How does the (life and) death of Jesus atone for our sins?

The Jews before Jesus believed that blood had redemptive powers:

all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness

(Hebrews 9:22)

To regard a substance as having such abstract powers invariably comes from a form of thinking known as sympathetic magic. JG Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1889) extensively documents and elucidates such rituals. The Jewish belief in the abstract restorative powers of blood stems from a naive essentialism that should be anathema to the modern educated mind:

But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.

(Genesis 9:4)

For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul

(Leviticus 17:11)

For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off.

(Leviticus 17:14)

We now know that life cannot be defined as that which has blood pumping through it, that blood is not at all a life giving essence but rather one substance among many, part of a system that enables but one of many complex chemical reactions that sustain a living organism. The line between the living and the inert is not a sharp one, rather a matter of degree. Blood is not magical.

Why is God vengeful? That is, why does this being require a violent sacrifice (blood) to atone for sin? Is God not supposed to be accepting of those who come to him? Why does he need some kind of payment, ransom, or substitution at all?

A sophisticated Christian may counter that blood is symbolic. This is not in accord with the Hebrew Bible, and of course it raises the question “symbolic for what?”

The scapegoats

The Day of Atonement occurs on day ten of the seventh month in the Jewish calendar. On this day, the High Priest of Israel would sacrifice a bullock as an offering to propitiate for his own sins. Then he presented two goats at the tabernacle which were chosen by lot. One goat was “The Lord’s Goat”, a blood sacrifice, and the other was the scapegoat, to be sent away into the wilderness. The High Priest confessed the sins of the Israelites to Yahweh, placing them figuratively on the head of the scapegoat, who took them away never to be seen again. With the cleansing magic of the blood of the Lord’s goat, The sin of Israel was atoned for.

In the New Testament, Barrabas is reportedly set free. Yet why would the Romans release a rebel leader and murderer on the request of a crowd of Jews? Why have the Jews suddenly turned against Jesus? Acts 25:16 (almost certainly written by the author of the Gospel of Luke) reads

I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over anyone before they have faced their accusers and have had an opportunity to defend themselves against the charges.

There is no precedent in Roman custom for releasing those to be crucified. More specifically, the practice is not in accord with what is known of Pilate’s dealings with the Jews. As history, the story is completely implausible. It is to be understood as not only a parallel to the Jewish practice of atonement through scapegoating, but as a direct replacement for it. Barrabas means “son of the father”, so we have two sons side by side. In some manuscripts of Matthew, Barrabas is even called Jesus Barrabas. The conceit is that there is no need to practice the Jewish sacrifice of two goats each year now because the ritual is subsumed into the one-time sacrifice of God’s son. So Barrabas is set free and disappears, the wilderness goat, and Jesus is slain, the blood sacrifice. The parallels may not only be an attempt to update and replace the old rituals, a constant theme of the canonical Gospels. There may be intended an ironic commentary, in that the wrong “goat” was chosen by the people to die.

Now, the life of Jesus cannot be only that of an animal, a blood sacrifice to Yahweh. So the tale must be refined. The writers of the New Testament books naturally attempted to do this, as did Christian leaders.

The Moral Influence Theory of Atonement

The oldest theology on the atonement is probably the moral influence view. The idea is that the entire life and death of Jesus encourages a moral betterment of society. However, this theory is not satisfactory at all. Christ’s death is no longer a necessary or uniquely redemptive act. Rather than being saved by the blood of Jesus, people save themselves through their own behaviour. The divinity of Jesus becomes a side note.

There is intense debate on whether the moral influence view is contradicted by scripture, especially the declarations by Paul that people are saved by faith and not “works of the law”.

Does such moral influence even work? Robert Ingersoll asked the razor sharp question, “Has the promise and hope of forgiveness ever prevented the commission of a sin?”

In fact it seems that belief in forgiveness is a predictor of higher crime rates. In a study of 143,000 people across 67 countries, Azim F. Shariff and Mijke Rhemtulla found that

the proportion of people who believe in hell negatively predicts national crime rates whereas belief in heaven predicts higher crime rates.

The Penal Substitution Theory of Atonement

The penal substitution theory did not emerge until the 11th Century CE. The major critic of this view of the atonement was Faustus Socinus, whose objections were:

1. Perfect satisfaction for sin, even by way of substitution, leaves no room for divine forgiveness or pardon.(Is God unwilling or unable to forgive without someone suffering?)

2. It is unjust both to punish the innocent and to allow the guilty to go free.

3. The finite suffering and temporary death of one is disproportionate to the infinite suffering and permanent death of many.

4. The grace of perfect satisfaction would appear to confer on its beneficiaries a freedom to sin without consequence.

Another flaw in the penal substitution theory is that only a victim can forgive you for what you have done to them. Penal substitution bypasses the hurt done to victims and so is unjust.

The Satisfaction Theory of Atonement

The satisfaction theory is found in the works of the medieval theologian Saint Anselm of Canterbury. The death of Jesus is seen as an alternative to punishment altogether. Rather, it is said to restore the honour that sin had taken away. On this view, God is something like a mafia Godfather.

