Cast out of the Synagogue/USA: History, Rhetoric, and Reality

I participated in a fascinating conversation about the Gospel of John as a group of us who had attended the “John the Jew” Enoch Seminar coped with a train strike in Italy.

The conversation was about the references in the Gospel of John to being expelled from the synagogue. Since there was no universally-accepted authority that could kick people out in any formal way, some have suggested that the references in John are merely rhetoric.

But thinking about this in the context of the candidacy of Donald Trump, I found myself questioning the distinction between “real/historical” and “merely rhetorical.” If a future historian were to find references to Muslims being deported from the United States in sources from way back in 2016, they might likewise ask if the language is rhetorical or reflects reality.

But the correct conclusion would be that the rhetoric reflects a historical reality, a real use of the rhetoric, and not merely something that was a literary flourish in our time. No Muslims may have been deported in 2016. But the rhetoric was used.

The same, it seems to me, might well apply to the background and context of the Gospel of John.

I should also mention that I still need to get around to reading Jonathan Bernier’s book on this topic. Perhaps once I do so, I will view this topic differently…

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  • John MacDonald

    Does it seem odd to anyone else that Christians were allowed to stay in the synagogue for so long when they rejected things like clean vs. unclean food, and that Christians held ideas like the atoning death of Jesus did away with the need for animal sacrifice (One would have thought that the Christian imagery of the tearing of the veil of the temple would have been sacrilegious to the Jews of that time)?

    • Neither of those ideas was universal among Christians. Is there anything in the Gospel of John that suggests that the community that produced it did not keep kosher, for instance? In a diaspora synagogue, it is not clear how a view of sacrifice would have made for practical issues in the community.

      • John MacDonald

        That’s true.

        There seems to be the suggestion of atonement in the gospel of John.

        (1) John the Baptist remarks:

        The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29).”

        (2) Also, when Jesus dies he says: It is finished!” (John 19:30). The work of Jesus that seems to be finished is his payment of the Sin debt. All events in Jesus’ life according to John are in anticipation of his death. Jesus says things like: “Not yet has my hour come” (John 2:4). This is the first of a series of statements about the “hour” or the “time” of Jesus. Throughout the ministry they are like this first reference: the “hour” or the “time” has not yet come (John 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20). But when the ministry is at its end and the cross lies in the immediate future. Jesus says, “The hour has come” (John 12:23; cf. 12:27; 13:1; 16:32; 17:1).

        One would think that if the community that produced the gospel of John believed in the atoning death of Jesus, a natural extension of that would be that animal sacrifice would be unnecessary.

        On the other hand, there were definitely many Christians after Jesus’ death who kept kosher, so there is no reason to think that just because Christians believed in Jesus’ atoning death that they also abandoned Judaism.

    • Iain Lovejoy

      It is by no means clear that Jesus or his Jewish followers (at least at first) did do away with the distinction between clean and unclean foods or any other Jewish laws altogether, although they seem to have been laxer and ignored them in so far as it impeded converting and communing with non Jews. Hostility to the temple and its corrupt elite was common amongst many Jewish sects and the assertion of the ineffectiveness of animal sacrifice is well within the prophetic tradition in the old testament itself. Animal sacrifice was also no part of worship in synagogues or Jewish worship outside the temple itself. The Jewish followers of Jesus would not necessarily have had a problem with a been a problem in synagogue worship initially.
      (The end of Mark 7:19 where Jesus supposedly declared all foods clean was written after the expulsion from the synagogues, and in any event may be a massively off translation: “thus Jesus / he declared” doesn’t appear in the greek and the remaining bit just says “cleaning / washing out all foods” which could equally refer to the action of the drain in ultimately disposing of any unclean food consumed. )

      • John MacDonald

        An interesting story from Acts is Simon Peter’s famous “tablecloth vision” from Chapter 10. Peter is going to be invited to dinner by a centurion, Cornelius from the Italica regiment in Caesarea. Peter has a vision in which a heavenly tablecloth descends, covered with various animals, which he is instructed by a voice to “kill and eat. ‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’ The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ ” (Acts 10:13-15). Later, Peter summarizes his visit: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.” (Acts 10:28).

