Yom Kippur (יום הכפרים) begins tonight. This is the most holy day on the Jewish calendar. Also known as “the Day of Atonement” Jews fast, pray, and participate in other rituals of repentance. Texts like Leviticus 23.27-28 mention this day along within narrative context that gives this day meaning. In ancient times this day would have included a major tabernacle/temple sacrifice, something that became impossible after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE.
This morning I read an article by Paula Fredriksen (cheesily) titled, “Yom Kippur: WWJD?” In this article she asks whether Jesus participated in Yom Kippur. There seems to be no reason to assume that he did not. Fredriksen writes,
On Yom Kippur, then, what did Jesus do? We cannot know, of course; but within these historical parameters, we can guess. Jesus fasted and he prayed, together with his community. He took his own measure, mingling regret and resolve. He reflected on the year just past, and looked ahead to the year forthcoming. And as so many of his parables say — indeed as Philo, his contemporary, also said — Jesus took comfort in a gracious god, who welcomed not only the “perfect” but also the penitent.
For some Christians this idea may be discomforting: a humbled, penitent Jesus? Modern Christians would not be alone. One can read the account of Jesus’ baptism in the Gospel of Mark (1.9-11) followed by that of Matthew (3.13-17). Matthew depicts John as being quite uncomfortable with the idea of baptizing Jesus, asking Jesus to baptize him. It seems that Matthew must give a reason for messiah to be baptized because the baptism of John emphasized repentance, so Jesus says, “…it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” I am not saying that this conversation did not occur, but assuming Markan Priority it seems that Matthew needed to expand the narrative a bit.
This does show that the idea of Jesus as sinless is an idea that developed quite early. Jesus as the atoning priest who is the sacrifice himself is found in the Pauline Epistles, the Book of Hebrews, the Gospel of John, the Apocalypse: Jesus is the “mercy seat,” the “lamb,” and a “priest in the order of Melchizedek” to name a few images.
I am not denying the orthodox confession that Jesus was without sin. I do think that this is a good example of the different “language games” being used when one does a study of Jesus through the historical-critical lens and when one does this same study through a confessional-dogmatic lens. For those of us who are “both/and” rather than “either/or” this can become quite complicated.