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Why did Jesus die?

The sacrificial system and Creation

by

Three crosses of Golgotha

Published: 6 April 2010 (GMT+10)

In my article “An Evangelical ‘Litmus Test’” I talked about the watering down of the term “evangelical”. The “litmus test” I suggested as a mark of a true evangelical was an acceptance of a straight reading of Genesis 1–11 since an attack on Genesis 1–11 is basically an attack on the authority of the Bible, and hence God.1

Now many people calling themselves evangelical would dispute such a statement, claiming that the creation-versus-evolution issue is “not relevant” to their faith or that the creation account can be interpreted in different ways. However, I contend that both positions create major theological problems that undermine the Gospel at its foundations.

Here, I will not delve into the science of creation versus evolution as this is well covered elsewhere, but rather expand the theological issues surrounding a question left open in my previous article, namely, “Why did Jesus die?”

No genuine evangelical can suggest that Christology (the study of Christ) is “not relevant” and Millard Erickson states our “understanding of Christ must be central and determinative of the very character of the Christian faith. All else is secondary to the question of what one thinks of Christ.”2 However, a lot of theology has been affected by “science” and Christology, in particular, has ignored issues such as Luke tracing Jesus’ genealogy back to Adam and Paul stating that death only came into the world with Adam’s sin.

Christology is a massive subject in its own right, and space precludes too much detail. Suffice to say there are two main approaches to how we look at Jesus, i.e. from man’s perspective (Christology “from below”) or from God’s perspective (Christology “from above”). The former approach, although technically valid theologically, tends to be the domain of liberal scholars who question the accuracy, and even authority of the Bible. Christology from above is more aligned to the evangelical position with its implied acceptance of the Bible as the inspired Word of God and so I will here focus on that approach, and its implications.

If we take a “verse count” in the Gospels to suggest what God sees as important, then the primary emphasis is clearly the cross. There is no direct information as to Jesus’ appearance, His likes, dislikes, etc. Two of the Gospels even omit direct details of His birth. Conversely, well over half the chapters of the Gospels are dedicated to the last week of His life, the events immediately leading up to it, or the events following His crucifixion.

The creation-versus-evolution debate is often fought on scientific grounds, but what about the impact of the creation account on the topic of Christology and, especially, Jesus’ death? There are three issues in particular that need careful examination:

  • What is death?
  • Why did Jesus have to die?
  • What “CV” did He need to fulfil the requirements needed to die for us?

All three topics are major and so the following arguments are, by necessity, very brief but hopefully sufficient to show both their importance and relevance to the creation account.

According to both theistic and humanistic evolutionists, death and suffering occurred for millions, or even billions of years before man either evolved or was created by some process omitted from the Bible. However, what is death and how did it originate?

Both Genesis and the New Testament (Romans 5:12) state that death entered the world through the sin of one man, with the clear implication there was no death before Adam. So why do we ignore what both Testaments say and take for granted the evolutionary assumption that death is “natural”?

Interestingly, evolutionists seem quite happy to accept death as an integral part of the natural selection process, and yet often accuse the so-called “God of the Old Testament” of being cruel for requiring animals’, and then Jesus’ blood to be spilled on our behalf. The reality is, though, that the author and creator of all life—according to the Bible—has the “right” (using modern terminology) to remove that life. When someone finally does what God has done and creates life from nothing, only then can they moralise over who is entitled to dictate the rules as to what happens to that new life form!

In fact, the first recorded (or implied) death in the Bible was when God killed an animal (a lamb?) to provide skins for Adam and Eve to cover themselves. By this act, God initiated the sacrificial system that required the spilling of blood to cover sin, a system that is then explicitly mentioned in the Cain and Abel narrative in Genesis 4. Furthermore, the first allusion to Christ crushing Satan is in Genesis 3:15. So, by Genesis 4, there is a linking of sin, death and the sacrificial system plus a reference to Christ coming and, linked with the sacrificial system, the need for Him to die.

