Jesus the Sacrifice: A Historical and Theological Study investigates interpretations of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice in the New Testament. Scott Shauf argues that sacrifice as a practice has been largely misunderstood by Christians and scholars and that a better understanding of ancient sacrificial practices will change how we understand New Testament interpretations of Jesus’ death. Contrary to traditional Christian theological interpretation, the interpretation of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice should not be considered a subcategory of the idea of atonement. Sacrifices had a variety of purposes in the ancient world, and atonement was only one of these. Different NT texts interpret Jesus’ death as different kinds of sacrifice, and each text must be evaluated in the context of the particular kind(s) of sacrifice drawn upon. The interpretations have in common that they serve to relate the death of Jesus to early Christians’ understanding of themselves, to what God had done in Jesus and to what God was doing in their midst. Shauf’s conclusions also address modern theological questions, such as the problem of the violence of the cross and whether Jesus’ death was necessary in a theological sense.
Scott Shauf is professor of religious studies at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina.
2. Sacrifice in the Ancient Mediterranean World
3. Sacrifice in the Jewish Scriptures
4. Sacrifice in Second Temple Judaism
5. Sacrifice in the New Testament
6. Jesus the Sacrifice
7. Historical and Theological Implications
[This book is] a viable and well-argued alternative to the ongoing scholarly discussion… a significant contribution to the literature as it features a balanced and, overall, well-presented and thorough argument on a much-discussed topic in academia and the Christian church. It also does a great job relating the topics of sacrifice and atonement with its various subcategories (vicarious/substitutionary, etc.) to each other and problematizing them.
The claim that Jesus’ death was a sacrifice can be understood in many ways. Many scholars have examined the religious and cultural background of this claim, found in virtually every stratum of the New Testament writings. And many have argued that various understandings more faithfully express authentic Christian teaching. Few scholars have navigated the historical as well as the theological dimensions of this subject as capably or concisely as Scott Shauf. By reframing the ways in which Jesus’ death was interpreted in the early Church—by contesting, for example, ingrained assumptions about the relationship between sacrifice and atonement in both traditionalist and progressive circles—Shauf’s work represents a valuable intervention in what is often an acrimonious debate among Christians today.
A clear, compelling treatment of one of Christianity’s central, defining metaphors—exegetically rich, judicious exegesis of New Testament texts informed by nuanced understanding of sacrifice in the Jewish Scriptures, Second Temple Judaism, and the Greco-Roman world. A valuable resource for biblical scholars and theologians, along with students, pastors, and teachers.
Packed with careful distinctions and insightful observations, Scott Shauf offers readers a clearly written introduction to one of the most ubiquitous, but to many modern Christians, puzzling, ancient practices – sacrifice. Shauf does a superb job succinctly mapping the basic landscape of sacrifice in its various ancient contexts. This survey is masterfully employed to explore the variegated uses of sacrificial language and concepts in the New Testament, especially in relation to Jesus’ death. Readers of this book will be rewarded and challenged not only by its clear accounts of the complex details and contexts of different sacrifices but also by its thoughtful exegesis of New Testament texts and theological reflection on this important topic.
Scholarly, well-written, and comprehensive in scope, Jesus the Sacrifice questions many of the traditional interpretations of Jewish sacrifice in the Second Temple period, thereby providing a basis for a fresh rereading of the New Testament passages that employ sacrificial language and imagery to ascribe meaning to Jesus’ death. Shauf’s historical approach opens up new avenues for addressing the theological questions raised by the biblical texts and rethinking the significance of Jesus’ death for our contemporary contexts.
This is a welcome study that ably summarizes extensive scholarly work on sacrifice and brings much-needed clarity to the use of the terminology in relation to the Christ event, especially given its often imprecise usage in ecclesial and academic contexts. Shauf’s carefully researched work will be a useful point of reference.