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The transferability of sin: punishing
the innocent for the sins of the guilty

Passages in the Christian Scriptures
(a.k.a. New Testament)

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This section discusses a theme that runs through the entire Bible: that is is moral to punish innocent persons for the sins of the guilty. That is, that guilt can be transferred from the person who did the sin to those who had no involvement in the sin. This theme is in violation of the tenets of every religious that we have studied. Yet it is frequently seen in many biblical stories and thus influences Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Baha'i religions.

The following examples of this theme are taken from the Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. New Testament). Examples from first four books of the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament), are listed elsewhere. Examples from Deuteronomy through to 1 Chronicles are listed elsewhere.

Jewish acceptance of responsibility for Yeshua's execution:

The author of the Gospel of Matthew described the events which he believed led up to Jesus' death sentence. Pilate, the governor of Judea, asked a crowd of Jews whether he should release a criminal Barabbas, or give Jesus his freedom.

bulletMatthew 27:20 states: "...the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus."
bulletMatthew 27:23-26 states: "And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified. When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children. Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified." 1 (Emphasis ours)

The highlighted text is probably responsible for more loss of innocent life than any other passage in the Bible. The author has a Jewish crowd accept full responsibility on themselves for the execution of Yeshua. Further, they stated that their children would share fully in that guilt.

For many centuries, Christian faith groups had enlarged the group responsible for the execution beyond those Jews who were present at the sentencing, and their children. The church included all Jews who were alive at the time, circa 30 CE. This would include Jews who were living over 1,000 miles from the event in Jerusalem and knew nothing about Yeshua. Further, the church taught that all Jews, from the 1st century CE onwards, shared equally in the guilt for Jesus' death. They believed that Jews were "Christ killers." The result was horrendous levels of oppression, discrimination and mass murder of Jews by Christians, that set the foundation for the Nazi Holocaust.

Edward Alexander, while reviewing a book Christian Antisemitism by William Nichols, commented:

"...since the ideology of Jew-hatred and its catastrophic modern result originated in Christendom, it is Christians more than Jews who should be searching out their roots and trying to extirpate them. ... Nicholls believes that neither modern anti semitism nor the Holocaust can be understood without taking into account the way the people of Europe had been taught about the Jews from their childhood up by their own religious tradition...The popular view that the Nazis chose Jews as their primary [Holocaust] target because 2,000 years of Christian teaching had accustomed the world to do so is, in Nicholls's view, essentially correct. In fact, he traces all modern forms of anti semitism, from liberal and Marxist to conservative and Nazi, to the Christian myth of Jews as the killers of Christ." 2,3

On 1965-OCT-28, following the Vatican II meeting by the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican issued Nostra Aetate, a "Declaration on the Relation of the Church to non-Christian Religions." 4 The Declaration notes that, according to the Gospels, some Jews in Palestine advocated for the execution of Jesus. But this guilt cannot be charged against all Jews of the 1st century CE, nor can it be charged against any Jews of today. It stated that: "Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures....the Church ... decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone."

This passage is the only one in the Christian Scriptures of which we are aware which transfers guilt from adults to their innocent children. It is unclear whether the original intent was to consider additional generations of the mob's descendents as responsible for Yeshua's death.

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Jesus crucifixion:

Many faith groups within Christianity have traditionally taught that God transferred all of the sins of born-again believers onto Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) at the time of his execution. This included all of the sins that had not yet been committed, by people who had not yet been born, all the way from the first century CE, to the present day, and beyond into the future.

Many mechanisms have been used to explain how this transfer of sin takes place. It is called the Atonement, which has been cited as "...the central tenet of Christianity." 5 However, they all involve the transmission of sin and punishment from guilty persons to one innocent man who was tortured to death by the occupying Roman Army.

Being denied entry into Heaven because of one's behavior:

There are about a half-dozen "clobber" passages in the Bible that some theologians and apologists have interpreted as describing God's hatred of homosexuals and/or homosexual behavior. One of these is 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, written by Paul.

The King James Version (KJV) of the Bible translates this passage as:

"... neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind ... shall inherit the kingdom of God."

The Greek word translated as "effeminate" means soft. It has a range of meanings. The Greek word translated as "abusers of themselves with mankind" is "arsenokoitai." Its exact meaning is lost; it may have been a word specially created by Paul. It is fairly certain that Paul did not mean "homosexuals" here as many translations show. If he did, he would have used the word "paiderasste." That was the standard Greek term at the time for sexual behavior between males.

However, the Jerusalem Bible, New American Bible, and James Moffatt translation use the word "catamites," or "boy prostitutes" to describe what the KJV refers to as "effeminate." This is was often a young male who was kept as a sexual partner/slave of an adult male.

A footnote in the New American Bible states:

"The Greek word translated as 'boy prostitutes' designated catamites, i.e. boys or young men who were kept for purposes of prostitution, a practice not uncommon in the Greco-Roman world....The term translated 'practicing homosexuals' refers to adult males who indulged in homosexual practices with such boys."

If this is the actual meaning of the passage, it is profoundly immoral by today's secular and most religious moral standards because it transfers punishment from a perpetrator guilty of child sexual abuse to his innocent victim.

References:

  1. From the King James Version of the Bible.
  2. Edward Alexander, book review of "Christian Antisemitism," Reprinted from the Congress Monthly, Vol. 61, #1, (1994), American Jewish Congress. See "The Nizkor Project," at: http://www1.ca.nizkor.org/ftp.cgi/documents/reviews/
  3. W. Nicholls, "Christian Antisemitism: A History of Hate," Jason Aronson, (1995). You can order this book from Amazon.com
  4. Pope Paul VI, "Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate)," 1965-OCT-28. Available at: http://listserv.american.edu/
  5. John S. Spong, "Why Christianity must change or die," Harper SanFrancisco, (1998), Page 84. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

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Copyright © 2002 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-OCT-20
Latest update: 2010-JUN-11
Author: B.A. Robinson

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