Saturday, March 9, 2013

Kimberly Knight & Margaret Aymer: on the blood of Jesus

“These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tabernacle over them. They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd and will guide them to springs of the water of life and God will wipe every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:14b-17).

Kimberly Knight of “Coming Out Christian,” has written an extremely provocative blog posting, “Washed in His Blood My Ass,” in which she disparages the effectiveness of the blood that Jesus shed on the cross. It isn’t that she dislikes Jesus or makes fun of his death. Knight doesn’t understand how God would need such a sacrifice. Not quite understanding the Trinity, God’s holiness and our own sinfulness, Knight writes, “First of all is the deeply disturbing (and some would say heretical) idea of a God that would NEED a sacrifice of one innocent to pay for the sins of the rest of our sorry asses. A blood thirsty God is frankly a warped vision of the Divine cast in our own vengeful image.”

And then Knight asks a question, “Second is the more esoteric question of HOW exactly such a sacrifice would pay for “sins”?” But she goes on to state what I believe is a truthful thought, that we are damned by the crucifixion. Well, actually we are already damned and crucifying the innocent One is the final symptom of our brokenness. It is the final nail that forever establishes our depravity. But God, if we do not reject the gift, takes our place, putting sin to death on the cross. And that means blood is shed, the blood of Jesus.

In the comment section, most comments agree with Knight, some suggesting that the idea of sacrifice is there because of ancient religious views, including the Old Testament’s that sacrifice had to be made. Knight herself answers one person’s comment with this:

I think maybe you misunderstand how I read the bible and how I understand the history of our faith. I do not believe that God instituted a sacrificial system for sins. I not believe that God needed or needs any such of a thing. I understand that the Hebrew people of that time, much like people of different traditions around the world in similar eras, were struggling to understand their relationship to God as they understood God.

And there is the suggestion by Professor Margaret Aymer, who wrote the bible study on the Beatitudes for Presbyterian Women, that at the time of the early church there were the various mystery religions that practiced shedding blood. She writes:

Of course, that theology dates back to the first century, when the sacrifice of living things was part of everyone’s religion. Consider, for instance, the taurobolium in which a bull was sacrificed on a platform with gaps in it, so that the priest or priestess would emerge “baptized in the blood” of the bull and thus purified.

This is where the theology of Hebrews [the N.T. book] comes from. Christian theology has turned this into something far greater than a cultural imitation (because, by all means, Christianity MUST be unique).

Of course this is an extremely simplistic understanding. First of all the scriptural understanding of the sacrifice of Jesus was rooted in Judaism, through the death of the lamb at Passover, the sacrificial rituals of the temple and the prophetic words of Scripture. For example, Isaiah 53, “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities, the chastening for our wellbeing fell upon Him, by his scourging we are healed.”

And there are the differences between the Christian idea of atonement and that of the mystery religions.  Any blood shed in a mystery religion, and not all shed blood, was to appease human fear of the afterlife, but Jesus’ blood was shed for the forgiveness of sin.[1]

Also in an article on mystery religions by Marvin Meyer, he points out that because of some similarities between Christianity and mystery religions some attempt to see Christianity dependent on the mystery religions. However he suggests a more balanced view which “acknowledges the similarities but avoids simplistic conclusions about dependence.”[2]

Toward the end of her posting Knight, acknowledging the resurrection, writes, “Jesus does not return to punish the world who had rejected him. Jesus emerges with wounded hands outstretched in love and forgiveness.” This part of Knight’s writing is beautiful, because Jesus does stand with his hands outstretched in love and forgiveness. But this is not cheap grace, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it. Jesus, who is God, come in human flesh did die for us. As Peter puts it, “… you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with the precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.”

In 1990, my husband and I participated in worship at St. Paul’s in London. We sat with the choir for communion and amazingly one of the beautiful songs we sang was “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood.” A beautiful hymn written by a man, William Cowper, who felt terrible guilt because of his attempts to kill himself.

[1] Everett Ferguson, “Religions, Greco-Roman,” Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Developments, A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship, Editors, Ralph p. Martin & Peter H. Davids, (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press 1997)1009.
[2]Marvin Meyer, “Mysteries,” Dictionary of New Testament Background, A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship, Editors, Craig A. Evans & Stanley E. Porter, (Downers Grove Inter: Varsity Press 2000) 724.


Anonymous said...

There is something really pathetic about this. Mystery religions? The idea that Christ's sacrifice is somehow connected to Mithraism and others of the day was debunked decades ago. It's the kind of thing that you expect from ignorant bloggers on the web site who last week had a revelation by reading "The Golden Bough" for the first time, or who think that Renan is the final word the search for the historic Jesus.

As for Knight, she's simply a garden variety heretic in the original sense of the word. She places so much emphasis on the resurrection to the exclusion of the crucifixion (which has no salvific significance except to show us our sin) that she loses one of the central themes of the NT. But I'm sure that was by design, because she doesn't like it.

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

Viola Larson said...

David, it is amazing how many times in church history some have held on to the resurrection but dismissed the death of Christ as unnecessary. That leaves us with only an opportunity to be raised with all of our vileness and no one standing as advocate between us and the Father. Without the righteousness of Christ we are nothing-and without his death we do not have his righteousness.
And what do we do with communion-"for this is my blood of the covenant which is pored out for many for forgiveness of sins."

will spotts said...

I have to agree with David; I had thought the whole Mithra thing was laid to rest long ago. But there is something, Night of the Living Dead, about these notions - they keep resurfacing in spite of everything.

More importantly, there is an epistemological issue here. Just because I don't understand a thing does not mean it is untrue. Just because I dislike something and find it distasteful does not make it false.

To be frank, there are many things I know to be true that I don't particularly like. There are many more true things that I don't understand.

Viola Larson said...

Will, that is true and I am writing on some of those thoughts today. I might even finish tonight: )