James Alison on “a closer look at gospel scandal”

by Kim on April 1, 2011

Jesus did indeed say “Blessed is the one who is not scandalised by me.” However, it is not at all clear that the scandal in question is directly related to the “hard sayings” in the way that official usage has suggested. In fact, the obvious reading of the gospels suggests that the real scandal is the possibility that when God himself becomes present in the midst of a particular human group, those who are scandalised are not scandalised by the heaviness of his demands. On the contrary, they are scandalised by the fact that God himself does not fit into the scheme into which, according to them, God should fit. It is not that God is too sacred for ordinary people to be able to bear it, but that he is so little sacred that religious people find it impossible to bear it. It is they who find it scandalous, and seek to retreat into old wineskins. The heavy demands which certainly do follow from this scandalising presence are not the heavy demands of scrupulous religious observance. On the contrary they are the existentially heavy demands of letting go of the sort of security and belonging which good religious people may find themselves aspiring to, and setting off into something which will look markedly atheistic, which is to say, into the heart of God. These existentially heavy demands will include running the risk of being persecuted, even to death, just as Jesus was, especially by religious people who think they are serving God by persecuting people of unbound conscience and bold speech. This is, after all, what happened to Jesus: God was “counted among the transgressors”. That is the scandal of the Gospel. It is above all a scandal to those who have a lot invested in whatever passes as “good” in their society, and it is notably less scandalous to those who have found themselves living the shadow side of that goodness: prostitutes, tax-collectors, (i.e. “collaborators”) and so on. Thus has it been for nearly two thoudand years.

James Alison, Faith beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2001), pp. 178-79.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }


Doug 04.01.11 at 8:58 pm

Is it people who find it scandalous or God when God’s Word in
Romans 1 and 1 Cor 6 are very clear on what is sin? Isn’t there a command not for us to be “religious people” but to “Be ye Holy even as your Father in heaven is Holy.”?

What’s scandalous are people who know they are commiting sin, then don’t care as the very nature of rebellion which Christ states, “…is the sin of witchcraft.”


Pam 04.01.11 at 11:18 pm

Doug, an olive branch.
I tutor ESL (English as a Second Language) students. I offer my services to you.

Kim, great post.


PamBG 04.02.11 at 12:35 am

Amen to the post. I love James Alison’s work.


Alec Macph 04.04.11 at 12:08 am

Which translation uses scandal? I have copies of the New Jerusalem and KJV which are “cause of falling” and “offended in me” respectively.

I noted also the the New Jerusalem version had John asking if they were “to expect” another candidate, whilst the KJV had them wondering if they were “to look” for another candidate. The former suggests to me passivity, whilst the latter is active inquiry.



Tony Buglass 04.04.11 at 9:20 am

“Which translation uses scandal? ”

The original. The Greek text has the verb “skandalisthe”; there are various forms of the verb, with meanings centred around ‘taking offence because of someone’, ‘being pushed into apostasy because of someone’, etc. Paul uses the same verb in Rom.14:21, about causing the weaker brother to stumble.


doug 04.05.11 at 8:20 pm

Tony, aka causing people to sin by telling them that something that is actually sin as being not sin. That is what pushes people to apostasy. So yes Tony, you are correct.


Alec Macph 04.05.11 at 9:29 pm

That reminds me of Terry Nation’s Rebecca’s World, Doug.



PamBG 04.05.11 at 11:22 pm

Over on my blog, which I linked to this post, someone has asserted that the sacred and secular are our human categories and wonders whether Alison would agree. If anyone would like to comment over there, I’d be most grateful. Here’s the link.


Richard 04.05.11 at 11:46 pm

I’ve posted something Pam.


Kim 04.06.11 at 12:35 am

I’ve put in a nickel too, Pam. Cheers.


Tony Buglass 04.06.11 at 11:57 am

Doug: “…causing people to sin by telling them that something that is actually sin as being not sin. That is what pushes people to apostasy.”

So, you reckon that sinning is in all cases apostasy? I don’t. If you’re right, and I’m wrong, we might as well give up now, because we’re irredeemable apostates.

Some sin is the sign of an apostate life. Some sin is the sign of a saved sinner who is in the process of being sanctified. None of us are completely sinless or sanctified yet. So sin is not necessarily apostasy.


PamBG 04.06.11 at 4:46 pm

Thanks Richard and Kim for your contributions on my blog.

Re apostacy, I think that telling people that they can’t be Christians unless they hold the same fears about God as other fearful Christians is what pushes people into apostacy.

And Ref: “causing people to sin by telling them that something that is actually sin as being not sin” Then everyone who claims God is a capitalist is apostate and pushing other people into apostacy. :D


doug 04.06.11 at 5:09 pm

Tony, you are correct in everything you said but that was not what I was referencing. It was the intentional, unrepentent nature of the sin that can be a strong sign of apostasy as well as stating something is not sin that in all actuality is sin.

PamBG, where you got that wrong is stating that being a capitalist is sin. Nowhere in Scripture does it state that being a capitalist is sin as long as people place Christ first in everything they do. Remember it is the love of money that is the root of all evil not money itself. I never said God was a capitalist even though He supported some principles as such and at the same time God wasn’t the exact opposite even though He supported some principles as such.

“The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”


PamBG 04.07.11 at 2:23 am

Remember it is the love of money that is the root of all evil not money itself.

Right. And Capitalism is the love of money. It is the prizing of the ability to make money over human life. It is the rich man storing up his grain on the night before his life is demanded of him and the “Cows of Bashan” lounging in summer houses while the peasants starve (c.f. Amos in case you need a reference.


Tony Buglass 04.07.11 at 9:44 am

Spot on, Pam.


Kim 04.07.11 at 9:57 am

Amos is also quite problematical for the my-country-right-or-wrong defenders of Israel. One can imagine Amos’ first hearers a-shountin’-and-a-whoopin’ as he delivers Yahweh’s judgement on Israel’s neighbours (for what we might now call violations of human rights) in Amos 1:3-2:5 - and then going absolutely nuts when he pronounces God’s judgement on Israel itself in Amos 2:6-16. Cf. the response of the congregation to our Lord’s first sermon - and the manifesto of his ministry - in Luke 4:16-30: the pious folk of Nazareth expect a nationalistic tirade - instead they hear of God’s gracious dealings with goys! “Over the cliff with him!”


doug 04.07.11 at 4:09 pm

PamBG Capitalism in and of itself is NOT the love of money. There are many people who support capitalism who don’t love money over people. It is an attitude of people that is the issue not Capitalism itself.

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