Christ's Atoning Blood (The Pre-Christian Origins Of)

Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld y de la Torre, M.A. Ed.

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22 Dec. 2000; Update at end of article: 22 Dec. 2004

The New Testament stresses that Christ's death and his shed blood was necessary to redeem man from sin and reconcile him with God, thus making possible mankind's resurrection to life after death and an eternity of being with God.

The idea of a human-being's death acting as an "expiation for national sin" appears in Hellenistic Judaism of the 2nd century BCE -1st centuries CE. I suspect, along with other scholars, this notion lies behind Christianity's understanding of Christ's death. There are of course modifications and reinterpretations in the Christian reworking of  this concept.

Daniel stresses that God demands a period of punishment of 490 years for his people because their ancestors violated God's commandments. During this period many will die, including Saints. Many Humanist scholars date Daniel to circa 164 BCE based on the details concerning Antiochus IV Epiphanes' attempt to eradicate Judaism and convert the Jews to Hellenism. When one adds the 490 years of national punishment to "the going forth of the word to restore Jerusalem," made by Jeremiah in 586 BCE (Dan 9:24-25) we arrive at 96 BCE as the envisioned date for the end of the punishment and reconcilement to God. It is interesting to note that in this year Alexander Jannaeus was the ruler of Judaea, and he and his Hasmonean predecessors, had succeeded by this date, in restoring ancient Israel's borders from Dan to Beersheba. Could Daniel have been written or redacted in 97 BCE (the Nation's ancient borders having been restored by this date) ? 

In the Books of the Maccabees, we learn that the reason given for the success of the Hasmoneans in restoring Israel's borders and obtaining her freedom from the Gentiles is the martyrdom under Antiochus IV Epiphanes, of  certain righteous individuals, a priest called Eleazar, as well as his wife and their seven sons, who refused to save their lives by violating the Torah. God is portrayed as rescuing the nation, and accepting these righteous mens' prayers that their lives be acceptable in atoning for the national sins. This idea appears to lie behind's Christ's death, atoning for mankind's sin, and man's obtaining God's grace.

Just as the priest Eleazar refused to violate Torah, so Christ is portrayed as never violating Torah. Christ's ability to fulfill Torah, along with his death, frees man of the curse of the Law according to Paul's interpretation. To a degree, both Paul and the writers of Maccabees are using similar motifs, Torah fulfillment and observance, and atoning deaths of righteous men. Paul however turns the Maccabean moral or lesson upside down and on its ear. Whereas the Maccabean writers stress continued observance of the Torah for their people, Paul stresses that Christ's death has fulfilled Torah, Christians are not to attempt to establish their own righteousness by obeying Torah, faith in Christ via works of love, is enough for Paul.

The writers of Maccabees and Paul also share the notion of a heavenly reward for those who endure life's trials. Eleazar and his sons are regarded as athletes who win a crown, for their loyalty to God (4 Macc 17:8-18 RSV). The enemy, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, is to be punished after death, in eternal fire with eternal tortures (4 Macc. 12:11-12 RSV), similar notions appear in the Book of Revelation (Rev 20:10).

"You profane tyrant...justice has laid up for you intense and ETERNAL FIRES AND TORTURES AND THESE THROUGHOUT ALL TIME WILL NEVER LET YOU GO." (4 Macc 12:11-12 RSV)

"...the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, AND THEY WILL BE TORMENTED DAY AND NIGHT FOR EVER AND EVER." (Rev 20:10 RSV)

"...I call upon the God of our fathers to be merciful to our nation; but on you he will take vengance both in this present life and when you are dead." (4 Macc 12:17-18 RSV)


"Therefore the creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws." (2 Macc 7:23)

"...the king of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws." (2 Macc 7:9)

"...because of them our enemies did not rule over our nation, the tyrant was punished, and the homeland purified- THEY HAVING BECOME, AS IT WERE, A RANSOM FOR THE SIN OF OUR NATION. AND  THROUGH THE  BLOOD OF THOSE DEVOUT ONES AND THEIR DEATH AS AN EXPIATION, DIVINE PROVIDENCE PRESERVED ISRAEL THAT PREVIOUSLY HAD BEEN AFFLICTED." (4 Macc 17:20-22)

"O Israelite children, offspring of the seed of Abraham, obey this law and excercise piety in every way...those who gave over their bodies in suffering for the sake of religion were not only admired by men, but also were deemed worthy to share in a divine inheritance. Because of them the nation gained peace, and by reviving observance of the law in the homeland they ravaged the enemy." (4 Macc 18:1,3-4)

"But the sons of Abraham with their victorious mother are gathered into the chorus of the fathers, and have received pure and immortal souls from God..." (4 Macc 18:23)

"...nor did she grieve as they were dying, but as though having a mind of adamant and giving rebirth for immortality to the whole number of her sons, she implored them and urged them on to death for the sake of religion...My sons noble is the contest to which you are called to bear witness for the nation. Fight zealously for our ancestral law...Remember that it is through God that you have had a share in the world and have enjoyed life, and therefore you ought to endure any suffering for the sake of God. For his sake our father Abraham was zealous to sacrifice his son Isaac, the ancestor of our nation...By these words the mother of the seven encouraged and persuaded each of her sons to die rather than violate God's commandment. They knew also that THOSE WHO DIE FOR THE SAKE OF GOD LIVE IN GOD, as do Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the patriarchs." (4 Macc 16:12-20)

Paul stresses that Christians who lay down their lives for Christ, show evidence that they LIVE IN CHRIST, and will be rewarded like Eleazar, with eternal life.

