Washed in the Blood

The Christian doctrine of the atonement is the one Bible teaching that upsets the atheists more than any other:

  • “I have described atonement, the central doctrine of Christianity, as vicious, sado-masochistic and repellent. We should also dismiss it as barking mad, but for its ubiquitous familiarity which has dulled our objectivity.”
  • (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p. 287).

This theme is nothing new; atheists have long found the atonement morally abhorrent:

"Have not the European peoples regarded as incontrovertible for more than fifteen centuries religious legends which, closely examined, are as barbarous as those of Moloch? The frightful absurdity of the legend of a God who revenges himself for the disobedience of one of his creatures by inflicting horrible tortures on his son remained unperceived during many centuries. Such potent geniuses as a Galileo, a Newton, and a Leibnitz never supposed for an instant that the truth of such dogmas could be called in question." (Gustave Le Bon. The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (Kindle Locations 1624-1627).

Atheist Ayn Rand, popular lately with the Tea Party crowd, takes a similar view of vicarious sacrifice as do these authors. What is the Biblical basis of the doctrine of blood atonement? Is it morally objectionable as they claim, or is it God's love in action?:

Washed from our Sins Passover Lamb
Purchase Price Without Shedding of Blood
Cur Deus Homo Haemophobia
Abel's Sacrifice One Sin One Time
God's Wrath Paganism

Washed from Our Sins

"What man, who ever thinks, can believe that blood can appease God? And yet, our entire system of religion is based upon that belief. The Jews pacified Jehovah with the blood of animals, and according to the Christian system, the blood of Jesus softened the heart of God a little, and rendered possible the salvation of a fortunate few. It is hard to conceive how the human mind can give assent to such terrible ideas, or how any sane man can read the bible and still believe in the doctrine of inspiration."
(Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll, Lectures of Robert Ingersoll, Lecture On Gods).

The Bible teaches that Jesus "washed us from our sins in his own blood:"

  • “John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”
  • (Revelation 1:4-6).

When it comes to offending the atheist immoralists, no Christian teaching ranks higher. Not only that, this doctrine gives offense to many in the liberal church today, not to mention such historic foes of the gospel as the Muslims. It is however clearly taught in the New Testament as the way that Jesus redeemed His flock:

  • “And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
  • (Revelation 7:13-14).

  • "For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven."
  • (Colossians 1:19-20).

  • "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence;. . .That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ."
  • (Ephesians 1:7-12).

  • "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him."
  • (Romans 5:6-9).


"For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:22-26).

"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ." (Ephesians 2:13).

"He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins." (Colossians 1:13-14).

"The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" (1 Corinthians 10:16).

The Scapegoat, William Holman Hunt

The idea of blood atonement is so central to the New Testament proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ, one must marvel at how a 'Christian' church can make a man like John Shelby Spong into a 'bishop' presiding over the city of Newark, New Jersey, who says:

"Is watching Jesus die on the cross anything more than an act of sadomasochistic voyeurism?. . .The primary way in which the Jesus story has been traditionally and historically told portrays the holy God involved in a cruel act of divine child abuse that was said to have occurred on a hill called Calvary. We are told that there, instead of punishing us for our sins, God required the suffering and death of the divine Son. . .In the evangelical hymns of Protestantism it is said both that his blood is precious and that it has the power to wash us clean. With so much sin to be washed away, Jesus must suffer and bleed excessively. . .Either way, the blood of Jesus becomes a fetish, a grotesque image that rivets our attention on the trauma of the cross." (The Sins of Scripture, John Shelby Spong, pp. 171-172.)

If there are any Christians left sitting in Episcopal pews in Newark, New Jersey, they ought to drop their hymn-books and flee for the hills lest judgment overtake their apostate church before they can get out the door. This understanding of the Lord's death was His own understanding:

  • “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
  • (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).

This passage grosses some people out, 'scholars' in spite of their intemperate language, in particular those who fancy themselves "modern:"

"Astonishment may well be the first response of any modern reader of this text. Even after coming to terms with the grisly imagery and tortured logic of the Christ myth, one is hardly prepared for this shocking portrayal of Jesus calmly announcing his imminent immolation." (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, p. 88).

Perhaps the atheists would rather we ponder the grisly imagery of school shootings, and the other wonders they have brought into the world.


