Did God forgive Adam and Eve for eating the forbidden fruit?

Q. I noticed in the Genesis account of the Fall that God didn’t clothe Adam and Eve with animal skins until they said, “I did eat the fruit.” This reminded me of what John wrote in his first letter: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Can we conclude that Adam and Eve repented, and that God forgave them?

To be honest, as least I read the account of the Fall and its aftermath, I don’t see Adam and Eve really making the kind of “confession” that John seems to be talking about. Rather, they each try to blame somebody else for what they did. God asks Adam, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” He replies, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” (Adam is practically blaming God for what he did!) And Eve, for her part, says, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” These are confessions of a sort, but they’re definitely trying to spread the blame around.

We would want to see people take much more responsibility for their own actions if they expected to be forgiven.* Nevertheless, after explaining what the consequences of their actions would be, God clothes Adam and Eve in animal skins. Many Christian interpreters note that this required the animals to be slaughtered, that is, sacrificed. They hold that this sacrifice, like others in the Old Testament, looked forward to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, which would have been the ultimate basis on which Adam and Eve were forgiven for their sin. But how could they be forgiven if they didn’t really repent and confess, but instead tried to blame somebody else?

I think there’s a clue in the passage. God had told them earlier, “You shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” But they didn’t actually die on this same “day.”

Many interpreters account for this by explaining that the Hebrew phrase “in the day” can refer to a period of time beginning with a named event. For example, after Jacob returns safely to Canaan after twenty years of exile, he dedicates an altar at Bethel, where he encountered God as he was first fleeing. He wants to do this, he says, because God “answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went.” The “day of my distress” isn’t just the one day on which he had to flee; it’s the whole twenty years that began with that event, “the way which I went.” Similarly, for Adam and Eve, “the day that you eat of it” could mean “the period of time beginning with when you eat the fruit.” (Accordingly, some versions translate the command, “When you eat from it you will certainly die.”) Since part of Adam’s curse was that he would be expelled from the Garden of Eden and have to work himself to death just to survive, that could be the meaning.

However, there’s another possibility. God may simply have shown mercy to Adam and Eve by sparing their lives on this day. And the passage tells us that right after God announced the consequences of their disobedience without including immediate death as one of those consequences, “Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.” Previously he had named her ishshah, “wife,” and at the same time given himself a new name, ish, “husband,” when he recognized a new aspect of his own identity in relationship to her. But now, by giving her this proper name, Adam may be expressing the realization, “We’re not going to die—at least not right now—we’re going to live on! We’re even going to have many generations of descendants!”

In other words, Adam (and presumably Eve with him) was accepting God’s mercy, which ought to mean that he was also accepting the judgment that was tempered by this mercy, and thereby acknowledging his own fault. And right after this, the passage tells us, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” This would be forgiveness—what some traditions call “assurance of pardon”—on the basis of their repentance.

Now I admit that the passage doesn’t say this explicitly, and that other interpretations are possible. Celebrating receiving mercy may not always be the same thing as accepting the judgment that may come with that mercy. This may simply be a description of Adam and Eve being spared, rather than forgiven upon repentance and confession. Still, I think that all the specific details in the passage are important and potentially significant, and so I believe we do have a basis, in the naming and the clothing, on which we could conclude that Adam and Eve did repent and were forgiven—even if their verbal “confessions” were not all that one might hope for.

A medieval illustration of Adam and Eve dressed in animal skins as they are expelled from the Garden of Eden. The Latin text at the top is a paraphrase of the statement in Genesis that the first pair left the Garden, which was then guarded by an angel with a flaming sword.

*I’m speaking here of forgiveness in the sense of reconciliation, that is, the wrongdoer admitting fault and taking responsibility, so that it’s safe to begin rebuilding and restoring the relationship. However, as I explain in this post, it’s actually possible for someone to forgive another person internally, and so be set free from anger and bitterness, even if that person doesn’t admit their fault.

Am I still considered a Christian if I haven’t been baptized?

