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Crucifixion

 

The report of my death was an exaggeration. —Mark Twain, Letter to the New York Journal, in
response to rumors of his death while in Europe
If there is a keystone to orthodox Christianity, it is the doctrine of the crucifixion.
However, if Christians expect others to adopt their belief, they have to satisfy the demand
for supporting evidence. Everyone knows the story. Everyone knows the biblical record.
But everyone also knows that other myths have been propagated over longer periods of
religious history, and the duration and popularity of a deception in no way validates it. So
while many accept the crucifixion unquestioningly, many others are not satisfied. Such
individuals read, “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians
15:3), and ask, “Umm, according to exactly which scriptures?” In Carmichael’s words,
“For that matter the whole insistence, in the Gospels as well as in Paul’s Epistles, that
everything had been accomplished in fulfillment of the Scriptures seems puzzling. No such belief—in the death and resurrection of the Messiah—is recorded among the Jews at
all, and certainly not in the Hebrew Scriptures.”
176
Paul himself invited criticism of the concept of the crucifixion and its related
mysteries when he wrote, “For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but
we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Gentiles (Greeks)
foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:22­23).
In other words, “We preach something without signs and without wisdom—who’s
with us?”
No surprise, then, that so many consider the crucifixion incompatible with God’s
mercy. Muslims, for example, believe Jesus was saved from crucifixion, in accordance
with the following: “But they did not kill him [Jesus], nor crucified him, but so it was
made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain)
knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they did not kill him:­Nay,
Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise …” (TMQ 4:157­
158)
Should a person believe Jesus to have been God, one wonders why God would
have allowed His own death when He had the power to save Himself. Should a person
believe Jesus to have been the “Son of God,” why would God not answer the prayer of
His son, when Jesus is quoted as saying, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you
will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he
who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7­8)? Jesus
reportedly did ask—to the point of sweating “like great drops of blood” in prayer (Luke
22:44)—and he clearly sought to be saved. But nowhere is Jesus quoted as saying, “Everyone who asks receives, except for me.” Matthew 7:9 reads, “Or what man is there
among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” Put another way, who
imagines that God would answer a prophet’s plea for rescue with a short weekend on a
cross instead? Plenty of sunshine and all the vinegar a person can sip from a sponge?
There’s an incompatibility issue here; if people believe God, or the son of God, was born
in a bath of his own urine (which is what amniotic fluid consists of), then they will have
no problem believing God committed suicide (and what else would the act of allowing
Oneself to die be called when, being omnipotent, able to save Oneself?). Similarly, such
people will have no difficulty believing that God turned His back on His Son in the time
of greatest need. The rest of the world wonders: “Whose concept of God is this
compatible with, anyway?” Well, Tertullian,*
for one. The comment has been offered that, “Tertullian
enjoyed paradox. To him the divine character of Christianity was vindicated not by its
reasonableness but by the very fact that it was the kind of thing no ordinary mind could
have invented. The crucifying of the Son of God sounds ridiculous and scandalous: ‘I
believe because it is outrageous.’”
177
I believe because it is outrageous. If such is the methodology of God, are we not
justified in believing each and every outrageous theory of divinity—the more “ridiculous
and scandalous” the better?
Somewhere, someone is bound to say, “But Jesus had to die for our sins!” One
wonders, “Why? Because God can’t forgive us otherwise? Because God needs a
sacrifice?” This isn’t what the Bible teaches. Jesus reportedly taught the message of Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” And not just once—the lesson was worthy
of two mentions, the first in Matthew 9:13, the second in Matthew 12:7. Why, then, are
clergy teaching that Jesus had to be sacrificed? And if he was sent for this purpose, why
did he pray to be saved?
Furthermore, why do we have to believe to be saved? On one hand, original sin is
held to be binding, whether we believe in it or not. On the other hand, salvation is held to
be conditional upon acceptance (i.e., belief) of the crucifixion and atonement of Jesus. In
the first case, belief is held to be irrelevant; in the second, it’s required. The question
arises, “Did Jesus pay the price or not?” If he paid the price, then our sins are forgiven,
whether we believe or not. If he didn’t pay the price, it doesn’t matter either way. Lastly,
forgiveness doesn’t have a price. A person can’t forgive another’s debt and still demand
repayment. The argument that God forgives, but only if given a sacrifice He says He
doesn’t want in the first place (see Hosea 6:6, Matthew 9:13 and 12:7) drags a wing and
cartwheels down the runway of rational analysis. From where, then, does the formula
come? According to scripture, it’s not from Jesus. So do people believe teachings about
the prophet in preference to those of the prophet? The Bible condemns such inverted
priorities, for Matthew 10:24 records Jesus having declared, “A disciple is not above his
teacher, nor a servant above his master.”
What, then, should we understand from the verse, “Then he said to them, ‘Thus it
is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the
third day” (Luke 24:46)? Given a choice between literal or figurative interpretation, only
the metaphor makes sense if we are to reconcile God not desiring sacrifice with Jesus
having to “die” for the sins of mankind. Furthermore, biblical reference to death is frequently metaphorical, as in Paul’s statement of his suffering as, “I die daily”
(1 Corinthians 15:31).
So perhaps “rising from the dead” doesn’t mean literally rising from the state of
actual death, but from a metaphorical death, such as:
1.  Having been unconscious or sleeping (as in “He slept like a dead man”).
2.  Having been suffering (as in the many biblical analogies between suffering
and death).
3.  Having been incapable (as in “I couldn’t do a thing last night, I was just
dead”).
4.  Or having been in the tomb, left for dead, but in fact alive (as in “He
recovered miraculously—he came back from the dead”).

 

 

 

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