05. Salvation in the Prophets, Salvation in Jesus: Mercy not Retribution

The Christian pacifism I advocate in this book rests, in part, on understanding God to be merciful. God’s mercy becomes the basis for human beings practicing thorough-going mercy themselves. How consistent should Christian thinking about salvation be to this thorough going mercy?

Traditional Christian thought about salvation has understood God’s holiness in ways that underwrite retributive justice. According to Timothy Gorringe in his book, God’s Just Vengeance, this retributive salvation theology contributed powerfully to violent criminal justice practices in Christian Europe.[1]

Some Christian pacifists accept God’s retributive justice as “God’s prerogative” and not as a model for Christians.[2] Without at this time resolving this issue, I will in this chapter look more closely at the biblical roots of Christian salvation theology. Based on the message of Old Testament prophets and on the life and teaching of Jesus, I will argue that salvation may indeed be understood in terms of nonviolent restorative justice, not violent retributive justice.

In the Bible, salvation has to do with wholeness. To have salvation implemented leads to harmony with God, harmony with other human beings, and harmony with the rest of creation. We need salvation when we experience brokenness instead of wholeness. After the very beginning of the book of Genesis, the Bible presupposes the realities of disharmony and brokenness—and focuses on the struggle for salvation amidst these realities. Salvation results in healed brokenness, restored health and wholeness.

The primal storyline

From Cain’s murder of his brother Abel at the beginning of Genesis to visions of horrific blood-letting in Revelation, the Bible portrays violence as one of the central threats to human wholeness. Salvation ultimately frees people from threats of violence. At the same time, quite often violence seems to be a tool effecting salvation—holy wars, judgment versus wrongdoers, violence that cleanses the earth of evildoers, the violent sacrifice of innocent life.

The Bible closely links salvation with God, but paradoxically. God brings salvation: God the Savior intervenes to deliver needy people. God provides what people need to foster wholeness in their lives. God works to restore relationships. But is God also what people need to be saved from? Are we condemned to suffer God’s punitive wrath unless God’s disposition toward us might be changed? Does God require some kind of sacrificial violence in order for this disposition to change? Does God operate according to the logic of retribution?

Does biblical salvation, in its overall orientation, reinforce the need for retributive violence among humans? Or, instead, does the overall portrayal of salvation in the Bible point toward a break in the spiral of violence? Is salvation, in its deepest sense, effected free from violence with the consequence of freeing the saved people from needing to use violence themselves?

“The primal story line of the Old Testament is a sequence of events through which Yahweh intervenes in the life of Israel in order to effect rescue, deliverance, and emancipation. These actions are nameable, concrete, and decisively transformative, and are termed ‘salvation’ or ‘deliverance’ (see Isaiah 52:7,10; Psalms 27:1; 78:22).”[3] A central consequence of the way the Old Testament presents salvation, via concrete events communicated in stories told and retold, is to locate this salvation in history and not in a cosmic, transcendent context. Salvation, in the Old Testament, is not about some transaction in the heart of God or some sort of weighing of the cosmic scale of justice. Rather, salvation has to do with flesh and blood actions.

The core of the primal story line of the Old Testament may be seen as three moments of salvation: the calling of Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 12), the liberation of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 1–15), and the proclamation of mercy to the Hebrew exiles (Isaiah 40–55).

In each of these three key moments, God gives salvation to unworthy recipients. Abraham and Sarah have no particular virtues; they are simply “wanderers.” The Hebrews in Egypt were lowly, demoralized slaves who showed no evidence of worshiping the God of their ancestors. The exiles of Isaiah 40–55 had lost all their pillars of identity due to their unfaithfulness to Torah.

The explicitness of the unworthiness of those being saved by God makes clear that they had done nothing to earn God’s intervention. The logic of retribution tells us that God must act to destroy the unclean and unworthy. God cannot save them unless somehow the “balance of the scales of justice” might be restored through punitive acts. The story tells us something quite different.