        The author of Acts may have thought that if Jesus had to reveal to Peter after Jesus died that Peter didn’t need to keep kosher, maybe it was not something Jesus taught Peter when Jesus was alive.

        • John MacDonald

          It would be interesting to know if the idea of “The Atoning Death of Jesus” only sporadically originated AFTER Jesus died, because this would explain why there would be differing ideas among the early Christians about things like keeping kosher (because they wouldn’t have fully worked out what the consequences of an atoning death would mean). Maybe all the historical Jesus did was present a novel ethical philosophy and proclaim the imminence of the end of the world.

          • Mark

            Who are the Jews in the NT who are represented as thinking they are not bound by the law? There doesn’t seem to be any dispute about it: they are. There seem to be plenty of disputes about what this entails – but that’s par for the 2nd temple course. The vision is pretty opaque but Peter’s conclusion from it doesn’t have to do with food. There seems to have been some trouble about how they were to associate with the Gentiles they were proceeding to convert,

          • John MacDonald

            The vision is not opaque. As I said, Peter has a vision in which a heavenly tablecloth descends, covered with various animals, which he is instructed by a voice to “kill and eat. ‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’ The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ ” (Acts 10:13-15). The meaning is perfectly clear and straightforward.

          • Mark

            The meaning isn’t at all clear, it’s a symbolic vision of some sort: the number 4 is as usual representing the four points of the compass, and thus the world as a whole (how else could the moral Peter draws have to do with Gentiles?) – presumably with some reference to Deuteronomy 22:12 thus there is perhaps some superimposition of the idea of the world and of the distinctively Jewish. Also, since we are in Jaffa, the traditional idea of The Port and the point of contact with the wide Gentile world, the linen could well be read as ‘sail’. So we have a bunch of ‘wild’ animals crawling around on some symbol of the world, and of communication with the world, that is at the same time carrying tzitzit. It’s out-and-out mystical.

            You are in any case skipping many points, in the familiar traditional way, e.g. that a) Peter doesn’t eat even though the scene is repeated three times (mystical meaning?) and he is under what sound like direct orders from God to eat; that b) he is said to be puzzled in a way that, on your account, no one can be; that c) //the conclusion he draws, which is stated, has nothing to do with food, but with the status of Gentiles (or those perhaps just those ‘made clean’ by God)//, and thus relations to Gentiles (or the ones ‘made clean’ by God). The practical consequence is supposed to come next with Cornelius – a ‘wild’ creature made clean by God, I guess – but which of the commandments is he violating? It isn’t clear what in the law of Moses has to do with Gentiles being ‘common’ ‘clean/unclean’ anyway; an interpretation would require thinking these words through.

            The passage is on the way to the ‘apostolic decree’ passage, which certainly has Jews following the laws of Moses and Gentiles doing something like following the Noahide rules, more or less as the rabbis later affirmed. I haven’t thought about this for a while but there’s some would-be points for you…

          • John MacDonald

            The fact that Peter extrapolates a more general principle of inclusiveness from the experience doesn’t mean the episode isn’t also about eating: ‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’ Try putting down your concordance and think for yourself! lol

          • Mark

            Your account doesn’t explain why it is presupposed throughout Acts that the law is still binding on Jewish Jesus-followers. -The leading questions are, Is it /also/ binding on Gentile Jesus followers (a problem apparently solved by the ‘apostolic decree’)? and Is it forbidden for Jewish Jesus followers to associate in various ways with Gentiles and in particular with Gentile Jesus followers (solved somehow, it would seem, by this passage)? If, as you seem to think, with this vision in Jaffa, the laws given by Moses with spectacular public miracles and trials, suddenly ceased to apply to the Jews, or Jewish Jesus-followers, then questions under the second heading would be moot; they would also be moot if ‘Gentile Jesus follower’ was basically a contradiction because they had to become proselytes; in fact they are clearly chronic. That Jews don’t have to keep the law if they are Jesus followers seems to be a second century view. Where it appears it even has a vaguely proto-anti-semitic quality.

