Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
May 6th, 2015 by Joel Watts

what if Jesus died for God’s honor?

I realize this thesis has never been proposed before so bear with me…

In reading through what Jarvis Williams calls “martyrdom theology” I come across Eleazar of 2 Maccabees:

Eleazar, one of the foremost scribes, a man advanced in age and of noble appearance, was being forced to open his mouth to eat pork. 19 But preferring a glorious death to a life of defilement, he went forward of his own accord to the instrument of torture, 20 spitting out the meat as they should do who have the courage to reject food unlawful to taste even for love of life.

21 Those in charge of that unlawful sacrifice took the man aside, because of their long acquaintance with him, and privately urged him to bring his own provisions that he could legitimately eat, and only to pretend to eat the sacrificial meat prescribed by the king. 22 Thus he would escape death, and be treated kindly because of his old friendship with them. 23 But he made up his mind in a noble manner, worthy of his years, the dignity of his advanced age, the merited distinction of his gray hair, and of the admirable life he had lived from childhood. Above all loyal to the holy laws given by God, he swiftly declared, “Send me to Hades!”

Persephone and Hades. Tondo of an Attic red-fi...

Persephone and Hades. Tondo of an Attic red-figured kylix, ca. 440-430 BC. Said to be from Vulci. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

24 “At our age it would be unbecoming to make such a pretense; many of the young would think the ninety-year-old Eleazar had gone over to an alien religion. 25 If I dissemble to gain a brief moment of life, they would be led astray by me, while I would bring defilement and dishonor on my old age. 26 Even if, for the time being, I avoid human punishment, I shall never, whether alive or dead, escape the hand of the Almighty. 27 Therefore, by bravely giving up life now, I will prove myself worthy of my old age, 28 and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.”

He spoke thus, and went immediately to the instrument of torture. 29 Those who shortly before had been kindly disposed, now became hostile toward him because what he had said seemed to them utter madness. 30 When he was about to die under the blows, he groaned, saying: “The Lord in his holy knowledge knows full well that, although I could have escaped death, I am not only enduring terrible pain in my body from this scourging, but also suffering it with joy in my soul because of my devotion to him.” 31 This is how he died, leaving in his death a model of nobility and an unforgettable example of virtue not only for the young but for the whole nation.

Note specifically v.26-28. There is a connection between honor and blasphemy. If Jesus died as martyr, or with the theology of martyrdom on his side, then he died in response to the honor of God.

I don’t necessarily believe that is the case, as you should know by now; however, the story does give us a sense that there exists a connection, just as in suicide, for a chosen death and a sense of honor. Eleazar dies devoted to God — as a devotion to God — to avoid dishonoring God.

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

4 Responses to “what if Jesus died for God’s honor?”
  1. Know More Than I Should says

    This is reminiscent of the old GRACE acrostic — God’s Redemption At Christ’s Expense.

    Put another way, others die so God may live.

  2. So, could you call this “death by bacon”?
    Pharisees would be pleased. I don’t believe Jesus would be a happy camper. I tend to think that if David had access to bacon, to go with the priest’s temple bread, he would have ate it. Especially if there were some lettuce and tomatoes, plus mayo to go with it. BLT’s are heavenly.

  3. Not to carp, but isn’t this effectively what St Anselm, working in a mediaeval feudal system, was on about with his theory of satisfaction? It was about the honour [sic – I spell in real English] of God.

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