One Aspect of Jesus’ Non-Atoning Sacrifice

New Testament scholars Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan discuss the meaning of sacrifice in relation to Jesus death. They use the example of a (female) firefighter who rushes into a burning building, finds a child, and drops the child safely into the net. Then the roof caves in, killing the firefighter. The next day the local paper has headlines about the firefighter’s life-sacrifice. Borg and Crossan accept the modern meaning of sacrifice and self-sacrifice, and emphasize that the firefighter has made “her own death peculiarly, especially, emphatically sacred by …[saving] the life of another”. The authors continue:

So far, so good. Now imagine if somebody confused sacrifice with suffering and denied it was a sacrifice because the firefighter died instantly and without intolerable suffering. Or imagine if somebody confused sacrifice with substitution, saying that God wanted somebody dead that day and accepted the firefighter in lieu of the child. And worst of all, imagine that somebody brought together sacrifice, suffering, and substiution by claiming that the firefighter had to die in agony as atonement for the sins of the child’s parents. That theology would be a crime against divinity.

The astute reader can see where these considerations lead – to the complete inversion of fundamentalist soteriology, to the utter refutation of what has been termed “Crossianity”.

Later on during Lent, this blog plans to present just what Borg and Crossan think that a non-sacrificial, non-substitutionary yet “salvific” death means in the context of Jesus’ execution.

Marcus J. Borg & John D. Crossan, The Last Week, Harper Collins, San Francisco: 2006, p. 38.

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