The Atonement in the New Testament
Within the pages of the New Testament, the saving significance of the death of Jesus is represented chiefly (though not exclusively) via five constellations of images. These are each borrowed from significant spheres of public life in ancient Palestine and the larger Greco-Roman world: the court of law (e.g., justification), commercial dealings (e.g., redemption), personal relationships (whether among individuals or groups–e.g., reconciliation), worship (e.g., sacrifice) and the battle-ground (e.g., triumph over evil). Each of these examples provides a window into a cluster of terms and concepts that relate to the particular sphere of public life.
For example, without using the actual term sacrifice (which, in any case, might be used to refer to a variety of cult-related practices, each with its own aim), Paul and John can refer to Jesus as the “Passover Lamb” (1 Cor 5:7) and “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29 cf. Jn 1:36; Rev 5:6); Peter can relate how Jesus “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pet 2:24; cf. 1Pet 1:19); Jesus’ death can be characterized by New Testament writers as “firstfruits” (1 Cor 15:20, 23; cf. Lev 23:1-44; Deut 16:1-22) and the :blood of the covenant: (Mk 14:23; cf. Ex 24:8); and the handing over of Jesus can recall the binding of Isaac (Rom 8:32; cf. Gen 22:1-24). The writer of Hebrews qualifies the salvific significance of Jesus’ death specifically in terms borrowed from Israel’s sacrificial cult (e.g., Heb 9:11-14). Similarly, “reconciliation” can be represented not only by the specific language of reconciliation (Mt 5:24; Rom 5:10-11; 11:15; 1 Cor 7:11; 2 Cor 5:18-20; Eph 2:16; Col 1:20, 22) but also by the terminology of peace (Eph 2:14-18) and the many practices (e.g., Rom 16:16), please (e.g. Philemon) and testimonies (e.g., Acts 15:8-9; Gal 3:26-29) of reconciliation that dot the landscape of the New Testament.
Why are so many images enlisted in the atonement theology of the New Testament?
We face the challenge of exploring the saving effect of Jesus’ death among people who do not want to be “saved” – indeed, who have no perceived need for “salvation.”
Recovering the Scandal of The Cross
by: Mark D. Baker & Joel B. Green