Passover Lamb

The Old Testament sacrificial system prophesied Jesus' victory on the cross. Jesus is the passover lamb slain for the sins of the people:

"The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." (John 1:29).

For this the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world came into the world:

"And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." (Revelation 13:8).

  • “Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house:. . . Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. . .For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.”
  • (Exodus 12:3-13).

The principle, expressed in Leviticus 17:11, is one of life for life, an equivalent: "'The sacrificial animal in its death takes the place of the death due to the offerer. It is forfeit for forfeit.' The sacrifices so brought were pre-figurations of the one great sacrifice of Jesus Christ." (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Kindle location 7852):

"For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul." (Leviticus 17:11).

Though it forms no part of modern Judaism, this Old Testament principle underlay temple worship: “In accordance with this we quote the following from Jewish interpreters. Rashi says: (On Leviticus 17:2)

“The soul of every creature is bound up in its blood; therefore I gave it to atone for the soul of man — that one soul should come and atone for the other.”

“Similarly Aben Ezra writes: “One soul is a substitute for the other.” And Moses ben Nachmann: “I gave the soul for you on the altar, that the soul of the animal should be an atonement for the soul of the man.” These quotations might be almost indefinitely multiplied.” (Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, p. 81). What substitute can now be offered for the sacrificial system, now that the temple and its service have been destroyed?:

"When R. Shesheth kept a fast, on concluding his prayer he added the following: Sovereign of the Universe, Thou knowest full well that in the time when the Temple was standing, if a man sinned he used to bring a sacrifice, and though all that was offered of it was its fat and blood, atonement was made for him therewith. Now I have kept a fast and my fat and blood have diminished. May it be Thy will to account my fat and blood which have been diminished as if I had offered them before Thee on the altar, and do Thou favour me." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berakoth, 17a).

What is wanted is a God-ordained provision, like the ram substituted for Isaac, not an improvisation of human ingenuity. Moses Maimonides' words about the God-ordained temple sacrificial offerings drip with condescension: "We have already shown the general use of the sacrificial laws, and their necessity in ancient time." (Moses Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, p. 378). Really, they were necessary back then, but not now? He knows this how? Does God change? Then, as now, "Is it not the blood which makes atonement, as it is written, ‘For it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life’?" (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 5a).

The lamb who was slain was without blemish, without spot, morally perfect, as must needs be, because, "There is a Boraitha relating that the disciples of R. Ismael taught: Such is the custom of the divine attribute of justice that the righteous atone for the wicked and not that the wicked atone for another wicked." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume XVII, Tract Shebuoth, Chapter 1, Kindle location 68409).


Purchase Price

The redeemed are bought with blood. That is the coin of the realm:

"Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." (Acts 20:28).

  • “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God.”
  • (1 Peter 1:17-21).

Without Shedding of Blood

The author of the letter to Hebrews explains that without the shedding of blood there is no remission or release from sins:

"And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission." (Hebrews 9:22).

It was by this means that He opened up for us a route into heaven, which had been barred and shut in the face of sinful man:

"But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Hebrews 9:11-14).

"And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water." (Hebrews 10:17-22).

"For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach." (Hebrews 13:11-13).

Cur Deus Homo

Anselm was far from being the first to enunciate the doctrine of substitutionary atonement; given that the Lord Himself said, "Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45), this is simply Bible doctrine. It is true however that, in the face of Muslim expressions of dismay and disgust at the concept of blood atonement, Anselm considered and weighed the issues involved. While some elements of his reconstruction are speculative and moreover marked by a distinctly feudal vocabulary, he does approach the matter on rational and consecutive grounds, providing a solid basis for further investigation.

It is ironic that Muslims express mystification about the logic of blood atonement, given that their religion is one of the few in the contemporary world which still practices animal sacrifice. Annually at Eid al-Adha, the feast of sacrifice, Muslims slay sheep or cattle in the name of God. There is no clear theological meaning attached to this ritual, however, in contrast to the blood sacrifices of the Mosaic law, which were sign-posts pointing to Christ's once and for all sacrifice on Calvary. Once the reality came into the present, the shadow passed away. Those schooled under this system understand it intuitively, without need for elucidation of its logic.