Q. I grew up in a country that is not predominantly Christian, but I decided as a young adult that I wanted to be a Christian and I prayed a “salvation prayer.” I feel blessed that many fellow Christians came into my life to offer support and spiritual guidance after that. I identify my religion as Christianity. But I do not go to church regularly, because for many reasons I haven’t found the right church yet, and I have not been baptized. Most churches require you to be member before you can be baptized. Some allow baptism if you pay a fee and take a course for a month, but that doesn’t feel right to me. I would love to study the Bible and know more in depth about it, and I would like to find a church and attend services regularly. Most of all, I would like to be baptized. But what if I never find the right church where that can happen? Am I still considered a Christian if I haven’t been baptized? This issue concerns me quite a bit and I would like to hear your advice. Thank you!

A stained glass window in St. John the Evangelist Church of Carmichael, California depicting Jesus being baptized.

A person becomes a Christian by choosing to follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior, trusting in His death on the cross as completely sufficient for their forgiveness and reconciliation to God. Nothing needs to be added to the “finished work of Christ” (as it’s called) for a person’s salvation, and indeed nothing can be added to it. So the simple answer to your question is that a person does not need to be baptized, in addition to trusting in Christ, in order to be a genuine Christian.

Why, then, did Peter tell the crowds who gathered to hear the gospel on the day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins”? Doesn’t this suggest that repentance (confessing wrong and asking forgiveness) isn’t enough, and that a person really does need to be baptized in order to become a Christian? No, such an interpretation is not consistent with the New Testament teaching that salvation is by God’s grace alone, received through faith, and not dependent on anything we might do in addition. So I think we should understand instead that while baptism is not necessary for salvation, it is necessary for repentance. That’s what “repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins” actually signifies.

Specifically, when we are baptized, we are demonstrating our repentance (our sorrow over the things we have done that have separated us from God) in the way that Jesus has asked us to do this. Put another way, we are coming to God on His terms, not on our own. This is consistent with the idea that our salvation is completely the work of God, not our own work.

(I think that the similar statement in the Gospel of Mark, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved,” should be understood in this same way. “Believing” in this context means having saving faith and demonstrating that faith in the way that Jesus has specified. This shows that we are truly trusting Him and depending on him.)

So I think that if you want to honor and obey Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you should be baptized as He has asked, as a sign to Him, to yourself, and to others that, as you say, you identify yourself as a Christian. But this means that you will need to find a church community that can baptize you. Believers can’t baptize themselves; rather, churches are given the solemn responsibility before God of ensuring that, at least so far as they can determine, the people they baptize have genuinely trusted in Jesus and understand the meaning and significance of baptism. That’s why churches generally want you to be a “member” (that is, a regular attendee whom they’ve gotten to know) or at least take a course about baptism before they will baptize you.

(However, I’ve never before heard of a church charging non-members a fee to participate in a baptism course. Perhaps they consider this a way of recovering course costs that non-members are not paying for through regular contributions. But like you, I’m uncomfortable with this approach and I understand why you wouldn’t want to follow it. As a pastor, I always felt that the sacraments of the church, which include baptism, should be made available free of cost to anyone who wanted to receive them.)

I would encourage you to believe that precisely because God has asked you to express your identification as a Christian through baptism, God will help you obey His command by enabling you to find a church where you can be baptized. The process may actually begin with you meeting a pastor who will recognize your faith and agree to baptize you on the basis of that faith, with the understanding that you want to grow as a follower of Jesus and become a regular part of a community of His other followers. I believe you can pray confidently and boldly for God to lead you to such a church and to such a pastor. God will help you do what He has asked you to do! This is one more way in which our salvation is entirely the work of God on our behalf.

Best wishes and God’s blessings to you.

Did God become more merciful after being human in Jesus?

Q. For years I’ve been struck by the stark contrast between how God’s judgment is portrayed in the Old Testament and how it is portrayed in the New Testament.  Even before Jesus’s death, God seems to have a gentler spirit with his people.  I pondered this for a long time but never came up with an explanation that seemed to make sense until the other day.

Let me run a hypothesis by you.  Do you think God changed after Jesus walked on the face of the earth, because he experienced first-hand some of the struggles we face?  This may seem like a pretentious suggestion, and I really don’t mean any disrespect to our sovereign God who created the universe and is all-knowing.  But I do see a an inexplicable difference between the Old and New Testaments. Would love to hear your thoughts.

