How Were People Before Crucifixion Saved?
Enquiring the validity of Vicarious Atonement in pre-Jesus (p) era
Based on the teachings of the Old Testament it is extremely difficult to accept the Christian philosophy that sins before Jesus (peace be upon him) were forgiven in lieu of his future alleged death and resurrection.
On the fly, when we argued the same with a Christian at the Muslim Debate Initiative (MDI) Blog, Shamoun was particularly unhappy about it so much so that he published an official response to the comment.
It is now time that we respond Shamoun for his slanted interpretations but before it let us reiterate that it is not just the Old Testament but even the New Testament, as we would document in near future,overwhelmingly obviates the extreme necessity of Christ’s (peace be upon him) alleged sacrificial death and resurrection for the remission of sins.
Was it predestined that the “Lamb” would be slain?
Quite probably if Shamoun had to make a case that sins before Jesus (peace be upon him) were forgiven in lieu of his future alleged death and resurrection then it must be first proven that the crucifixion was predestined. Shamoun quoted passages from New Testament to prove it. Nevertheless, except for a passage from Peter’s epistle none other even comes close to prove it. We leave it to the readers to decide.
Even if we accept for the sake of argument that Peter and John believed that Jesus’ (peace be upon him) crucifixion was foreordained yet this is not what Jesus (peace be upon him) seems to have believed about himself! Consider for example the following passages:
“They came to a place of Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John with him. Distress and anguish came over him, and he said to them, “The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me. Stay here and keep watch. He went a little farther on, threw himself on the ground, and prayed that, if possible, he might not have to go through that time of suffering. “Father,” he prayed, “my Father! All things are possible for you. Take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet not what I want, but what you want.”” (Mark 14: 32-36, Good News Edition)
It is noticeable that given the first choice, Jesus (peace be upon him) would never had gone through the sufferings of the cross even if that would have allegedly remitted for the sins of the world!
Furthermore notice the way Jesus (peace be upon him) addressed God. He called Him very personally as “my Father”! Christians, especially the Trinitarians, interpret out of such personal expressions Jesus’ (peace be upon him) special and unique relationship with God so much so that because God is his Father he ought to share essence and divinity with God. Thus, given the Trinitarian interpretation, it is a divine “Son of God” requesting for the circumvention of the sufferings; and this further aggravates Shamouns case. Since as a co-equal “God” with Father, Jesus (peace be upon him) is expected to have known the plan of human salvation at its design stage. And Jesus’ (peace be upon him) reaction at Gethsemane seem to defy it all together. He seems to be more concerned about his suffering than for the eternal damnation of entire human race! Jesus (peace be upon him) seen to have neglected the Christian notion that there was not any other salvation plan other than his suffering on the cross! Thus, even if the alleged crucifixion was predestined, Jesus (peace be upon him), given an opportunity, never wanted to face it.
Such a state of affairs with Jesus (peace be upon him) settles nicely with the way he allegedly died. There was a sense of grudge and unwillingness to accept the “predestined plan of God” which made him question God for his ill-fate:
“At noon the whole country was covered with darkness, which lasted for three hours. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why did you abandon me?” Some of the people there heard him and said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah!” One of them ran up with a sponge, soaked it in cheap wine, and put it on the end of a stick. Then he held it up to Jesus’ lips and said, “Wait! Let us see if Elijah is coming to bring him down from the cross!”With a loud cry Jesus died.” (Mark 15: 33-37, Good News Edition)
Firstly Jesus (peace be upon him) requests God to save him from the ordeal of the cross and then he dies with grievance against God that he was abandoned for an excruciating death on the cross. These reactions are hard to reconcile against the basic Christian notion that Jesus (peace be upon him) pre-planned and so knew about his crucifixion with other persons in the godhead even before the creation of the world! Furthermore, it is extremely implausible that remission of sins before Jesus’ (peace be upon him) actual crucifixion were taking place due his unwilling and future suffering on the cross.