Thomas Aquinas refined the satisfaction theory, postulating that the crucifixion of Jesus restored a universal moral imbalance.

The weakness of satisfaction theory is that it abstracts the death of Jesus and dodges the question of what the crucifixion was actually supposed to achieve. Aquinas says that punishment is medicinal, and the death of Jesus was medicinal, but how are they medicinal? What is the active ingredient in the medicine? How is the death of Jesus a morally restorative act? What is good about it?

The Ransom Theory of Atonement

Another early (as opposed to medieval or later) theory is that the death of Jesus paid a ransom. Traditionally the ransom is paid to Satan. Yet this gives undue power to Satan: What hold would he have over Jesus, who reportedly resisted him?

Anselm’s refutation of the ransom theory was that Satan, being a rebel and outlaw, could have no just claim over humans.

Furthermore, the idea is unscriptural. There is nothing in the Bible about the devil demanding a ransom for humans.

There are other theories of the atonement that the reader can research for themselves. Suffice to say none of them are satisfactory.

What does the Bible say?

Paul doesn’t make the issue any clearer. He doesn’t stick to any soteriological model, preferring to pile on the metaphors, presumably to enrichen the death of Jesus beyond that of Jewish blood sacrifice. Throughout the New Testament you will find a conflation of many, often contradictory, ideas on the death of Jesus. In passages such as 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Galatians 3:13, Jesus is the scapegoat.

In Romans 3:25, propitiation, faith, and blood are what redeem us.

In Romans 6, a surrendering of freedom is implied. The death of Jesus makes us “slaves of God.”

In Romans 8:3

For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh

flesh is the redemptive element.

Elsewhere, the death of Jesus is an economic transaction, as in Acts 20:28 :

…feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

Let us not forget that the idea of blood’s magic cleansing properties is littered throughout the New Testament as well as the Old.

Atonement cannot be a combination of the theories since all of them are flawed, and most of them are mutually exclusive. To the Jews, the capture and execution of Jesus is evidence that he was not the Messiah. So why does the story of Jesus end this way?

Remember that The New Testament was intended to replace the Old. Christ’s death is a direct replacement for the Judaic practices of blood sacrifice and scapegoating. But Paul, especially, tried to seal the deal with as many convincing metaphors as he could muster. This has opened the way for two millennia of wild and contradictory theology.

The problem of atonement should be a huge stumbling block for Christians. At the very least, each Christian should have a satisfactory theory as to how Jesus is salvation. That would not suffice were humans less mentally flighty creatures. That is, it should not suffice, since for all the imaginative invention of theories we are capable of, the failure of the allegedly holy texts to make the crucial matter clear is a giant red flag.

Reproduced from my blog, 42 Reasons Not To Believe Christianity is True

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43 thoughts on “How does the (life and) death of Jesus atone for our sins?

  1. Nice summary, Dave.

    It’s interesting that few Christians think about the nuts and bolts of their faith, including the mechanics of atonement.

    It’s even more interesting that there are so many competing theories of what ought to be a straightforward part of Christian theology.

    Most interesting of all is that the existing theories of atonement are so unsatisfactory that believers such as Robin Collins feel compelled to come up with new ones.

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  2. Whether a theory is unscriptural, or whatever the Bible says is unimportant. As was discussed in an earlier post, most Christians threw out the Bible for anything more meaningful than bookshelf adornment centuries ago. Belief is far more of a matter of what the friends and neighbors think than of what the Bible says.

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  3. The Jewish belief in the abstract restorative powers of blood stems from a naive essentialism that should be anathema to the modern educated mind:

    I believe that this is a former Jewish theory. I have not heard of blood being granted any restorative powers in recent centuries.

    It seems to have been replaced in that role by chicken soup, preferably with matzoh balls. For optimum fluffiness of the matzoh balls, you have to separate the egg yolk and egg white, and later use both of them. My family’s chicken soup definitely has restorative powers. I”ll ask Joan for details of the egg separation trick, which she uses to universal acclaim.

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  4. Yes, I always wondered how I could be guilty of acts committed before I existed, and then I was subsequently forgiven for these acts I never took part in, by someone else because that someone else had himself killed in a sacrifice to himself.

    There’s no logic in this, it cannot be believed by a thinking person.

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  5. Joe Felsenstein: I believe that this is a former Jewish theory.I have not heard of blood being granted any restorative powers in recent centuries.

    It seems to have been replaced in that role by chicken soup, preferably with matzoh balls.For optimum fluffiness of the matzoh balls, you have to separate the egg yolk and egg white, and later use both of them.My family’s chicken soup definitely has restorative powers.I”ll ask Joan for details of the egg separation trick, which she uses to universal acclaim.

    That actually sounds delicious.

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  6.  Davehooke:
    “I wonder why chicken soup has become the ubiquitous Jewish restorative?”
    Excepting, of course, the chicken.

