This may sound odd, but for Luke, Jesus’ death does not bring atonement for sin.

Luke does not share Mark’s view that Jesus’ death brought about an atonement for sins. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus spoke of his coming death as bringing salvation: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  Here Jesus’ death ransoms others who deserve to die – that is, it is a substitution for the death of others. It is striking indeed that Luke omits this verse. And why does he do so? This may sound odd, but it is because for him, Jesus’ death does not bring atonement for sin.

Then why does Jesus die? For Luke, Jesus dies because he is a righteous prophet who was rejected by his own people in a severe miscarriage of justice. And how does Jesus’ death then lead to the salvation from sin? When you read volume two of this author’s work, the book of Acts, you will find the answer quite clearly, When the apostles in Acts try to convert others to believe in Jesus, they proclaim that Jesus’ innocent death shows how sinful people are. When people recognise their sinfulness, they break down and confess to God, begging for his forgiveness. And then God forgives them. For Luke Jesus’ death is not an atonement for the sins of others; it is a death that leads people to ask for forgiveness.

Let me illustrate the difference. If you owe me a hundred dollars but cannot pay, there are a couple of ways we could deal with your dilemma. You could find someone else to pay your debt for you.  That would be atonement (Christ dies for the sake of others). As an alternative, you could ask me to forgive you the debt, so that no one needs to pay. If I agree, then that would be like forgiveness (Christ’s death leads person to ask for forgiveness). Mark understands Jesus’ death as atonement and Luke as an occasion to ask for forgiveness. It’s a big difference.


Extract from The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction, by renowned biblical scholar Dr Bart Ehrman, page 281


Categories: Bible, Christianity, Dr Bart Ehrman, Gospels, New Testament scholarship

11 replies

  1. Wrong.
    Luke 24:44-49

    • textual corruption. Well known to textual critics.


      • Although there are textual variant issues in Luke 22:19-20, once you work through the details, the longer reading comes out as the most reasonable – many scholars agree with the longer reading and defend it.

        Acts 20:28 “. . . the church of God which He purchased (redeemed, bought) with His own blood . . . ”

        another proof that Jesus is God. (God the Son, same substance as the Father – homo-ousias)

        Luke 24:25-27 and 24:44-47

        οὐχὶ ταῦτα ἔδει παθεῖν τὸν Χριστὸν καὶ εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ

        “Was it not necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?”
        Luke 24:26

        Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

        ἔδει and δει (must, necessary) demonstrates that Luke agrees with Paul (Romans 3:14-16; 1 Cor. 15)and John (John 1:29; Rev. 5:9) and Mark (10:45; 14:25) and Peter (1 Peter 1:18-19; 2:24; 3:18))

        demonstrates that repentance for forgiveness of sins is based on the sufferings, death, and resurrection of the Messiah – “the Messiah must suffer” (pointing to Isaiah 53 and Daniel 9:24-27 – Messiah will be cut off and be an atonement for sin, etc.)

        Luke 9:22 – “must” (be necessary) be rejected, suffer, killed, and rise again, again.

        “must” = is necessary to fulfill prophesy of the OT and to bring atonement / redemption/ salvation.

        Acts 13:38-39
        forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you
        everyone who believes is justified / freed . . . (from the legalism, earning salvation) through the law of Moses, which you could not be freed from. (human inability to keep the law or earn salvation)

        Acts 26:18-23

  2. Thank you for sharing! It’s really an important topic! I had asked once what does this concept (i.e. the suffering Messiah) imply for Luke?, and it seems this topic answers that question.

    Also, this topic refutes Mike Licona’s school which insists that all what matters is Jesus’ death and his resurrection to prove that Christianity is the true religion, which is very bad idea to begin with. However, this topic refutes that school of thought even if the death and resurrection were proved historically because christians need to prove historically that the death of Jesus meant that the 2n person of the triune God came to die for the sins of the world as (atonement) according to the first generation of Jesus’ followers, which is almost impossible.

    Here’re some points which support our that the salvation in Luke’s gospel is not by atonement of the blood.

    1) Zechariah and Elizabeth have been described as «righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly », which is meaningless according to the Pauline christianity.

    2) In Luke 16, we read the story of the 2 men, one of whom was rich, yet the other one, Lazarus, was poor.
    Lazarus got saved when he died, and he got placed next to Abraham, but the rich one was put in torment. The story continued till the rich man asked our father Abraham this request «He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family,I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.»
    What did our father Abraham answer him? 🙂
    «Abraham replied, ‘ They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them »!
    The answer of Abraham according to Pauline christianity is not correct. Rather it’s so wrong and meaningless! The books of Moses and the prophets have nothing to do with salvation! For Paul, the result of ministry of ink and tablets are inferior, and it leads to death only! «the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts.»
    Remember, there’s no hint that Lazarus got saved because of Jesus’ death in the first place.

    3) The parable of the prodigal son.

    Finally, one also can note the clear difference between Pauline christianity and Luke regarding the understanding of the (resurrection).

    Paul had a very negative attitude towards the body and the law of God. No surprise that some scholars consider Paul as Gnostic.
    Paul said “But someone may ask, “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?”….it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body
    Bear in mind that Paul said that in the context of his talk about Jesus’ resurrection.
    Also, he said “You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both …They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies.” By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also”

    In contrast , Luke has an explicit and vivid account for Jesus’ body and his stomach.
    “Look at my hands and my feet It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones , as you see I have. When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet
    Not only that, but also, ” And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat? ” They gave him a piece of broiled fish. and he took it and ate it in their presence.”

  3. Great brief post Paul!

    And excellent additional points Abdullah.

  4. Ehrmann is just constructing a false dichotomy between atonement and forgiveness. They are just two sides of the same coin. He has to sell books to gullible people.

    1) Blameless is not sinless.

    2) The law of Moses shows that there has to be a ritual for atonement in addition to forgiveness. These are two different offerings. The burnt offering and the sin offering.

    Islam adds rituals to repentance too. For instance walking around a stone and kissing it, ritual washing, fasting, throwing stones at objects, making prayers over slaughtered animals etc.

    See what Paul is saying in the context. It has nothing to do with being against the body.

    12 All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.

    13 Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body [is] not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.

    14 And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power.

  5. The earliest Greek manuscripts have the full text – the longer reading of Luke 22:19-20.

    See page 231 of Philip Comfort’s book, “New Testament Text and Translation Commentary”

    Manuscript P-75 (200 AD), Codex Sinaiticus א, Codex Vaticanus (B) (325-350 AD), Codex A (Codex Alexandrinus) (400s), Codex C (Ephrami Receptus) (400s), and others.

    These are earlier than, or at same time as, the main one that is missing the longer reading – Codex Beza (Codex D).

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