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  • Writer's pictureChapman Chen

From Abraham to Jesus to Paul: The Evolution of an Atonement Religion. By Pastor J. R. Hyland. Introd. Dr. Chapman Chen



Introduction: In Chapters 22-23 of her book, What the Bible Really Says, Pastor Janet Regina Hyland (1988) points out that when Abraham 's attempt at sacrificing his own son Isaac was stopped by an angel from God at the last minute, legitimized human sacrifice came to an official end. Unfortunately, that marked "the beginning of a cult of animal sacrifice that eventually became the central act of worship among the Hebrews", which even the strongest denunciation by Israel’s greatest prophets like Amos, Isaiah, Hosea and Micah could not halt.


"Although Isaiah and the other Latter Prophets demanded an end to the slaughter, they had not taken any direct action against the sacrificial cult. But Jesus did." And it was his planned public assault on the sacrificial system that cost him his life. The Temple was turned by the chief priests and scribes into a gigantic slaughterhouse, "awash in the blood of its victims." When Jesus disrupted the economic flow therein, they plotted to have Him killed.


After Jesus' death, His disciples carried on His Vegan Church. But then Paul who had never met Jesus came along and maintained that the message he preached came directly from Christ in visions and was THE true message. Refusing to learn anything from Jesus' vegan disciples, he inveighed against them from time to time. As a committed Pharisee, he was a staunch supporter of the sacrifices that were at the heart of Temple worship. He insisted that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission [of sins]” (Hebrews 9:22  NIV). Contrastively, Jesus declared that "I desire compassion rather than sacrifice" (Matthew 9:13 NASB). Moreover, "in his parable of the Prodigal Son, Christ made it very clear that a loving God did not demand atonement from those who had sinned."


While Jesus rejected the concept of a tetchy God, whose wrath cannot be appeased by anything but the blood of a sacrificial victim, Paul "claimed that Jesus died in place of the sinner and that his shed blood met all the demands for retribution demanded by a God who was outraged by sin", thereby ironically transforming Jesus into a sacrificial lamb, the very thing He was protesting (cf. Thompson 2024). Ever since then, this sacrificial religion of Atonement as concocted by Paul has become the foundation of mainstream Christian churches for two thousand years!


A Short Biography of J.R. Hyland


Janet Regina Hyland (November 30, 1933 – October 9, 2007), also known as J. R. Hyland, was an American theological author. She was known for her work on animal rights and her books What the Bible Really Says and The Slaughter of Terrified Beasts. She was a vegan and believed in the ethical treatment of animals, often collaborating with animal rights groups. She served in the United States Air Force and was ordained by the Assemblies of God in 1984, after completing her studies in religious education and biblical theology. Besides animal rights, Hyland was actively involved in prison ministry, supported migrant farm workers, the cause of female equality.

 

Hyland founded Viatoris Ministries in 1995. It is a pro-animal vegan Christian parachurch resource ministry based in Sarasota, Florida. Viatoris Ministries published a bimonthly magazine called Humane Religion, which was written by Hyland herself. The ministry and the magazine provided scriptural support and encouragement for the belief that love and compassion should be the hallmark of relationships with all God's creatures.


 

Hyland's important works:

Hyland, J. R. (1993). What the Bible Really Says. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. https://www.all-creatures.org/hr/what.htm

Hyland, J.R. (1998/1995/1988). The Slaughter of Terrified Beasts: A Biblical Basis for the Humane Treatment of Animals. Sarasota: Viatories Ministries. https://archive.org/details/slaughterofterri0000hyla/page/n3/mode/2up?view=theater

Viatoris Ministries (1998). "Animal Sacrifice." Humane Religion, July/Aug Issue. https://www.all-creatures.org/hr/hrasacrific.htm

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Below please find an excerpt from Chapters 22 and 23 of Hyland's 1993 book What the Bible Really Says.:-


Chapter 22: SACRIFICIAL RELIGION: JUDAISM


Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, the Latter Prophets of Israel had tried to turn their people away from the animal sacrifices that had become the center of Jewish worship. It was a process that began with the Patriarch Abraham when an angel of the Lord stopped him from sacrificing a human being.