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  7. For those looking for a true restorative, here is an article with recipes for Eastern-European Jewish-style chicken soup, together with a discussion of the issue of fluffy “floater” matzoh balls. The recipe for “Brenda Richter’s Matzoh Balls” given there is roughly the method we use.

    As to why this became the ubiquitous Jewish restorative, well, it makes you feel very good, whether or not it actually cures what’s ailing you.

    Also, chicken soup like this is more characteristic of Ashkenazi Jewish populations (Eastern European). Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews from the Mediterranean or Middle East are less into it, but they have adopted (and adapted) tasty pastries like Turkish böreks, called by them burikas, which are also restorative. In both cases, forgiveness is involved, as there is a violation of any low-fat diet you may be on.

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  8. I had abdominal surgery last fall, and the first thing I was able to eat afterwords was chicken soup.

    It’s not good for the individual chicken, but it’s good for the species. Like corn, being tasty has resulted in their numbers increasing.

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  9. Joe Felsenstein: I believe that this is a former Jewish theory.I have not heard of blood being granted any restorative powers in recent centuries.

    It seems to have been replaced in that role by chicken soup, preferably with matzoh balls.For optimum fluffiness of the matzoh balls, you have to separate the egg yolk and egg white, and later use both of them.My family’s chicken soup definitely has restorative powers.I”ll ask Joan for details of the egg separation trick, which she uses to universal acclaim.

    I used to rely upon the restorative powers of chicken soup (including eastern European styles) until I encountered the far greater power of Vietnamese pho. Now THAT is some magic soup!

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  10. Robin: I used to rely upon the restorative powers of chicken soup (including eastern European styles) until I encountered the far greater power of Vietnamese pho. Now THAT is some magic soup!

    I have to admit that although Joan makes wonderful chicken soup, whenever we decide not to cook, but to go out to a nearby restaurant instead, she has us go out for pho.

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  11. petrushka:
    Rats. I can’t eat beef in any form. Not even in Onion soup.

    Most Vietnamese restaurants I’ve been to make a pho with chicken and chicken stock if that is any consolation. Granted you’re having chicken soup then, but it’s still got all the underlying Vietnamese goodness in it (lime juice, asian basil, spicing, sriracha sauce, and so on and so forth)

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  12. petrushka:
    Rats. I can’t eat beef in any form. Not even in Onion soup.

    Some shops will make vegetarian or vegan pho, which is still incredible.

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  13. I have a good recipe for Tom Yum. It’s complicated, but can be ready in less than half an hour.

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  14. Separating the eggs is the key to good matzah ball soup? I never knew that!

    As the old joke goes, matzah ball soup is great, but can you eat any other parts of the matzah?

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  15. I thank you god for
    the tsunami that devastated Japan
    for the worm that lives in the eyes of children
    for droughts that kill children in Africa
    for the cold winter weather that picks off the elderly.

    the sun will turn into a red giant and swallow us all
    and the earth with it
    truly your wisdom is infinite.

    We will not move to a new place. This life is not a rehearsal.

    cosmic rays of unimaginable intensity
    want to kill us
    black holes
    want to kill us
    hurtling rocks through space
    want to kill us
    rising water
    wants to kill us
    fire
    wants to kill us
    and worst of all:
    Our fellow men want to kill us

    Russia are hounding homosexuals.
    In Uganda it is now illegal to be gay.
    Qatar keeps and kills slaves.
    9000 women a year are promised dancing careers
    and end up in Amsterdam windows.
    Romanian women and girls
    are delivered by the lorry load to England as sex slaves…

    So, yeah, feel the love all around you.

    A prayer of thanks.

    It says so much about humans that the torture of crucifixion is seen as an expression of love.

    Wake up. Wake up, indeed.

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  16. Do we need a thread on recipes? Wider knowledge about food, sources and preparation may slow down the global industrialisation of food production that’s wreaking havoc on this planet.

    Not that exploitation of the weaker by the powerful is not an important issue. Information is an effective weapon both against corrupt and indifferent governments and organised criminal gangs.

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  17. keiths:
    WWJE?

    Well, in the Last Supper (which was almost-but-not-quite a Passover Seder), this is what the Apostle Matthew says (King James Version):

    7 Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed.

    8 And he sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare us the passover, that we may eat.

    11 And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house, The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?

    13 And they went, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover.

    So we have a probable case for matzoh, but alas, no mention of chicken soup or matzoh balls.

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  18. From Alan Fox:

    “Do we need a thread on recipes?”

    Definitely. From The Australian Bush Cook’s Compendium:

    Galah Supreme
    Take one galah, one housebrick, one 44-gallon drum
    Place galah and housebrick in drum, fill drum with water
    Place drum over fire
    Boil until housebrick is soft
    Throw away galah, eat housebrick

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  19. I think you are under-selling the Moral Theory, which always seemed to me by far the best, and is usually attributed to Peter Abelard, so I’m not sure it’s “the oldest”.

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  20. Dave,

    An interestingly argued and articulated post.

