Tag Archives: salvation in christianity

The Problem of the Thief and the Crucifixion

Introduction

In perhaps what is one of the most perplexing passages of the New Testament, we find a story during the alleged crucifixion of Jesus the Christ that challenges the very core of commonly held Christian beliefs about Christ and salvation. We read from Luke 23:39-43 (NIV) the following:

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

The Problem

If we were to ask a confessional Christian today (one that knows of and adheres to the doctrinal confessions of the faith) what one needed to believe in for salvation, we would perhaps have a very long list. It would likely include belief that Jesus died for the sins of all, that Jesus was God, that Jesus was both man and God (belief in the hypostatic union), belief that the New Testament is the word of God, belief in the Godhead, in the Personhood of each member of the Godhead who were all co-equal and co-substantial to each other.

Yet the 5 verses from the Gospel eventually attributed to Luke present a severe theological problem that strikes at the very core of Christian theology. The question before us is, what did the thief say, believe and do to be granted salvation? When we examine the verses we can identify only two things:

  1. That Jesus was an innocent man.
  2. That Jesus was a King (or would become one at some point).

All the thief had to do to be granted salvation was to accept that Jesus was innocent and thus did not deserve to be crucified, and that Jesus would survive in some form such that he would become a king or have a kingdom. By this standard, all Muslims will be granted entry into the kingdom of God. The thief did not have to believe in the New Testament, did not have to accept the Old Testament, did not have to express belief in the Trinity, did not have to believe in the Godhead, did not have to believe in the two natures of Christ, did not have to even accept Jesus as the Messiah! He did not have to believe Jesus was the incarnate word of God, he did not have to believe that Jesus was the 2nd person in the Godhead…in other words, the thief did not have to believe in anything that Christians today hold to be true.

There is perhaps an even greater issue here. The thief claims that Jesus was innocent and thus did not deserve to be punished. See, Christians necessarily believe that while Jesus was innocent, he deserved to suffer and be punished, because he came to suffer for our sins as an act of grace:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 (NIV).

“And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” – Luke 9:22 (NIV).

According to the above passages, Christ must suffer and must be killed. However, the thief on the cross, seemingly disagrees with these teachings. The thief explicitly says that not only is Jesus innocent, but that he did not deserve to die. In other words, the thief is expressing an Islamic position that Muslims would agree with. Jesus did not deserve to die, he did not deserve to suffer and he was an innocent man. In other words, Jesus rewards a thief and claims the thief would be in the Kingdom of God with him because he denied the core tenets of Christianity while affirming core beliefs of Islam.

The thief in no uncertain words explains that his crucifixion on the cross is justified, but Jesus’s isn’t, however, confessional Christians would argue that in order for sin to be paid, it had to be justified through the death of Jesus the Christ. This presents a problem for Christianity. Jesus rewards a man and accepts him into the Kingdom of God for expressively, clearly and absolutely, rejecting core Christian beliefs about salvation!

Comments by Scholars

These 5 verses deliver a devastating blow to the consistency of the doctrine of salvation in Christianity. These verses essentially approve of Islamic beliefs and indicate that Muslims according to Jesus…would be in the Kingdom of God, since we believe that he was innocent and that the alleged crucifixion was not justified in any way. These are things a Christian today cannot deny, these are things a Christian today has to believe in, yet a thief with Islamic beliefs only accepted two tenets, both of which agree with core Islamic beliefs, and was rewarded and praised by Jesus! The scholars have had difficulty in understanding these passages. It must first be noted that only one Gospel records this incident and this is the Gospel of Luke:

“Luke’s account is noticeably independent of the other three. The three sayings of Christ’s, round which his narrative is grouped, are preserved by him alone. We shall best grasp the dominant impression which the Evangelist unconsciously had himself received, and sought to convey, by gathering the whole round these three words from the Cross.” – MacLaren’s Expositions.

The other three Gospels are noticeably silent on the thieves, except for the case of demonizing them:

“In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” – Matthew 27:44 (NIV).

“Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” – Mark 15:32 (NIV).