God the savior acts in these moments purely out of God’s own good will. In each case the action is God’s, due to God’s free choice simply to intervene. The recipients did nothing to “purchase” God’s favor, nothing to obligate God to act. God required no human acts to balance the scales of justice. “God’s deliverance is not compelled or made necessary; it is unrelated to any special merit on Israel’s part (cf. especially Deuteronomy 7:8). The Exodus experience is an initiative of God’s grace, a divine action freely taken for the sake of establishing relationship and community.”[4]

God’s desire for relationships with God’s people fuels the saving acts of God. God’s intervention is personal, born out of compassion and love, leading to liberating acts that effect and sustain human/divine relationality. At its core, according to the Old Testament’s primal story, salvation has to do with a loving, passionate God desiring a personal connection with human beings. The work of God to establish and sustain these relationships emerges from this personal, passionate, and loving disposition.

According to one key account of the Old Testament’s primal story line, Hosea 11, God’s holiness fuels mercy, not retribution. Hosea recites God’s saving acts, then critiques the Hebrews for turning from God. But God, in agony over the broken relationship, asserts that because of holiness, God will not come in punitive wrath but rather will act with warm and tender compassion. The sin problem does not lead to divine action to punish and destroy. Rather, the sin problem leads to divine action to heal and restore.

For salvation to enter the Hebrews’ world, nothing is needed that would change God’s disposition. The Hebrews are not called to find ways to appease God’s anger, satisfy the demands of God’s balance-the-scales justice, or find ways to avoid impurities that violate God’s absolute holiness. The called-for actions, rather, include the Hebrews responding to God’s merciful acts by acting mercifully themselves, following Torah regulations that provide guidance for such merciful actions and form Israel into a merciful society.

Salvation in eighth-century prophetic proclamation

Voices of accountability arose among the ancient Hebrews to challenge distortions to the original intent of Law and sacrifice. These voices belonged to a class of people known as the prophets. Moses himself is best placed in this class, underscoring the close connection between the origins of the law and those who sought to challenge the drift away from the Law’s core concerns.

When the Law tended more toward legalism than being a basis for community wholeness, and when sacrifice tended toward ritual cut off from justice, prophets raised voices in protest.

“Prophets arise in Israel when covenantal modes of existence are endangered. It is the work of the prophets to insist that all of Israel’s life is to be lived in relation to and in response to Yahweh’s will and purposes, and to enunciate the consequences of a life live without regard to this defining relationship. The prophets are to invite a ‘turning’ in Israel, a turn from pride to trust, from despair to hope, from abusiveness to covenantal neighborliness.”[5]

In their challenges to distortions of law and sacrifice, prophets powerfully reiterated the core meaning of salvation. They re-emphasized that salvation is God’s liberating gift, and that following Torah and offering sacrifices are responses to God’s gift, not means to try to gain it. Eighth century BCE prophets—Amos, Hosea, and Micah—set the tone for much of the prophetic critique to come. All three eighth-century prophets, Amos, Hosea, and Micah, spoke in response to the disharmony they perceived among the Hebrew people.

Amos drew on traditions he and listeners shared as people of Yahweh. He several times reminded his listeners of their common belief that Yahweh had brought the Hebrews out of Egypt and placed the people in the promise land (2:9-10; 3:1-2; 9:7-8). The Hebrews’ “immoral treatment of those who are unable to defend themselves is juxtaposed [to God’s] protective treatment throughout their early history when they were unable to defend themselves.”[6]

Amos prophesied with the assumption that the Israelites would share his conviction that their liberating God had directly given them Torah with its clear instructions regarding the nature of covenantal life. Liberation and land are linked inextricably with Law. Yahweh delivered the people from the injustice of slavery in Egypt and for justice in the covenant community in which all are treated with respect and given access to the means of lives of wholeness.

Amos draws directly on the tradition, taking for granted that the people would know full well the content of Torah. There would be no debate about the centrality of justice for the covenant community—only over the extent of injustice current in Israel.

Likewise, Hosea also draws directly on the liberation story that formed the core of Hebrew consciousness. His indictment in chapter 11 begins with these words: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (11:1). Hosea then goes on to outline how the people did not remain faithful to the ways of their loving God.

Micah prophesied in Judah, the southern kingdom. Micah also drew centrally on the Moses-Sinai tradition. Like Amos and Hosea, Micah emphasized the exodus and Torah, basically ignoring the Davidic-Zion kingship tradition. For Micah, unlike many of his fellow Judeans, Jerusalem was not inviolable. In Micah’s view, violating the covenant in the way his contemporaries had rendered the nation’s future uncertain. It is not that Yahweh had changed from loving to wrathful; rather, even a society founded on Torah-justice will become deathly ill when Torah-justice is disregarded.

