You and Kavi have drawn attention to some interesting problems that arise out of Christian doctrine, or if not Christian doctrine generally, at least Kavi’s understanding of it.
Kavi wrote that when Jesus said on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” that God listened to Jesus and forgave those that crucified him. This forgiveness, of course, does not appear in the text. At first blush, one might believe Kavi’s assertion “appears to be mostly conjectural and not found in the written text,” as he wrote in answer to you on another point. Yet, one can see that Kavi almost has to say that God forgave them, or else a couple signficant challenges arise in Christian theology. It turns out, however, that this explanation causes significant problems of its own, as you have already pointed out, Alan.
Before I explain, I should mention that Jesus might never have said this. Of course, I do not hold the gospels to be true, generally, but that is not why I write this. The only book in which it appears is Luke, I believe. And, some early manuscripts do not carry this sentence. So, it is dubious that he said, “Father, forgive them…”. But I am not interested in that point.
The text gives no indication that those that crucified Jesus were forgiven for that crime. I can think of nowhere in the NT where indication of such is given. But if God did not forgive them, two problems arise:
1. Jesus would appear to be more merciful than God; and
2. Jesus would not appear to be effective as an intermediary between God and Man.
Each of these problems is signficant. If Jesus forgives them, but God does not, then Jesus is more merciful than God. Christians are uncomfortable with saying that God is less merciful than Jesus. After all, Jesus is supposed to be fulfilling the will of God. Moreover, that would really show that Jesus is the god to whom the Christian owes his devotion, not the unforgiving Father.
(Yet this does linger in Christian theology. Logically speaking, Jesus is more loving than God is, if one goes by Christian theology. One can see this in John 3:16, which speaks of God’s great love for humanity: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever should believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” In the two figures that wish to save humanity, whose actions are more loving. God sends someone to die. Jesus does the actual dying. Though a Christian will deny that they believe Jesus loves them more than God, one can see that their gratitude to Jesus is logically greater, because he makes the actual sacrifice. If he did not, God would still judge all humanity with a terrifying and impossible standard. This just makes God less loveable. And, Jesus is supposed to have said, according to John, that the greatest love is to lay down one’s life for his friends. Christians would not apply that standard to God, per se, but on an unconscious level…)
If the Christian does not want to say that Jesus loves humanity more than God does, he also does not want Jesus to appear to be offering useless prayers. Jesus is supposed to be their mediator, the one that secures forgiveness for them. It would be troubling to think that he was unable to secure their forgiveness on this occasion, that in the throes of death and extreme suffering, Jesus’ prayers were useless. One would be inclined to think that in this moment of obedience and self-sacrifice, Jesus would be more likely to secure the blessings of God, not less.
So, Kavi almost has to say that God forgave the people for killing Jesus, even though the text says nothing of the sort.
However, Alan, you already pointed out a huge problem with this. If one says that God forgave this sin without blood, as Kavi granted, then one must say that God can forgive sin without blood. Obviously, then, the crucifixion of Jesus was not necessary. He did not need to die for the sins of humanity. Kavi attempted to sidestep this issue by saying that God can forgive individual sins without calling people righteous, however this does not answer the problem. In fact, it complicates things.
Kavi granted something that many Christians will not grant. He granted that Nineveh was forgiven without the shedding of blood. Dr. Brown will not grant such a point. He will say that sacrifices were happening in the temple at that time, sacrifices for the non-Jew as well as the Jew. And it was through that blood that Nineveh was forgiven. But Kavi has taken a different tack. He has admitted that Nineveh was forgiven without blood. He argues that Nineveh was not then counted righteous.
This attempt to sweep things under the carpet undermines the whole of Christian doctrine. How many times has a Christian quoted Hebrews: “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.” Anyone that has argued with a Christian knows that under most circumstances, the Christian would emphasize the word “no,” almost as if he were shouting it. Again, Dr. Brown would certainly emphasize it this way. Kavi is now arguing that there is some remission of sin, just not that all of it is so remitted. Righteousness is not achieved.
This is absurdity.
If God does not need blood to forgive one sin, then he does not need blood to forgive all your sins. To say that he can forgive one or maybe two or maybe even two million, but not all, is only to limit God. (Of course, this is a major problem with Christianity in the first place. If you say to a Christian that God is not a man, he will respond with a question: “Are you saying that God cannot do anything? Are you not limiting the power of God?” But, of course, this is precisely what Christianity does. It says that God cannot forgive sins without blood, limiting His power. Absurd.) Kavi has now implied that the death of Jesus is meaningless, without meaning to do so. If God can forgive one sin, he can forgive all sins without blood.
Kavi cannot even answer that they could be forgiven due to their ignorance. Sacrifices were made for inadvertent sin. By the Christian reading of Leviticus, this means that blood was needed to cover even inadvertent sins. Sins done from ignorance required blood no less than other sins, so Kavi would have no leg upon which to stand.
Moreover, Christians will tell you—and I believe Kavi has said this—that two elements are needed to get forgiveness for one’s sins. One is blood. The other is repentance. In this case, however, neither prerequisite is met. Jesus is praying for the forgiveness of those that are in the throes of a murderous passion (i.e. unrepentant) before the necessary sacrifice has been brought. So, according to Kavi, neither of these things is necessary for the forgiveness of sin. He is in a serious contradiction.
I should emphasize that this is Kavi’s contradiction, not the Church’s in general. I doubt many Christians would have granted that no blood was necessary for the forgiveness Jesus is praying for here.
I should also point out that Kavi makes Jesus ridiculous here. If Jesus is praying for the forgiveness of this one sin, but not asking for forgiveness for them in general, the prayer is particularly vain. Jesus would be allowing those people to burn in hell for all eternity, just for other sins. The punishment for sinners in the Christian system is no less for one sin than another. To the Lake of Fire go the unbelievers. It is rather absurd to pray, “Do not send Fred to hell for killing me; send him for stealing a 10-cent piece of bubblegum when he was 13.”
Through your discourse with Kavi, Alan, you have shown just how empty his arguments are. His arguments gloss over what are major problems in his religious thought. He ties himself in knots to explain the NT, but rather than explaining problems, he only makes them worse. Thank you for drawing attention to the absurdity underlying his arguments.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal