New narrative series (6): Christianity got Jesus all wrong on sacrifice

Christianity got Jesus all wrong on sacrifice (on the most important topic/issue of his message and life) Wendell Krossa (comment on Bob Brinsmead’s summary of Historical Jesus research)

There is a growing awareness, recognition, and acceptance today, within even the Christian movement, that Christianity has gotten some fundamental things about Jesus wrong, entirely wrong in some cases. Like, for instance, his revolutionary new theology of a non-retaliatory God.

Jesus had said, “Do not engage eye for eye retaliatory justice against your offenders. But instead love your enemies because God does. God does not retaliate against God’s enemies but instead forgives, loves, and includes all equally. How so? God gives the good gifts of life- sun and rain- to both the righteous and unrighteous alike.” (See both Matthew 5:38-48 and Luke 6:27-36)

Jesus’ original message was a message of no conditions love and entirely free forgiveness of sin. See a further illustration of this unconditional message in the parable of the Prodigal and the Father’s free acceptance of the wasteful son without condition of prepayment or recompense of any kind.

Paul, the founder of the Christianity that we have inherited today rejected that non-retaliatory theology for a re-enforcement of the primitive theology of a retaliatory God who would mete out punitive, destructive justice (the Wrath of God) on faithless unbelievers. Paul stated his theology with an Old Testament quote: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord”, (Romans 12:17-20).

The only escape from the punitive wrath of God was based on the condition of faith in the Christ myth of Paul (see Paul’s Romans letter), a Christ that had met the ultimate condition of dying to pay for the sin of the world. Additionally, people desiring salvation had to embrace a complex of related conditions, such as exhibiting that one had real faith in the Christ- i.e. embracing the correct beliefs about the Christ, undergoing baptism and membership in a true Christian community, fulfilling Christian rituals, and embracing the Christian lifestyle- all necessary conditional “proofs” that one’s faith was legitimate. Paul’s gospel was, contrary to Jesus’ gospel, highly conditional.

(Insert note: What Christianity got right was to include the core Jesus material in its gospels though this material faced the “diamonds in dung” problem that Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy pointed to- i.e. the larger New Testament context of Paul’s Christ myth that distorted and buried the meaning of Jesus’ original message.)

Another critical reversal of the teaching of the original Historical Jesus is Paul’s denial of Jesus’ anti-sacrifice message for a portrayal of him as a Savior who came to Earth to become the ultimate cosmic blood sacrifice that fulfilled the Old Testament prophesies of a Messiah that would offer himself to suffer and die and thereby pay for the sins of the world. That message of demanded blood sacrifice to pay for sin has been the essence of the Christian gospel for two millennia now.

Paul’s atonement theology turned a Jewish wisdom sage that died for his protest against the sacrifice of animals (i.e. the overturning of tables in the Temple) as necessary to pay for sin and achieve forgiveness, into a Christ that would represent the message of ultimate blood sacrifice to required to pay for sin and thereby gain forgiveness.

This is a stunning overturning of the message of a historical person to portray him as presenting an entirely opposite message (a shift from an anti-sacrifice gospel to an ultimate cosmic sacrifice gospel).

Bob Brinsmead has compiled a list of sources that uncover this stunning rejection and distortion, by early Gentile Christianity, of the original message of Jesus for the opposite gospel of Paul’s Christ. Some subtitles below are borrowed from Bob and all the quotes from sources are from Bob’s compilation. Bob’s one-sentence statements are summaries of what the quoted scholar says, and are not necessarily Bob’s views on the topics. Hopefully, readers will access the full compilation for a more complete picture of historical Jesus and the Christian distortion of his original message. (I will post the site of Bob Brinsmead when he puts his full version up)

This is the incredible story of how an ordinary, imperfect man, born of Jewish parents and who became a Jewish wisdom sage, was transformed into the cosmic Christ of Paul’s religion. That transformation was a stunning rejection and overturning of the original message of Jesus. As Maurice Casey says, an ordinary man, a Jewish prophet, was transformed into a Gentile, Hellenistic God that denied the actual message of the original man.

The search for the original message of Historical Jesus is a project that involves going to root ideas/themes, icons or archetypes, to clean out the primitive pagan and replace that with the fully humane, just as Jesus originally tried to do.