I think you may actually be on to something here, but let me offer a couple of qualifiers first.

We should observe, for one thing, that God actually shows mercy as well as judgment towards people in the Old Testament, and judgment as well mercy to people in the New Testament.

For example, there’s a beautiful passage in Hosea that speaks of God’s love for the wayward nation of Israel:  “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. . . . I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion.”  And then there are the words that open the second part of the book of Isaiah: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem . . . He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”  And so forth, in the Old Testament.

On the other hand, in the New Testament, along with all the grace and mercy, we find passages like this one in 2 Thessalonians: “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you . . . This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God . . . They will be punished with everlasting destruction.”  Even from the lips of Jesus himself we hear things like this, spoken to the Pharisees:  “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (I won’t even get into all the plagues and destruction in the book of Revelation.)  So it seems there’s plenty of both mercy and wrath to go around in each testament.

Still, we have the impression that there’s more wrath in the Old Testament.  What creates that impression?  For one thing, in that period God was using the law to govern His relationship with His people. The New Testament itself says that the law has a positive purpose, to restrain and to teach.  But laws need to specify what the consequences will be if they’re broken.  That’s one reason why we hear so much about punishment in the Old Testament.

If teenagers found themselves constantly threatened with punishment, or actually being punished, they might marvel at how different their parents seemed from the days when they used to cuddle them and coo over them as babies.  But the parents haven’t necessarily changed.  The teenagers have actually moved into a life stage where they need the guidance and restraint of enforceable rules to help them become more mature and eventually independent adults.  In the Old Testament, that’s the stage the people of God are in.  Things do change in the New Testament, where God’s relationship with His people is governed instead by the Holy Spirit living in them.  “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

One more consideration is that the Old Testament is the story of how the original chosen people kept disobeying the covenant through which they were supposed to be God’s instruments to reach the rest of the world, and how they needed to be corrected as a result.  Ultimately, a new kind of covenant was promised.  The New Testament is the story of how Jesus came to earth to live out perfect obedience, inaugurate that new covenant, and fulfill the intentions of the original covenant, to bring all peoples in.  So the story of disobedience in the Old Testament is going to feature a lot more judgment and punishment than the story of obedience in the New Testament.  It’s not so much God’s “learnings” as a human being that lead Him to be more merciful in the New Testament as the unfolding of a plan by which God, in Jesus, supplies the obedience that He was looking for from humans all along.

All of that said, however, let me return to your hypothesis and explain why I think you may still be on to something.  The book of Hebrews says, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.”  As a result, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

This seems to suggest that there was some kind of “learning” as a human being on Jesus’ part that has resulted in Him being a more effective intercessor for us in heaven.  Should we therefore conclude that when Jesus intercedes for us, since God is talking to God (that is, God the Son is addressing God the Father), God is now more able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” in His own self-reflections?  If so, this would reflect no prior deficiency in objective knowledge on God’s part, but rather a gain in God’s subjective or experiential knowledge.  It makes sense to me, at least, that even if God knew everything from the beginning, He hadn’t necessarily experienced everything.  Something to think about, anyway!

This would not account for any difference in God’s dealings with us “before Jesus’s death,” however, because Jesus had not yet taken His place back in heaven as our intercessor at that point.  So I wouldn’t appeal to this to explain how justice and mercy work in the Old and New Testaments.  But I would still marvel, and worship, at the thought that Jesus came and shared our humanity to such an extent that He could bring an experiential appreciation of it back to share with the Father in heaven.

I don’t know that this has necessarily changed God’s character, to make Him more merciful.  Even as God is first giving the law through Moses, He describes compassion as His primary and outstanding characteristic, at length, before describing justice as well: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished . . .”  Still, I recognize that God in His graciousness has identified with us in an amazing way through Jesus, and this must give a very special quality to His compassion.

“Christ in Gethsemane” by Michael D. O’Brien. “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears.”

Why didn’t Jesus destroy demons when he cast them out?

