What evidence is there that Jesus died for the sins of the world?

Good question.

My answer: This is a meme (an idea), so what we should look for is how this meme came into existence, not attempt to prove the idea itself true or false. It is a metaphor, one which may or may not speak to you. But we can be sure of one thing, when this meme was born, it resonated with those who first hear it.

Res-o-nate
1) Produce or be filled with a deep, full, reverberating sound.
2) Evoke or suggest images, memories, and emotions.

The idea (or meme) that Jesus died for our sins has been accepted as symbolic truth for 2000 years. The question is where did this idea get started? My answer: the Book of Hebrews. At least that was the 1st written “authority” that made this claim. It was written before the Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70 and the theology therein is quit complex. This book is a remarkable achievement for the fledgling Jewish cult who’s founder died only a few decades prior. The author is unknown, but the ideas being advanced are themselves very advanced.

‘And almost all things are by the law purged with blood;
and without shedding of blood is no remission.’ ~ Heb. 9.22 (KJV)

In first century Palestine the Rabbi’s taught that according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. It was believed that without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.Naturally, after Jesus died, it didn’t take long for a theology to develop that he was send by God to die for our sins, that his blood was required to pay our debts.

Jesus was a Jew living in the Second Temple period who spoke the local language. One area where the difference between biblical and Second Temple Hebrew is rather dramatic is that of sin. During the Second Temple period it became common to refer to the sins of an individual or a nation as the accrual of a debt. This explains the diction of the so-called Lord’s prayer, “forgive us our debts” (Matt. 6:12).

The metaphor of sin as a debt is rarely attested in the bulk of the Hebrew Bible. But as soon as it became a common place to view a sin as a debt—and this took place early in the Second Temple period—it became natural to conceive of virtuous activity as a merit or credit. This logical move was advanced significantly in rabbinic literature by the fact that the words for debt and credit (ḥôb and zĕkût) are logical antonyms. It should come as no surprise that the rabbis were fond of telling stories in which a person’s credits (zĕkūyôt) were weighed against debits.

It was out of this world-view, that the Book of Hebrews was written, and the Christian meme/religion was born. People needed to believe in God and they needed to believe forgiveness of sin was possible. These two things were linked in the Jewish mind as surely as the linkage between debt and credit is linked in our mind. Debt was their sin, and credit was the grace of God. Put this idea together with the idea of blood sacrifice (the Jewish tradition) and soon the “good news” of Jesus Christ (i.e, that “the Kingdom of God is near”) takes on a new and deeper meaning. Now the refashioned gospel message of Jesus Christ those early adopters were eager to preach was this: Jesus did for you, what you could never do for yourself, he died for your debts (sins) and by his blood (grace/credit) you are now debt free.

in early Syriac Christianity a similar construal of debits and merits exists—even though Syriac lacks the noun zĕkût meaning “credit” or “merit.” This can be seen from the way in which St. Ephrem, in the fourth century, characterizes the victory won by Christ.

Blessed is [Christ] who endured, withstood, and triumphed (zākyâ’);
his head is held high with its crown.
He is like a creditor (mārē ḥawbâ’) who demands his payment with a bold voice.
He is not like me, too weak to fast, too weary for the vigil,
The first to succumb (ḥāb). My enemy is skillful.
When he overcomes me, he lets me rise only to throw me down once more.
O Sea of Mercies, give me a handful of mercy,
so I can wipe out the note of my debt (̉ešṭar ḥawbāty).

The picture drawn here is that of Christ’s encounter with Satan in the wilderness just after Jesus’ baptism. There he is tempted by Satan and emerges as the victor (zākyâ’). In Ephrem’s view, both his fast and his obedience in the face of temptation allow Christ to accrue enormous credit. He becomes, in Ephrem’sterms, a creditor, or more literally, “a possessor of a bond (mārē ḥawbẩ),” who can boldly demand his wages. Ephrem, however, laments his own condition. Unlike Christ, he is so weak that he would be the first to succumb in such a test (ḥāb).His only hope is that Christ will have mercy on him so as to wipe out his bill of indebtedness. 0 Ephrem must rely on the merits that his redeemer has secured.

http://www3.nd.edu/~ganders2/Theo_83102/Redeem_sins.pdf

The Greek philosophers developed their “God meme” independent of the Jewish idea. Socrates clearly understood the dilemma involved with a Holy and just God forgiving sin without eternal consequence, he once remarked, “It may be that the deity can forgive sins but I do not see how.”

Socrates knew well enough for a perfectly just and righteous God to forgive sin without eternal consequence it would deny His own nature of justice and a righteous God could never deny Himself or His own nature. The new Christian meme solved this quandary.

The author of Hebrews make the case that Jesus death matched the prophetic hallmarks of a Passover lamb. Particularly the one sacrificed during the advent of the 10th plague in Egypt whose blood had to coat the posts and lintel of Hebrew homes, symbolizing Christ’s blood being on the doors of our hearts. Like the Passover lamb he had to be without blemish (sinless) and his bones could not be broken. Like the High Priest would do when the sacrifice was complete, Jesus was said to yelled out “It is finished.”