It is critical to engage this project of understanding the Christian distortion of Jesus, because the early Christian retreat to embrace Paul’s apocalyptic Christ gospel led to the ongoing influence of the Christ myth across two millennia. James Tabor said that Paul has been the most influential person in all history and that makes his Christ myth the most influential myth in all history. And the darker features of the Christ myth, such as the portrayal of a God using violence to destroy his enemies and the world in an apocalypse, have distorted and buried the profoundly human features of Jesus’ message. The Christ of Paul is largely responsible for the continuing dominance of such pagan themes as apocalyptic mythology in modern narratives and consciousness, including in “secular” versions of apocalypse such as environmental apocalypse.

Some critical points: (From sources below)

There were several significant movements in early Christianity, notably the Jewish Christian movement and Paul’s later Gentile Christian movement that would declare Jewish Christianity to be heretical.

James was the actual leader of the Jewish Christian movement, not Peter as portrayed in the New Testament gospels. Paul opposed the authority of James and that led to the eventual demise of Jewish Christianity. The authors of the gospels and other New Testament books all supported Paul’s views on the Christ myth. They were the only books included in the NT in support of Paul. They ignore and dismiss the role of James in leading the Jewish Christian branch of early Christianity.

Other traditions aside from the New Testament books affirm the role and message of James (i.e. the lost Gospel to the Hebrews, the Gospel of Thomas, Eusebius, that show that Jesus appointed his brother James to be the leader in his place).

When the rest of the NT was written much later James was marginalized or ignored. But other sources give some sense of what James was about and hence insight into what Jesus was really like and what he actually taught. “(James) is the key to the Historical Jesus… Who and whatever James was, so was Jesus”, Robert Eisenman, “James the Brother of Jesus”, p. 8, 963.

The Jewish Christians became known variously as Nazarites or Ebionites, among other titles. They viewed Jesus as a prophet who came to reform the law of Moses. They believed in following the Jewish law, they were vegetarian, and they rejected animal sacrifice. “The Ebionites are the best and most important representatives of early Jewish Christianity”, Keith Akers, “The Lost Religion of Jesus”, p.29-30.

Most critical: “The Ebionites unequivocally condemned one of the central aspects of Judaism, namely the practise of animal sacrifice”, p.33. They rejected Old Testament teaching on sacrifice as false material. “The Ebionites… claimed that the written tradition (Jewish scriptures) had been corrupted by false texts”, p.77-8. “The distinctive origin of Jewish Christianity lies to a large degree in its opposition to animal sacrifice”, p.101.

“It was the Jewish Christian Ebionites, and not the Gentile Christians, who most faithfully preserved the traditions handed down to them by Jesus”, p.33. Many scholars today agree that “the elaborate sacrificial cult was added to the law centuries after Moses”, p.34.

“John the Baptist offered water baptism to replace blood sacrifice” (Bob Brinsmead). “Baptism was an alternative to animal sacrifice”, Akers, p.43.

Further, “The original Ebionites rejected the idea of the virgin birth and thought that Jesus was the human offspring of Joseph and Mary”, p.48.

“The temple protest of Jesus was all about his opposition to the cult of sacrifice” (Brinsmead).

“Jesus’ ultimate concern in his temple protest was that forgiveness of sin is always freely available and needs no atoning sacrifice”, Bob Brinsmead (editorial insert).

“The priests want Jesus killed… they want to destroy his followers… Jesus’ objection to the practice of animal sacrifice itself, and that his actions during the volatile Passover week were the immediate and most important cause of his death”, Akers, p.119.

“If one tried to draw a true line of “apostolic succession” from Jesus to James and his successors, this line goes directly to the Ebionites… The Jewish Christians/Ebionites read the OT critically, rejecting ‘false texts’. They neither accepted the violent images of God in the Scripture, nor the texts which supported animal sacrifices”, p.178-80, 195-7.

The next source, Jeffrey Butz, “The Brother of Jesus and the Lost Teachings of Christianity”, notes that James was the most influential leader in the early church but the New Testament authors have all marginalized him. He then goes on to note the conflict between James and Paul. He then adds the most common characteristics of Jewish Christianity:

“Faithful adherence to the Law of Moses.

“The exaltation of James and denigration of Paul.

“A Christology of adoptionism- believing that Jesus was the natural born son of Joseph and Mary and was ‘adopted’ by God as his son by baptism,” p.131.

On the conflict between Paul and James and the Jerusalem church (the Jewish Christians):

“It could be said that the purpose of almost all of Paul’s letters was to counteract the authority, beliefs, and practices of James and the Jerusalem church… the (Jewish Christians) did not regard the death of Jesus as atoning for their sins”, p.149, 150.

“Paul’s teachings are being seen by a rapidly growing number of modern scholars and writers as a distortion of what Jesus taught, and the development of the Christian church as a travesty of the original Jewish beliefs and teachings of Jesus”, p.172.