            Notice that Peter stays with Cornelius and eats in his house – this is what shocks everyone in Acts 11 3, but his justification isn’t “The Law is Dead”, but involves miraculous appearances of the holy spirit, baptism and so on, i.e. things being ‘made clean’ I guess. It is really hard to put Acts 10 -15 together.

            Are you thinking that Peter also learns here that it is permissible to eat reptile mixed with milk? Beef and lamb are ‘clean’, in what I guess is the sense of the passage, but can’t be eaten with milk. Is strangled reptile meat ‘clean’ or ‘common’? The apostolic decree is against it.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            I think what you see is a struggle to make theological sense of what the early church is experiencing. Gentiles who eat bacon and are still in possession of their foreskins are receiving the eschatological promises to Israel, such as the Holy Spirit.

            Couple that with a Gentile conversion rate that starts outpacing the Jewish one, and you get some apostles and an early church whose head is spinning with the ramifications. I don’t think anyone is really sure what to make of this, and the Jerusalem Council is a great illustration, with the final decision being kind of a mishmash that is intended to go over well with both the Jerusalem converts and the apostles who are laboring among the Gentiles.

            I think at least Paul’s views on the subject tend to run a little less ambiguously. He does not see Jewish converts and Gentile converts as separate in any sense, least of all by the Torah. Eph. 2:11-3:6 as one of similar passages.

          • Mark

            I think it is a projection of the point of view of the 2nd, 3rd or 4th century to see the ‘apostolic decree’ as a mishmash. It is very close to the teaching that appears latter in the rabbis. Thus, the view reflected in Acts 15 and in Paul – especially Paul, the putative student of Gamaliel – is presumably founded on some going teaching (or range of teachings) that is also a precursor of the rabbinical rule attested in later centuries. Laws like the familiar dietary laws are given to a specific ethnos; they just don’t have anything to do with human beings in general, not on their own self-understanding. Thus, to understand what to say about humans generally, one looks into the text of the law, and studies what it says about e.g. Noah and Abraham and others who were not under the laws given through Moses. (The rabbinical rule makes a big deal of the ‘commandments’ given to Noah, as the early Christian documents do not; Paul clearly suffers from burnout from thinking too much about the crucial transitional case of Abraham.) It’s pretty straightforward really. The trouble has to do with common operation of people under two systems of principles when they are clearly supposed to be united in some kind of mystical messianic unity. All of the difficulties seem to pertain to this – e.g constituting table fellowship – not to the idea of dissolving the Mosaic law. These problems arise even today with the Chabad / Lubavitch messianists who are busy making ‘Noahides’ who follow the Noahide rules with explicitly (Schneerson-) messianic purpose. In a way the problem is parallel to one that arises in imperial or even federal systems – thus in the Roman case we have e.g. the ancient Laws of Rome and the local laws of the provinces, and then the common imperial law; there are a million structures that can be imposed on this and several were adopted in Roman history. By the way Ephesians is not an undisputed letter so it should be handled with extra care.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            I’m going to have to see your evidence that the Jerusalem Council’s decision is “very close to the teaching that appears later in the rabbis.”

            There are certainly statements in the Torah that loosen up some of the regulations for Gentile non-converts with whom Israel must live and trade, although most of those are Deuteronomic, and if this was always the common understanding of Gentile conversion, then the Jerusalem Council is inscrutable. What’s there to argue about?

            I’m definitely open to seeing the evidence, though. From what I’ve seen on Rabbinic literature, they’re all over the map when it comes to Gentiles in general, but not when it comes to Gentiles who want to convert.

