June 24, 2011

A Little More About Sin

"Your sins are forgiven you" is not a blasphemous statement. It's the same as "God has forgiven you" except that it politely avoids directly naming God, whom everyone knows is the actual agent. Everyone goes home afterwards, not saying "What a powerful magician this Jesus is," but "praising God."

Why the complaints, then? The obvious answer is that the Temple cult is supposed to provide the proper channels for having sins forgiven, plagues cancelled. But Jesus is not the only healer around offering prayers & exorcisms; what makes him such a threat to the established [pre]Judaism of his time?

NT Wright's perspective explains some of this vehemence: "'Forgiveness of sins' is another way of saying 'return from exile'". Jesus isn't just healing individual woes; he is proclaiming 'The Kingdom of God' (aka 'return from exile') and his healings are taking place in that context.

"The prophets of the time of exile (in particular Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah 40-50) saw Israel's exile precisely as the result of, or the punishment for, her sins. It should be clear from this that if the astonishing, unbelievable thing were to happen, and Israel were to be brought back from exile, this would mean that her sins were being punished no more; in other words, were forgiven...

"[Jermiah] 'The days are coming, says YHWH, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt... But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says YHWH: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know YHWH," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says YHWH, for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sins no more.'...

"Forgiveness... is not simply one miscellaneous blessing which will accompany covenant renewal. Since covenant renewal means the reversal of exile, and since exile was the punishment for sin, covenant renewal/return from exile means that Israel's sins have been forgiven, and vice versa...

....

"From the point of view of a first-century Jew, 'forgiveness of sins' could never simply be a private blessing, although to be sure it was that as well, as Qumran amply testifies. Overarching the situation of the individual was the state of the nation as a whole; and as long as Israel remained under the rule of the pagans, as long as Torah was not observed perfectly, as long as the Temple was not properly restored, so Israel longed for 'forgiveness of sins' as the great, unrepeatable, eschatological and national blessing promised by her God. In the light of this, the meaning which Mark and Luke both give to John's baptism ought to be clear. It was 'for the forgiveness of sins', in other words, to bring about the redemption for which Israel was longing."

"...The point at issue was not that Jesus was offering forgiveness where the rabbis were offering self-help moralism... Jesus was offering the return from exile, the renewed covenant, the eschatological 'forgiveness of sins'-- in other words, the kingdom of God. And he was offering this final eschatological blessing outside the official structures, to all the wrong people, and on his own authority."

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