Easter Revisited

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 3 May 2006 0 Comments
Please login with your account to read this essay.


How do you personally, and Christian doctrine in
particular, reconcile the contradiction of that
biblical prohibition against child sacrifice with the
claim that "God sacrificed his child" in explaining
the horrific death of Jesus? It seems to me that
rather than the "sacrifice of Jesus" being of benefit
to Christians, it serves more to threaten them with
death and/or eternal punishment if they are not
obedient to the wishes and decrees of the Church.


I think you have hit the Christological nail right on
the head. The whole sacrifice mentality that
permeates Christian theology needs to be raised to
consciousness and expelled from Christianity.
However, it is so deep that many feel that
Christianity will die if it is ever separated from
this idea.

Child sacrifice was part of ancient religion even in
Judaism as the story of Abraham's willingness to
sacrifice his son Isaac suggests. It was later
replaced with animal sacrifice that was very much a
part of worship in the Old Testament. The Passover
observance was marked by the sacrifice of the paschal
lamb. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement was also marked
by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, whose blood was
thought to cleanse the people from their sins.

It was all but inevitable that the crucifixion of
Jesus would be interpreted against the background of
these two Jewish worship traditions. Paul calls Jesus
our "new paschal lamb" and the images of Yom Kippur
are present throughout the Gospels in such places as
when Paul says: "he died for our sins"; when Mark
calls his death a "ransom;" and when John the Baptist
refers to Jesus as "the Lamb of God, who takes away
the sins of the world." Even the story of the cross
in which we are told, "none of his (Jesus") bones were
broken," was drawn from the liturgy of the Yom Kippur

Because that was how the 1st century Jews interpreted
the death of Christ does not mean that we are bound by
that thinking forever. Human attitudes toward child
sacrifice are today violently negative. Attitudes
toward animal sacrifice are expressed in such words as
"cult worship," "black magic" and "devil liturgies."
I wonder why these negative concepts are not allowed
to flow toward the interpretation of Jesus" death as a
sacrifice required by God to overcome the sins of the
world. That idea makes God barbaric. It makes Jesus
the victim of a sadistic deity. It introduces
masochism into Christianity and it deeply violates the
essential note of the Gospel, which is that God is
love calling us to love.

Why can we not see the cross, not as a sacrifice, but
as an ultimate expression of the humanity of one who
was so whole he could give his life away and of one
who wanted to demonstrate that even when you kill the
love of God, the love of God still loves its killers?
Why can we not get away from that message of guilt and
control that is found in the pious but destructive
phrase, "Jesus died for my sins"?

I believe that the future of Christianity rests on
our ability in the Christian Church to escape the
language of sacrifice and punishment and begin to
think in terms of finding in Jesus the power to live
fully, the grace to love wastefully and the courage to
be all that we can be.

Thank you for your question.

John Shelby Spong

Now Available on Paperback!

Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love
"The Sins of Scripture challenges Christians to look beyond the myths of their faith into the heart of the matter."




Leave a Reply