The death of Jesus as atoning sacrifice : a study of the sources and purpose of New Testament soteriology, with particular reference to selected texts
This study attempts to provide a solution to the problem of the Sources and Purpose of the NT interpretation of Jesus' death within the category of atoning sacrifice. In the Introduction, we point out that although the language of sacrifice is often used in the NT interpretation of Jesus1 death, the question as to why the NT writers use the language has not been satisfactorily answered. In Chapter I we proceed on the conviction that the Christians inherited the OT as their scriptures. In view of this we look at the purpose and efficacy of the sacrificial system in the OT. Here we suggest that the purpose of the sacrifices was a four-fold one: to maintain a covenant relationship created by the exodus, to foster communion with God, to enhance worship, and to expose the seriousness of sin and the need for purity. We begin Chapter II with the question as to whether the concept underwent any change in meaning in the course of Israel's religious history, and if so, how and why. Literature covering both Palestinian and Hellenistic Judaism is examined in detail after which we conclude that, in the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha the efficacy of the temple sacrifices is basically presupposed. We ask in Chapter III whether there is a possibility that the concept could be applied to an individual human being whose life, suffering and death could be regarded as atoning sacrifice. After looking first at the Jewish ideas we conclude that the possibility of one man dying for others was real. After summarizing the background sources of the concept of atoning sacrifice in the pre-Christian era, the second part of the study is devoted mainly to the NT evidence. In Chapter IV we look at the possibility that Jesus understood his coming death in terms of atoning sacrifice. Chapter V is devoted to the study of the Last Supper tradition in order to provide further evidence for the fact that Jesus considered his death as atoning sacrifice to replace the old institutions. After examining the texts and their historical context, we look further at the ways in which the NT writers used the tradition. Chapter VI serves as a bridge between Jesus and the early interpreters of his death as atoning sacrifice. Both Chapters VII and VIII are especially aimed at demonstrating how and why the concept of Jesus' death as atoning sacrifice was handled by two representative NT writers, namely Paul and the author of the Letter to the Hebrews. After examining the individual texts, we consider the purpose for which they used the category of atoning sacrifice. For Paul, we conclude that he used it partly to authenticate his missionary message, and partly to counteract his opponents. For the writer to the Hebrews, however, we conclude that his purpose was to provide stability and certainty for his readers in their confession that, as Christians, they have an institution for atonement. The conclusion which we draw from this study is that since the concept of atoning sacrifice is a living issue in the life of the religious community, the view that it was spiritualized in the NT is unfounded. Rather we conclude that it was a process of transformation and continuity of the idea that we find in the NT, "because Jesus had already made a functional identification of himself with the existing institution for atonement, and that the Christians had to define what constituted their institution for atonement over against other religious communities. It was an apologia for a Christian Institution for atonement. The relevance of the results of the study is that the concept of sacrifice and atonement so familiar in Africa and in Asia could be reinterpreted in order to convey the concept of Jesus' death in a more meaningful manner.