The language of sacrifice in Paul's interpretation of the death of Jesus.
Bedenbaugh, John Benjamin,1929-
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Sacrifice, one of the inevitable motifs in Judaeo-Christian religion, is a category used by Christians in New Testament times to interpret the death of Jesus. Linguistic, historical, and exegetical evidences brought to bear upon four aspects of Paul's use of sacrificial language in his interpretation of the death of Jesus lead to three defensible conclusions. The four aspects of the problem are: (l) The Meaning of Hilasterion in Romans 3:25; (2) (He) Orge ((Tou) Theou) in Paul; ( 3) The Language of "Blood 11 in Paul; and (4) Paul's Use of Thusia. Efforts to dissociate hilasterion in Romans 3:25 from the language of sacrifice have failed. Deissmann's attempt to strip hilasterion of its sacrificial meaning in this passage is based u pon impressive evidence, but it is evidence that largely overlooks the profound influence of the Old Testament upon Paul 1s thought and language. Dodd's thorough investigation of hilaskesthai and its derivatives in the LXX shows the inescapably sacrificial meaning of the hilaskesthai family. The meaning is sacrificial not in the sense of propitiation (placating of God 1s anger) but in the sense of expiation (cleansing of sins). To literalize hilasterion in Romans 3:25 and translate it "mercy seat" is unnecessarily to attribute to Paul a crudely mixed metaphor. The sign ificance of the term is likely very general in Paul's usage and describes God's work of dealing with sin, which he accomplished in Christ. There are fifteen passages in which Paul uses the phrase (he) orge ((tou) Theou). Interpreters have been prone to extremes in their descriptions of the meaning of this phrase. "The wrath of God" has been interpreted as a completely eschatological concept. Some have attempted to make it entirely impersonal and have explained it in terms of an automatically operating law of cause and effect in a moral universe. Others have made it a crude anthropopathism involving fitful rages of anger. None of these interpretations comports with the passages in which Paul uses the phrase. Paul's conception of divine wrath is best described in terms of divine love. The wrath of God is that activity of the divine love, for which there is no exact counterpart in human personality, which stands in radical and dynamic opposition to sin. There are eight passages in wh ich Paul speaks of the blood of Christ. Attempts have been made to dissocia te Paul's references to the blood of Christ from the language of sacrifice. One patently undemonstrable claim has it that these passages have nothing to do with the functions of blood in the Levitical system, but simply show the indelible impression made upon Paul as he observed the crucifixion of Jesus. Those who interpret Paul primarily in the language of mysticism find their category in his use of the language of blood. An attempt has also been made to interpret Paul's use of blood as an attenuated metaphor describingfue violence of the death of Jesus. None of these approaches takes adequate account of the evidence. When Paul speaks of the blood of Christ, he means that the death of Christ involved the liberation of His life in such a way as was not available before His death, thus making possible a relationship with Him that was not possible before His death. Paul uses thusia to describe the death of Christ only in Ephesians 5:2. To say, as some scholars do, that thusia is here only metaphorical without defining "metaphorical" is scarcely adequate. Paul may well be saying that Christ's death is part of the divine provision for the re-establishment of divine-human fellowship with no compromise of moral principle, but it is impossible to dogmatize about the details of his intention here. In the light of what we have discovered about Paul's use of sacrificial ideas in other connections, we would seem to be safe in assigning to thusia a general meaning in Ephesians 5:2 rather than attempting to establish any marked inner unity between Old Testament sacrifice and the sacrifice of Christ. The evidence that we have marshalled seems sufficient to warrant the follovdng conclusions: (1) Paul uses sacrificial language sparingly and creatively in his interpretation of the death of Jesus. (2) Paul does not consider the language of the Jewish cult us as in any sense indispensable in his presentation of the Christian Gospel. (3) Paul never represents God as requiring placation or appeasement.
Thesis (M.A.)--Boston University
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