For all three prophets, the key for the health of the Hebrews’ covenant-community is Yahweh’s love and liberating work. This divine, life-giving initiative of God—Torah—included detailed guidance for liberated living in justice and Shalom. “The reason the commands are so urgent and insistent is that they are Yahweh’s (and therefore Israel’s) strategy for fending off a return to pre-Exodus conditions of exploitation and brutality within the community.”[7]

However, when the community departs from Torah, disharmony will inevitably ensue. This disharmony does not result from God’s direct intervention following the logic of retribution. Rather, it is much more the simple natural consequence of the people separating themselves from the life source. The same God who gave Torah also created the universe. Violating Torah means going against the grain of the universe, leading to natural consequences.

The prophets raised their critiques for the purpose of helping the Hebrews to find healing. They “sought to bring the people to realize that at the depth of the catastrophes which shook their lives and brought intense suffering, God was present, providing the impulse for the return from a road leading to ruin and offering a new life.”[8]

The prophets reject a sacrificial approach. The proper role of sacrifice is as a response to God’s initiative, not as a means to turn God back toward the people. Underlying prophetic theology here is the assumption that God remains the source of wholeness, that God still loves the people in the same way as God had in the time of Moses.

The restoration of harmony is not complicated nor is it something God would withhold. Hosea 12:6 captures what is needed: “Return to your God, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” Turn back (or, repent). Do kindness. Do justice. Trust.

When Amos speaks against vain religiosity, he offers as an alternative that the people would “seek the Lord and live” (5:6). “Seek” may be understood as a kind of technical term for turning to God in a service of prayer; in this context such turning is contrasted with making pilgrimage to the main religious sites. The call to repent or return rests upon a certainty of God’s receptivity. In Amos, especially, the weight of inequity is so heavy that Israel seems doomed. But the way out is simple—“seek the Lord and live,” that is all.

Should the people truly seek God, their lives would bear the fruit: justice and mercy (two complementary concepts). According to Amos, when the people seek God their common life would be transformed in practical ways. In order to live, the people must “seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate” (Amos 5:14-15).

Hosea and Micah both call upon the people to do kindness (or to do mercy or to practice steadfast love) as part of their core proclamation regarding salvation. This call to kindness is linked with justice as two closely related and complementary emphases. “Hold fast to love/kindness/mercy and justice” (Hosea 12:6). The Lord requires the people “to do justice and to love kindness/mercy” (Micah 6:8). “I desire steadfast love/ mercy/kindness and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

“Steadfast love,” “mercy,” and “kindness” refer to faithfulness to the Sinai covenant resulting in care for one another in the community. The call to do kindness, like the call to do justice, directly alludes to Torah. This allusion underscores the truth that at their heart, the Law and the Prophets are united in calling the Hebrews to healthy and strong relationships in which all people (including, especially, vulnerable ones such as widows, orphans, and resident aliens) are provided for and treated well.

Salvation, then, in the context of the disharmony the prophets spoke so strongly against, had to do with the healing of relationships within the community. Gift and obligation are inextricably united. Because Yahweh liberated the Hebrews they have the obligation to share life together in ways that insure the wellbeing of all. “God’s love and kindness indicate a road. It is a road not limited to a particular area in space nor to exceptional miraculous happenings. It is everywhere, at all times.”[9]

Because of Yahweh’s steadfast love and life-giving justice that seeks to restore relationships, the prophets assure their hearers that they may trust in Yahweh. The basic dynamic includes the interplay of these four elements. Repent, turn from idolatry and toward God. Let justice and mercy characterize your lives. Trust in your loving and faithful God. And that is it. Sacrifice, at most, comes later.

For all his confrontive language and extraordinarily strong warnings, Amos in the end portrays Yahweh as merciful. Yahweh remains trustworthy, faithful to the promise to bless all the families of the earth.[10]

“I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them upon their land, and they shall never again be plucked up out of the land that I have given them, says the Lord your God” (Amos 9:14-15).