As such the redactor(s) of later gospel (Luke’s gospel [1.]) deemed it prudent to remove the controversial moaning and expressions of anguish on the cross. So now Jesus (peace be upon him) is not complaining to God for his abandonment on the cross; rather he is now made to react as he should react. He is now in perfect harmony with the initial plan chalked before the creation of the world; he is now satisfied with the decision and plan of God:
“Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father! In your hands I place my spirit!” He said this and died.” (Luke 23: 46, Good News Edition)
The oldest gospel – Mark’s gospel – has more problems for Shamoun. Remember that crucifixion alone is not enough for Christian version of salvation. Jesus (peace be upon him) must also resurrect after his alleged death!
“…and if Christ has not been raised from death, then we have nothing to preach and you have nothing to believe” (1 Corinthians 15:14, Good News Edition)
However, the best and oldest manuscripts of Mark’s gospel end with absolutely no witness to the resurrected Jesus (peace be upon him). This would have become so serious in the light of the Pauline philosophy of salvation that a “new” ending was added to Mark’s gospel!
On the foregoing, we have a situation wherein Jesus (peace be upon him) is unwilling and acts contrary to the initial alleged plan of his suffering for the salvation of humanity. We have no witness to his resurrection according to the best and earliest gospel manuscript. Yet Shamoun would claim remissions of pre-Jesus (p) era (Old Testament era, say) were due to Christ’s alleged crucifixion which was to materialize in far future! It seems extremely far-fetched upon objective enquiry.
Let Lamb be slain at the Foundation of the World
Shamoun quotes a number of New Testament passages to claim that it was the pre-plan of Jesus’ (peace be upon him) alleged death that allowed God forgive people even before he (peace be upon him) was actually sacrificed:
“Now how do these passages establish the fact that Christ’s death had been predestined from the foundation of the world? And how do they prove that the reason God was forgiving and saving his people even before Christ actually died is because Jesus’ death in their place had already been foreordained?
The answer comes from John’s description of the book of life as belonging to the Lamb who had been slain.
The people whose names had been written in the Lamb’s book of life before the creation of the world are those whom Christ redeems by his blood:
“I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; and one of the elders said to me, ‘Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.’ And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders A LAMB STANDING, AS IF SLAIN, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; FOR YOU WERE SLAIN, AND PURCHASED FOR GOD WITH YOUR BLOOD MEN FROM EVERY TRIBE AND TONGUE AND PEOPLE AND NATION. YOU HAVE MADE THEM to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.’ Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.’And EVERY CREATED THING which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne, AND TO THE LAMB, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.’ And the four living creatures kept saying, ‘Amen.’ And the elders fell down and worshiped.” Revelation 5:1-14”
The Revelation passage does talk about a weird type of a killed “Lamb” who assumedly has a book and the people who had their names registered in it are saved. However, it does not allude that these names are inclusive (or that they must include) of the names who lived before Jesus (peace be upon him). It is possible, in fact highly probable as we would soon observe, that the names previously written are those people who would eventually come to believe in Jesus (peace be upon him) either because of his or his apostles’ ministry. Now, consider the following passage which was ironically cited by Shamoun:
“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’ And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, ‘Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.’ Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, ‘These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?’ I said to him, ‘My lord, you know.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the ones who come out of the GREAT TRIBULATION , and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.’” Revelation 7:9-17
Notice the passage specifically identifies the people who got their sins remitted (“white robes”) in the blood of the slain Lamb. They are those who came out of the “great tribulation”. So the names previously written in the book of Lamb has to be of those who faced the great tribulation and yet came out of it as believers. Jesus (peace be upon him) identifies for us the timing of this “great tribulation”:
When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: For THEN shall be GREAT TRIBULATION, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened. Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told youbefore. (Matthew 24:15-25, King James Version)
It is clear from the passage that the “great tribulation” did not as yet materialized during the ministry of Jesus (peace be upon him). It was expected to happen sometime in the future. Thus, the people whose names were previously written in the Lamb’s book of life, in other words, those who got their sins remitted in the blood of slain Lamb must be those who would eventually face Jesus’ (peace be upon him) futureprediction of the “great tribulation” and came out of it.