In Abraham’s time, the sacrifice of humans was as acceptable as the animal sacrifices that were carried out to appease the gods or to extract favors from them. Like other ancient groups, the religion in the Mesopotamian culture in which Abraham was born and bred, centered on sacrificial worship.[1] And in the hierarchy of sacrificial religion, human victims represented the ultimate expression of homage to the gods.


1. Abraham Ready to Sacrifice his Son in return for God's Favor

The Bible’s story of Abraham’s attempt to sacrifice his son, Isaac, illustrates that hierarchy of religious values. But if Abraham and his descendants were to be representatives of a spiritually developing race, such sacrifices would have to stop. And the Book of Genesis records when and how that happened.

When Abraham’s son Isaac was fully grown, his father thought God was demanding the death of the boy as a sign of tribute and submission. Because human sacrifice was acceptable and common place in the ancient Near East, the Patriarch could believe that God was demanding this of him. So he set off on a three-day journey travelling north from Beersheba to Mount Moriah, where he was going to sacrifice the boy.[2]

When he arrived in sight of the Mount, he took the implements of sacrifice from his servants and told them: “The boy and I will go over there and worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham made Isaac carry the wood for the sacrifice and he himself carried a knife and live coals for starting the fire. . .When they came to the place which God had told him about, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. He tied up his son and placed him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he picked up the knife to kill him.”[3]


2. The End of Legitimized Human Sacrifice & the Beginning of Animal Sacrifice Cult

But this attempt at human sacrifice failed. The Bible reports that at the last minute an angel told the Patriarch: “Don’t hurt the boy, or do anything to him. . .Abraham look-ed around and saw a ram caught in a bush by its horns. He went and got it, and offered it as a brunt offering instead of his son.”[4]

This pivotal event marked both a beginning and an end. It was the end of legitimized human sacrifice in the life of Abraham and his descendants. But it was the beginning of a cult of animal sacrifice that eventually became the central act of worship among the Hebrews.

Abraham’s repudiation of human sacrifice was supposed to be the first step in the process that would eventually eliminate the killing of any creature, human or animal, in the name of God. But that process stopped far short of its evolutionary goal. The sacrifice of animals became so firmly entrenched that even its condemnation by Israel’s greatest prophets could not stop it.


3. Righteous Prophets Speaking out Against Animal Sacrifice

For two hundred years prophets like Amos, Isaiah, Hosea and Micah had denounced animal sacrifices as ungodly. Amos told the people that God found their sacrifices abhorrent. “I hate and despise your feasts. I take no pleasure in your solemn festivals. When you offer me holocausts, I reject your oblations, and refuse to look at your sacrifices of fattened cattle.”[5]

And within a generation, the prophet Micah was proclaiming the same message. “Shall I come to (the Lord) with burnt offerings, With yearling calves? Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil. . .He has told you, O man what is good. . .do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”[6]

Speaking in the name of God, Hosea told the people god’s judgment of their sacrifices. “What I want is love, not sacrifice; knowledge of God, not holocausts.”  “They love sacrificing; right, let them sacrifice! They love meat; right, let them eat it! Yahweh takes no pleasure in these. He is now going to remember their iniquity and punish their sins.”[7]

The Prophet Isaiah used the strongest language to let the people know that their sacri-fices were an abomination, that they were just as profane as any other acts of violence.

Whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a man, and whoever offers a lamb is like one who breaks a dog’s neck. . .they have chosen their own ways and their souls delight in their abominations.”[8]

But even the warnings of Israel’s greatest prophets did not end the sacrifices. It was only when Jerusalem was defeated by the Babylonians, in 587 B.C., that they stopped. And even then, they stopped only because there was no other choice. The Temple and its sacrificial altars had been razed to the ground and the officiating priests, along with most of the Jewish people, were deported to Babylon.[9]

The Exile lasted fifty years, until the Babylonians were defeated by the Persians. Their King, Darius, allowed the exiles to return to Jerusalem. And under the leadership of the priests who had religious and legal jurisdiction over the returnees, the first priority was building an altar on the Temple site so animal sacrifices could be resumed. Without such sacrifices, the priests and the Levites had no raison d’ etre.  So the slaughter began.