Now most evangelicals would agree that Jesus Christ had to die and also had to be: a) human; b) divine; c) male; d) first-born; and e) perfect without blemish. But why? Where do we establish these criteria? Standard evangelical theological works will readily provide verses to show Jesus’ humanity and deity, but the latter three requirements are all part of the sacrificial system.

If the straight reading of Genesis 1–4 is removed, then not only is there no explanation, or justification for the sacrificial system … but there is also no valid, biblical explanation for Jesus to die.

Although the sacrificial system was present from “the beginning”, it is not until Moses that we find any codification and, with that, the “CV” that Jesus had to fulfil to be able to die for us, which provided a unique list of requirements. However, if the straight reading of Genesis 1–4 is removed, then not only is there no explanation, or justification for the sacrificial system (which, like many biblical topics up to and including the Flood is virtually universal), but there is also no valid, biblical explanation for why Jesus had to die.

So, just how does Jesus fit the requisites of the “CV” set some 1,500 years before He came? In the New Testament, we find that Jesus was male and first-born (e.g. Luke 2:2), He was born of a virgin with the Holy Spirit being the ‘father’ (Luke 1:26–38) to break the line of inherited sin, and that He was without blemish (Colossians 1:22; 1 Peter 1:19). He was also human and divine so we have a complete match!

However, this is where the creation-versus-evolution issue, and the associated issue of long ages, ceases to be “irrelevant” but is inexorably interlinked with the authority of the Bible, Christology and, ultimately, our own redemption.

Quite simply, to suggest the account of Adam and Eve (and the associated issue of sin and death) is myth, or needs “reinterpretation”, is both a direct attack on God and the authority of Scripture, and also brings into question the whole purpose of Jesus’ death. It is an attack on both the Old and New Testaments since Luke traces Jesus’ genealogy back to Adam (Luke 3:23–38), Paul refers to Jesus as the “last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45) and there are other New Testament references to Adam (1 Timothy 2:13-14; Jude 1:14). Sin, and with it the introduction of death, is also linked with Adam in the New Testament (Romans 5:12). So, if Adam is not a literal, historic figure, then effectively nothing of the Bible can be taken at face value, a fact that atheists seem to appreciate more than many evangelicals! Even worse, the whole justification for Jesus coming to die for us is destroyed and, with it, our redemption.

That only leaves long ages prior to Genesis 1:2—but for what purpose? If we are to accept the Bible from the creation of Adam onwards, why would we even question God with the remaining few verses?

But can God still have used evolution and what about long ages?

If Adam and Eve are historic figures, then clearly there is no need for evolution from that point on as evidenced by Jesus’ genealogy in Luke. Furthermore, if there was no death prior to Adam (Romans 5:12), there is no room for evolution at all—it is completely ruled out.

That only leaves long ages prior to Genesis 1:2—but for what purpose? If we are to accept the Bible from the creation of Adam onwards, why would we even question God with the remaining few verses? Why would anyone want to concoct a “gap” between Genesis 1:1 and 2, or want to see the days in Genesis as being “God’s days, not man’s days” or some other “explanation”, denying the straight reading of Genesis? The only reason is purely to adopt a non-biblical, non-supernatural, humanistic worldview into one’s theology, which requires long ages for evolution to work!

The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is the “last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45) who came to die for our sins and, by dying on the cross, has provided us with the means of being reconciled to God and to be able to spend eternity with Him. As Paul says in Galatians 1:6-7 any other “gospel” is not really a Gospel!


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References

  1. This article has been adapted from Birch, R., Why Did Jesus Die?— The sacrificial system and Creation, Salt Shakers Journal, November 2009; <http://www.saltshakers.org.au/>. Return to text.
  2. Erickson, M.J., Christian Theology, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 663, 1985. Return to text.