            Ephesians is not an undisputed letter, but it’s hardly the only place where Paul discusses the unity of Jews and Gentiles apart from the Law, nor the only place where he reacts badly to the idea that the Torah is obligatory on people who have joined with Jesus in his death and resurrection, Jew or Gentile.

            I agree with you that what is at stake is not some doctrinal statement that the Law is no longer applicable, but the Law as any kind of definer of faithful Israel seems clearly done to me as far as apostolic writings go, and I am unaware of contemporaneous rabbinical literature that relaxes the Torah for Gentile proselytes. Very open to correction on that.

          • Mark

            We are exactly not talking about conversion and proselytes. Proselytes are Jews of some sort and subject to the Jewish law, a point on which Paul agrees when he says that if one of his gentiles is circumcised he is subject to the whole of the law Galatians 5:3. Paul and the ‘Jerusalem Council’ are envisaging gentiles staying gentiles and becoming subject to messianic authority, which is viewed as something like an imperial power covering many nations.

            We have to do then with Jewish traditions about what the Nations – the exactly non-Jewish and thus non-proselyte people – are supposed to be doing with their lives. In fact of course they are mostly rotten idolators as things stand! The answer that surfaces in the rabbis is that they are supposed to follow the laws of Noah, for which they give a somewhat forced seven-rule analysis, see e.g. the beginning of http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9679-laws-noachian

            It is interesting that traditional Jewish writers recognize this immediately in the apostolic decree and see no mishmash or conceptual difficulty. Again see the old Jewish encyclopedia’s http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11498-new-testament on the NT which says

            “For great as was the success of Barnabas and Paul in the heathen world, the authorities in Jerusalem insisted upon circumcision as the condition of admission of members into the church, until, on the initiative of Peter, and of James, the head of the Jerusalem church, it was agreed that acceptance of the Noachian Laws—namely, regarding avoidance of idolatry, fornication, and the eating of flesh cut from a living animal—should be demanded of the heathen desirous of entering the Church”

            or see the famous statement of R. Emden http://www.auburn.edu/~allenkc/falk1a.html

            ” But it is as I have said earlier–that the writers of the Gospels never meant to say that the Nazarene came to abolish Judaism, but only that he came to establish a religion for the Gentiles from that time onward. Nor was it new, but actually ancient; they being the Seven Commandments of the Sons of Noah, which were forgotten. The Apostles of the Nazarene then established them anew. However, those born as Jews, or circumcised as converts to Judaism (Ex. 12:49; one law shall be to him that is home-born, and unto the stranger) are obligated to observe all commandments of the Torah without exception. But for the Gentiles he reserved the Seven Commandments which they have always been obligated to fulfill. It is for that reason that they were forbidden pollutions of idols, fornication, blood, and things strangled (Acts 15). They also forbade them circumcision and the Sabbath. All of this was in accord with the law and custom of our Torah, as expounded by our Sages, the true transmitters from Moses at Sinai. ” (That Emden attributes any of this to ‘the Nazarene’ is due to a rather naive 18th c reading…)

            The facts are really obvious to these writers they find no paradox or difficulty or incoherence at all; but the Christian tradition finds the whole thing paradoxical after the obscure conceptual revolutions of the second and later centuries. I don’t know if the ‘apostolic decree’ was based on a use of the Noah in particular, rather than just on reflection on the question what the inhabitants of Sodom were supposed to be doing, or indeed what Abraham was supposed to be doing. The later books of the law are not the place to look for an answer to this: the resident aliens in Israel were presumably subject to norms that humanity at large is not subject to, but they are certainly subject to the Noahide laws.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            Well, look, you won’t get any argument from me critiquing the early Greco-Roman church fathers’ attempts to de-Judaize the New Testament. It’s obvious and, in many cases, makes the New Testament much more difficult to understand, and has brought us an incredibly anemic spiritual tradition, especially in the West.