Next- Barry Wilson, “How Jesus Became Christian”

“The Jesus movement was not the same as the Christ movement”, Bob Brinsmead.

“This Christ movement (the Hellenizers and Paul) came to cover up the original teachings of Jesus… the original message of Jesus and the Jesus Movement, Jesus’ earliest followers in Jerusalem became switched for a different religion… The Christ movement replaced the original Jesus movement… there was an important shift away from the teachings of Jesus to those about the Christ. That is, beliefs about the person of Jesus conceived of as a Christ came to obscure what he said and did. Thus, the religion of Jesus, the one Jesus taught and practiced, became transformed into a cult about the Christ…”

“Paul’s religion was not the religion of Jesus… the divine Gentile Christ was switched for the human Jewish Jesus. A religion about the Christ substituted for the teachings of Jesus… It was a huge switch- the Christ for Jesus, Paul’s religion for Jesus’, and the Christ movement for the Jesus movement, … simply put, Jesus got upstaged by Paul”, Wilson, p.2-6.

“As James, so Jesus… The best indication of what Jesus… actually taught is likely to be James. His brother, James, knew the man and what he stood for… James is the best clue we have today concerning the beliefs and practices of the Jesus of history”, p.98. (Note, James was well known as a righteous Jew, adhering faithfully to Jewish law).

“Christology replaced the teaching of Jesus (The cult of the person of Jesus as the Christ developed after his death)”, Bob Brinsmead.

“The image of Jesus changed dramatically over the course of about 100 years. Jesus became to be seen as a divine being holding cosmic importance… The image of Jesus changed radically, while his roots within Judaism were forgotten. By the mid-second century, Christian leaders were touting Jesus as an incarnate Savior who redeemed humanity by his death and resurrection… This represents a remarkable shift in emphasis- away from the religion of Jesus and toward a religion about Christ”, Wilson p.103-4.

“In reading Paul’s letters, it is surprising how little is made of anything the comes from the Jesus of history… (Paul) did not ground his own message in the teachings, observances, or sayings that come from the religion of Jesus. There are no parables, no Lord’s prayer, or no Sermon on the Mount…. There is just what Paul says he got mystically from the Christ whom he claims reveals himself to him. Devoid of linkage to the Jesus movement and to Judaism generally, Paul’s Christ movement would have appeared suspiciously like a Hellenistic mystery religion”, p.146.

“In linking the Christ movement to the Jesus movement, what the writer of Acts has succeeded in doing is fusing together two separate religions”, p.138.

“The Christ of Paul, revealed in private visions, replaced the historical Jesus”, Bob Brinsmead.

“The religion of Jesus and his earliest followers became upstaged as an imaginative and startlingly new religion entered the arena- Paul’s Christ movement. Shunning the Jesus movement leaders, he crafted his own cult. He took as his source of inspiration mythical communiques from the Christ- not the teachings of the Jesus of history or the practices of Jesus’ earliest followers in Jerusalem. He thought he enjoyed a separate and special pipeline to the divine, receiving different information and insights than others of his time. The mystical Christ, however, a dying and rising savior, shared many of the same characteristics as other figures well known withing the Roman world through the cults of Dionysus, Isis, and Mithras. Paul’s group was not a form of Judaism but a separate Hellenized religion that paid no attention to the teaching of Torah or Jesus”, Wilson, p.238.

“Paul built his view of Christ on models found outside Judaism, in the mystery religions of the time. The Christ is like Dionysus or Mithrus or many other figures- heroes who die and rise again to save humanity and whose followers can achieve salvation through participation in the hero’s life and death”, p247.

“The transformation brought about by the Christification process was so successful that the religion of the historical Jesus was replaced by the cult of the Christ. In so doing, the early church ‘killed off’ the historical Jesus, focusing instead, on the worship of the Christ. The myth of the Christ was so effective that it is very difficult now to reconstruct the contours of the authentic teachings, sayings, and doing of the historical Jesus”, p.248.

“What we have today in Christianity is largely Paulinity, a religion about the Gentile Christ that covers over the message of the Jewish Jesus of history… we need to recover the humanity and Jewishness of Jesus… we should endeavor to focus again on the message, not the messenger”, p.256.

“The gospels themselves were written after Paul… they too show evidence of Christification, especially the gospel of John. The Christification layering process is to be found within the pages of the New Testament itself, with Paul’s Christ superimposed on the Jesus of history… early Christian texts tended to cover over the involvement of Jesus’ family in his mission. This was due to the desire of the Christifiers to downplay the role of James and the Jesus movement in favor of Paul’s religion; James would have none of the Christ cult beliefs and practices… A human Jesus. This is not a modern invention. It is the original Jesus. That was precisely how his earliest followers- including his brother- understood him. It is only Paul, the Christifiers, and their successors who thought otherwise”, p.260-1.

