never stop misguiding your servants so long as life remains in their bodies! The Almighty, the Glorious Lord, said: By My honour, I shall never cease forgiving them, so long as they ask forgiveness of Me!‘.

        Another wonderful saying is:

        ‘O son of Adam – so long as you call upon Me and ask of me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins as great as the earth itself, and were you then to face Me ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness in equal measure.’ (Tirmidhi, Ahman).

        This teaching is perfectly in harmony with the authentic teaching of Jesus and led me to recognise the authenticity of the ministry and teaching of Muhammad, who, unlike Jesus, was sent as a Mercy to the whole world.

        To be continued..

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      • Reply continued:

        In your original post you wrote (and reiterated in your most recent comments) :

        ‘Luke’s account of the last supper explicitly mentions that it happened on “the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed” (22:7) before describing Jesus feeding his disciples, not with actual lamb but with bread, which he calls “his body”. It’s true that some early manuscripts omit the subsequent lines about the wine and the blood ‘poured out for you’. But frankly, even without the latter, it is clear enough that for Luke, Jesus is the “Passover lamb”, as indicated above.’

        But I had already answered this. Your claim that for Luke Jesus is the “Passover lamb” is speculation unsupported by the earliest manuscript evidence. In the most ancient texts there is simply no mention of Jesus feeding his disciples with ‘his body’ at all. This notion is introduced into later manuscripts by unknown scribes to bring it into harmony with other gospels which do have these words.

        In the main body of the gospel story Jesus never identifies himself as the Lamb of God which is taught only in the Fourth Gospel on the lips of John the Baptist.

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    • It’s really an interesting topic. I agree with brother Paul on this “it is not on merely stylistic grounds”. In fact, I have not seen any provided evidence for this “stylistic omission” whatever that means! It’s obvious that it was a theological omission which lines up with the big picture of Luke’s view about salvation.

      Here’re some points which support our view about salvation in Luke’s gospel :

      1) Zechariah and Elizabeth have been described as «righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.», which is meaningless according to the Pauline christianity.

      2) In Luke 16, we read the story of 2 men, one of whom was rich, yet the other one, Lazarus, was poor.
      Lazarus got saved when he died, and he got placed next to Abraham, but the rich one was put in torment. The story continued till the rich man asked our father Abraham this request «He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family,I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.»
      What did our father Abraham answer him? 🙂
      «Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.»!
      The answer of Abraham according to Pauline christianity is not correct. Rather it’s so wrong and meaningless! The books of Moses and the prophets have nothing to do with salvation! For Paul, the result of ministry of ink and tablets are inferior, and it leads to death only! «the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts.».

      3) The parable of the prodigal son.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Good evening Abdullah, glad you’re enjoying this topic!

        1) I don’t understand how Elizabeth and Zechariah’s righteousness before God entails that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are irrelevant to salvation. Please refer to the distinction made in this article, re. a) what one must do to acquire salvation, b) how salvation is made accessible to us.

        2) It is incorrect to say that for Paul, “Moses and the prophets have nothing to do with salvation”. To the contrary, Paul thinks that Mosaic law teaches us about sin, revealing our need for salvation (Romans 7:7-11). And he thinks that the prophets point towards the coming Messiah.

        3) as in 1), see the key distinction I drew in my article.

        Regarding the ‘stylistic omission’, my point is that Luke could have omitted the verse for reasons other than that he disagreed with it. This is likely, considering that he says various other things (which I noted in my article) that agree with the verse. My proposed alternative is that he preferred to be less explicit, for stylistic reasons. As all writers know, it is sometimes best to be less explicit in order to bring a point more strongly and elegantly (not many good novels finish with ‘and the moral of this story was …’

        Is it reasonable to think that Luke would have disagreed so strongly with Paul, considered that he admires Paul so much, as shown in the book of Acts?

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      • Good evening, Chris de Ray!

        To be honest, I find your reading is very circular. It seems you push your theology forcibly back to the text.

