Living With the Cross of Jesus

In a couple of recent posts I've raised the question of the meaning of the cross. This is due in part to my response to Daniel Bell's essay "God Does Not Demand Blood." I'm in agreement with Bell, but his essay raises the question in the minds of many, what does the cross mean. I've posted a quote from Irenaeus, who offers a picture of Jesus' living and dying for humanity, recapitulating and hallowing each dimension of human life as he lived and died with and for us.

I'd like to offer a piece from another 2nd Century Christian, Melito of Sardis. This is a Passover Homily that links Moses and Jesus. There is, in this early Christian sermon, no sense of Jesus satisfying God's wrath. Instead, there is at most a description of a ransom theory. I invite your reflections on this paragraph or two.

He is the Passover of our salvation. He is the one who in many folk bore many things. He is the one who was murdered in the person of Abel, bound in the person of Isaac, exiled in the person of Jacob, sold in the person of Joseph, exposed in the person of Moses, sacrificed in the person of the lamb, persecuted in the person of David, dishonored in the person of the prophets. Thi is the one who was made flesh in a virgin, hanged upon the wood, entombed in the earth, raised from the dead, lifted up to the heights of the heavens. He is the speechless lamb. He is the lamb who was slaughtered. He is the one born of Mary the beuatifyl ewe. He is the one who was taken from the flock and dragged to slaughter and killed at evening and buried at night, who was not crushed on the cross, was not dissolved into the earth, who rose from the dead and raised humanity from the grave below. (Melito of Sardis, in The Christological Controversy, Edited and Translated by Richard A. Norris, Fortress Press, 1980, p. 42).

Note how Melito identifies the Christ -- the Logos -- with all those figures of Jewish history, back to Abel, who died or suffered. The Christ suffered in and with them, and then on the cross emerged victorious. This looks very much like the Christus Victor model of the atonement. God is not pictured as the one doing the killing or extracting retribution. Indeed, Melito writes that the reason he was killed was "because he cured their lame and cleansed their lepers and led their blind to sight and raised up their dead." That is the responded to the good with evil. As for penal substitution, they weren't making the connection in the second century.


I hold to what Mennonite J. Denny Weaver calls a "narrative modification of Christus Victor." See his The Nonviolent Atonement which is also informed by the work of Rene Girard.

What happened to your font on the Irenaeus post? It's hard on the eyes.
Michael, Thanks for the recommendation and for clueing me in on the font of the Irenaeus post.
charles & jenny said…
That description is beautiful.. regardless of your position. I find it so amazing that a second century follower can write something so in touch with God, yet with all of our resources, the descriptions of Christ sound like banging cymbals. Maybe its a description based on love and adoration vs advancing a point or agenda. Considered me moved as far as how I see and speak of Christ.

eric said…
Hey Bob: Thanks for your writing on Atonement Theology. I'm right there with you.

I have noticed several writers (including you) site the essay by Dan Bell...most of them offering a scathing critique.

But I can't seem to find a source for the original essay. Is it online anywhere?

It sounds like the kind of essay I'd really like...
Daniel Bell's essay first appeared in the Christian Century and then in the book God Does Not . . . from Brazos Press. I'd get the book, if you can.

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