James Tabor, “Paul and Jesus: How the apostle transformed Christianity”

“The source of Paul’s gospel was his independent visionary episodes”, Bob Brinsmead.

“The entire New Testament canon is largely a… pro-Paul production”, Tabor, p.18-19.

“Christianity is Paul and Paul is Christianity… the bulk of the New Testament is dominated by his theological vision”, p. 24.

“James association with the historical Jesus is superior to Paul’s Christ of visionary experience”, Bob Brinsmead.

“Although James has been all but written out of our New Testament records he nonetheless remains our best and most direct link to the historical Jesus… it is nonetheless a fact that what Paul preached was wholly based upon his own visionary experiences, whereas James and the original apostles had spent extensive time with Jesus during his lifetime… the difficulty… is that Paul’s influence within our New Testament is permeating and all pervasive”, Tabor, p.39.

“None of the gospels is an eyewitness account… None of them is writing history but all four can rightly be called theologians… (they) reveal a process of mythmaking that went on within decades of Jesus’ death”, p.71.

“Paul never quotes directly a single teaching of Jesus…”, p.132.

“Despite their diversity there seem to be four general ideas that Jewish-Christian groups agreed upon: the eternal validity of the Torah of Moses, the acceptance of only the gospel of Matthew in Hebrew (in which there was no virgin birth), the complete rejection of Paul as a heretic and apostate from the Torah, and the belief that Jesus was a human being, born of a mother and a father, chose by God but not divine. The best known group, the one that drew most fire from orthodox Pauline circles, were the Ebionites. They most likely got their names from the Q teaching of Jesus- ‘Blessed are you poor ones’”, p.234.

“Paul is sharply censored as one who put his own testimony based on visions over the certainty of the direct teachings that the original apostles had from Jesus”, p.234.

Patricia Williams, “Where Christianity Went Wrong”

“Paul evinces no interest in Jesus’ life, neither his deeds nor his sayings. This is because Paul believes he has his own, private revelations directly from the resurrected Jesus…”, p.42-3.

“John announces forgiveness of sins outside the Temple system, without requiring sacrifice”, p.46.

“If Jesus thinks sacrifice for sin unnecessary, Christianity has been arrogant to contradict him. This is another place where Christianity has gone wrong”, p.68.

“Jesus’ behavior angers and frightens the Temple authorities. They may well have already been angry because Jesus, like John the Baptist, proclaims forgiveness outside the Temple system”, p.111-12.

“Jesus does not anticipate his sacrificial death at the final supper. He does not die as a sacrifice for sins. He believes God has forgiven our sins already, without sacrifice”, p.115.

Williams says that Christianity goes wrong when after Jesus’ death his disciples equate him with the Messiah figure of David, and Gentile believers equate him as the true emperor who has ascended to the gods, equated with God. “When these concepts are attached to Jesus, they invert his message. They turn Jesus into the savior of the world and a sacrifice for sin. In stark contrast, Jesus’ message is that people do not need a savior, and salvation does not require a sacrifice”, p.147.

“Jesus famously overturns the tables of the moneychangers whose work made Temple sacrifice possible”, p.184-8.

Hans-Joachim Schoeps, “Jewish Christianity”

“Ebionites was the name given to Jewish Christians”, Bob Brinsmead.

“They acknowledged neither the divine sonship nor a pre-existence nor a virgin birth”, Schoeps, p.8.

“It is not Peter… but James the brother of Jesus who appears as head of the community. He is made bishop of Jerusalem by Jesus himself”, p.39-40.

“Jewish Christianity clearly knows as little of a supernatural birth as of soteriological interpretation of Jesus’ death on the cross, such as the view which regarded Jesus as a vicarious atoning sacrifice. Since they rejected bloody sacrifices altogether as crass paganism… the sinlessness of Jesus was not accepted by them, since their gospel allowed Jesus himself to admit unwilling sins or sins of ignorance”, p.62.

“Of primary importance to the Ebionites is the bloody animal sacrifice, abolished by Jesus… the real point of Jesus’ mission is the annulling of the sacrificial law… Animal sacrifice… Jesus abolished it and replaced the blood of sacrificial animals with the water of baptism… the Ebionites were actually orthodox pupils of Jesus who rejected the sacrificial cult so emphatically because their master had already done so… the Ebionites were bound to reject emphatically the Pauline soteriology, which conceived of Jesus’ death as a bloody, atoning sacrifice”, p.82-3.