Contrast this with the Muslim system of salvation, the goad that set Anselm to his investigative task. As Mohammed ibn Abdallah examines each sin in turn, finding them terrible and abhorrent to God, he announces that those who do such things are fuel for the fire of God's wrath. But then, discovering he has doomed the entire human race, he explains that he didn't really mean it, that God is merciful and will forgive all to everyone who has ever recited the Muslim creed. On what basis? For what reason? According to what medium of exchange? Surely God cannot abide sin: "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?" (Habakkuk 1:13). The Muslim hope is an irrational one which cannot even ask, much less answer, these questions. As Anselm discovered, Christianity can both ask and answer:


Cur Deus Homo


As readers of the 'new atheist' authors can readily testify, this Christian doctrine has the same effect on some people today as the cross of old was reputed to have on the vampires of folklore. Mention of the blood of Jesus touches off screaming fits, bouts of hysteria, and strange contortions in victims of this syndrome, among whom is numbered at least one Episcopal bishop:

"The primary way in which the Jesus story has been traditionally and historically told portrays the holy God involved in a cruel act of divine child abuse that was said to have occurred on a hill called Calvary. . .The Christian church has invited the faithful to mediate on Jesus' pain, to revel in the blood that he shed. In the evangelical hymns of Protestantism it is said both that his blood is precious and that it has the power to wash us clean. . . Either way, the blood of Jesus becomes a fetish, a grotesque image that rivets our attention on the trauma of the cross. . .Since Jesus is punished for our sins, we are left with a sense of heavy guilt that is all but unendurable. It is a timeless process, because our sins kill him anew every day. . .

"That is the story scraped clean of its piety so that its horror can be viewed with full awareness. It is grotesque. It is barbaric. It creates a distorted, even a sick, humanity. It paints the portrait of a sadistic God served by masochistic children. . .

"It is obviously a nonstarter! Yet that picture still lies at the heart of our liturgy, our hymns and our theology. It validates violence because it attributes to God's punishment of Jesus salvific themes; and not surprisingly, it validates our own violence, since when we abuse others we are only acting after the example that God has set for us. . .Violence is redemptive. War is justified. Bloodshed is the way of salvation. . .Let me state this boldly and succinctly: Jesus did not die for your sins or my sins. That proclamation is theological nonsense. . .We must rid ourselves of it. . .

"We are not fallen, sinful people who deserve to be punished. . .We must not denigrate the human being who ate of the tree of knowledge in the Genesis story. We must learn rather to celebrate the creative leap into a higher humanity. . .The angry deity who judges human life from some heavenly throne might make us feel safe, but this deity always shrinks life, for that is what guilt, fear and righteousness do. That is a god-image that must be broken; but when it is, the traditional way we have told the Jesus story will surely die with it." (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, pp. 171-174).

In the case of someone who once was a Christian, this aversion to the blood of Christ is symptomatic of apostasy, because "Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?" (Hebrews 10:29). Many of the 'new atheists,' however, never had any Christian background to begin with, so their expressions of disgust reveal only ignorance.

Another class disgusted by the blood shed by the lamb slain from the foundation of the world are Muslims, "Then, came the decision of punishment, as a hasty decision that needed a solution. He kept looking for a way for ages, and then he found it. The only way was to torture Jesus on the cross as an atonement for a sin he did commit. Christians describe their god then as filthy usurer who needs compensations for every thing he gives." (Monqith Ben Mahmoud Assaqar, PhD., Was Jesus Crucified for Our Atonement? p. 117). This Muslim author goes on to explain why the sacrifice of the cross was unnecessary, because "Repentance erases the sin. . ." How? Why? ". . .for, Allah (S.W.) does as He wishes." (p. 118). He goes on to explain, ". . .prayers remove sins, without the need for blood or atonement." (p. 120). "[W]ithout the need for blood," or is the prayer of faith the means of applying the blood?


Abel's Sacrifice

God would not receive Cain's unbloody sacrifice:

"And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD. And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.

"And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell." (Genesis 4:1-5).

Why did God look with favor on Abel's sacrifice, but not Cain's? Because it testified to a better: "And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel." (Hebrews 12:24).