"Indeed it would be proper to inscribe upon their tomb these words as a reminder to the people of our nation: "Here lie buried an aged priest and an aged woman and seven sons, because of the violence of the tyrant who wished to destroy the way of life of the Hebrews. They vindicated their nation, looking to God and enduring torture even to death. Truly the contest in which they were engaged was divine, for on that day virtue gave the awards and tested them for their endurance. THE PRIZE WAS IMMORTALITY in endless life. Eleazar was the first contestant...The tyrant was the antagonist, and the world and the human race were the spectators. Reverence for God was victor and gave the crown to its own athletes. Who did not admire the athletes of the divine legislation ? Who were not amazed ? The tyrant himself...marveled at their endurance, because of which THEY NOW STAND BEFORE THE DIVINE THRONE and live though blessed eternity." 
(4 Macc 17:8-18)  

"The book [4 Maccabees] is a classic example of the interpretation of Judaism in terms of Greek philosophy. The ideas are Stoic (with some significant differences) and so is the terminology."

(p.309, "Introduction, 4 Maccabees." Herbert G. May & Bruce M. Metzger. The New Oxford Annotated Bible With The Apocrypha (Revised Standard Version). New York. Oxford University Press. 1977)

Conclusions :

The New Testament is reinterpreting certain motifs found in Hellenistic Judaism of the 2nd century BCE -1st century CE in regards to a righteous individual's death being an atonement and expiation for a people's sins. Whereas the writers of Maccabees stress atonement for only their nation, Christianity stresses atonement for the world. 

My studies of Plato reveal several motifs that appear to have been embraced later by Judaism, albeit and a transformed manner, to fit the Jewish temperment. These Platonic motifs I have identified as being in the New Testament, they evidently entered Christian thought via Hellenistic Judaism (cf. my article titled "The New Testament's Non-Hebraic, Hellenistic Greek Pre-suppositions" posted on this website).

22 Dec. 2004 Update:

The New Testament declares that for one's sins to be forgiven by God, one must first confess that Christ is the son of God and then be baptized into his death. That is to say, that ONLY the sacrifice of God's first-born and only begotten son, can secure forgiveness of sin.

This notion seems to be contradicted by the prophet Micah. It appears that Micah understands that to be reconciled to God and forgiven for one's sins, the sacrifice of one's firstborn is NOT acceptable, God desires instead from an individual, "justice, loving kindness and to walk humbly with God." 

Micah 6:6-8 RSV

"With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on HIgh ? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old ? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil ? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God ?"

Micah goes on to assure Israel that God will forgive them their trespasses against him:

Micah 7: 18-20 RSV

"Who is a God like thee, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance ? He does not retain his anger for ever because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion upon us, he will tread our iniquities under foot. Thou wilt cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. Thou wilt show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham as thou hast sworn to our fathers from the days of old."

I find it difficult on the basis of Micah 6:6-8 to "embrace" the Christian notion that Jesus Christ, the firstborn and only begotten son of God _had to die_ inorder for man to be reconciled to God and have his sins forgiven.

Along a similar note is the Jewish concept of God's ANNUAL forgiveness of Israel's sins on Yom Kippur. The following is extracted from a brochure accompanying a Medal issued by the Israel Government Coins and Medals Corporation of Jerusalem explaining Yom Kippur's significance:

"Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the tenth day of the month of Tishri 
according to the Jewish claendar, is unique in its holiness ("the Sabbath of 
Sabbaths" - a day of solemn rest" as it is called in Leviticus 23:32). The 
Jews were granted this holiest of days at Mount Sinai while receiving the 
Torah. It was then that they became a people. The significance of Yom 
Kippur, as it appears on the medal, is to serve as a vehicle for the group 
forgiveness of a holy nation (the Jewish people) on a holy day (the Day of 
Atonement). And in fact, to forgive each individual for his sins. This day 
is the climax of the ten days of repentance which begins with the Rosh 
Hashana holiday (the New Year) and culminates with the Day of Atonement.

The Torah declares that on Yom Kippur all sins will be forgiven: "for on 
this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins 
shall ye be clean before the Lord" (Leviticus 16:30). But our sages have 
interpreted that those sins made by man against the Lord will be pardoned, 
while those mades against a fellow man will be forgiven only upon direct 
reconcilitaion between man and his fellow man."

The notion that God graciously forgives the sins of ALL Israel once a year at Yom Kippur, in addition to Micah's statement that God will NOT accept a "first-born" sacrifice of a human-being, seems to me, to effectively _negate_ Christianity's claims that Christ HAD TO DIE, in order to obtain forgiveness of sins for mankind from God.

According to Christian claims, the God of the Old Testament is Jesus Christ in the role of The Logos, "The Word." Why would Christ as "The Logos" via Micah, declare to his people that the shed blood of a Human Sacrifice is unacceptable to God in forgiving sins, ONLY righteous behavior is acceptable ?

Another "problem" in having Christ die to redeem man from sin, is that the Prophets in the Old Testament were quite emphatic in declaring that the sons would NOT be held responisble for the sins of their fathers or ancestors. 

To the degree that Christianity proclaims that ALL of mankind is living in sin because of Adam and Eve's transgression NEGATES the Prophets' claim that the children shall not be held accountable for their forefathers transgressions.

Jeremiah 31:29-30 RSV

"...they shall no longer say" 'The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge.' But every one shall die for his own sin..."

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