“The Ebionites required abstinence from meat and this was apparently related to their rejection of the bloodshed involved in animal sacrifice”, p.99.

Maurice Casey, “From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God”

“Jesus does not apply the term ‘messiah’ (Christ) to himself… the early church applied it to him”, p.41-3.

“It took some 50 or 60 years to turn a Jewish prophet into a Gentile God… The deity of Jesus is a belief which could have developed only in a predominantly Gentile church”, p.169.

Geza Vermes, “The Authentic Gospel of Jesus”

“The Old Testament did not play an important role in the preaching of Jesus; he did not argue his doctrine from the Bible”, p.212.

“Bearing in mind that the crucifixion of Jesus was perhaps the greatest difficulty which the early church had to overcome in proclaiming him as the Messiah promised to the Jews, the absence of detailed biblical proof concerning this essential doctrine is astonishing”, p.215.

“The Synoptic Gospels in their present form consist of an adjusted, supplemented, and corrected version, a thoroughly revised edition of the original message of Jesus. The words, idioms, and images which a first century AD Galilean master addressed to his compatriots and co-religionists were rephrased in the Gospels to suit a totally different public, imbued with Hellenistic thought in the Greek-speaking part of the Roman empire. To cater for the requirements of this new audience and readership, ideas foreign to Jesus were introduced into the gospels. Consequently, it is up to us now to differentiate between the genuine and the accrued message”, p.372.

Geza Vermes, “The Changing Faces of Jesus”

“The fact that Jesus was admired, or suspected, as a potential Messiah started a complex process of theological speculation, which in the course of three centuries culminated in the elevation of the carpenter from Nazareth to the rank of the second person of the triune Godhead, the Holy Trinity”, p.257.

Geza Vermes, “The Religion of Jesus the Jew”

“The letters of Paul with their drama of a death, atonement, and resurrection… The Christ of Paul and John, on the way towards deification, overshadows and obscures the man of Galilee”, p.210.

Geza Vermes, “Jesus and the World of Judaism”

“Another historical consideration remains, involving the question of why the Judaeo-Christians, the first Jesus followers, withdrew so relatively fast from the main body of the church. Rarely confronted, this problem is nevertheless of methodological importance because the most likely reason was that the Ebionites became convinced that they were witnessing in the Hellenistic communities (Paul’s Gentile Christian movement) a fatal misrepresentation of Jesus, a betrayal of his ideals, and their replacement by alien concepts and aspirations”, p.26.

Other sources note that Jesus was not an apocalyptic prophet. He did not believe that God would engage ultimate violence to destroy the world and punish sinners. To the contrary, Christianity embraced the primitive apocalyptic mythology of its parent religions- Judaism and Zoroastrianism.

I would add my own point, affirming that Jesus was not apocalyptic because he clearly stated that he rejected the idea of a retaliatory God in his Math.5 and Luke 6 comments (same message just given different settings by different authors). Jesus rejected eye for eye retaliatory justice based on his view of a God that did not retaliate against offenders but instead loved enemies.

Summary of Mathew.5:38-48 and Luke 6: 27-36…

“Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love only those who love you, what credit is that to you? Everyone finds it easy to love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Everyone can do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Most will lend to others, expecting to be repaid in full. But do something more heroic, more humane. (Live on a higher plane of human experience). Do not retaliate against your offenders/enemies with ‘eye for eye’ justice. Instead, love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then you will be just like God, because God does not retaliate against God’s enemies. God does not mete out eye for eye justice. Instead, God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Be unconditionally loving, just as your God is unconditionally loving”. (My paraphrase of Luke 6:32-36.)

In this central part of his message, Jesus presents nothing that would lead us to conclude that he believed in a retaliatory God using violence to destroy the world and punish enemies (i.e. apocalyptic destruction).

If, as Jesus claims, God did not retaliate against enemies but instead loved God’s enemies then God was not apocalyptic because apocalyptic is the ultimate act of retaliation against enemies, the supreme and final destruction and punishment of enemies.

Paul took the opposite stance to Jesus in embracing a retaliatory God. Paul states his retaliatory theology in Romans 12, quoting an Old Testament statement, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord”. His embrace of an apocalyptic deity is also expressed in his retaliatory Christ myth presented in his Thessalonian letters. He states that “Lord Jesus will return in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus”.

“Who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus”? He means his “Christ myth” gospel, not the message of the Historical Jesus.

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