Warning: possible heretical thoughts may follow. What follows isn’t exactly a deeply held dogmatic belief (in fact, I would say I don’t even believe it), but something that has been rolling around in my head for a few years. It is more the outworking of theological creativity and imagination. I have read fairly widely over the past few years and have not found anyone even suggest the following interpretation of the death of Jesus, so I am reluctant to push this without further investigation. With that disclaimer, here we go.
I remember as a sophomore in college sitting in my Old Testament Book Study and Hermeneutics class and listening to Professor Blankenship emphasizing Genesis 15 as the sealing of the covenant YHWH made with Abram. In the passage, Abram took a heifer, goat, ram, dove and pigeon, and cut the larger animals in half. The halves of the animals were arranged opposite of each other and “a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces”, the smoking firepot understood to represent YHWH. So, YHWH was the only one who covenanted with Abram and walked through the animal pieces, effectively saying, “If I break this covenant, may the fate that fell upon these animals fall upon me”. This is usually interpreted somewhere along the lines of: YHWH was the only one who binded himself to the covenant because he knew that Israel could not uphold their side of the covenant, and God cannot break a promise, thus this is a covenant of grace. God is binding himself to the covenant while knowing that Israel cannot keep up its side.
However, fast forward to Jesus of Nazareth. As Jurgen Moltmann puts it, we find the “crucified God”. In Jesus, did YHWH so change his covenant with his people that in order to establish a new covenant (Luke 22:20) he must face the penalty of breaking the old covenant? Or did YHWH do something prior to the crucifixion that broke the covenant? Can this reading fit in with scripture? Can it complement or does it supplant traditional atonement theories? Does this reading mean the Old Testament is irrelevant for anything other than understanding the New Testament? Did the death of Jesus inaugurate a drastically new covenant that is not the fulfillment of the law in terms of the promise YHWH, but it fulfills the law in terms of the penalties due to YHWH?
Does it not appear in scripture that things often don’t go according to YHWH’s plans? The fall of man, the flood, the disobedience of Israel? Rather than killing the whole world as in Genesis 7, is Jesus YHWH’s way of trying a new plan? Is the roller coaster of fidelity, disobedience, exile, and return in the life of Israel the outworking of YHWH trying to remain faithful to the covenant with Abram without encountering the penalty of changing the rules?
I find that this reading has a lot of theological possibilities, but I haven’t investigated if it came make any sense whatsoever in relation to the biblical text.
Has anyone read or heard anyone talk of the death of Jesus in such a way?