The final Gospel, later attributed to John (which John, we don’t know), does not mention any of the words of the thieves, it does not even identify them as thieves or rebels. Instead, this is all the Gospel as to say:

“The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other.” – John 19:32 (NIV).

Resolving the Problem

Some Christian commentators (exegetes) have attempted to navigate around this narrative disaster by implying that the thief/ rebel had other beliefs, that he believed Jesus was a God or that Jesus was meant to die for his sins and thus was saved because of this. The problem with such an argument is that the only Gospel to mention this incident does not indicate any of these things. The Gospel does not indicate that the thief/ rebel believed in anything other than what was recorded. In other words, this is a poor attempt at reading between the lines and should therefore be rejected. If scripture is sufficient for understanding salvation, then the plain reading of these 5 passages should be accepted without having a need to insert anything into scripture, to force it to say something it does not.

Conclusion

These five passages are a disaster for any Christian who takes their faith seriously. Every core tenet that one needs to believe in to be considered a confessional Christian is necessarily discarded by the thief and approved of by Jesus himself. In fact, the very beliefs that Jesus was an innocent man and did not deserve to die, that his death is unjustifiable is an Islamic belief. Thus, there are two arguments to be claimed here:

  1. According to Jesus, all one has to do to be granted entry into the Kingdom of God is to accept that Jesus is innocent and that his death was unjustified (which affirms Islam’s beliefs about Jesus). Therefore the beliefs of most Christians have been deemed unnecessary and useless by Jesus himself.
  2.  That belief in Jesus dying for the sins of the world is unjustified and that Jesus affirms this, thereby establishing that him dying does not acquit us of our sins (essentially refuting core Christian beliefs about the purpose behind Jesus’s death in the first place).

May God guide our Christian brothers and sisters to the truth of Jesus the Christ, which is to the Oneness of God.

and Allah knows best.

Can any Christian be certain of Christianity’s Doctrine of Salvation?

For most, the answer would be yes. They’ve confessed and professed their faith in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. They faithfully read the scriptures (Old and New Testaments) and attend Church gatherings regularly to engage in prayer and worship. However, I intend to raise an honest question to the Christian – how certain can you be of your salvation?

It is my belief that the Christian should be concerned, worried about his salvation. Why is this? I say this due to having read the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible. For countless peoples who faithfully obeyed and put into practise what YHWH instructed them to do in the Hebrew Bible, he reneged on this doctrine of salvation by faith and works. He then allegedly instituted a new doctrine of salvation, while revealing such things as life in heaven, the punishment of hell, his multi-personhood (the Trinity) and finally the promise of the death of His Son.

Christians seem to be completely oblivious to the fact that if YHWH could hide such important doctrines such as his very Triune nature, the existence of an afterlife and an entirely new doctrine of salvation, that this strongly indicates that there is no certainty he’d hold on to this current doctrine of salvation. The Christian faithful need to realise, that if God can change his mind on salvation once, what is there to demonstrate he won’t do so twice? It then must be accepted, that in the future, God can very well change his doctrine of salvation again.

cc-2014-salvation

Many will respond by saying that God has sent His son, he’s given us through the faithful predecessors his plans for us in the New Testament – all that we need to know, is with us here already. However, the Jews before Christ also claimed the same. They had one God, one scripture and they found the new Christian belief to be a heresy – the New Testament clearly indicates their opposition to this new faith. When Christians emerged unto the scene, they found themselves debating fiercely with their Jewish counterparts, indicating that such and such Messianic Prophecy was hinted by such and such verse (two of the more popular examples are Isaiah 9 and Isaiah 53). Many Christians will then use the Book of Hebrews (of the New Testament) to illustrate to the Jew how the Old Testament sayings and beliefs should have been interpreted.

There is nothing to show that the God of the Christians and Jews won’t do this a third time. Just as the Jews before them, Christians too already have certainty in their eschatology and soteriology, their faith and the future is certain to them, the promise of God is what they hold to. Yet these same Christians today consider the Jews who rejected Christ to be sons of the devil and evil (John 8:44-48), enemies of the Christ (Luke 19:27), there is nothing to stop me from concluding that should the Christian God change his mind again – today’s Christians (just as the Jews before them) may very well be considered sons of the devil for rejecting God’s new plan of salvation. I mean, if Christians can look down on Jews and be perplexed as to how they can reject the new covenant, who should complain when another new covenant comes and today’s Christians reject it as a heresy (just as the Jews before them did with the Christian beliefs).