Q. In any of the situations where Jesus cast out demons, why didn’t he kill them so they would not enter another person?

Matthew’s gospel relates how, when Jesus was casting out demons in the region of the Gadarenes, they cried out, “Son of God, what do you want with us? Have you come here to punish us before the time for us to be judged?” The encounters between Jesus and demons described in the gospels are typically brief and cryptic, but we can at least tell from this one that God has set a time for demons to be judged and punished. But as these demons knew, that time had not yet come during the ministry of Jesus, and they successfully appealed to be sent into a herd of pigs instead.

The reasons why Jesus allowed such demons to continue to roam the earth, at least for a while, have to do, I believe, with the need for there to be freedom in order for people to make the choice to love God and others. God could have removed all sources of suffering and discord in the world, but this would have been at the cost of making true freedom impossible and depriving the world of the fruits of freedom, including love, courage, creativity, and so forth.

One of Jesus’ parables shows how God wanted people to respond instead to the fact that demons remained at large even after they had been cast out of their victims.  Jesus said, “What happens when an evil spirit comes out of a person? It goes through dry areas looking for a place to rest. But it doesn’t find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives there, it finds the house empty. The house has been swept clean and put in order. Then the evil spirit goes and takes with it seven other spirits more evil than itself. They go in and live there. That person is worse off than before.”

Jesus actually told this parable about his own generation as a whole, to illustrate how, by rejecting his true message of the kingdom of God, they were leaving themselves open to the influence of false messiahs who would lead them astray into destruction.  (This happened during the two Jewish-Roman wars in the decades that followed.) But for the parable to make this point by application, its story needs to make a valid point of its own, and that is that people who have been freed from a demon are responsible themselves to fill their lives with godly and wholesome influences that will discourage any demons from ever returning.

In other words, while Jesus didn’t destroy the demons he cast out, he brought the truth of the kingdom of God, and ultimately he sent the Holy Spirit, to occupy the place the demons had left so that they would never try to fill it again.  And I think this is how we need to think about all of the evil and destructive influences around us as we live in these “in-between times,” when the kingdom of God has already been inaugurated but not yet completely established.  God has not yet removed all these influences from the earth.  But he has sent other influences that can effectively displace them in our own lives, and increasingly in our world, if we recognize and accept our responsibility to welcome and cultivate these life-giving endowments.

A painting by Vangelo di Marco of Jesus casting out the demons from the Gerasene demoniac. Why didn’t Jesus destroy the demons instead of allowing them to remain at large afterwards?

If there are intelligent beings on other planets, are they saved by Christ’s death, too?

Q. If there are intelligent beings on other planets, are they saved by Christ’s death, too?

Any response to this question has to be highly speculative, of course, but let me share some thoughts.

When I was in college, this same question would sometimes be asked of speakers who came to share the gospel on campus.  (I guess it was an updated version of the question, “What about people who never get the chance to hear?”) The speaker would typically say, very confidently, “If there are intelligent beings on other planets, then God went to those planets, took on the form of those beings, and died for them, too.”  This response certainly reflects the relentless love of God, who comes to seek and save the lost, wherever they might be found, and so this answer is satisfying in many ways.

But in more recent years, I’ve been wondering whether Jesus’ incarnation on earth instead represented a unique entrance of God into all of time and space, just as it certainly represented a unique entrance into our specific world.  (Christ did not come to earth many times, to die separately for the people of different times and places.)  If that’s the case, then if there are intelligent beings on other planets, and we discover their existence, then it’s our responsibility to tell them about how God’s saving love has been shown definitively through the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and invite them to follow him, too.

And here’s one other possibility.  Since these intelligent beings on other planets, by definition, are not members of Adam’s race, perhaps they are not fallen.  (The premise of C.S. Lewis’s book Perelandra is that there are intelligent beings on Venus who have not yet fallen; the mission of the book’s central character, Ransom, is to keep them from falling.)  And if this extraterrestrial race is not fallen, then it is still enjoying unbroken fellowship with God.  But that doesn’t mean that those beings wouldn’t benefit from Christ’s death; it would just mean something different for them.  It would still be a revelation of God’s saving love, showing how far God would go to bring them back if they ever did fall away, and I’d like to think that as such, in some sense, it would have a “saving” effect by drawing their hearts even closer to God.