        1) According to Paul’s paradigm, no one is righteous like that «For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.»
        Also, your questions imply that the righteousness of Zechariah and Elizabeth must be understood according to the Pauline christianity by (default) while this’s not the case unless you are begging the question. I mentioned this point to show you the contrast between the Pauline view and the view of Luke’s gospel, which supports that Luke’s gospel is not with Pauline view about salvation.

        2) Paul thought that the law of God is the law of sin and death, and that’s why you need Jesus for your salvation. Moreover, I’m not sure why christians keep referring to the most insulting chapter for God’s law in writings of Paul! Romans 7 states clearly that the law of God leads to death regardless the rhetorical, or rather the gymnastic questions Paul asked.
        If Paul asked me «Did the law, which is good, cause my death?!»
        I would answer ” Yes, mr. Paul because that’s exactly what you said in your premise. Remember?!
        «and the law aroused these evil desires that produced a harvest of sinful deeds, resulting in death.»

        Again, read the story of the 2 men in Luke 16, there’s no a hint that Abraham’s answer indicates that he referred to Moses and the prophets so that people might know that they need Jesus’ death. In fact, there’s no a hint that Lazarus got saved because of Jesus’ death in the first place.

        3) I think all these points should be reexamined, especially that we have no idea who wrote that gospel in the first place. The point at hand is that gospel itself doesn’t share the Pauline view about salvation.
        And to be honest, I think scholars should reexamine the notion of atonement even in Mark and Matthew.

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  2. It could also be the case that Jesus was going further back to the ultimate cause of salvation in Zacchaeus as being his personal encounter with the Son of Man which caused him to repent and do the works of the law.

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  3. But Luke records the words of Jesus as such:

    Luke 24 v 46 And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: 47 And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

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  4. Hello Paul, thanks again for your thoughts (somehow wordpress isn’t letting me directly reply to your comment, so I’m replying here).

    I will start by addressing your point on the last supper and the early manuscript evidence. In an earlier comment, you mentioned the note in the NRSV to the effect that some early manuscripts do not contain “verses 19b-20 (which is given…in my blood)”. Note that this bracket does not include the words just before it, i.e. verse 19a: “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body” “. Hence, even if we remove the section of the text that isn’t in all early manuscripts, Jesus still breaks bread and calls it his body. I don’t see how to interpret this claim outside of the framework of atonement and sacrifice — recall, a few verses earlier, Luke informs the reader that this was the day where the Passover lamb was to be sacrificed (vs 7).

    Technicalities aside, it seems to me that your central thesis rests on what you perceive to be a fundamental dichotomy between forgiveness and atonement. You rightly note that Luke’s Jesus preaches a God of utter compassion, eager to forgive those who humbly repent before him, like the prodigal son. And you are correct that this is a core feature of the Judaism in which Jesus lived, moved and breathed. You appear to think that this is utterly incompatible with the notion that forgiveness would nevertheless require an atoning sacrifice of some sort. I want to argue that, as a 1st Century Jew, Luke the evangelist, unlike you, would have seen no dichotomy at all.

    Luke, like any other Second Temple Jew, would have believed in the absolute holiness of God, as expressed throughout the Hebrew Bible (something we moderns struggle to grasp), worthy of utter respect. Hence, he would have taken it for granted that if one commits a serious sin against God, e.g. by causing humans (who bear God’s very image) to suffer, one owes a *debt* to God, just as I would be indebted to you if I seriously harmed you. This debt, as is shown time and time again in scripture, must be paid for by sincere, heartfelt repentance. Once the debt is paid, reconciliation or ‘atonement’ is achieved. Sometimes, this may merely involve prayer and a genuine commitment to follow the good. But in the context of God’s covenant relationship with Israel, the appropriate mode of repentance involves animal sacrifice. This is captured most clearly in the following passage from the Torah:

    “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life” Lev. 17:11

    God requires that his people should repent *via* the offering of a gift (just as I may repent to you by offering you, say, a box of chocolates). Is this incompatible with God’s forgiveness? To us moderns, perhaps. But to Ancient Jews, not at all. Notice the crucial *‘I have given it to you’* in the above passage. God himself provides the means of repentance, and thus the means of atonement. God, in his sheer goodness and generosity, gives us what we need to be reconciled to him, to receive forgiveness.