"To approach God disregarding the altar meant death. Cain tried it; he ignored the blood, the sacrificial altar that made his brother Abel's altar so acceptable to God, and consequently he brought the curse of God upon his head." (All the Messianic Prophecies of the Bible, by Herbert Lockyer, p. 376)

The same could be said of the entire sacrificial system of the Old Testament: these are prophetic testimonies of God's own provision for sacrifice; they foreshadow the cross:

  • "The Old Testament is conspicuous as a book of religious ceremonies which only receive their full explanation and interpretation in the New Testament. The Bible presents a progressive revelation, and further light reveals that ancient ceremonies were meant to portray the true methods of approach to God, the basis of which was the Passover sacrifice of redemption. The sacrifices of Leviticus, with their ritual, are predictive of One who would offer up a 'better sacrifice.' As to the laws of purification, they teach us the necessity of holiness in drawing near to God. Laws as to the priesthood remind us of the agents by which we can draw near.
  • "Among the Jews, as among all ancient nations, sacrifices formed the most essential part of religious worship. This is why the laws governing the same, scattered over the books of the Pentateuch, must have our closest study. Very early in the history of the human race, Abel learnt the truth of divine approach and acceptance, even though his sacrifice of a lamb meant the cost of his own life. Abel was the first one on earth to rear a sacrificial altar, and from Eden to Calvary the altar unfolds three infallible facts:
  1. Every time a sacrifice was made, it testified to the depravity of man.
  2. Every time a sacrifice was made, it testified to the inefficiency, and to the weakness and failure of the Law to save.
  3. Every time a sacrifice was made, it pointed to the sacrifice to be made on Calvary. This was why Christ's blood spoke of better things than that of Abel's."
  • (All the Messianic Prophecies of the Bible, by Herbert Lockyer, pp. 372-373)

Even before the sacrificial system was revealed to Moses came the binding of Isaac:

"It was an altar of His own provision. He did not leave its plan to man. Every detail regarding it was given to Moses by God when they met upon the Mount. . .In like manner, the cross was God's own provision. The reply of Abraham to Isaac was, 'God will provide himself a [as a] lamb for a burnt offering' (Genesis 22:8). Redemption, let us never forget, originated in the heart of God, for Christ is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8)." (All the Messianic Prophecies of the Bible, Herbert Lockyer, p. 375).

Mount Moriah Problems
Mount Calvary Only Begotten
Traditional Jewish Interpretation Detractors

One Sin One Time

One odd misconception about the atonement you see on atheist web-sites is the notion that Jesus' sacrificial death atoned for one sin and one sin alone: Adam and Eve's disobedience in eating the fruit of the forbidden tree, just as if this were the only sin mankind has ever at any time committed. Richard Dawkins in his book 'The God Delusion' seems to want to endorse this familiar 'one sin one time' atheist paradigm:

". . .there are other teachings in the New Testament that no good person should support. I refer especially to the central doctrine of Christianity: that of 'atonement' for 'original sin.' This teaching, which lies at the heart of New Testament theology, is almost as morally obnoxious as the story of Abraham setting out to barbecue Isaac, which it resembles. . .What kind of ethical philosophy is it that condemns every child, even before it is born, to inherit the sin of a remote ancestor?. . .But now, the sado-masochism. God incarnated himself as a man, Jesus, in order that he should be tortured and executed in atonement for the hereditary sin of Adam." (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, pp. 284-286).

In fairness to this author, the problem may simply be that he is such a poor writer he is saying something he does not mean to say; he also says, "Not just the past sin of Adam: future sins as well, whether future people decided to commit them or not!" (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p. 286). (I wonder if Las Vegas will lay odds on whether future people will commit sins; what an opportunity it would be to get a little of that action!) However, if the preceding discussion has any point at all, it is that Jesus died upon the cross for one sin and one sin only: the sin of Adam and Eve in eating the fruit, translated by Jerome as 'apple,' which Dawkins considers extravagant. This is not accurate nor helpful, because,

"And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world." (1 John 2:2).

Anyone so gullible and naive as to learn theology from atheists needs to backtrack: Adam and Eve's fall was the trickle through the dam which opened the breach for the flood to follow. Adam and Eve's sin is not the only one Jesus bore to the cross, because it is by no means unique. We are true children of our first parents. We have inherited from them a propensity to sin, a sin-nature: as any parent can testify, you do not need to teach your children how to lie, somehow they just know. Common observation can confirm this sad reality of human nature; introspection could confirm it, if these observers were honest. And so there hasn't been one sin committed in human history, but an uncountable multitude, and none of us stands guiltless or acquitted by our own merits. Jesus bore the burden to Calvary, not of one sin, the distant one that established the precedent we invariably follow, but of our own sins as well, of which there is never any shortage. See:

"Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them." (Colossians 3:5-7).