I realize that I’m getting into some murky theological waters here, specifically, the distinction between (1) the belief that the fall was inevitable because it was the means God had chosen to become the occasion of our salvation and (2) the belief that the fall was not necessary or inevitable; people could just as easily have used their freedom to choose obedience rather than disobedience.  But I won’t go into this distinction any further here, as I’ve discussed it in another post.

But I will acknowledge here that anyone who believes that the fall of the human race was inevitable will also conclude that any intelligent beings (free moral agents) on other planets have also fallen, too, and thus need either for Christ to come and die for them on their planet, or else for us to share with them the good news of what Christ has done definitively for the whole creation through his death on a cross here on earth.

Galaxy M51, photographed by the Hubble telescope.

Since all religions consider their sacred books inspired, how is the Bible unique?

A manuscript of the Rig Veda, one of the sacred books that Hindus consider inspired. Christians believe that the Bible is inspired, but is it uniquely so?

Q.  Thank you for your efforts in answering innumerable questions that come across from the believers.  Praise be to God.  Now here is my question. We Christians believe that the Bible is the inspired, revealed word of God. But other religions also say that their scriptures are God-revealed.  For example, Hindus believe that the Vedas/Upanishads are shruti, which means “heard.” They claim they are God-given.  Then which religion’s scriptures really are God-breathed?

It is true that all the major religions claim that their sacred books are divinely inspired.  But there is a significant difference in the way they describe and depict the inspiration process.  This at least allows a person to make a clear choice between varying accounts of the nature of divine action to produce sacred books.

I have not studied Hinduism in great detail, and I don’t feel qualified to discuss it in depth, but at least as I understand it, Hindus believe that the books they consider to be shruti are translations into humanly comprehensible form of the “cosmic sound of truth” as it was “heard” long ago by inspired poets.  In other words, there was first a distinct and discrete divine revelation, and this has now been captured and recorded in these sacred books.

Similarly Muslims believe that the prophet Muhammad received divine revelations in Arabic via the angel Gabriel through visions, voices, dreams, etc., and that he then “recited” to others what he heard.  These revelations were later written down in the Qu’ran (which means “recitation”).  Once again the divine revelation is something objectively separate from the sacred book, which essentially records it.  That is, the divine action and the human agency are discrete.

To give one more example, Mormons hold that the Book of Mormon was originally inscribed on golden tablets in a language unattested anywhere else on earth, and that the angel Moroni showed Joseph Smith where the book was buried and taught him how to translate its contents into English.  In this case as well the human role is essentially to transmit the prior, discrete divine revelation; the human agent had no real creative role in shaping the form or content of the sacred book.

By contrast, Christians believe that God inspired the Bible while human authors were in the process of writing to address concerns that had arisen within the believing community.  (This is true even in cases where the written work records a discrete divine revelation, such as the words God spoke to ancient Israel at Mount Sinai:  that theophany is worked into an extended historical narrative whose real aim is to trace the unfolding covenant relationship that readers are being invited to become part of.)  The process of literary composition, in the case of the biblical authors, is really no different from this process as it ordinarily occurs.  This means that the human authors used their God-given abilities to a significant degree to shape not just the form but arguably even the content of the sacred books.  One might say, in fact, that a certain part of the divine revelation we have now in the Judeo-Christian scriptures would be missing if one of these authors had not set out to address a given concern.

Nevertheless (Christians believe), it can be recognized in retrospect that the impulse for them to do this actually came from God, so that there is a synergy between the human enterprise of literary composition and the divine enterprise of inspiration.  Still, the way Christians see their sacred books requires a much more significant and creative human participation in their creation than is the case in other religions.  Perhaps among them Hinduism allows for the greatest creative contribution, on the part of the ancient poets who composed hymns, chants, ritual formulas, etc., based on what they “heard.” But at least as I see it, there is still a contrast between the Hindu belief in a pre-existing “cosmic sound” that was captured in these compositions and the Christian understanding that the Bible was created “along the way,” in a divine-human synergistic process, as the community that was in covenant relationship with God worked out its life, beliefs, and practices.

