Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christ the priest was cut off

Some introductory notes on penal substitution, largely derived from the relevant sections of Horton's The Christian Faith.  Below might seem like basic Sunday School proof-texts.  In large part it is.  I am well aware of the nuanced discussions of this issue.  My point is that if you posit a God who isn't wrathful and a Savior who can't take the guilt of another to himself, then a lot of the Bible just won't make sense.  At least the guys at OB admit they can't deal with "wrath" or Isaiah 53.  

Rooted in the Covenant

Our understanding of penal substitution must first be rooted in the covenant.  Jesus is the Melchizidekian High Priest, and a change in priesthood requires a change in covenant (Hebr. 5:6, 10). This presupposes that we are already talking about the covenant.  If any discussion of the atonement doesn't have the covenant in mind, it's already deficient.

It is Bloody

Instead of shying away from criticisms that the Reformed model makes God look mean, let's throw the criticisms back at them.  Quick question (and for the moment we are assuming God's ordained power):  Can God forgive me without bloodshed?  See here for the answer.  Furthermore, in the Old Covenant our sins were transferred to the animal victim (Lev. 1:4).  

It Makes Peace

Christ's death secured our peace with God.  True, God did love us while we were yet sinners, but he could not fellowship with us.  If we were already in a relation-of-peace, then why did Christ need to die? Why would Paul bother to write Romans 5:1?

It is a United Action

This is to rebut the charge that an angry Father killed his Son.  People who parrot this charge are a) either ignorant of basic Reformed theology or b) willfully portraying something else.  The first is to be pitied.  The second is to be called to repentance.  
  1. The Father gave his only Son out of divine love (John 3:16).
  2. The Spirit vindicated the Son's death by raising him from the dead (Romans 4:25).
  3. Jesus himself is a willing sacrifice (John 10:11).
Yet, it was a Judicial Punishment

The Greek words anti and huper are substitutionary.  There is no getting around it.  Pace Anselm, Jesus pays the price to God's justice (not his feudal dignity) and is able to buy back his people (1 Cor. 6:20).

And God's Simplicity

God's simplicity prevents us from exalting anyone attribute (e.g., "love") over another attribute.  God's wrath is not arbitrary or capricious, but is a judicious response to the violation of his law and covenant.  He is righteous and his law requires that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

Propitiation or Expiation?

Since the mid 19th century liberal theologians, embarrassed by passages that say God is wrathful, said hilasmos means expiation (clearing me from guilt or bringing me to a state of rectitude), not propitiation (placating a wrathful God).  Linguistically, the word can probably go either way (and in previous times the distinction between expiation and propitiation was not always sharply defined).  Truthfully, I think the word is best glossed as "mercy-firmament," but that's for another day.

If all it means is hilasmos then it is rather anti-climactic in Romans.  In Romans 1:18 Paul says the "wrath" of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness. In chapter 1 he lists how Pagans are guilty before God.  In chapter 2 he lists how Jews are guilty.  He draws it together in chapter 3.  With this background of "wrath" and guilt, which is the more probable translation, expiation or propitiation?  


  1. First, the Orthodox can deal with Isaiah 53. See the following podcasts on this very thing:

    Part 1

    Part 2

    Part 3

    Second, wrath is dealt with by the Orthodox, just not in any manner that you find convincing. I read the word "wrath" in my morning and evening prayers regularly. It isn't just a word that we sweep under the rug.

    Third, if you really think that OB ought to deal with what you consider "representative Reformed sources" then why do you keep linking back to that website, which isn't "representative" of the Orthodox? I've seen better Orthodox polemics elsewhere and you know there are folks out there who can do a better job. Why you keep using them as your foil, I do not know. If they do admit that they can't deal with wrath or Isaiah 53 (I'm taking you at your word) then clearly they are ignorant of the way in which the Orthodox have tackled that verse, but it does not mean that the Orthodox Church simply ignores the passage.

    1. The final part has a rabbit trail at the beginning. Start listening at about 11 minutes for the actual content of the podcast.

    2. I really don't do the "footnote/link tag refutation" method.

      I don't comment there all that often, but I am also not aware of other sites that have this specific venue.

  2. If I can get my laptop fixed, I'll check out those links. I can probably already guess what they will say. I studied this stuff for many years (losing friends and alienating....). I know it inside and out. I also know why they can't say anything new: they hold to substance ontology and a certain form of divine impassibility. This means they can't affirm wrath (in any real sense), Christ's being cut off, or bearing the guilt of his people.

    When they deal with their substance metaphysics, I might be interested.