The very existence of Christianity as a ‘new’ covenant, surely has to bother Christians as to what ‘other’ covenants God may have in store for the future. For if his mind can change once, who is to say it won’t change again?

Explaining Ezekiel 18:21

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ ,

I’ve often seen Christian missionaries who in trying to defend Paul’s doctrine of salvation in Christianity, use the following verse:

“But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die.” – Ezekiel 18:21.

What they mean to say by quoting this verse is the following:

  1. No one person can fulfill all the laws of God – it’s impossible. This however is a logical dilemma, why would God command us to do the impossible? It’s also quite possible, as Paul himself did claim to obey all the laws, and so were Zechariah and Elizabeth.
  2. We all die because we sin.

What does it mean by they will not ‘die’? Clearly, this is the main point of their argument. In Christ you will not die, for you will attain eternal righteousness by his grace. To the contrary, the verse isn’t stating that one would actually die due to their sins, rather the verse’s meaning of ‘dying’, is explained not more than 10 verses after:

Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? – Ezekiel 18:31.

It’s a spiritual death that Ezekiel is referring to here. It does not mean that God has a new plan of salvation in mind, nor does it mean that humans cannot follow God’s law or that God will not forgive us for sinning. Clearly, isolating the verse has its benefits for many missionaries, but while they ignore its immediate context, we will always seek to highlight it as much as is possible.

wa Allaahu ‘Alam.

Paul’s Contradictions on Salvation are Vast

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ ,

Paul’s gripes with the law are prominent throughout Galatians, Philippians and Romans. The content of most of these Epistles are filled with Paul’s intra-spiritual conflicts on soteriology given his Pharisaical past and Christian future, a battle not only with himself, but with his ‘super-apostle’ counterparts whom he proclaims equity with in authority and rank, yet they have never indicated such spiritual contradictions in their alleged writings[1][2]. To the contrary the ‘super apostles’ seemed to have it all figured out[3]. Paul says in his Epistle to the Philippians where he is boasting of his character[4]:

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee;  as for zeal,persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

According to the exegetes [5], Paul claims to be faultless, that he had followed the law to the dot. If one follows the law without fault, then they are faultless, without sin. As a sin is to disobey God’s law. Yet, contradictingly, Paul says in another Epistle, this one to the Romans [6]:

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.

Paul only demonstrates his perpetual confusion, he cannot reconcile his new doctrine of salvation through the Messiah, with that of the law as given by God. For if God gave the law and the law would not save, then God failed, made a mistake in giving the law and had to recompense by giving His son. E.P Sanders’ says on this notion[7]:

Paul here, separates “God’s will” from “what actually happened”. In Paul’s world, the last position is the most surprising: that God failed, that his original intention in giving the law was not achieved.

Why do Christians expect us to follow such a muddled doctrine on salvation? Am I to accept that God failed in His plans for mankind’s salvation? Am I to accept that the apostle God chose to usher in His new faith, himself did not grasp it? Am I to accept that God killed His ‘son’, because God screwed up and needed a quick-save plan? As confusing and problematic Paul’s position is, the doctrine of soteriology in Christianity is far more complicated, for if Paul’s works are the foundation for it, given that it’s already so confusing, shall we expect anything derived of it to be void of such issues? Wishful thinking at its best for out Christian brothers.

wa Allaahu ‘Alam.

[1] – 2 Corinthians 11:5, Bible.
[2] – 2 Corinthians 12:11, Bible.
[3] – James 2:14-16, Bible.
[4] – Philippians 3:4-6, Bible.
[5] – “Philippians 3:6”, Adam Clarke’s Commentary.
[6] – Romans 7:14, Bible.
[7] –  “Paul, the Law and the Jewish People”, by E.P. Sanders, Kindle Edition, Location 1394 – 1395.