            But the statements you shared are not drawn from rabbinic literature “contemporary” with the Jerusalem council or even within a few centuries afterward. R. Emden is 17th century, and the statement from the Jewish Encyclopedia about the Jerusalem Council was made by the author without a rabbinic citation. Both of these are interpretations looking back on the New Testament in light of much more contemporary (relatively) issues between Christians and Jews. In fact, the Encyclopedia claims that both Peter and James pushed for the inclusion of the Noahide Laws, but Peter certainly does not. One wonders if there is a desire to find in those early Christian writings a stronger Jewish tenor in the same way Christian theologians would desire to find Christian themes in the Old Testament.

            Further, some of the items in the letter do not seem to have correlations with the Noahide Laws. For example, eating strangled animals. Although, obviously, different rabbis have added to the Noahide Laws depending on interpretation. It does look like most of the instructions in general do have corollaries in the Noahide Laws. “Fornication” isn’t “adultery,” nor is eating food sacrificed to idols “idolatry,” nor is eating an animal’s blood the same thing as eating a limb hacked from an animal, but those things are all close enough that I could see them being the same thing for all practical purposes. It could be that James just sort of wings it for a bit of it. But then, the absence of some of those laws is striking. Why isn’t murder mentioned? Fornication is on the list, but not murder? Not stealing?

            It still looks like a compromise document to me, and despite Luke’s hyperbole, I doubt everyone was in complete agreement with it, if nothing else the people who showed up demanding complicity with Torah. Although I can see where the compromise would come from and where people like James wouldn’t necessarily think of what they had decided as instructing the Gentiles to keep Torah. If I’m tracking you correctly, James would have just intended the letter to inform the new Gentile believers of what God had always expected of humanity, and those laws are not Torah.

            I guess I would be more sold if I saw actual rabbinic writings closer to the event that interpreted the decision that way instead of rabbinic writings 1700 years later reflecting on it, especially given no shortage of polemics between Jews and Christians in those early centuries. By all means, if I overlooked some references in that material, please point them out. But I do understand what you’re saying and it definitely has a lot going for it. I’ll think about it more. Thanks.

          • Mark

            Yes, I was quoting Emden (18th c) and the second bit of the JE (early 20th) as a sign of how easy the reading of Acts 15 is for someone who is buried in the tradition of adhering to Mosaic law and reciting the ancillary texts as a duty of the children of Israel, and how the specific rabbinical meme of ‘Noahide laws’ comes immediately to mind for them as not needing argument. The references in the first JE link I gave are to standard rabbinical texts and were my evidence of the opinion of the rabbis. (The internet, if you haven’t noticed, is awash with literature on the Noahide laws, especially from the Chabad Schneerson-messianists.)

            There is of course no evidence of anything rabbinical before the late 2nd c. Mishnah, and thus nothing contemporary with the ‘Jerusalem council’ except highly disputable references to the opinions of 1st c pre-rabbinical sages. I was taking this into account in my original formulations. The NT contains all the best evidence of the varieties of Jewish religious opinion in the period before the destruction of the temple! The dispute between circumcision enthusiasts and the apostolic decree types is presumably just a reflection of a dispute within 2nd T Jewish opinion. It may seem clear obvious and no mishmash to you, but what is striking is that the party of circumcision view is one of which we have little evidence outside the NT; proselytes to the Jewish people existed, same as we get new foreign citizens every day, but there is little sign of a proselytising (= circumcising) movement except the one that Paul keeps bumping into. /His/ view is like the Jewish view that has come down to us; it isn’t anti-Jewish or post-Jewish, so to say, but characteristically Jewish. You could argue that’s an accident, but I think Paul and the later rabbinical ideas are channelling something from the range of 2nd T opinion. People think Paul’s resistance to the party of circumcision types is specifically Gospel based, and ‘Christian’, but I think there is really no evidence of this, in this respect he’s just thinking Jewishly for the period .. and basically later periods too. Thus his completely straightforward statement that if you are circumcised you must follow the whole of the law, which is a direct expression of the same law, seriously intended. But he isn’t interested in proselytes, emigres, naturalized citizens; he is interested in foreigners as foreigners as a sign of God’s immanent subjection of the /world/, to put it crudely. He must bring in the ‘full complement’ of Arabian rustics, strange alien Celtic Galatians and (as he hopes) Iberian what-knows-whats and then Jesus, descendent of David, will take over the whole planet.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            Mark, I’m really interested in this line of reasoning. I think it explains a lot.