The wrath of God is accumulating, stored up for all the sins which Adam's posterity have added to his legacy. Adam's transgression opened the flood-gates: "What were we vile miscreants, conceived and born in original sin, and soiled with the filth of numberless actual transgressions, that to purge and cleanse our polluted souls and defiled consciences, the second person in the Trinity should be made a Priest?" (Daniel Featley, quoted in Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David, Psalm 110, Kindle location 60651). Notice please he counts "numberless actual transgressions." Humanity is not guilty of one sin, one time. It's worse than that. "Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die." (Ezekiel 18:4). No innocent person is languishing in Hell.

This anti-theistic argument goes back to Reimarus:

"But God was also to be looked upon as a Judge, and here a new difficulty presented itself. . .If salvation was alone to be found in the name of Jesus, if all who did not believe in him were to be everlastingly damned, and as this creed must have been handed down from the sayings of Jesus himself, it followed that ninety-nine hundredths of the human race, those who either had never heard of Christ or of salvation to be obtained through him, or those who had not been able to convince themselves of it, were unmercifully sentenced, after this short life, to everlasting torment; and this not for the sake of making them better, but to punish them, and to satisfy God's unquenchable wrath, for a sin committed in the beginning of Creation, and a sin of which they themselves were guiltless." (quotation from Strauss's Life of Reimarus, p. 260, Fragments of Reimarus, Brief Sketch of the Life of Reimarus, Kindle location 73).

That it is so poorly thought out should tell you something. The penalty, which Christ took upon Himself, was not for one sin only committed long ago, but for innumerable myriads of sins committed constantly and incessantly by fallen creatures. That Adam was the last sinner who had any real choice in the matter does not make him the only sinner, nor the fatal choice his only sin. If Christ paid for only one sin, then we are again lost; if His blood cannot cover our own, original efforts at self-realization, then what comfort can we take in seeing Father Adam, from afar, amongst the blessed, from whose company we are shut out? We all did fall in Adam and lost the ability to be innocent; this is strangely misconstrued as the suggestion, that we are innocent, he alone is guilty. The misconception of 'one sin one time' may have arisen through somebody having overheard a confused effort to rationalize a traditional but not Biblical practice, infant baptism. This is the stock in trade of Richard Dawkins, who finds in the case of Edgardo Mortara, not grounds for deriding the baptismal views of Roman Catholicism as irrational and self-contradictory, as Baptists would find it, but evidence conclusively refuting religion as such, including the faith of the Baptists, who do not baptize infants. The structure of the 'argument' is as if one were to concur, 'Yes, it is shameful that the Hindu devotees of the goddess Kali believe they are entitled to murder people,' and the presenter exulted in return, 'You admit it! See, I have proved not only devotion to Kali, but also Methodism, Episcopalianism, and Presbyterianism vicious and immoral!'

Neither, incidentally, is the percentage who have never heard the gospel 99%; a demographer will tell you, most of those who have lived are now alive, this in consequence of the tendency of the human population to increase geometrically. So if two billion of the world's six billion inhabitants are now Christian, it cannot be the case that 99% have never heard the gospel; how many have heard and rejected it!

A similar atheist argument is that there is one and only one sin for which humanity are condemned, not the sin of Adam this time, but rather the sin of unbelief: for failure to put their trust in Jesus, and for that fault alone, sinners will spend eternity in hell-fire. There is a sense in which it is true that, "And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind." (John 9:39). Jesus' taking our place and bearing the weight of our deserved condemnation bounces the ball back into our court, so to speak, because our forgiveness is free, if only we accept it. But draw back the focus and take in the larger scene; Jesus never would have had to bear our sins to Calvary, had there been no sins to bear. It was for our sins He died:

"The first chapter in every Christian' existence is the dark, sad chapter of condemnation. This was vividly set forth in the ancient camp of Israel by the fire that ever burned without the camp. It suggests the wrath of God revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness of men. That fire consumed the offering to which sin had been transferred, and it must likewise consume all whose sins are not transferred to that burnt offering.
"If Christ, in the place of the sinner, suffered this vengeance, how shall we escape if we dare to stand before God covered without guilt and corruption? Our Lord has not quenched this fire but left it still burning outside the gate of the gospel for all who reject Him. 'He that believeth not is condemned already' (John 3:18)." (A. B. Simpson, Christ in the Tabernacle, p. 19).