The author of Hebrews is brilliant. The problem was this: there was no man to intercede in heaven, so God had to become our intercessor Himself. God had to become flesh and “tabernacle” among us, and then He would return to heaven as our High Priest to finish the job once and for all time. According to the earliest Christian theology, this was the logical reason that Jesus came to Earth. By using details from the history of the Jewish religion and mixing them with this idea that Jesus died for the sin/debts of mankind, the outcome was that the Kingdom of God he preached had indeed come. Jesus was our new High Priest now seating at the high hand of the Father as his Holy Spirit dwelt in the hearts of every believer. 

As brilliant as this new theology was, there was one problem. Those disciples in Jerusalem who followed Jesus didn’t get it. After Jesus died, they followed his legalistic brother “James the Righteous” who declared himself the new High Priest of Israel and modeled the Jerusalem church after the Jewish Sanhedrin. This was the first “false authority” to set it self up over the new faith, and it marked the first false step that become the Christian religion we know today.

Over the centuries many more priesthoods were set-up to usurp the power of the mystical High Priest in Heaven. These religious hierarchical structures assumed they had authority over all men on Earth, including Kings. Soon these ecclesiastical societies become political structures and their undue influence endures to this day. 

Where you believe in Jesus or not, this quote from Buddha seem fitting:

“Don’t blindly believe what I say. Don’t believe me because others convince you of my words. Don’t believe anything you see, read, or hear from others, whether of authority, religious teachers or texts. Don’t rely on logic alone, nor speculation. Don’t infer or be deceived by appearances.”

“Do not give up your authority and follow blindly the will of others. This way will lead to only delusion.”

“Find out for yourself what is truth, what is real. Discover that there are virtuous things and there are non-virtuous things. Once you have discovered for yourself give up the bad and embrace the good.”

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The Thicket of Views

Today I was looking for the a podcast on Buddhism that I had listen to when I first moved to Zion over a year go. The title that I had stuck in my head was “Buddhism Before Buddhism” but my first Google search didn’t return anything useful… don’t you just hate that?

After doing some more advanced searching I found what I was looking for: The Book of Eights by Gil Fronsdal. This is Zencast #321 and it is very good, I would encourage you to listen to it. One thing I learned from this dharma talk is how the Buddha warned against quarreling and thinking one’s own religious views are the “truest” or the best.

Indeed this so-called “Book of Eights” is among the oldest sutras known to exist and represents the earliest teaching of Siddhārtha Gautama. It really is Buddhism before Buddhism… that is to say, this book lays down the raw ideas and unrefined teaching of the Awakened One before they became crystallized into the the formal tradition we now call Buddhism. It is much like hearing Jesus give his “Sermon on the Mount” rather going to church and having a pastor give his views about Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church.

Any way, I when looking for this “Book of Eights” hoping it had been translated into English (which it hasn’t been yet). I did another search for ‘Gil Fronsdal’ and stumbled on to a Tumblr post critical of things Gil may (or may not) have said while giving a talk called “Remembering 9-11: Choosing A Compassionate Response.” Here is a quote from that blog:

I listened to this Dharma talk by Gil Fronsdal. In the discussion that followed, Fronsdal, an excellent Buddhist teacher, unwittingly showed that an awakened heart does not necessarily lead to political understanding.

When someone mentioned the U.S.’s penchant for oppressing and exploiting other nations, Fronsdal responded with the “well, everybody else does it too” defense. He then praised Americans for their spirit of volunteerism, saying that the support they give to non-profit organizations is unequaled in any other nation.

That’s because other nations have social systems that take care of their citizens’ needs rather than leaving it up to individual generosity. Fronsdal’s view perfectly represents the American social pathology, an unquestioning acceptance of the status quo – missing the point that, while it is admirable that citizens volunteer to help other citizens, it is vile that they have to. His is the standard liberal view that praises kind treatment of slaves rather than condemning slavery.

Unquestioning acceptance of the status quo? That seem like a strange criticism of a Buddhist teacher, after all one might have said the same thing of Buddha himself… and they would have been just as wrong. After all, isn’t the point of Buddhist practice to accept those realities we can not change and focus on changing ourselves?  I think this person is setting up a “straw man” in their own mind to argue with, something we all do from time to time, but the point of Buddhist practice to to do this less and less.

Reading the quote from Tumblr, it was the use of the term “liberal” that got my attention. “His is the standard liberal view that praises kind treatment of slaves rather than condemning slavery.” Wait in minute, is this some radical leftist being critical of a liberal? That’s kind of funny…. but to level an attack on a Buddhist teacher who was speaking on the topic of compassion, that seems a little much. As if that were not enough, this dharma talk was given on the tenth anniversary of 9-11. This makes me wonder where this critic is really coming from. Does this person actually harbor so-mush resentment against the “status quo” that he agrees with the motives (if not the actions) taken by terrorists on that fateful day? At the very least his anger seems misdirected and I would add this resentment was invented inside his own mind–a pure delusion.