“Then the people of Israel-- the priests, the Levites and all the others who had returned from exile--joyfully dedicated the Temple. For the dedication they offered 100 bulls, 200 sheep, and 400 lambs as sacrifices, and 12 goats as offerings for sin, one for each tribe of Israel. They also organized the priests and the Levites for the Temple services in Jerusalem...”[10]

This was a direct refutation of what the Prophet Isaiah had proclaimed to his people. “The multitude of your sacrifices--what are they to me?” says the Lord. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. . .Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight. . .”[11]


4. Jesus' Direct Action against Animal Sacrifice Had Him Killed

Although Isaiah and the other Latter Prophets demanded an end to the slaughter, they had not taken any direct action against the sacrificial cult. But Jesus did. And it was his assault on the sacrificial system that cost him his life.

It was this assault that changed the cheering well-wishers of Palm Sunday into the jeering mob that mocked Jesus as he stumbled under the weight of the cross. It was this assault which finally brought the leaders of the religious establishment to the point where they felt compelled to take action against him.

Jesus had been inveighing against the priests, the Pharisees and the Sadducees from the time he began his ministry and had always been aggressive in his condemnation of their legalistic practices and pious pretensions. And large numbers of people had always been willing to listen to what he said.

The religious leaders in Jerusalem were used to dealing with dissenters and were generally tolerant of them. There had always been itinerant preachers and reformers who felt the need to proclaim their message in the Holy city and they came from all over Palestine to do that.

But it was not what Christ said during the week before he died that brought the wrath of the Establishment down on him. It was what he did that led to his crucifixion. The Gospel according to John, records the event.

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  In the Temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables, exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords and drove all from the Temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market?”[12]

The chief priests and the teachers of the Law heard of this, so they began looking for some way to kill Jesus.”[13]  All four of the Gospels record this event. It is the only time that Jesus is reported to have committed an aggressive act.

Because Christian theologians, like their Jewish counterparts, have refused to accept the condemnation of animal sacrifice by Israel’s Prophets, they have gone to great lengths to generate a rationalization of Christ’s assault on the system. Their theory is creative but it contradicts the Bible’s report of the event.

Scholars euphemistically call that assault “the cleansing of the Temple” and attribute the action of Jesus to his being disturbed by the dishonesty of the moneychangers, who exchanged foreign currency for pilgrims in the Temple courtyard. Alternatively, they claim that he was angry because the Temple sacrifices had become “too commercial.” But there are no biblical or extra biblical facts on which to base such theories.

The Bible does not say that people were being cheated and exchanging currency for those who wanted to purchase animals, for sacrifice was a necessary service. When the exchange had been made, they would then go on to buy one of the live animals who were crowded into the Temple court, waiting their turn to be slaughtered. And from all accounts, Christ was never particularly concerned with the monetary practices of his time.[14]  He even had a tax collector among his disciples: they were men despised by the Jewish people as traitors and agents for the Roman occupiers.

Moreover, the religious leaders would hardly have plotted Christ’s death because he was concerned that the pilgrims at the Temple were being cheated. They knew the assault for what it was: an attack on the system of animal sacrifice. And in attacking that system he was attacking the economic, as well as the religious foundation of Jerusalem.

The entire city and all its inhabitants were dependant upon the Temple for their economic survival. Laborers, artisans, craftsmen and farmers were as committed to the maintenance of the sacrificial cult as were the priests, Levites and others directly involved in its daily activities. In modern terms, ancient Jerusalem would be classified as a tourist-dependent city.


5. Jesus' Well-Planned Assault on the Sacrificial System

Mark’s Gospel makes it clear that the attack on the sacrificial system was a planned event, not an impulsive act. After describing the triumphal entry into the Holy City when the crowds called “Hosanna,” his gospel reports that “Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the Temple. He looked around at everything but since it was already late, he went on to Bethany with the twelve.”[15]

The action Jesus planned was to be a very public spectacle but by the time he got past the cheering crowds who thronged the entry road to Jerusalem, most people had returned to their homes or to the overcrowded inns that  housed them during the Passover season. So he went on to Bethany, where he would spend the night at the home of Lazarus.