    To give my own answer the title of this post ‘How does the life (and death) of Jesus atone for our sins?’ The answer is that it doesn’t if you re-read the Hebrew Bible. Firstly it was only animals that were allowed for sacrifices and they had to be physically umblemished (Leviticus 22, 18-25). So already on two counts Jesus would have been an unacceptable sacrifice, being a man (albeit also an apparent deity at the same time). Secondly the New Testament itself describes Jesus’s extremely bloody torture at the hands of the Romans (‘the Passion narrative’) .So Jesus was not ‘without blemish’ at the time of this apparent sacrifice for all humanity (which wasn’t done in the Temple, but outside of the gates of Jerusalem).

    I’d say in Judaic thought ,to think that animal sacrifices have only ever been the acceptable way of ‘atonement’ is wrong and today atonement is via prayer and repentance to G-d as Hosea says about ‘offering the bulls of our lips’ (14, 2). But in the times of our Teacher Moses, The Torah makes a distinction of an intentional and an unintentional sin and what was required to amend this sin (see Numbers 24-29 and contrast with Numbers 5: 6-7). Also, in the midst of Leviticus (5, 11-13) it is documented that if you are poor then you could use ‘fine flour’ as a ‘sin offering ; if you read the book of Jonah it is clear that you don’t need to have an animal sacrifice for G-d to be able to forgive sin (specifically Jonah 3,10) or even convert to Judaism! I could go on and note that Judaism does not believe in human sacrifice at all (the story of Abraham and his son is slightly taken out of context by Christian scholars), but I’m running out of space.

    I’m intrigued that you used Hebrews as a justification for your opening remarks.Hebrews is a New Testament book, i.e. not part of the Jewish ‘canon’ ,apparently written by a Jewish Christian for Jewish Christians in Jerusalem who were thinking of reverting to Judaism (quite why the text is not written in Aramaic, but fluent classical Greek is a mystery to me). So to use this book to confirm your opening remarks re Judaism, to me very strange.

    Perhaps I have misunderstood the comments regarding Jews and seeing blood as a form of ‘magic’, but, if you look at the context of that quotation from Leviticus (17), you will see that what is being forbidden is for Jews to actually drink blood, in part I would suggest to make a distinction between Jews and the pagan nations which surrounded them at the time. It is not saying that drinking blood is right or a commandment (which is why as part of our Kosher food laws, the meat has to be drained of blood, via adding salt to it). I think it is chapter 3 of Frazer’s book ‘eating the god’ which discusses how various pagan religions saw blood sacrifices as ‘gaining’ their deities power, which is not a Jewish concept (possibly one could infer this from a certain reading of Roman Catholic ‘Mass’).

    One final thought is that ironically in the past there was a claim by certain Christians that Jews drank blood, called the ‘blood libel ‘ cases, which were often the pretext for persecution ,pogroms, etc, which unfortunately blighted Europe for many an age.

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  21. David Kavanagh:
    Dave,

    An interestingly argued and articulated post.

    To give my own answer the title of this post ‘How does the life (and death) of Jesus atone for our sins?’ The answer is that it doesn’t if you re-read the Hebrew Bible.Firstly it was only animals that were allowed for sacrifices and they had to be physically umblemished (Leviticus 22, 18-25). So already on two counts Jesus would have been an unacceptable sacrifice, being a man (albeit also an apparent deity at the same time). Secondly the New Testament itself describes Jesus’s extremely bloody torture at the hands of the Romans (‘the Passion narrative’) .So Jesus was not ‘without blemish’ at the time of this apparent sacrifice for all humanity (which wasn’tdone in the Temple, but outside of the gates of Jerusalem).

    I’d say in Judaic thought ,to think that animal sacrifices have only ever been the acceptable way of ‘atonement’ is wrong and today atonement is via prayer and repentance to G-d as Hosea says about ‘offering the bulls of our lips’ (14, 2).But in the times of our Teacher Moses,The Torah makes a distinction of an intentional and an unintentional sin and what was required to amend this sin(see Numbers 24-29 and contrast with Numbers 5: 6-7).Also, in the midst of Leviticus (5, 11-13) it is documented that if you are poor then you could use ‘fine flour’ as a ‘sin offering ; if you read the book of Jonah it is clear that you don’t need to have an animal sacrifice for G-d to be able to forgive sin (specifically Jonah 3,10) or even convert to Judaism!I could go on and note that Judaism does not believe in human sacrifice at all (the story of Abraham and his son is slightly taken out of context by Christian scholars), but I’m running out of space.

    I’m intrigued that you used Hebrews as a justification for your opening remarks.Hebrews is a New Testament book, i.e. not part of the Jewish ‘canon’ ,apparently written by a Jewish Christian for Jewish Christians in Jerusalem who were thinking of reverting to Judaism (quite why the text is not written in Aramaic, but fluent classical Greek is a mystery to me).So to use this book to confirm your opening remarks re Judaism,to me very strange.