    Now, flash forward to the 1st Century. Many Jews seem to believe that exceptional human beings who live heroic, exemplary lives can somehow repent on behalf of the people, their very lives effectively counting as ‘sacrificial offerings’ (see Isaiah 53 and 4 Maccabees). In particular, an eccentric Jewish group believes that the man Jesus of Nazareth, having lived a life of sheer love for God and mankind, to the point of dying a gruesome death, himself became a sacrificial offering, achieving reconciliation between God and his people. This, far from negating God’s forgiveness, rather *proved* his gracious and compassionate character, in sending his beloved Son to offer the much-needed repentance that no one else could offer.

    Luke, then, would have seen no contradiction between the idea of Jesus’ life and death as a sacrificial offering, and divine forgiveness. For the Ancient Jew, there is no such thing as forgiveness without repentance, and Jesus achieves this repentance for us, demonstrating the love of the God who sent him. We may object to this view of forgiveness, but the point is that Luke wouldn’t have. I conclude that, if we understand Luke’s theology in the context of Jewish views on forgiveness and repentance, we see that it is perfectly consistent with NT teachings on the atonement.

    I’m very sorry about the length of this comment (I should probably have written another blog post instead).

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    • Thanks for the reply.

      Your views articulate an Evangelical theology which express what I feel are basic errors concerning the Jewish faith and the teaching of the Torah. You write:

      ‘God requires that his people should repent *via* the offering of a gift (just as I may repent to you by offering you, say, a box of chocolates).’

      This is factually incorrect. If we look at the Mosaic regulations about sin offerings in Leviticus chapter 4 and 5 we see that nearly all the sins offerings concern unintentional or inadvertent sins. Most deliberate sins are not covered by the daily sacrifices. They are dealt with by repentance to God and restitution where necessary. The New Testament claim that ‘without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness’ is demonstrably false. In Lev 5:11 a sinner can bring flour instead of animal blood as a sin offering (also see Ezekiel 45:20).

      You write:

      the appropriate mode of repentance involves animal sacrifice. This is captured most clearly in the following passage from the Torah:

      “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life” Lev. 17:11

      Leviticus 17:11 is taken out of context. The whole chapter concerns God’s command that the eating of blood is forbidden. It is misleading to claim it makes a generalised statement that atonement/forgiveness is only obtainable via animal sacrifice. The passage taken as a whole clearly does not teach that.

      In 1 Kings 8: 46-50 Solomon is dedicating the new temple and looks prophetically to the future when the Temple is destroyed and the Israelites are in captivity:

      ‘and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their enemies who took them captive, and pray to you toward the land you gave their ancestors, toward the city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name; then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people, who have sinned against you; forgive all the offenses they have committed against you, and cause their captors to show them mercy’

      God will forgive their sins and show them mercy without any sacrifices. That’s why Jews today feel that they can receive God’s forgiveness without the Temple – just as Solomon predicted.

      Prophet Daniel in captivity in Babylon teaches the king that his sins can be forgiven thus:

      ‘Therefore, O king, may my counsel be acceptable to you: atone for your sins with righteousness, and your iniquities with mercy to the oppressed, so that your prosperity may be prolonged.” Daniel 4

      Remember the Temple is destroyed. But simple repentance and good works atone for sins. There are literally hundreds of examples of this teaching in the Hebrew Bible. It is also to be found in the teaching of Jesus and Muhammad.