So names going into the Lamb’s book of life are contingent upon the experience of the “great tribulation” and a subsequent escape from it. This in turn implies that the Lamb’s book of life cannot possibly have the names of people before the generation of Jesus (peace be upon him)/or the era of “great tribulation”! Consequently, people of pre-Jesus (peace be upon him) era could not have been forgiven in lieu of his suffering and alleged sacrificial death.
That is the reason when Shamoun argues,
“In other words, since the names of the redeemed were written in the Lamb’s book of life before the world’s foundation then the means of their salvation must have also been ordained before creation as well. This is precisely why it is called the book of life of the Lamb who had been slain, e.g. it is the book that includes all the names of those whom the Lord Jesus purchased by his sacrificial death on the cross.
This, therefore, establishes my point that everyone prior to Christ actually dying were being saved because of his vicarious sacrifice since God knew that the Lamb, i.e. the Lord Jesus, would be slain in their place in order to free them from their sins.”
He merely assumes unwarrantedly that the Lamb’s book of life has names of every generation and era including those before Jesus (peace be upon him).
Jews have traditionally disagreed with Christian interpretation of the Hebrew Bible and this paper gave us hint towards it. Traditionally Jews never believed that the “Messiah” would have to be sacrificed for the sins of the world yet subjective Christians like Shamoun would claim that Jesus’ (peace be upon him) sacrifice and subsequent vicarious atonement were “predestined”.
Nevertheless, the Jesus (peace be upon him) of the earliest canonical gospel does not seem to behave according to the “predestined” plan. If he would have had a choice, Jesus (peace be upon him) would never had gone through the ordeal of the cross. More importantly, Jesus’ (peace be upon him) very last statement on earth belies all the “predestintion”. Either in frustrated despair or unknowing confusion, Jesus (peace be upon him) enquired why he was abandoned on the cross?
Shamoun quoted New Testament passages in support of his theory however, ironically, the same passage(s) established that it was not possible that people before Jesus (peace be upon him) were forgive in lieu of his prospective (alleged) sacrifice. This is because for people to have benefited from Christ’s (peace be upon him) alleged sacrifice it was necessary that they have their names registered in the Lamb’s book of life; and all the names which were eventually written in the book were of those who would come out of the “great tribulation”. And we know that the “great tribulation” was to occur after Jesus’ (peace be upon him) ministry! So if we are enquiring how people were saved before Jesus (peace be upon him) then we can be sure that they were not saved for prospective alleged sacrifice of the Messiah (peace be upon him); rather, they were saved as the Old Testament postulates it.
Therefore, when Shamoun rants such as,
Time for greenhorn and his partner in taqiyya, Sami Zaatari, to find another line of work. Attacking Christianity and defending the lies of Islam are simply not cutting it for them.
It sounds merely hyperbolic claims devoid of any objectivity.
- Unless mentioned, the biblical texts are quoted from Shamoun’s paper.
- Emphasize wherever not matching with original, is ours.
[1.] Christians have an “all-inclusive” theory wherein they would argue that Jesus’ (peace be upon him)complete statement on the cross is drawn by a holistic view of the gospels. And so Mark’s narrative must be supplemented with other gospels. Although the approach seems reasonable, however, it has at least the following twofold problems:
Firstly, it does not take care of the historical fact that not all gospels were present simultaneously. We know that at least a decade passed since Mark that Matthew and Luke came into existence. So there was hardly a chance for people in the interim to have knowledge of all narratives. Furthermore, even when all gospels came into existence, not all communities had them at one time given the incipient state of the religion and technological backwardness of the world. Add to it that even the canon was not decided until the fourth century.
Secondly, the approach does not recognize the efforts of authors and the sources at their disposition; since the authors had particular agendas that they wanted to portray while penning their gospels. So by having an “all-inclusive” approach to the scriptures, we do not allow a particular author to represent the life of Jesus (peace be upon him) as he knew (from his sources) and wanted to portray. Therefore, the “all-inclusive” approach engenders a motley description which can be unjust to individual gospel author(s) writing in his individual capacity.