(Also available in French)


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Readers’ comments
Paul H., United States, 7 April 2010

In a real sense, God’s ‘days’ (during the creation week) are man’s ‘days’ in the time-measuring system that God created for us and related to us through Moses. I am only saying that for God to communicate with us, He must necessarily speak to us in the same time-language He created for us. To do differently would be nonsense. The difference between what God actually did and what He actually said He would do must be expressed in the same way unless we are clearly told otherwise. That is, on Day 4 God actually completed the astronomical clock that He had begun on Day 1 by the rotating sphere in the presence of a light source that had an evening and morning starting on Day 1. Certainly God may have His own separate and personal way of accounting for or measuring time (2 Peter 3:8) but the time-measuring system that He created for us was settled for us on Day 4 and will remain the same until the end of the world (Genesis 8:22).

When God used the word ‘day’ in the beginning, which was before any figurative interpretation could have been developed (since man had not yet been created), God related to us years later through Moses what He said and what He did in the creation week—using the astronomical clock as the time-measuring system in view and cast in concrete when He did it. Unless we had heard otherwise from God Himself, we should assume that the same ‘tape measure’ He used to say what He said had to be the same ‘tape measure’ He used to do what He did (Exodus 20:11).

During the creation week God said something each day and He did what He said, i.e. “and it was so!” What He said at the beginning of each day is what He subsequently and immediately did, and even before He did what He said what He would do on Day 4, He also said on Day 4 what the purpose for this astronomical clock was before He actually did it, namely, that what He said He would do was “for signs and seasons, days and years”—all before He did it and all before man was created and fell to later on misinterpret it.

When Moses wrote down in Genesis 1 what God said He said and what God said He did, it must necessarily reflect what God originally said and did. Moses cannot write down something different (like adhere to another time system) unless Moses was not writing Scripture, or at least, God would have had to clue Moses in as to what this other system was in order for us to change tracks and come to another understanding of it.

I do not think that we have any choice in the matter. If God had done something different from what He said He did then, okay, what was it? There is nothing else to go on. On what basis can we say that He did anything other than what He said He would do for the very purpose He said He was going to do it? He is certainly a messed up God who cannot say what He said and not also follow through with doing what He said He would do. If He did not do what He said then He not only lied to us, He lied to Himself, and therefore, He is no God to begin with. I think we are walking on a path of thin ice that must inevitably lead to the realm of apostasy, which is directly under the thin ice! The “slippery slope” figure has been over used. We are walking on thin ice.

Brian C., United Kingdom, 21 December 2010

We can expect the world to baulk at a literal six, twenty-four hour day creation and to demand evidence but why do Christians object and demand the same kind of proof? We need only ask the simple question of Christians; could an infinite, almighty God create the universe in six days? The answer is clearly YES! So why do so many have problems? We could ask a supplementary question: What sort of God do you believe in? This is surely the key issue?

Karen S., United States of America, 28 March 2011

We see the devastation that a natural disaster can create in minutes. If a scientific phenomenon takes minutes to make huge changes in the earth, how is it that we question the ultimate Creator, God, when it comes to His creation timetable?

Geoffrey S., Australia, 25 October 2011

With reference to the time that God took to create, I think the cartoonist Schultz put the other perspective that is overlooked. Linus, when asking Lucy, if God created in 6 literal days, was told “Of course”. Linus then replied with the question, “I wonder why He took so long!” It really does relate to our faith in a Creator far superior to our puny intellect. We need to continue to grow in understanding from the base of knowledge our God has granted is (the word of God) and accept that His ways are far greater than ours.

M. L., United States, 6 September 2012

This may be a stupid question, but what does "CV" mean? Did I miss something? If it says in the text, I must just be overlooking it.

Tas Walker responds

Hi Michael,

CV is shorthand for curriculum vitæ, also spelled curriculum vitae. A CV provides an overview of a person's experience and other qualifications and is sent to prospective employers so they can see if a person is qualified to do the job.

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