      Human sacrifice is condemned in the Jewish scriptures, and nowhere does it teach that the Messiah will die for the sins of the world, and after 3 days be raised from the dead as Paul claims in 1 Cor 15. This teaching was unknown to the Jews prior to the rise of Christianity. Isaiah 53 refers to Israel and does not mention a messiah as most OT scholars today recognise.

      Evangelical theology misrepresents Jewish understandings of atonement, the role of the messiah, and how sin is forgiven. Islam restates the correct (Jewish) biblical position and makes salvation universally available.

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      • Good evening Paul,

        Thanks for your response. I’m a bit surprised that you would characterize the understanding of atonement which I advocated earlier as ‘evangelical’. There is nothing particular evangelical about it — if anything, evangelicals tend to prefer ‘penal substitution’ models, in which Jesus is said to suffer the punishment that we deserve, bearing the burden of divine wrath in our stead (see for instance John Stott’s ‘The Cross of Christ’ for a classic defense of this view).

        The view which I ascribed to the NT authors is closer to what is sometimes called ‘satisfaction’ theory: Jesus’ life, death and resurrection achieve the repentance that humanity owes to God. This view was defended by Catholic theologians like Anselm, and in more recent times by East Orthodox philosopher Richard Swinburne, whose book ‘Responsibilty and Atonement’ I strongly recommend.

        I think you have slightly misunderstood my claims about Ancient Jewish conceptions of atonement: my claim is that, in the OT, atonement / reconciliation can only be achieved through *repentance*, and that, in *some* contexts, the appropriate way to repent involves the offering of a sacrificial gift. Leviticus gives us a helpful example:

        “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “If anyone sins and commits a breach of faith against the Lord by deceiving his neighbor in a matter of deposit or security, or through robbery, or if he has oppressed his neighbor or has found something lost and lied about it, swearing falsely—in any of all the things that people do and sin thereby— (…) he shall bring to the priest as his compensation to the Lord a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent, for a guilt offering.”

        Here, repentance entails ‘compensating’ the Lord via the offering of a ram without blemish. Guilt offerings would have been an excellent way to express sincere contrition and commitment to follow the good.

        But, as you rightly insist, proper repentance did not entail such offerings in all contexts. What truly mattered was a genuine change of heart.

        So, to sum up, atonement requires repentance, and repentance *sometimes* requires guilt offerings.

        Many Ancient Jews seemed to have believed that reconciliation between God and his people could be achieved if someone repented on their behalf. Moses’ intercession for Israel may exemplify something of this. More clearly, 4 Maccabees (11-24) argues that the Jews who died at the hands of the tyrant Antiochus, through their exceptional devotion and courage, were an “expiation”, a “ransom for the sin of our nation”. The righteousness of these men, we are told, achieves atonement.

        I think something similar is going on in Isaiah 53. It really doesn’t matter *who* the suffering servant is exactly, the fact remains that he is a person (of group of people) whose righteous, sacrificial devotion to God wins atonement for all the people.

        All of this, in my view, greatly illuminates the New Testament claim that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection atones for the sins of the people.

        You shared the following quote from Daniel: “‘Therefore, O king, may my counsel be acceptable to you: atone for your sins with righteousness, and your iniquities with mercy to the oppressed, so that your prosperity may be prolonged.”

        Indeed, atonement is secured through righteousness and mercy. The New Testament doctrine of the atonement, I claim, is that the unparalleled righteousness and mercy of Jesus of Nazareth, as a supreme act of repentance, achieves atonement for all.

        Once again, as weird as we may find this today, there is no reason to think that Luke, being a 1st century Jew, would have objected to any of this.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for your clarifications Chris. Would a face to face dialogue on these questions be a good idea – perhaps filmed?

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    • Why do you think Luke was a 1st century Jew?

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      • Good point — he could have been a Greek. I should have said, ‘had he been a 1st Century Jew, there is no reason to think that he would have objected to any of this’

        I assumed his Jewishness because it was argued that New Testament ideas of atonement were incompatible with Jewish views on forgiveness and sacrifice.