            There are some aspects of Paul’s thought (or writings attributed to Paul, at least) that seem to make a few waves in this, though, especially in Romans. If Paul is just maintaining the party line (or -a- party line) with regard to Jews and Gentiles, not assuming a new development, what do you make of his comments that seem to be direct to Jews when he, for instance, talks about them dying to the Law to be married to Christ?

            And assuming Ephesians is Pauline or at least represents an apostolic train of thought, what would you make of the rather strong language that the Torah was torn down in the death and resurrection of Jesus so that Jews and Gentiles might be one people?

          • Yes, one can even think the historical Jesus may have believed that he had to die before the kingdom would come – or at least be handed over for execution – and yet still view the interpretations of his death in terms of sacrifice and atonement and post-crucifixion layers of interpretation imposed on his death after the fact.

          • John MacDonald

            I guess the other possibility is Jesus did view his own death as atoning and hence paying the sin debt and removing the chasm between God and man by reconciling man to God, and hence initiating the end of the age and the onset of the general resurrection. Hence, Jesus’ apocalyptic proclamations may have been the direct result of his view that his own “first fruits” death, through atonement, would reconcile man to God and initiate the end of days.

          • John MacDonald

            One definition of “messiah” I found online outlines that:

            “I shall mean by messiah (the Hebrew word of which ‘Christ’ is a translation) any man in fact, myth, or prophecy who is (a) anointed by the Hebrew God to (b) play a part in God’s plan to liberate his Chosen People from their oppressors and (c) restore or institute God’s true religion. This means ‘anointed’ in any sense then understood (literally, figuratively, cosmically or symbolically), ‘liberate’ in any sense then claimed (physically or spiritually), ‘oppressors’ in any sense then identified (whoever or whatever they may be) and ‘religion’ in the fullest sense (cult, mores, sacred knowledge, and the resulting social order)— and I specify only ‘play a part’, not necessarily bring to fruition. All Jewish kings and high priests were, of course, ‘messiahs’ in the basic sense of being anointed to represent God. But here I shall mean a messiah conforming to (a) through (c). Yet I do not assume there must be only one messiah of that kind. Neither did the Jews . . . ”

            Jesus seems to fit this definition of messiah in the New Testament because he is portrayed as the agent who realizes God’s plan for humanity by paying the sin debt for humanity and, through atonement, erasing the separation gulf between God and man reconciling man to God (and thus bringing about the end of days).

          • John MacDonald

            The terrified prayer by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (“take this cup from me”) suggests Jesus knew it was God’s plan for him to die, so it would be reasonable to assume atonement would be the reason for this (why else would God need Jesus to die?). And atonement was associated with Jesus’ death at least as early as the pre Pauline Corinthian creed: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.” The reference to “scriptures” implies some Jews of that time felt atonement was prophesized in scriptures.

          • John MacDonald

            The “scriptures” the author of the pre Pauline Corinthian creed is referring to may be Isaiah 53, or something else, but what is clear is that some Jews of that time thought atonement was prophesied in the Hebrew scriptures.

          • John MacDonald

            I am trying to argue that the reason Jesus was understood as a “messiah” was because it was believed that his atoning death erased the chasm between God and man, reconciling man to God, and hence bringing about the end of days where Jesus was the “first fruits (1 Corinthians 15:23)” of the general resurrection of souls. Just as a traditional messiah was to set up a society according to God’s plan, Jesus the messiah realized God’s plan in the world of overcoming sin through atonement, which some Jews must have thought was prophesized in Isaiah 53 or elsewhere (“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES, 1 Cor 15:3-4). Thus there must have been some messianic Jews who thought the victory of God’s plan was to be realized by reconciling man to God, not a military victory (which would have been impossible given the might of the Romans). Paul thought Jesus’ death/resurrection meant the end of the world was at hand, which is why Paul called the resurrected Jesus the “first fruits” of the general resurrection of souls. Ehrman says “I think it is usually assumed that the combination of ‘it will be in our lifetimes’ and the injunctions ‘be alert’ ‘be ready’ ‘be awake’ suggest that the end was indeed imminent.”