In other words, I see a distinction between a belief in a divine revelation that exists prior to and independently of a religion’s sacred books, and which is effectively transmitted through them, and a divine revelation that comes into being only as the sacred books themselves take shape within the historical life of the believing community.

This distinction corresponds to and reflects, I believe, an essential distinction between Christianity and other religions.  Christianity is foundationally a creation-affirming, history-affirming faith that leaves a large place for human agency in the outworking of the divine-human relationship.  So while it remains true that all major religions claim that their sacred books are divinely inspired, I would say that Christianity makes this claim in a way that stakes out a unique place for it among world religions.

Why did God want human sacrifices, for example, Isaac and Jesus? (Part 2)

Q. Why did God want human sacrifices, for example, Isaac and Jesus?

In my first post in response to this question, I showed that the clear and consistent teaching of the Bible is that God does not want human sacrifices.  Now in this post I will consider the cases of Isaac and Jesus, which might appear to be exceptions.

To start with Isaac, when we consider in its entirety and in its cultural context the story of God telling Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, but then stopping him at the last minute, we realize that this story was actually included in the developing Hebrew Scriptures to discourage later generations of Israelites from offering human sacrifices.  As I say in another post, in response to a slightly different question, “It’s not as though God thought up human sacrifice as an extreme way to test Abraham’s loyalty. Rather, God was asking of Abraham what it was believed the other gods were asking of their followers. When Abraham demonstrated his complete devotion, God then made clear that he didn’t want human sacrifices.”

In other words, this episode from the life of Abraham was recorded and retold in the Scriptures  precisely so that later generations of Israelites would follow the example in the story and offer the animals God had designated as acceptable sacrifices, instead of their own children.  The need for this example is understandable.  The surrounding cultures were offering human sacrifices, and the Israelites might otherwise have felt that they were not as devoted to their own God, or that their God was not as deserving of costly devotion as other gods, if they did not do the same.

Turning to the case of Jesus, even though his death is often spoken of as a “sacrifice,” it’s important to understand that it was not a “human sacrifice” in the sense of the sacrifice of a human being to God.  Rather, it was God, in human form, sacrificing himself for our sakes.  Jesus described his own death in this way: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

The death of Jesus is so rich in meaning that in the Bible and Christian theology it is described and explained in many different ways.  Each way brings out a different facet of its significance.  One common understanding is that our sins and wrongs against God and other people were so serious and destructive that they were deserving of death.  But Jesus willingly accepted the death penalty in our place, satisfying the justice of God.  This is the sense in which he “sacrificed” himself for us.

But there are many other understandings of the meaning of Jesus’ death as well.  Perhaps the one that comes closest to what ancient cultures were trying to accomplish through human sacrifice is the idea of “propitiation.”  This term refers to the act of doing something generous for, or offering something valuable to, another person in order to change their disposition from hostile to gracious.  (The term comes from the Latin word propitius, meaning “gracious,” “favorable,” or “well-disposed.”)  The idea is that Jesus’ death on the cross was a precious gift to God that won His favor.

Accordingly John writes in his first epistle that Jesus is “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” Later in this same epistle John elaborates to say, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”   In other words, God himself provided the gift that won back His own favor for us!

We should note, moreover, that what made Jesus’ sacrifice such a precious gift was not that it embodied the value of a human life, not even that of the long-awaited Messiah, as opposed to some less valuable offering.  Rather, it was the spirit of obedience, humility, generosity, and especially love in which Jesus offered himself that made his sacrificial death so pleasing to God.

And so we can see that the cases of Isaac and Jesus are not exceptions to the Bible’s consistent teaching that God does not want human sacrifices.  When we do consider them, however, these cases reveal more about what God has done for us in Christ.  Christian interpreters, in fact, have long seen a foreshadowing of Jesus’ incarnation and self-sacrifice in Abraham’s statement to Isaac that “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.”  As Micah said, in the words I noted last time, God does not want me to “offer my firstborn for my transgression,” or “the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul.”  God himself, in Christ, has graciously made all the provision any of us needs to be forgiven and restored.