The sins He was bearing were certainly not His own, so whose were they? The atheist is firmly convinced that he, and the rest of humanity, are pure, righteous, holy, and innocent, and we have, all of us, been unfairly maligned and unjustly condemned to eternal punishment. This conviction is not only not scriptural, it isn't what our own empirical experience testifies. Unbelief, to be sure, is a sin, an offense against God:

"So a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel, because they did not believe in God, and did not trust in His salvation." (Psalm 78:21-22).

Sinners who refuse God's proffered remedy for their sins, which are varied and multitudinous, ultimately are lost because of unbelief. But unbelief is far from their only failing.

Atheists tend to believe in Original Virtue, an assumption this prison psychiatrist noticed in his colleagues:

"Psychiatrists and others regard character as something one has rather than as something that one is. It is a quality completely external to oneself, to which one has made no active contribution of one’s own.
"It is this mistaken use of language that permits a person to preserve a favourable, indeed immaculate, view of himself despite his repeated despicable behaviour. Everyone retains a jewel-like essence that is indestructible by mere conduct. No doubt in some cases a belief in Original Virtue rather than in Original Sin serves to prolong or even extend bad conduct, for nothing so crude as one’s behaviour can besmirch the primordial beauty of one’s soul."
(Dalrymple, Theodore. The Knife Went In: Real-Life Murderers and Our Culture (Kindle Locations 2428-2433). Gibson Square.)

It need hardly be pointed out that this belief is not empirical; experience contradicts it at every hand. From the time of Adam and Eve, to the present, to the future should the Lord tarry, experience teaches rather, "Human nature does not improve, the new editions contain all the errata of the first. . ." (Spurgeon, Charles. The Treasury of David (Kindle Location 40532). GLH Publishing.) They should open their eyes and look.


God's Wrath

It is often brought out in this context, and probably not completely without merit, that the concept that the martyrdom of an innocent man could atone for others' sins is not absent from the inter-testamental period:

"But I, as my brethren, offer up my body and life for the laws of our fathers, beseeching God that he would speedily be merciful unto our nation; and that thou by torments and plagues mayest confess, that he alone is God; and that in me and my brethren the wrath of the Almighty, which is justly brought upon our nation, may cease." (2 Maccabees 7:37-38).

If the offering of even a sinful man, unjustly condemned, could put a stop to God's wrath, how much more an altogether righteous man?

Never mind the righteous man, the death of just about anyone for just about any cause might be perceived as atoning:

"I acknowledge before You, Lord my God and the God of my fathers, that my recovery and my death are in  Your hands. May it be Your will that you heal me with total recovery, but, if I die, may my death be an atonement for all the errors, iniquities, and willful sins that I have erred, sinned and trasngressed before You, and may You grant my share in the Garden of Eden, and grant me the merit to abide in the World to Come which is vouochsafed for the righteous." (Jewish Viduy Prayer).

This is in keeping with the Mishnah, "And if he knows not what to confess, they instruct him, 'Say, may my death be an expiation for all my sins.'" (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 43b).



It is sometimes pointed out that the pagans of the day also practiced bloody sacrifice, and that thus the practices of the Israelites may be seen as imitation of pre-existing heathen customs. Even Moses Maimonides seems to reason in this vein. But to the contrary, the pagans themselves were remembering something half-forgotten:

"From the time of Abel onwards, they are uniformly, and with increasing clearness, set before us as the appointed way of approaching and holding fellowship with God, till, at the close of Scripture history, we have the sacrifice of our blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to which all sacrifices had pointed. And not only so, but as the dim remembrance of a better state from which man had fallen, and of a hope of deliverance, had been preserved among all heathen nations, so also had that of the necessity of sacrifices. Even the bloody rites of savages, nay, the cruel sacrifices of best-beloved children, what were they but a cry of despair in the felt need of reconciliation to God through sacrifice - the giving up of what was most dear in room and stead of the offerer? These are the terribly broken pillars of what once had been a temple; the terribly distorted traditions of truths once Divinely revealed."

(Edersheim, Alfred. Bible History: Old Testament: Books One Through Four (The Works of Alfred Edersheim Book 4) (Kindle Locations 965-970).