But before Jesus left the city for the night, when he “looked around at everything,” he would have seen the animals that were jammed into the Temple enclosure. The next day was the 10th of Nisan, the traditional day that the male head-of-the-household picked out the animal that would be killed -- in honor of its Creator.

The victim was chosen according to a strict protocol: the number of people eating together dictated the size of the animal they would eat. But the animal purchased on the 10th of Nisan would not be killed until the 14th - - the eve of Passover. Because each man killed his own animal at this session, the number of sacrificers and the number of their victims was so great that the purchase and the killing could not be carried out on the same day.

From ancient records, scholars have reconstructed the events that took place on the day of sacrifice.[16]  The killing began at 3 P.M. and by sundown about 18,000 animals would be dead. Because the Temple could not accommodate all the “worshipers” at the same time, the victims had to be killed in three shifts.

Approximately 6,000 people comprised each shift and since the sacrifice was a yearling, the men usually carried the lambs on their shoulders. Once in the place of slaughter, they lined up in long rows next to a row of priests. The shofar would sound and the men would wrest the lambs to the ground, slitting their throats. As they bled to death, the priests standing next to them would catch the blood in large buckets. When these were full they would be passed up the line to those who stood by the altar. They would throw the blood against the side of the altar. The empty buckets would be recycled and refilled with the blood of more lambs.


6. The Temple as an Unholy Gigantic Slaughterhouse

Although it was set up efficiently, neither the human nor the nonhuman creatures who where part of the slaughter process always behaved efficiently. Sometimes the knife was not sharp enough or the lamb struggled too hard. And although the blood had started to flow from its throat, a frantic yearling had to be wrestled into submission before a better cut could be made.

Of course the slaughtered animals lost all control of their bladders and bowels. The smells, the frenzy of the dying creatures and the endless buckets of blood thrown on the altar in the name of God, made it obvious that this ritual of terror and violence was the worship of an idol. This god-of-the-slaughter was created by human beings in their own fallen image.

Unlike modern religious commentators who portray the Temple sacrifices of the past as some kind of sacred undertaking, pleasing to God and ennobling to the men who worshipped in this way. Jesus knew the reality of what took place. He knew full well that it was a nightmare of butchery, carried out in the name of God; that it turned the Temple into a giant slaughterhouse, awash in the blood of its victims.

Preaching against the religious establishment was one thing; trying to overthrow the sacrificial system that was its foundation, was another. After he did that, nothing would be forgiven him. Jesus disrupted the Temple worship on 10 Nisan. By the 14th day, he was dead. Like the innocent animals he tried to free, he too, was killed--in the name of God.


[1]  Studies show that human sacrifice can be traced throughout the Near East, including Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, Egypt and Syro-Palestine. See A.R.W. Green, “Role of Human Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East” 1975

[2]  Tradition has it that was the place where the altar of animal sacrifices would later be established in the Jerusalem Temple.

[3]  Genesis 22:5-10  TEV

[4]  Genesis 22:11-13  TEV

[5]  Amos 5:21, 22  JB

[6]  Micah 6:6-8  NAS

[7]  Hosea 6:6; 8:13 JB

[8]  Isaiah 66:3  NIV

[9]  The Jerusalem Temple was and still is the only legitimate site for animal sacrifice.

[10]  Ezra 6:16-18  TEV

[11]  Isaiah 1:1-16  NIV

[12]  John 2:13-16  NIV

[13]  Luke 19:47  TEV

[14]  See Matthew 22:17-23  NIV

[15]  Mark 11:11  TEV

[16]  Joachim Jeremias,  “Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus”. (Phila. Fortress Press, 1969)  99.79-84


Chapter 23: CHRISTIANITY AND SACRIFICIAL RELIGION


There is no report in any of the Gospels that Jesus ever took part in animal sacrifices. Even the account of the Last Supper that he ate with the Apostles makes no mention of the sacrificed lamb that was the centerpiece of every table during Passover.

