Dying for Others/our sins

From: Jeffrey Gibson (jgibson@acfsysv.roosevelt.edu)
Date: Fri May 30 1997 - 15:01:08 EDT

What follows here is not strictly a syntactical or grammatical question,
but it bears on context and connotation of some NT terms, so I beg
the list's indulgence.

Recently I came across an article by M. de Jonge
(in a Festschrift for A.F.J. Klijn) entitled "Jesus' Death for Others"
which explores the background of "for our sins" and "dying for"
language used by Paul to describe and interpret the significance
of Jesus' death (e.g. in 1 Cor. 15:3 XRISTOS APEQANEN hUPER TWN
hHMWN; Rom 5:8, XRISTOS hUPER hHMWN APEQANEN). This has set off
in my mind a series of questions on the intention behind and the
theology of these Pauline proclamations about Jesus' death.
What strikes me in the de Jonge article is not only (a) that the
Pauline "for our sins" and "dying for" language is used before
Paul and of the deaths of Jewish martyrs as part of a larger
claim that their deaths were atoning, but more importantly (b)
that the formulae are used at particular moments of national
crisis to justify the way of life that led to these martyrs'
deaths, holding it up as a paradigm of the type of faithfulness
to God that brings salvation to Israel and (c) that this way is
always the way of Zeal as expounded in the Phineas tradition
(i.e. Holy War). This raises the question of whether we should
actually look upon Paul's use of "for our sins" language in
reference to Jesus not so much as a claim that a death was
necessary to bring about atonement, and even less as an
expression of an Anselmian theory of atonement, but as part of a
specific argument -- hammered out in the midst of impending
national crises, and carried out between Paul and advocates of
Zeal -- on true faithfulness, an argument which was intended to
counter the very specific claims put forward by advocates of "the
politics of holiness" about the type of life (the way of Zeal)
that really redeems Israel.

Perhaps we should consider it the case that in using such formulae Paul
was NOT (primarily, anyway) talking about how gracious God is towards
"sinners", or how loving Jesus was, so much as he [Paul] is specifically
engaged in a dialogue with, and an attempted refutation of, the claims of
the resistance movement regarding where redeeming faithfulness was
exemplified, and that he was doing this by taking up the movement's
language and challenging not so much its ideas that Israel needed
redemption as its claims concerning how that redemption is to be brought

Is it possible that the claim "Christ died for us" = "it is JESUS'
style of faithfulness which atones and forestalls God's judgement upon the
nation" and that what Paul is trying to do in making the claim is to
emphasize that of all the deaths (and the style of life leading to it)
that have a claim to be atoning (i.e. lead Israel out of wrath) it is
Jesus' not Phineas' that really does so? Phineas' will only bring on God's
wrath. Any thoughts on this?
Jeffrey Gibson

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