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.
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.
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.”