And although scholars claim to be puzzled by this omission, it is not puzzling to any-one who accepts the significance of Christ’s assault on the Temple. The man who freed the lambs who were about to be slaughtered in the name of God, would hardly have had one of them as the main course at his supper table.


1. "I will Have Mercy and Not Sacrifice"! Said Jesus

But even before the disruption at the Temple, the disciples of Jesus were well aware of his rejection of animal sacrifices. The Gospel of Matthew reports two instances when he quoted the oracle of the prophet Hosea: “I will have mercy and not sacrifice; knowledge of God, more than burnt offerings.” [1] And John’s Gospel reports that Jesus said “the time is coming, and now is” when no true worshipper of God would offer animal sacrifices at the Jerusalem Temple, or any place else, because “God is spirit and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”[2]

After the death of Jesus, his Apostles taught about his opposition to sacrificial religion. The Bible witnesses to this in the Book of Acts, which tells the story of Stephen, who is known as the first Christian martyr....


2. Paul as "The Inventor of Christianity"

The man, Saul, who watched over the cloaks of the executioners and approved Stephen’s murder, was a Pharisee. He later became known as Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles. It was this Paul who, in spite of the prophets and in spite of Jesus, legitimized the concept of sacrificial religion and bequeathed it to Christianity. For this, and other doctrines that contradicted the teachings of Christ, Paul has been called “The Inventor of Christianity.”[7]

How did it come to be that a man who never met Jesus and had no personal knowledge of what he did or taught, became the architect whose support of sacrificial religion--called the Atonement--became the foundation on which Christian churches have established themselves for almost two thousand years?

How did it come about that in the canon of the New Testament, thirteen out of twenty seven documents that are officially validated, are attributed to Paul? A man who even after his conversion never showed any interest in the earthly life of Jesus and often engaged in vitriolic attacks on those who had known him and were witnesses to his life on earth?

Although he lived at the same time, Paul had not been called by Jesus to be His disciple. It was only after the crucifixion that he turned from being an enemy of those who were Christ’s followers, to being a supporter. And that came about from a visionary experience.

Paul had that experience when he was traveling to the city of Damascus as an agent of the Jewish authorities. [Saul] went to the High Priest and asked for letters of introduction to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he should find there any followers of the Way of the Lord, he would be able to arrest them, both men and women, and bring them back to Jerusalem.

“As Saul was coming near the city of Damascus, suddenly a light from the sky flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me? Who are you Lord, he asked ‘ I am Jesus, whom you persecute.’ ”[8]

Having been converted to a belief in the lordship of Jesus, it might be assumed that Saul would seek out the men who had known Him, in order to learn something about the events of His life and what He had taught. But that didn’t happen. Instead, it took Saul three years to go back to Jerusalem for a brief meeting with the Apostle Peter, and fourteen more years before he went back again and spoke at some length with those who had known Jesus.


3. Paul Despised the Vegan Disciples of Jesus

In the Epistles that he wrote, Saul, now known as Paul, made it clear that he had not been especially impressed by meeting with those who had known Jesus. In fact, as his letter to the church at Galatia shows, he was disdainful of the Apostles and of their witness.

“Fourteen years later I went back to Jerusalem. . .In a private meeting with the elders, I explained the gospel message that I preach to the Gentiles. . .But those who seem to be the leaders--I say this because it makes no difference to me what they were. . .those leaders, I say, made no new suggestions to me. . .For by God’s power I was made an apostle to the Gentiles, just as Peter was made an apostle to the Jews... James, Peter and John, who seemed to be the leaders, shook hands with Barnabas and me, as a sign that we were all partners.”[9]

Paul’s assertion that he was called to be an Apostle in the same way that Peter had been called was a purely subjective claim. Many people have believed they were called to be spokesmen for divinity; that they have been entrusted with a sacred task. And Christianity has a long list of saints who fit into that category. But no matter how many have come in the name of Jesus, only Peter and the other disciples could claim the special prominence that came from being called to their work by a flesh and blood Jesus, rather than a divine apparition. But Paul was determined not to grant that prominence to Peter, James or John.