The prophets show us a God angry not because the legalistic scales of justice have been unbalanced. Rather, God is angry because the interpersonal dynamics of just relationships have been violated by oppression and violence. “God’s concern is the prerequisite and source of [God’s] anger. It is because [God] cares for [humans] that [God’s] anger may be kindled against [humans].” God’s anger and God’s mercy are not in conflict but are directly related, both stemming from God’s will to heal the world.[11]

The entire context for theological reflection concerning salvation must be seen in terms of the covenant relationships God has established with God’s people. Justice is not about God’s internal processes and impersonal holiness. Rather, justice is about fostering health in the actual community of people seeking to live together in a way that glorifies God.

All three of these prophetic books are structured so as to underscore God’s overarching healing love. Each book directly presents God as seeking healing, but also—in its overall structure—makes clear that the portrayal of anger and wrath is serving a rhetorical strategy meant to foster trust in the Hebrews’ loving, patient, and healing God.

What we have portrayed is not an angry, wrathful God. Rather, we have a loving, healing God who out of commitment love feels anger at the people’s self-destructive behavior. God expresses this anger, but this ultimately is meant to serve the love by fostering a return.

Jesus’ teaching on salvation

Contrary to many Christian soteriologies, for Jesus the salvation story of the Old Testament remains fully valid. He does not seek to tell a different story, but to proclaim the truthfulness of the old story. “Jesus continues the work of the prototypical prophet, Moses, because he uses Torah to disclose the will of God and to define the justice of God.”[12]

The stories of Jesus’ birth make clear the continuity of the overall story of Jesus with the story line of the Old Testament. Luke’s Gospel links John the Baptist with Israel’s story, specifically, the great prophet Elijah. Luke presents John as a prophet in the direct line of the biblical prophets, the guardians of Yahweh’s message of salvation for Israel and the world.

Mary’s song (Luke 1:46-55) echoes Hannah’s at the birth of Samuel (see 1 Samuel 2:1-10). In speaking of God exalting the lowly and scattering the proud, she repeats images from the Exodus and numerous of the Psalms. Mary concludes by making the connection explicit: “The Lord has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and his descendants forever” (Luke 1:54-55). Salvation here is an act of God’s pure mercy, given as a gift in continuity with God’s call of Abraham. Whatever is going to happen with Jesus, Luke makes it clear from the start that the salvation Jesus brings is of a piece with the salvation Yahweh brought of old.

In Luke’s birth story we learn that indeed something new is at hand, but that this “new thing” is in full harmony with the Old Testament portrayal of salvation. Israel’s God has “remembered” the promise to Abraham (Luke 1:54-55), the covenant with Abraham’s descendents, and hence acts anew with profound mercy. There is no hint here that something has to happen to God to make restoration possible. God initiates the reconciliation. God simply declares: salvation has come.

In Luke, as Jesus begins his public ministry, he expresses continuity with the Bible. Just prior to “going public,” Jesus encounters a series of temptations—what kind of Messiah will he be? Jesus responds to the tempter by quoting scripture. “It is written…” he begins each time in resisting the temptations (Luke 4:1-13). He anchors his identity in Israel’s story.

Then, Jesus returns to his home territory. He reads from Isaiah and makes the audacious claim, “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Jesus identifies himself with Israel’s hopes and Yahweh’s promises. And he asserts that the fulfillment of those promises stems from Yahweh’s initiating mercy alone.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus never hints that he might understand his teaching as anything but in full continuity with Israel’s scriptures. Jesus “interprets his own actions in terms of the fulfillment, not of a few prophetic proof-texts taken atomistically, but of the entire story-line which Israel had told herself, in a variety of forms, over and over again.”[13] Matthew presents Jesus making this point explicitly:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished” (5:17-18).

Later in Matthew, Jesus asserts that the central operating convictions of his ministry stem directly from the Bible.

“A lawyer asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang the law and the prophets'” (22:35-40).

Jesus’ God is not a God who demands repayment of every ounce of indebtedness. Rather, God is a God of abundant mercy. Jesus taught that debts would be released without any kind of payment (Luke 4:19). Jesus’ “was not a God who maintained debt records for the purpose of foreclosing on the poor, but a God who canceled debt and restored life.”[14]

Jesus’ Jubilee theology does not accept the logic of retribution that portrays God as demanding perfect obedience or a violent sacrifice as a necessary basis for earning God’s favor. Jesus began his ministry by proclaiming a word of pure acceptance—the poor, the captives, the oppressed are given a simple word of acceptance by God. “When Jesus said, ‘God made the sabbath for people,’ he meant that God had liberated the Jews by taking them out of Egypt. The sabbatical year, like the day of the sabbath, must be practiced. They are both meant to liberate people and not to enslave them.”[15] Jesus indeed liberates (“saves”), but he does so simply by announcing that it is so. In this way, he is fully in continuity with the core salvation story of the Old Testament. Nothing has changed in the content of that story.