          • John MacDonald

            My last point here is that while it is normally understood by scholars that the “atoning” understanding of Jesus death only became attributed to Jesus and associated with him after he died, I think there is reason to think Jesus viewed his own death as atoning. Jesus’ desperate prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane seems to show that it was part of God’s plan for Jesus to die, and Jesus was begging God to change his plan. If it wasn’t for atonement reasons, why would God require Jesus to die? This would fit in with interpreting Isaiah 53 as a prophesy that atonement would be required to reconcile man to God and pay the sin debt, which seems to be the gist of the beginning of the Pre Pauline Corinthian Creed: “Christ died for our sins ACCORDING TO SCRIPTURES.”

          • As I’ve said before, I’m not comfortable trying to insert Isaiah 53 where the texts do not show any interest in it. But even if it were found to be present and influential on the thinking of Jesus, it is not clear that involves any literal kind of atonement. From the Messiah embracing the curse of exile upon the nation, to dying a martyr’s death to turn away God’s anger, to simply viewing rejection and suffering (while expecting to be rescued before dying) as the path God has ordained for all his appointed leaders along the way, there are other options besides sacrifice that would fit these scenarios, and perhaps fit the evidence better.

          • John MacDonald

            Agreed. There is good reason to think that atonement was only associated with Jesus’ death after the fact.

            What seems clear from the text of Mark and the desperate prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is that Jesus believed it was God’s plan for Jesus to endure something terrible (perhaps death), and that Jesus petitioned God to change God’s plan. The other point is that “atonement” was associated with Jesus’ death from “at least” a very early point after the fact of Jesus death (by the author of the pre-Pauline Corinthian Creed, who felt atonement was prophesied in scriptures).

            I think what might have happened is that Jesus died, and the disciples returned home to return to the business of their daily lives (they probably would have gathered at the tomb if they thought Jesus was going to be raised), and then a few started having visions (or hallucinations) of the risen Jesus, and they took this to mean that Jesus was the “first fruits (1 Corinthians 15:23)” of the resurrected souls at the end of days. After this, the disciples must have searched scriptures to discover why Jesus’ death would have brought about the end of days, and “discovered” that Jesus’ death must have reconciled man to God through atonement by overcoming the sin debt and hence bringing about the end of days. But this would have been a later interpretation of the meaning of Jesus death after Jesus died.

          • John MacDonald

            And it makes little sense to think that Jesus thought his death was to be atoning if he desperately questioned God from the cross for abandoning him, and called out for Elijah to come and save him:

            Mark 15:34-38King James Version (KJV)

            34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? 35 And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, he calls Elijah. 36 And one ran and filled a sponge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.

          • John MacDonald

            Am I back on the right track with these last two comments? I think I might have been on the wrong path for a while there. lol

          • John MacDonald

            Luke evidently didn’t like Mark’s portrayal of Jesus’ last words, so he changed them from the desperate

            “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? (Mark 15:34)”

            to the resolute

            “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit. (Luke 23:46)”

            John, if he had read any of the synoptics, went even further and in Jesus’ last words had Jesus indicate that his work had been completed by what happened with the cross

            “It is finished! (John 19:30)”

            Luke’s and John’s portrayal of Jesus’ last words are a considerable distance from the Jesus of Mark’s gospel who desperately cries out to find out why God has abandoned him to the cross, and implores Elijah to come and save him.