    Perhaps I have misunderstood the comments regarding Jews and seeing blood as a form of ‘magic’, but, if you look at the context of that quotation from Leviticus (17), you will see that what is being forbidden is for Jews to actually drink blood, in part I would suggest to make a distinction between Jews and the pagan nations which surrounded them at the time. It is not saying that drinking blood is right or a commandment (which is why as part of our Kosher food laws, the meat has to be drained of blood, via adding salt to it).I think it is chapter 3 of Frazer’s book ‘eating the god’ which discusses how various pagan religions saw blood sacrifices as ‘gaining’ their deities power, which is not a Jewish concept (possibly one could infer this from a certain reading of Roman Catholic ‘Mass’).

    One final thought is that ironically in the past there was a claim by certain Christians thatJews drank blood, called the ‘blood libel ‘cases, which were often the pretext for persecution ,pogroms, etc, which unfortunately blighted Europe for many an age.

    David,

    Thank you for your comments. I have corrected the error about the Hebrews quote on my blog but I won’t bother to change it here where you have commented. It doesn’t in the end change my argument, but I have kept it simple and avoided getting sidetracked into discussing Hebrews on my blog version.

    Christianity was no doubt influenced by pagan religions as well as Judaism. However, many early Christians were converted Jews. It seems clear that Jesus as sacrifice, in a symbolic sense, made sense to Jews. Human sacrifice may not have been acceptable for Jews, but the death of Jesus is presented in the NT as a symbolic sacrifice based on Jewish practices. As well as he and Jesus Barrabas representing the two goats, Jesus Christ is also, in John, the sacrificial lamb.

    The Leviticus quotes I gave show that blood was seen as the essence of life. Of course this is old fashioned nonsense, but it is the basis of blood sacrifice. I accept your point that pagan influences may have also contributed.

    As for animal sacrifice not being necessary, that is contradicted by Leviticus 16:34.
    It seems that animal sacrifice was at least necessary for annual atonement of the sins of Israel, although I take note of Leviticus 5:11-13. My understanding is that the annual animal sacrifice by the priest is no longer practised by Jews as a consequence of the loss of the Temple.

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  22. This is my first post in this forum. I posted for several months on UD, a few years ago, until one day I started to be moderated with no explanation ever given. I was certainly insulted by that, and eventually stopped posting altogether. At the time, I had started to realize the fatal flaw in ID philosophy, namely, that it presupposes some entity “mind” or “design” which is conceived in ID as self-evidently distinct from law/mechanism. This conception of transcendental “mind” in ID is absolutely intrinsic to it. And yet, it is certainly NOT self evident to an objective observer, that humans or animals design via some transcendental “mind” they possess (consider for example bower birds or other animals that build novel and unique and complex designs, presumably not by means of some transcendental “mind”) . This is the fatal flaw that totally destroys the ID house of cards. I notice that on UD today, the same handful of regular posters are still on there, still tilting at windmills.

    At any rate, the subject at hand — the Blood of Jesus. This is a subject that I myself, as a born-again Christian (I trust), have been preoccupied with of late. It is certainly true that all through the New Testament, “The Blood of Jesus” specifically and repeatedly is presented as deserving of the most circumspect and devout veneration. What is that all about? You go through your life as a Christian taking something like that for granted, as just a figure of speech or what have you, until you realize, “Wait a minute — this is something these guys are really serious about.” There used to be innumerable hymns sung in evangelical churches, up to 10 or 15 years ago on this same theme, e.g.

    “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins. And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains. Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains….[etc.]”

    “Are you washed, in the blood, in the soul-cleansing blood of the lamb….”

    There are many, many other old hymns like this. Today, all those old hymns have gone by the wayside, and what we have instead are generic, treacly, insipid praise ditties, generally dreamed up by the youth pastor over the weekend and foisted on the congregation on Sunday.

    But what of “The blood”? Certainly it has to be connected to the astounding emphasis on blood in the rituals of the Old Testament Hebrews. So I started to research that. I was assuming to begin with that possibly these involved, intricate blood rituals of the ancient Hebrews must have had precursors in many other pagan religious traditions of the ancient world. But that turns out to not be the case.

    Among historians, it is something of a mystery where the ancient Hebrews derived their overwhelming emphasis on blood from. The closest analogue that has been discovered, is in some rituals of the Hittites, but the connection is far from conclusive, and its just as likely (in my estimation) that the Hittites were influenced by the Hebrews (instead of vice versa).

    But the overriding significance of “The Blood of Christ” made me start thinking about The Communion in Christian ritual. Christ says at the last supper “This is my Blood, shed for you, drink, in remembrance of me”. That is really the only place that Christ’s blood enters into the formal ritual of Christian tradition. Among “evangelicals” there is a CONSTANT emphasis, e.g. “Its not really Christ’s blood, its just a symbol, [etc.]) And in fact evangelical pastors OFTEN mention this in the Lord’s Supper (i.e. Communion) itself, which is starting to strike me as sacrilegious and possibly blasphemous. Of course the intent is to distinguish ourselves from Catholics, who take it very literally, that the wine is transformed into the literal blood of Christ. But speaking as an evangelical, have we got it wrong here? Are the Catholics right? If by faith, you believe the cup is literally transformed into the blood of Christ at communion, and drink it, does it effect some literal physical saving/transformative/restorative work in you? I’m starting to consider that as a possibility, for one reason at least, that “Communion” in the evangelical churches I was reared in has never done anything for me.