The close parallel with the Old Testament story reinforces our sense that Jesus totally fits within the gift/response dynamics of God’s saving efforts there. Jesus presents the kingdom of God as already present for his listeners. Because it is present, listeners are to “repent” and “believe.” That is to say, there is no sense here that the repentance and belief in any way are conditions God requires before making the kingdom present.

“Jesus does not offer forgiveness to those who repent and promise to do works of restitution. He declares people forgiven before they repent.” Jesus reached out to those unable to do works of restitution (e.g., toll collectors, prostitutes). “To these he declares: Your sins are forgiven (Luke 18:9-14)! Now you can repent!”[16]

Jesus’ gospel message does lead directly to his death. This death, though, is not the necessary means to affect the salvation Jesus the Savior brings the world. Rather, the death stems from the response of the Powers to the salvation already given by God through mercy and revealed to the world with unprecedented clarity by Jesus. Jesus’ death indeed profoundly heightens our understanding of salvation. It reveals that the logic of retribution is an instrument of evil and that God’s love prevails even over the most extreme expression of (demonic) retribution.

The Synoptic Gospels include two stories where Jesus is asked directly about eternal life. Both stories illumine Jesus’ understanding of salvation—both in what they say and what they do not say. One story, which includes the parable of the Good Samaritan, occurs only in Luke’s Gospel (10:25-37). All three Synoptic Gospels contain the other story, Jesus’ encounter with the “rich young ruler” (Matthew 19:16-26; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-25).

The “expert in the law” (Luke 10:25 NIV) asking Jesus about inheriting eternal life follows Jesus’ blessing seventy followers who returned to him after traveling about sharing Jesus’ message. Jesus is asked, in effect, what about those of us who are not privileged to be part of this group, how do we enter into God’s blessing of salvation.

Jesus asks the lawyer to say what he thinks. The lawyer answers with his summary of the Tradition, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 (“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength”) and Leviticus 19:18 (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”). When Jesus affirms this response—“you have given the right answer; do this, and you will live” (10:28)—we see one more explicit statement of Jesus’ continuity with the Old Testament understanding of salvation. The lawyer’s answer reflects accurately the biblical teaching on salvation, and Jesus gives this teaching his full affirmation.

Granting that the way to salvation includes loving both God and neighbor, an inseparable combination, the lawyer asks for clarity concerning who the neighbor is. Jesus’ powerful story underscores that “neighbor” is an all-encompassing category. “Neighbor” includes even one’s national enemies—the “Samaritan” being a neighbor to the Jew even while representing Jews’ long-time enemies.

In Luke’s version of the story Jesus and the rich ruler, the encounter follows immediately after Jesus’ assertion that little children, with their open hearts and trusting spirit, show what is needed for entry into God’s kingdom. The ruler, perhaps wondering if Jesus’ statement about children leaves him out, asks about how he might inherit eternal life. Jesus responds: “You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, honor your father and mother’” (Luke 18:20).

Jesus links salvation with the Commandments that introduce Torah. Surely the love command from the earlier story and this summary of the Commandments should be seen as equivalent. Implied in any summary of the Commandments are the prelude to the Commandments (because “the Lord your God brought you out of the house of slavery,” Exodus 20:2) and the first Commandment (“you shall have no other gods before me,” Exodus 20:3; that is, love God fully).

The rich ruler, like the lawyer, agrees with Jesus concerning this understanding of salvation. Again, Jesus goes on to add depth to the basics. Here, too, Jesus surely understood his clarifications to be totally in line with biblical teaching. Jesus makes clear that two elements lie at the heart of the Commandments: (1) do not idolize wealth and (2) commitment to God leads to caring for the vulnerable ones in one’s community. Both elements clearly were central in Torah and were reflected in the prophets.

Jesus actually adds nothing to the Old Testament portrayal of salvation. What must one do to be saved? Love God wholeheartedly (Deuteronomy 6:5). Love one’s neighbor as oneself (Leviticus 19:18). Follow the Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17).