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      • Remember this Chris? –

        Just to clarify my position: you claim I argue that ‘the story of Zacchaeus in Luke chapter 19 is incompatible with the Christian claim that salvation is the result of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.’

        I do not say this anywhere. Alleged incompatibility is not my point.

        This is my argument:

        For Luke salvation and forgiveness of sin does NOT depend on Jesus’s atoning death. Rather, like an Old Testament prophet Jesus calls the people of Israel to sincere repentance and faith in the One God. Jesus as such is not the object of his proclamation, a fact that is curiously ignored by many Christians today.

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  5. The idea that God instituted sacrifice as a means of giving men an opportunity to express the sincerity of their repentance, by killing an animal, is absurd. When you reject substitutionary atonement this is where you end up. An absurd islamic understanding of sacrifice in the OT. Sacrifice is just a means of expressing your own self-righteousness and offering your piety as a good work to God.

    The reality is the opposite. The sacrifice shows that after all man has done his repentance can only be accepted in the framework of something that God does which man cannot do.

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    • Good morning madmanna,

      You are entitled to your conception of the atonement. But it would be mistaken to think that, on the ‘satisfaction’ theory, atonement is achieved through our own efforts. Once again, the theory holds that atonement is secured through Christ’s repentance *on our behalf*.

      I don’t think the notion of sacrifice as a mode of repentance entails that we make ourselves righteous, through our own efforts. Rather, for the Ancient Jews, it is God who graciously provides the means of atonement (Lev 17:11, think of God providing the ram to Abe in Genesis).

      If the significance of sacrifice is that the animal in punished instead of the offender, how do you explain the fact that, in some cases, *flour* was offered as a sin offering? (Lev 5:11). Surely the thought cannot be that the flour is a recipient of substitutionary punishment! It seems much more reasonable to say that the offering of flour is compensation for wrong done to God.

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  6. Hi Paul,

    Perhaps at some point, but not yet. I’ve become very wary of Speaker’s Corner, after a few bad experiences.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Later Christian development that salvation is the result of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is rather anachronistic. Also the Muslim attempts to islamicize Jesus and the earliest “Christian” Judaism.

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    • Hi there,

      Not all critical scholars think this is a later development…Maurice Casey argues that Jesus believed it himself, see his ‘Jesus of Nazareth’

      But this isn’t really the issue here. We’re talking about what *Luke* thought about Jesus and salvation.

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      • Antique writings in the context of second temple apocalyptic Judaism – a world long gone and far removed from various later Christian or Muslim eisegetic concepts of “salvation”.

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  8. “47 And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

    That obviously means that remission of sins is through the name of Jesus, according to Luke.

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  9. “Once again, the theory holds that atonement is secured through Christ’s repentance *on our behalf*.”

    What a blasphemous idea. I guess once you leave the obvious and plain meaning of scripture it is inevitable that you drift off in to some sort of mysticism.

    It is a long way from sola gratia too.

    “1) Zechariah and Elizabeth have been described as «righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.», which is meaningless according to the Pauline christianity.”

    It is ironic that Zachariah could not enter the holy of holies with all his righteousness.

    “Most deliberate sins are not covered by the daily sacrifices. They are dealt with by repentance to God and restitution where necessary. ”

    If your sin is deliberate then you can’t be sorry for it because it was your intention all along. This is an oxymoron.

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  10. “If the significance of sacrifice is that the animal in punished instead of the offender, how do you explain the fact that, in some cases, *flour* was offered as a sin offering? (Lev 5:11).”

    As the sacrifice itself does not make atonement for sin but rather the thing that it points to and symbolizes it does not matter if there is a non-bloody offering in a small number of cases. The non-bloody offering still has to be laid on the altar which itself has been cleansed by blood.

    It also does not matter if the sacrifice ceases for a time when the nation is under judgement. The way out of judgement is repentance not sacrifice.

    To view these offerings as some kind of compensation just makes things worse in my view.

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