    The other crucial consideration here, is “The Heart”. The Apostle Paul is constantly talking about the heart, and to the best of knowledge, he did not use that term metaphorically, as he thought that “thought” took place literally in the heart. I won’t connect all the dots here, but I’m thinking there’s a possibility (speaking as an evangelical), that the Catholics in fact may have it right on Communion, that the wine is literally transformed into the blood of Christ, and if you believe that, and drink it believing that, it literally performs some transformative, saving work in you, *physically*.

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  23. Hi JT,

    Are the Catholics right? If by faith, you believe the cup is literally transformed into the blood of Christ at communion, and drink it, does it effect some literal physical saving/transformative/restorative work in you? I’m starting to consider that as a possibility, for one reason at least, that “Communion” in the evangelical churches I was reared in has never done anything for me.

    I was raised (as a Lutheran) to believe in the sacramental union — that is, in the idea that the bread is united with (not transformed into) Christ’s actual body and that the wine is united with (not transformed into) Christ’s actual blood. Communion never did much for me, either, but I didn’t really expect any sudden effect that I could attribute to the Eucharist itself.

    I ended up becoming an atheist, but for different reasons.

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  24. keiths,

    Well, I guess you’ll elaborate on why you became an atheist if you want to. Maybe you’re an atheist as to the God of organized religion. I’ve often considered that I or someone else should start an online church for the disaffected. Anyway, on blood and communion: Last night after writing my comment above, before going to bed, it occurred to me, “Well, whats to keep me from doing communion on my own?” And with no wine or grape juice on hand I poured some water, thinking that Christ after all turned water into wine. So I drank that water believing it was the blood of Christ. And, I had a fantastic dream, and I hardly ever dream. Well, sounds kind of stupid I guess, but I won’t discount it.

    Anyway, as to atheism — I’ve become an atheist of sorts in regards to creation. Even orthodox Christians allow that God has absented himself from the creation in a real sense — after all he has to “return”. Isn’t the presence of evil in the world, in orthodox thinking, related to God’s absence? So even the orthodox are evidently atheists in some sense.

    But in regards to creation, I have come to believe there is a passive, impersonal expression of God that can be tapped into randomly by nature, without “God” having to expressly plan anything himself. Let me dovetail this back to ID. I started to have this epiphany when I realized that “irreducible complexity” (is that considered part of ID proper) was not valid, because subsets of some minimal specification for some functionality X could be use for some *other* functionality Y. And there was an ongoing discussion a few years ago (can’t remember who to credit it to) that for example the entire English dictionary could be built up incrementally, just changing or adding one letter at a time, because words are hierarchical. And presumably an Eternal Infinite Rational Principle (my stand-in for the moment for “God”) must also be hierarchical in this fashion, with novel solutions available to nature, no matter what random direction nature turns. And then consider that even human technology and artifacts are constructed incrementally and haphazardly and randomly, with bits and pieces of previous technology being put to use in ways that their “originators” never even envisioned. And also consider the Mandelbrot set, and how that astonishingly fantastic function is generated by a trivial little formula, as if God is somehow inherent in numbers themselves. Finally, things like the discovery of Lamarkism in biology make the whole thing much more feasible.

    So, I think the God that created life, the world, etc is like that impersonal abstract God, or at least its the mode that God manifested himself in “creation”. It may have something to do with a point he’s trying to prove to Satan. I believe the paramount personal manifestation of God is Christ. Though a lot of what I said in this little paragraph may qualify to someone (maybe even myself) as heresy or blasphemy, I don’t know.

    One final note on the ID conception of “mind” (i.e. as distinct from mechanism/law). ID used to invoke Mt. Rushmore a lot by way of analogy, asserting we could look at it and know that “a mind” was behind it (as opposed to mechanism/natural law). Well that to me is ridiculous, because Mt Rushmore at essence is an act of mimicry. Its fundamentally no different than a parrot mimicking sounds it hears. Sure, Mt Rushmore is a more long-term, complex act of mimicry, but then humans have a complex brain to work with.

    Oh and also, there is that problem with ID that its an argument from ignorance, in that it says “Well X can’t be the result of chance [and parenthetically I accept their arguments regarding ruling out chance] and I don’t see any mechanism that could cause X, so X must be a result of transcendent Mind”.

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  25. I just find religion to be a non-productive mode of thought.

    I do ponder the mystery of reality, but only for entertainment. It doesn’t lead anywhere.