What gets Jesus in trouble may be seen as precisely that which had gotten the prophets before him in trouble. He makes this connection himself (“Blessed are when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets,” Luke 6:22-23). Jesus’ understanding of salvation would have been controversial not because he departed from the Bible but rather because like his fellow prophets he applied the core biblical teaching in a way that challenged the Powers of his day.

Jesus portrayed God as an initiator of salvation and as a welcomer of all kinds of people who shared the one characteristic of desire for a relationship with God. Jesus taught his followers to pray to “our Father,” to think of God as one who loves them like a parent. Salvation has to do with responding with trust to the compassionate care of a loving God. Jesus also uses God as his model when he calls upon his followers to take the radical step of loving their enemies. “Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36). God becomes Jesus’ model for following the logic of mercy and rejecting the logic of retribution.

Finally, we have one last text where Jesus addresses the issue of salvation. Matthew concludes his final account of Jesus’ discourses, beginning in 25:31, with a portrayal of the last judgment. This famous picture of the division of sheep from goats, the former joining the “kingdom prepared for you” and the latter heading for “the eternal fire prepared for the devil.”

Those who join the sheep are the ones who ministered to the needy. They actually were ministering to God when they offered help to “the least of these who are members of my family” (25:40). Those who join the goats are convicted of disregarding “the least of these” and thereby disregard the Lord (25:45). Jesus mentions only this criterion. He actually catches up here a central motif dating back to Torah and finding consistent expression in the prophets and Jesus’ own ministry. God has loved you unconditionally and shown that love to you. But for that love to be real in your lives, you must respond to it with gratitude.

The Gospels’ story of Jesus centers on the salvation Jesus witnesses to. When we read the Gospels against the backdrop of the Old Testament (and not against the backdrop of post-biblical Christian theology) we see complete continuity between the core Old Testament salvation story and Jesus’ own teaching about salvation.

Jesus follows the prophets and Torah: God initiates salvation, first, last, and always. God does this out of love and with the intent—reflecting God’s total commitment to human beings—to bring healing to the alienated human race. Nothing needs to happen to change God’s disposition toward human beings or to enable God to overcome limitations imposed on God’s mercy by “holiness.” God does not need some sort of sacrificial violence in order to satisfy God’s honor or appease God’s wrath in order to offer salvation to alienated human beings.

Jesus’ saving message was simple. Turn to God and trust in the good news of God’s love. That is all there is to it. This message closely echoed the message of the prophets. In Jesus’ teaching on salvation (as in the prophets’), we find no hint of salvation according to the logic of retribution.

End Notes:

1. Timothy Gorringe, God’s Just Vengeance: Crime, Violence, and the Rhetoric of Salvation (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

2. See Willard M. Swartley, Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), chapter 14: “God’s Moral Character as the Basis for Human Ethics: Foundational Convictions.”

3. Walter Brueggemann, Reverberations of Faith: A Theological Handbook of Old Testament Themes (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002), 184.

4. Bruce C. Birch, Let Justice Roll Down: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Christian Life (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1991), 116.

5. Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), 697.

6. Shalom M. Paul, Amos: A Commentary on the Book of Amos (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), 87.

7. Brueggemann, Theology, 184.

8. Bernhard W. Anderson, The Eighth-Century Prophets: Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1978), 34.

9. Abraham Heschel, The Prophets, vol. 1 (New York: Harper and Row, 1962), 211.

10. Scholarly consensus concludes that Amos 9:11-15 most likely was added to the book, perhaps sometime not too long before 515 BCE (Bruce E. Willoughby, “Amos,” in David Noel Freedman, ed., Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 1, 211). However, as I am operating with the reading strategy of taking “the Bible whole,” that is, as it comes to us—focusing on it as story more than history—I am choosing to read Amos’ final vision as part of the book’s overall message. Plus, most of the reasons given for bracketing Amos 9:11-15 from the rest of the book are based on assumptions about internal consistency that are open to challenge.

11. Heschel, Prophets, vol. 2, 66. See also, Anderson, Eighth-Century Prophets, 82.

12. William R. Herzog, Jesus, Justice, and the Reign of God: A Ministry of Liberation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), 66.

13. N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 129-130.

14. Herzog, Jesus, 132.

15. John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, second edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), 65-66.

16. Walter Wink, The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of Man (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 78.

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