I’m as critical at the next guy of so-called liberals (or anyone who takes an authoritarian position and speaks of “American exceptionism”  etc.) but the view being expressed here sounds even more authoritarian–more extremist than the most extreme liberal that I know. He says, “while it is admirable that citizens volunteer to help other citizens, it is vile that they have to. ” Really? I am left to assume this person thinks that in the ideal world we’d have government provide for everyone needs and that until this utopia comes into being, our duty is to speak out against the “vile” enslavement of humanity and actively oppose the “status quo.” That is an individual opinion, but is it fair to demand others share that view?

Buddha spoke of danger of delusion. Well folks, there is a prime example of it. Perhaps humanity is enslaved to gang of criminals capitalist, that could be, but thinking it is the duty of others to change that system is a delusion. I agree Chris Hedges who his book Empire of Illusion said at this point in history it is impossible to bridge the divide between “a literate, marginalized minority and those who have been consumed by an illiterate mass culture.” Damon Vrabel said, “Change is not possible through journalism, the media, or online debates,” here is more of what he has written in the save vain:

IF we participate in the system, I’m not opposed to it at all. How could I be? I’d be a tyrant if I wanted to force hundreds of millions of people to change their behavior. And the fact is, that “IF” was answered long ago. We Americans have chosen the material benefits of being managed by the financial system for generations. We like demand-side freedom, i.e. choosing between Coke and Pepsi, but don’t want supply-side freedom. We like the supply-side to be taken care of for us. We love the benefits that come from it being imperially run—the credit card always works, the gas station is always open, our water faucets and light switches do what they’re supposed to do, the markets keep going up (oops…maybe not). All of our economic needs are outsourced to others, so we have the luxury of spending our time pursuing wants. And if these types of benefits are good for us, they’re good for the rest of the world. We have no moral authority to stand opposed just because we’re now going to lose our privileged position—a rather childlike perspective.

In the Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta, the Buddha cautions Vacchagotta, the wanderer, against adhering to the “thicket of views,” i.e., forming an opinion one way or the other about a variety of metaphysical topics (Is the cosmos eternal or infinite? Are materiality and consciousness the same or different? Do Buddhas still exist after death?) The Buddha tells Vachagotta that any position one can take: “is a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. It is accompanied by suffering…. and does not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation; to calm, direct knowledge, full Awakening…”

The same goes for political views.

Anyone can have opinions. They come cheap. I have a million myself — If you want one just ask, and I will tell you. It’s amazing how much I know (that’s a joke). How’s President Obama doing? Is there a conspiracy to create a New World Order? Are we heading into a fascist police state? Is the money system of the United States unconstitutional?  Should we elect Oath Keepers as sheriff and take back our Republic from the bottom-up? Don’t get me started =)

It’s fun to have opinions — they keep the conversation lively. In any case, it’s impossible not to form them. The question is whether it’s possible not to be overly attached to them. Our views (religious, political, or otherwise) can lead to quarreling, disharmony, and anguish. The sage advice of the Buddha was to drop our opinions and let go of our views, in this way we avoid those quarrels which lead us to suffer and cause others to suffer with us. The main point that Buddha was making is this: all our suffering is self-inflicted pain. When we express a strong view on a debatable topic it is  like holding a hot coal in our hand, it is best to drop it before we get burned.

Zen Master Seung Sahn wrote a book entitled Open Mouth Already a Mistake, and was famous for admonishing students to “only keep ‘Don’t-Know’ mind.” In a similar vein, Larry Rosenberg reported seeing a bumper sticker years ago which read: “Don’t believe everything you think,” and thought it offered sage advice. Shunryu Suzuki Roshi’s “Beginner’s Mind” is the touchstone of American Dharma, but admonitions to take opinions lightly have been part of practice forever. Bankei (1622-1693) advised us not to “side with ourselves,” just as the Buddha himself warned millennia ago of “the thicket of views.”

The truth is, all of our interesting and colorful opinions seem to have very little to do with the progress we make, or fail to make, in our practice. If anything, they separate us from the clear, still place we aspire to. Our practice is best when we have little or no concern for what others do or think — and even or especially what we ourselves think — and pay attention, instead, to how we unfold in our own unique dance with the present moment. Guilt from the past, and fear of the future is what takes away the joy of now. This is why students of Zen focus on their breathing… it puts them in touch with the higher-self, and help them rise above the story-telling ego chatter in their heads… it helps them rise above ego-driven opinions and views to find inner peace and joy.

Yes, we may hold strong views, I certainly do… but I’ve learned it help to be reminded that we don’t know what we don’t know… all our opinions are based on limited information. As we gather more information our views will inevitability change. Think about it, do you hold the same views today that you did 10 years ago? How about those opinions you were clinging to so strongly a year ago? Are they still there today? If you met your older self on the street, would that less informed version of yourself quarrel with you? If so, would it be out of ignorance? And what it say your not still misinformed to this day? We don’t know what we don’t know. This is true of everyone, so while we should compassion to ourselves for not knowing everything, we should give that same consideration to others.

Okay, that is my opinion for the day.