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  26. keiths,

    Re your statement why you’re an atheist. It is not self-evident AT ALL, the the genesis creation week means a literal week. Two different places in genesis it says Adam and Eve were created on the same “day”, and yet Adam does a ton of things before Eve is ever created (e.g. naming ALL the animals, etc.) The book of Hebrews says in the New Testament that Christ’s eternal kingdom is the seventh “day”, which would mean we’re in the sixth day NOW. And, considering Christ’s continual conflict with the Pharisees over the fact that he was always “working” on the Sabbath, he tells them (in the Gospel of John) “I am always working, and so is my father [God, implying we haven’t hit the seventh day, as God is still ‘working’]”. In Romans 8, it says that the creation groans in expectation like a woman in childbirth, waiting for the Sons of God to be revealed (i.e. redeemed human beings).” If the sixth day was a literal day that occurred 6000 years ago, then it would mean the “Sons of God” aren’t even part of the creation. If we are still in the sixth day, the Sons of God are part of the creation. And, it says God “rested” on the seventh day. In the biblical narrative, is God ever portrayed as “resting”? No — that occurs in the future, in the eternal kingdom of Christ. What were the ancient Hebrews commemorating on the Sabbath — they were commemorating Christ’s eternal kingdom — WHICH HAS NOT ARRIVED YET. An interesting aspect of ancient Hebrew, is that verbs did not express tense, in the sense of expressing TIME. In Genesis 1, when it says “God rests on the seventh day”, that is the FUTURE. We are still in the sixth day NOW. All of this utterly eludes people like those in the Institute for Creation Research, et. al. I’m just saying, that if your understanding that the creation of genesis was as a literal week, and you were taught that, and as a result you no longer accept the Bible, have a look at all that again. There is prophecy inherent in the Genesis account. Its talking about the future, not just the past. None of this doctrine is for the public, the sceptics, as such (or for that matter, the deluded, like the self-proclaimed protectors of biblical inerrancy, e.g. ICR, YEC, et. al. truly, those guys are a joke.)

    Still there has to be research into operational explanations for the origins of the earth, life, etc and I totatally embrace that.

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  27. JT:
    This is my first post in this forum.I posted for several months on UD, a few years ago, until one day I started to be moderated with no explanation ever given.I was certainly insulted by that, and eventually stopped posting altogether.At the time,I had started to realize the fatal flaw in ID philosophy, namely, that it presupposes some entity “mind” or “design” which is conceived in ID as self-evidently distinct from law/mechanism.This conception of transcendental “mind” in ID is absolutely intrinsic to it.And yet,it is certainly NOT self evident to an objective observer,that humans or animals design via some transcendental “mind” they possess (consider for example bower birds or other animals that build novel and unique and complex designs, presumably not by means of some transcendental “mind”) .This is the fatal flaw that totally destroys the ID house of cards.I notice that on UD today, the same handful of regular posters are still on there, still tilting at windmills.

    At any rate, the subject at hand — the Blood of Jesus.This is a subject that I myself, as a born-again Christian (I trust), have been preoccupied with of late.It is certainly true that all through the New Testament, “The Blood of Jesus” specifically and repeatedly is presented as deserving of the most circumspect and devout veneration.What is that all about?You go through your life as a Christian taking something like that for granted, as just a figure of speech or what have you, until you realize, “Wait a minute — this is something these guys are really serious about.” There used to be innumerable hymns sung in evangelical churches, up to 10 or 15 years ago on this same theme, e.g.

    “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins.And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains. Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains….[etc.]”

    “Are you washed, in the blood, in the soul-cleansing blood of the lamb….”

    There are many, many other old hymns like this.Today, all those old hymns have gone by the wayside, and what we have instead are generic, treacly, insipid praise ditties, generally dreamed up by the youth pastor over the weekend and foisted on the congregation on Sunday.

    But what of “The blood”?Certainly it has to be connected to the astounding emphasis on blood in the rituals of the Old Testament Hebrews.So I started to research that.I was assuming to begin with that possibly these involved, intricate blood rituals of the ancient Hebrews must have had precursors in many other pagan religious traditions of the ancient world.But that turns out to not be the case.

    Among historians, it is something of a mystery where the ancient Hebrews derived their overwhelming emphasis on blood from.The closest analogue that has been discovered, is in some rituals of the Hittites,but the connection is far from conclusive, and its just as likely (in my estimation)that the Hittites were influenced by the Hebrews (instead of vice versa).

    But the overriding significance of “The Blood of Christ” made me start thinking about The Communion in Christian ritual.Christ says at the last supper “This is my Blood, shed for you, drink, in remembrance of me”.That is really the only place that Christ’s blood enters into the formal ritual of Christian tradition. Among “evangelicals”there is a CONSTANT emphasis, e.g. “Its not really Christ’s blood,its just a symbol, [etc.])And in fact evangelical pastors OFTEN mention this in the Lord’s Supper (i.e. Communion)itself, which is starting to strike me as sacrilegious and possibly blasphemous.Of course the intent is to distinguish ourselves from Catholics, who take it very literally, that the wine is transformed into the literal blood of Christ.But speaking as an evangelical, have we got it wrong here?Are the Catholics right?If by faith, you believe the cup is literally transformed into the blood of Christ at communion, and drink it, does it effect some literal physical saving/transformative/restorative work in you?I’m starting to consider that as a possibility, for one reason at least, that “Communion” in the evangelical churches I was reared in has never done anything for me.

