This is the 4th part of our discourse on Who is Jesus? If you missed Parts 1-3, click here
Sin is a capital offence. That much is clear from scriptures – “The wages of sin is death,” the Bible states, ominously. (Romans 6:23). “When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone”. (Romans 5:12). ‘…In Adam all die…” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Sin is a criminal malfeasance carrying a capital penalty. It is unlike tort.
A tort is a civil wrongdoing that is not a crime. But the tortfeasor (wrongdoer) is nonetheless liable. An example of tort is breach of contract. Relief is in the form of damages, or injunction. This civil/criminal distinction about the nature of sin is very crucial in the consideration of the role of Messiah. If sin were a tort, humanity can pay for sin. We can do so by doing good, or paying damages. But sin is a capital offence.
Both Islam and Christianity are agreed on the capital nature of sin hence the concept of hell. (Johannam in Islam). The concept of hell in Judaism is however nuanced. Judaism does not have a specific doctrine of the afterlife. But it does have an orthodox tradition of a concept called Gehenna.
Nonetheless there’s a list of capital offences in the Torah. Examples include necromancy, blasphemy and adultery. The case of the woman brought to Jesus for stoning for adultery is illustration of a capital punishment under Mosaic Law. It is the capital nature of sin that necessitates the need for atonement. In the Hebrew Bible the word atonement (kapporeth) is connected with “covering”. The root word is kaphar. The word was used to refer to how Noah’s ark was to be covered with pitch in Genesis 6:14.
Under the Law of Moses atonement required sacrifices. Animals were sacrificed in atonement for human sin. Solomon is notable for sacrificing 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep for Israel at the dedication of the Temple! Why these sacrifices? We find some clue in Leviticus 17:11, though directed at another subject matter: “For the life of the animal (the animal soul) is in the blood, and I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement by reason of the life which it represents. (Leviticus 17:11 AMP). And so we’re introduced to the concept of blood for sin, as well as soul for soul. The life (soul) is in the blood.
The argument propounded by the writer of Book of Hebrews is that these sacrifices were obviously inadequate. That the sacrifices were yearly because they could not provide perfect cleansing for sin. “If they could have provided perfect cleansing the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshippers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared. But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year… For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:2-3). He then arcs back to a messianic prophecy tucked into Psalm 40 (a messianic psalm): Ps. 40:6-10.
That prophecy says incarnation was a means to provide the Messiah a body for sacrifice. When Christ entered into the world, the writer of Book of Hebrews says he quoted Psalm 40 to God the Father: “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings. But you have given me a body to offer. You were not pleased with burnt offerings or other offerings for sin. Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God – as it is written about me in the scriptures.’” (Hebrews 10: 5-7). “For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time.” (Hebrews 10:10).
Christianity says there are two levels of consideration with regard to absolution from sin: (a). The inherited sinful nature from Adam.
(b). Individual enterprise. Unlike the Christian conception of sin, Islam teaches that sin is an act not a state of being. It is believed that Allah weighs an individual’s good deeds against his or her sins on the Day of Judgment. That individuals whose evil deeds outweigh their good deeds are sentenced to afterlife in the fires of hell (Jahannam). So Islam proclaims salvation by good works whereas Christianity proclaims salvation by vicarious sacrifice of Messiah.
But here’s a legal challenge for the Islamic scholar from a Christian theological perspective: If sin is a capital offence how can charitable work or doing good substitute capital punishment? That is akin to a man sentenced to death for a grievous crime, demanding he not be killed because he gave alms! How does the almsgiving go to the crime? How can charitable acts and doing good answer for capital offence? But even if we accept that doing good can atone for an individual’s sinful enterprise, that still leaves the sinful nature of man unresolved. If we deny the sinful nature of mankind, we must then contend with the intellectual challenge of universality of sin. And we must also give a rational theological explanation for the entrance of evil into the world.
In addition, we must provide a rational answer for the prevalence of evil in the world. Christianity says, inherited Adamic nature is what accounts for the universality and prevalence of evil. Islam says, there is no inheritance of sinful nature. And the reason is because God forgave Adam and Eve. But that then poses the challenge of where the sin nature in humans came from, so much so man needs to atone for his sins by doing good according to Islamic tenets. How come there’s an orgy of evil all over the world? Everywhere we turn there is murder, lying, cheating, adultery, perversion… What accounts for universality of sin? And where did the propensity for evil spring from, as not all evil are the result of nurture or environment. Twins raised together in the same home by the same parents have been known to differ in propensity towards evil.
Perhaps the answer lies in the Islamic belief that everyone that comes into this world is touched by Satan. But that then raises the specter of a sin nature for all mankind, which Islam disavows. But there’s yet another challenge for the Moslem scholar: If all children are born good, there must be a probabilistic possibility that at least one will retain goodness so much so that he will not need salvation from judgment for sin. But if such a one can exist, doesn’t that vitiate the principle of salvation as a global requirement for mankind? These intellectual challenges need resolution. Note that Christianity separates the innocence of children from their sinful nature. The sinful nature is Adamic. Their innocence has to do with incapacitation to DO evil, but the fact of their NATURE remains.
The principle of atonement in Christianity follows the law of parity: The blood of animals cannot adequately atone for human life. There’s no parity between man and beast. And so the potency expires, which is why the priests in the Old Testament kept sacrificing animals year in year out.
A second principle of atonement is that the atoning agent must be innocent. Atonement is a judicial issue. Innocent blood is required for atonement. It’s why innocent animals were slaughtered for sin. The only person born free from sin according to Islam is Jesus. The Quran says Jesus was born a ‘pure boy.’ In Islamic theology, he was the only one Satan didn’t touch on entry into this world. (Satan only touched his placenta). It would seem that such a person is the perfect candidate for perfect sacrifice for humanity. How can God kill an innocent Jesus for the sins and guilt of others? The answer is very simple: The guilty cannot atone for the sins of the guilty.
If you’ll like to accept the atoning sacrifice of Jesus please pray this prayer: Father I acknowledge that I am a sinner, that Jesus Christ died for me, that you raised him from the dead. Please forgive me. I accept Jesus today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.
© Leke Alder | firstname.lastname@example.org