4. Paul as a "Theodidact"

In petulant and often vitriolic letters, Paul kept coming back to the same subject, pushing the validity of his claim to be an Apostle. He insisted that the message he preached came directly from divinity and was THE true message. He insisted that he had learned nothing from the disciples of Jesus, or from anyone else. He claimed he was theodidact--that he was taught only by the Lord.

In the letters he wrote, now preserved in the New Testament as the word-of-God, he claimed this direct inspiration for everything he taught: “From Paul, whose call to be an apostle did not come from man or by means of man, but from Jesus Christ and God the Father. . .Let me tell you, my brothers, that the gospel I preach is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor did anyone teach it to me. It was Jesus Christ himself who revealed it to me.”[10]

Not only did Paul claim that his teachings were directly revealed by Christ, he threat-ened dire punishment to anyone who disputed what he said. Even if “an angel from heaven should teach you a gospel that is different from the one we preached to you, may he be condemned to hell.”[11]

Paul personally attacked some of the Apostles, calling them cowards because they did not behave as he thought they should. “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him in public because he was clearly wrong. . .The other Jewish brothers started acting like cowards along with Peter. . .I saw that they were not walking a straight path in line with the truth of the gospel.[12]

But what gospel “truth” was it that Paul accused Peter and the other disciples of ignoring? It had nothing to do with the truths contained in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John--they had not yet been committed to writing. And since Paul was not at all interested in hearing what those witnesses or anyone else had to say about Jesus, the gospel truth he accused the disciples of ignoring was the gospel that he preached.


5. Paul as a Staunch Supporter of Temple Sacrifices

It was Paul’s refusal to listen to any of the men Christ had chosen as his Apostles, and the total reliance on his own visionary experiences, that prevented him from knowing that Jesus was opposed to Temple sacrifices. As a committed Pharisee, Paul was a staunch supporter of the sacrifices that were at the heart of Temple worship. And like other traditional Jews of his time, he had ignored the prophetic oracles against them.

It was because of Paul’s letters that traditional Christianity, like Orthodox Judaism, reclaimed the legitimacy of sacrificial religion. After the death of the Latter Prophets, the Jewish people rebuilt the altars of sacrifice in Jerusalem. And after the death of Jesus, it was Paul who reinstituted the value of sacrifice by claiming that the God whose sense of justice could not be satisfied by the perpetual slaughter of animals, was finally appeased by the sacrificial death of Jesus.

Paul’s idea of a righteous God was a deity whose sense of justice demanded that people atone for the sins they had committed. There was no free ride; payment for sins must be made. But his religious training allowed a substitutionary death. Judaism allowed an innocent victim--an animal--to be slain in the place of the sinner.


6. No Blood, No Forgiveness??!

The necessity for killing and for the shedding of blood for the atonement of sins was deeply embedded in Mosaic Law. And it was deeply embedded in Paul’s belief system. In his letter to the Hebrews he echoed the teaching to the Torah and wrote: “without the shedding of blood there is no remission [of sins].”[ Hebrews 9:22  NIV] He also wrote that Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice but, unlike the High Priests of Judaism, “he did not take the blood of goats and bulls to offer as a sacrifice; rather he took his own blood and obtained eternal salvation for us.” [14]


7. Paul Re-Victimizing Jesus

In this letter, Paul describes Jesus as both the sacrifice and the sacrificer as both victim and High Priest. But in his letter to the Romans, it is God who is acting as the High Priest and Jesus is His chosen victim.

“God presented [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement (as one who could take away His wrath) through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice.”[15]

The God in whom Paul believed, who demanded the death of a victim in order to forgive sins, was nothing like the heavenly Father whom Jesus said He came to reveal. In his parable of the Prodigal Son, Christ made it very clear that a loving God did not demand atonement from those who had sinned.


8. God did Not Demand Atonement from the Prodigal Son!

The parable told the story of a son who left the security and care of his father’s household and went off to do his own thing. He demanded his inheritance and then “went off to a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.”[16]  He ended up a derelict, homeless and hungry and decided to go back to his father’s house. The best he hoped for was that he would be allowed to work on the family estate as a hired hand.