    The other crucial consideration here, is “The Heart”.The Apostle Paul is constantly talking about the heart, and to the best of knowledge, he did not use that term metaphorically, as he thought that “thought” took place literally in the heart.I won’t connect all the dots here, but I’m thinking there’s a possibility (speaking as an evangelical), that the Catholics in fact may have it right on Communion,that the wine is literally transformed into the blood of Christ, and if you believe that, and drink it believing that, it literally performs some transformative, saving work in you, *physically*.

    Hi JT. Thanks for your interesting comments.

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  28. JT:

    Re your statement why you’re an atheist. It is not self-evident AT ALL, the the genesis creation week means a literal week…

    JT,

    Doubts about the literal truth of the Bible were merely an early crack in my faith. There have been thousands more cracks since then. My faith crumbled long ago, and my life has been better for it.

    Interpreting Genesis less literally, or even as a myth or allegory, wouldn’t help. The Bible shows all the signs of being a deeply flawed, error-filled, purely human creation. If there really is a God, he must be insulted when people refer to the Bible as “God’s word”.

    I sometimes jokingly ask my Christian friends this question: Suppose on Judgment Day God asks you, “You thought I wrote that??” What will you say?

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  29. vjtorley:
    Hi KeithS,

    What do you think of Robin Collins’ theory of the Atonement? See here:
    http://home.messiah.edu/~rcollins/Philosophical%20Theology/Atonement/AT7.HTM

    I presume this is intended for me.

    I think Robin Collins has a theory that is his own. As I say in my article, “the failure of the allegedly holy texts to make the crucial matter clear is a giant red flag.”

    I don’t think RC’s theory explains how Jesus atones for sin. Why does God need to experience courage to forgive sin?

    I came across the theory when researching the article. I have not read the detailed presentation however, as Dave 14:1 states “The fool in his heart downloads Word documents from the internet.”

    .

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  30. davehooke: I don’t think RC’s theory explains how Jesus atones for sin.

    I only skimmed through but I didn’t see an explanation of Jesus. (Or God.) Is this just assumed?

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  31. davehooke,

    I quite agree that the New Testament was heavily influenced by Jewish thought in so much as the writers of these books or letters were 99% Jewish, although that doesn’t necessarily translate into the bulk of mainstream Jewish thought, either at the time or today and just because a Jew has written something doesn’t mean it is reflective of the Jewish people (e.g. Karl Marx). There is a joke that Rabbi Tovia Singer uses in his counter missionary work that Mormons are around to show Christians how Jews feel (because we share the same written Torah at least, just as Mormons share Christian scriptures plus the Book of Mormon). So it is one of perspective, I guess. You see our Christian friends are commanded to ‘evangelize’ and get a bit perplexed (one guy even said ‘but YOU even have OUR Psalms’)when Jews simply don’t agree with their slants on our Torah and of course are dismissive of the Oral Torah and Talmud as ‘works of men’. Touche for me re the New Testament.

    I forgot to add about your latter part of your posts. I’d agree I’ve never gotten why Pilate – got so week and feeble with one man, given he’d probably have cruxified dozens of ‘criminals’ every day. That and Rome wasn’t afraid of the occasional crackdown to maintain control over her Empire. That has never added up to me. That and the so-called ‘trial’ of Jesus went totally against Jewish law; trials were only allowed sunrise to sunset, had to be within the Temple, undertaken by the Sanhedrin (the ‘supreme court’ as it were of Judaism). I think Jesus’s trial was held in a house, after dark. And I’m not sure how 73 people could fit into one house..

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  32. JT:

    The other crucial consideration here, is “The Heart”.The Apostle Paul is constantly talking about the heart, and to the best of knowledge, he did not use that term metaphorically, as he thought that “thought” took place literally in the heart.I won’t connect all the dots here, but I’m thinking there’s a possibility (speaking as an evangelical), that the Catholics in fact may have it right on Communion,that the wine is literally transformed into the blood of Christ, and if you believe that, and drink it believing that, it literally performs some transformative, saving work in you, *physically*.

    JT,

    As I’m in an ‘ecumenical’ mood, given Paul’s apparent background and training under Gamaliel, I wonder if Paul is using the Jewish concept of ‘Kavanah’ which means ‘purpose’, ‘direction’, ‘devotion’ of the heart in the sense of the mindset Jews should have in prayer and putting this into the way Christians should be with ‘the lord’s supper’ /’mass’/’communion’ etc ?

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  33. A Richard Dawkins’ quote appeared on my Twitter feed this morning and I was reminded of this topic. He summarizes one of the core questions quite nicely:

    The idea that God could only forgive our sins by having his son tortured to death as a scapegoat is surely, from an objective point of view, a deeply unpleasant idea. If God wanted to forgive us our sins, why didn’t he just forgive them?

    Why did he have to have his son tortured?

    As a non-omniscient, non-omnipotent, non-omnibenevolent human I am capable, on occasion, of forgiveness, always without harming my children in the process. Am I more enlightened than the Abrahamic god?

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