          • John MacDonald

            Sorry, but I think something I wrote above was a little unclear. I meant to say that I think we can assume the disciples didn’t think Jesus was going to be resurrected, because if they did they would have flocked to his tomb to wait, which they didn’t. So there was no hint that Jesus’ death was initially interpreted as atoning, reconciling man to God, and hence bringing about the end of days, resulting in Christ being understood as the “first fruit” of the general resurrection. These were later interpretations imposed on Jesus’ death resulting from the disciples trying to understand the meaning behind the post mortem appearances (hallucinations) of the risen Jesus. This would have been appearances of Jesus, as Paul said, in a new spiritual body, not, as we see in the gospels, simply a resuscitated corpse, like Lazarus, because if Jesus just appeared as a resuscitated corpse the disciples would not have had reason to search the scriptures for its meaning – since a resuscitated corpse need no have special meaning..

          • Your comments seem to be on the right track, recognizing that not only Jesus, but perhaps also the authors of some of our earliest sources, didn’t understand Jesus’ death to have the same significance that other authors would attribute to it – or if they did, they recorded things Jesus said and did which fit awkwardly with their own views, which suggests the historicity of that information.

          • John MacDonald

            Good. I’m just learning about early Christianity and bible study, so I am trying to stay on the right track (and avoid mythicism and fundamentalism).

        • Iain Lovejoy

          No man, not no food, since eating the unclean foods is symbolic of taking the message to non-Jews, not literally about diet. I would agree that Jesus taught to eat what is put in front of you in the interests of hospitality and communion with sinners and not worry unduly about it (Luke 10:8) and this would mean not refusing to eat with non-Jews because of what was served, but that is not the same as a Jew ceasing to observe the law of Moses regarding foods himself.

          • John MacDonald

            On an esoteric level, it may have additional meanings, but on an exoteric level it certainly also seems to be about food: As I said, Peter is instructed by a voice to “kill and eat. ‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’ The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

          • Iain Lovejoy

            “Esoteric”? If you read the rest of the chapter it is expressly set out in plain words that the meaning of the dream is that Jesus’ message is to be preached to non-Jews also, as that is what Peter proceeds to do (as opposed to e.g. having a bacon sandwich). The passage has nothing whatsoever to do with food.

          • John MacDonald

            Simon J. Kistemaker suggests that the lesson God taught Peter in this vision is that “God has removed the barriers he once erected to separate his people from the surrounding nations” (Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990, 378). Kistemaker argues that just as it means Peter has to accept Gentile believers as full members of the Christian Church, it also means that God has made all animals clean, so that “Peter with his fellow Jewish Christians can disregard the food laws that have been observed since the days of Moses.” (Kistemaker, Acts, 380).

          • Iain Lovejoy

            The practical result of admitting non-Jews as full members of the Christian community may well have made food laws difficult to keep, since e.g. communion was a full meal to which all contributed and non-Jews’ food would not be “clean”, so I would agree with you that in practice Jewish Christians would find themselves breaking the dietary laws to eat with their non-Jewish Christian brothers. I would have thought, though, that this would be an exception to the rules for the sake of Christian fellowship and unity, not an express abolition of them in their entirety.

          • Mark

            Well yes, there are infinitely many post-4nd c. commentaries on Acts 10 by pious writers and they will usually presuppose a priori that Jews are supposed to give up on the Law, as they put it in Constantinople:

            “I renounce all customs, rites, legalisms, unleavened breads and sacrifices of lambs of the Hebrews, and all the other feasts of the Hebrews, sacrifices, prayers, aspersions, purifications, sanctifications and propitiations, and fasts, and new moons, and Sabbaths, and superstitions, and hymns and chants and observances and synagogues, and the food and drink of the Hebrews.” etc etc.

            The only trouble is, that /no one/ in the NT envisages this; it just isn’t there; if they had, it would be obvious. The question is always whether Gentiles have to come under the laws of Moses, and how people under the laws of Moses should interact with Jesus-following gentiles-made-holy. The idea that the solution is for Jews to become Gentiles is nowhere envisaged.