“I will leave this place and go to my father’s and say: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.’ So he left the place where he was and started back to his father.”

But before the son could beg for forgiveness or ask for a servant’s job, the father had joyfully embraced him. “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly.”

As the father embraced him, the son accused himself: “I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be your son.”  But the father did not respond to this confession of guilt. Instead he spoke to his servants. “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. . .we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found. And they began to celebrate.”

In this parable there is no wrathful father to be appeased. There is only the compass-ion and love of a parent who sees the terrible condition his son is in because of a life of debauchery. There is no demand that restitution be made for the inheritance that has been squandered. There is no demand that a substitutionary victim be killed for the sins of the son. There is no claim that “without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin.”

The Good News that Jesus taught in this parable was the revelation of the true nature of God: the God He told His followers to address as “Our Father.”  Like the father of the Prodigal Son, the heavenly Father had great compassion and love for sons and daughters who had fallen by the wayside.

Jesus used the parable of the Prodigal Son and many others to counteract the prevailing belief in a wrathful god whose outrage at sinful behavior could be averted only by the death of a victim. But Paul had never heard those parables. If he had been less enamored of his own visionary experiences, and more willing to listen to those who had walked with Jesus and knew what he had revealed about the nature of God, Christianity might have been spared the doctrine of the Atonement.

Although he was responsible for developing it, Paul was not responsible for the fact that this regressive doctrine became foundational to Christianity. It was those who came after Paul who, unlike him, had the witness of the written Gospels, who made that choice. They chose Paul’s concept of a ‘god whose outraged sense of justice demanded the death of a victim in order to forgive sins, over the revelation that Jesus gave of a compassionate and loving heavenly Father.

Jesus told his followers “love your enemies, do good to them without expect6ing to get anything back. Then your reward will be great and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”[17]


9. Paul's Atonement Religion Prevailing over Jesus' Vegan Church

Jesus rejected the concept of a God, who like a man, could go from mercy to malice in a moment of time; whose wrath was stayed by the killing of a sacrificial victim. In-stead, He likened God to a good shepherd who went out of his way to seek and to save the lamb that had strayed from the fold. This Good Shepherd would never demand that the rescued lamb be taken to the Temple to be slaughtered as expiation for the sins of the people.

But Paul claimed that Jesus died in place of the sinner and that his shed blood met all the demands for retribution demanded by a God who was outraged by sin. Paul said that Jesus paid the death penalty for the sins of others “Therefore, since we are now justified--acquitted, made righteous and brought into right relationship with God--by Christ’s blood, how much more certain it is that we shall be saved by Him from the indignation and wrath of God.”[18]

In the two thousand years since Paul wrote his Epistles there have been various interpretations of the Doctrine of the Atonement. From the early Church Fathers, through Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther, until the present time, theologians have offered various perspectives on the doctrine.[19]  But the basic endorsement of sacrificial religion as having been commanded by God, as reparation for sins committed, remains intact.

So it is that Paul prevailed over Christ. The belief that Jesus was the victim who finally stayed the “indignation and wrath of God”  is celebrated throughout Christendom. And any attempt to question its premise, in the light of Christ’s revelation of a loving and compassionate God, is considered heretical.


[1]  Matthew 9:13 and 12:7 KJ; quoting Hosea 6:6  KJ

[2]  John 4:19-24  NIV

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[7]  Bertrand Russell, “The Wisdom of the West

[8]  Acts 9:3-5  TEV

[9]  Galatians 2:1-2, 6-9  TEV

[10]  Galatians 1:1, 11-12  TEV

[11]  Galatians 1:8  TEV

[12]  Galatians 2:11, 13-14  TEV

[13]  Hebrews 9:22  NIV

[14]  Hebrews 9:12  TEV

[15]  Romans 3:25  NIV

[16]  Luke 15:11-32 JB

[17]  Luke 6:35, 36  NIV

[18]  Romans 5:9  AMP

[19]  A basic reference work like The Encyclopedia Americana, gives an overview of the Doctrine of the Atonement and the various interpretations it has engendered through the centuries.

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