My essay - I'm not sure whether I have succeeded in writing a defence of 'penal' substitutionary atonement - I have defended substitutionary atonement

I have found David Short's sermon helpful on Exodus 24. I am waiting to hear Stephen Travis speak at college on PSA. Although I must hand in my essay before then.

I feel as though I am not always intellectually grasping the finer points of the argument. (How to defend PSA in light of criticisms). I am wondering, is it right that PSA requires an articulation of God's wrath being propitiated. Substitutionary atonement is presented happily with the expiation, the covering of sin. I argue that the blood sprinkled in the sacrifices of the Old Testament expiate sin, cover the sins of the people - Moses sprinkles the blood on the people. He also sprinkles the blood on the tabernacle to propitiate God's wrath. Jesus' blood both expiates and propitiates.

I am having a bit of trouble with one element of reformed teaching. Christ's "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?": does God really punish his Son in this moment. John Piper et al in their description of 'the scream of the damned' portray God's momentary neglect of the Son here but can a triune God separate at this point - it does something strange to my Nicene Creed foundation. I think if I could be better persuaded on this point, I would be able to understand that this is the moment of punishment, this is the 'penal' moment of the substitution.

I have no problem with a wrathful God - wrath is not to be compared to human anger. Just like we can not compare human love to God's which is agape (steadfast), God's holiness to human morality (always corrupted by sin), human justice (to God's justice - perfect), we need to understand wrath as part of the Holy God's inability to come near to us in our sin. It is in his mercy that he provides a means by which we can enter into his presence - Jesus.

I have learnt a lot but still have such a lot of learning to do. David Short talks about that 'other gospel' which is being preached in our churches. This worries me. I do not want to preach that 'other gospel' and yet at the same time I heed the warnings of those critical of PSA, because if a caricature is being presented, we had better look long and hard at our teaching.

Yes, we have a God who hates our sin, but we have a God, who desires mercy and not sacrifice, who has provided Jesus as a perfect and sufficient sacrifice so that the sacrifices of the Old Testament beome redundant. We live under a New Covenant, purchased for us with Jesus' blood and make now a living sacrifice of praise. We need to make sure that we preach life from death and do not leave people staring up at the cross for too long, meditate on it's glory, yes, but then walk through the sandy soil to the tomb, look inside and see it empty and rejoice!


dmk said...

My question is, what is Jesus doing when he says 'eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani'. If you say/sing the first line of a song, people will tend to follow on with the rest of the words. Say the first line of Psalm 22, and if you sing the song long enough you get to "they have pierced my hands and my feet... they divide my garments among them... he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help."

So what is Jesus doing? Is he issuing a cry of desolation, or, with what little breath he has, is he giving one more clue to how the cross is prophecied and described in the Old Testament? Has God actually forsaken him, or (taking the verse from the Psalm itself in context), is his suffering seen and vindicated?

tap said...

Just saw your post on 'Nicks Catholic blog.' Keep an open mind, Constantly read the words of the Early Church Father, and pray. By the Grace of God you will come to know his Church, which is his body.

Rachel said...

Hi Tap
Am I right in thinking you are Catholic?
Do you believe in justification, the glorious exchange and PSA?

I'm beginning to realise that these doctrines might be peculiarly protestant rather than Catholic, but I could be mistaken because I'm only just beginning to learn about the Catholic faith.

Thanks for your contribution
God bless

Rachel said...

Thanks DMK
That's just it -I'm becoming less and less convinced that God the Father forsook the Son at that point. I had to remove a paragraph pertaining to such a theory in my essay because each time I read it back I was more and more unsettled by it, which means nothing in itself, because emotions do not construct theology which must be based on scripture but, nevertheless, I am beginning to wonder whether reformed theologians are taking the line too much out of its original context as you have suggested.

Thanks for your contribution - I have much thinking to do


David Rudel said...

First, the reason I wanted to comment was about the "forsaken me" line, but it seems DMK beat me to it. However, there is more to it. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me" is the first line of psalm 22, but "It is finished" has been argued as the accurate translation of the last verse as well.

In fact, when you think of what Matthew is attempting to accomplish in his gospel (and the readers he sent it to), it is practically unfathomable to read into it the notion of God actually forsaking Christ. To recite parts of a Psalm from beginning to end that foretell of Christ's suffering (How many times did Christ say that everything in the Law, Prophets, and psalms had to be done to Him??) and take it as anything other than Matthew's final proof that Jesus is the Christ seems bizarre.

Secondly, you claim that the blood sprinkled on the temple and the people were for "expiation and propitiation," but I can hardly see how that is possible.

The only sacrifice that is put forward as a propitiatory one is the live goat. There is no notion of propitiation in the other sacrifices (this is true for any number of reasons, and I'd be happy to go into that if you wish).

The sacrifices you mention are for consecration and ritual cleanliness. This is an important concept and one that we Gentiles have a hard time grasping. The notion of something being ritually clean had nothing to do with expiation (it certainly had nothing to do with propitiation). There were any number of things that made one ritually clean for which someone had to do some somatic or sacrificial ritual to ablude. To suggest that these cleansing were to expiate God's wrath would suggest that God's wrath lay on women who menstruated and people who accidentally touched dead bodies, etc.

This is all bound up in the notion of "what it took to allow someone to come into the temple," because that was what ritual cleanliness was all about. Sometimes this did involve a sin offering [which is not substitutionary], and that is exactly what Isaiah says Jesus would do: make his life a sin offering for the purpose of letting the Gentiles into the temple. And we find that is exactly what God says has been done to the Gentiles in Acts 11:9. God has made the Gentiles ritually clean, allowing them into the temple of the New Covenant through baptism with the Spirit [Acts 11:18].

So, I'm curious as to why you see these other sacrifices as propiatory or substitutionary.

Rachel said...

I will respond in more detail with time - have you read Pierced for our transgressions by Ovey, sach etc - I would be interested to know what you think - I have become quite captured by the debate over the translation of Rom 3:25 Hilasterion - what do you think? I'm hoping my reading of the OT sacrificial system isn't too off in terms of Propitiation nd expiation, else I'll be getting a D- ;)

Nick said...

I agree with TAP here, I'm glad you are looking into this issue in a fair and honest manner.

What I have found is that most who espouse Psub actually have not taken a fair look at the actual evidence, especially OT sacrifice evidence. Instead, they were told it talked about Psub and in turn they read Psub into the passage. This is not intentional, but rather just what happens when things are assumed.

As for the issue of sprinkling blood, one point I made in my debate is that often the one who kills the animal and the one who makes atonement are not the same person. That is because in most sacrifices it is the sinner who kills the animal, then it's given to the priest who then sprinkles the blood, and only at that moment does atonement take place. Thus atonement is not directly tied to the killing itself, which is odd if Psub were the framework.

Rachel said...

Thanks all for continuing to make me think about this one - I'm by no means ready to make a decision yet - it's unsettling in a way to have to keep doubting the decisions one thought one had come to but healthy, I guess. I am quite happy to admit that I need to study the OT sacrificial system in more detail and any decision I make will be an inadequate one until I find the time to do that.

I'm not sure how I will fare in my essay - I had to write a defense of PSA in light of contemporary criticism and so I refuted the suggestion that it is a form of divine child abuse by setting it firmly in a trinitarian framework. I refuted that it promotes violence - it is only its caricature which promotes violence - God is the initiator of the reconciling action and after Jesus' sufficient death on the cross - we are called now to make a 'living sacrifice' and raise ourselves up against the 'domination system' just as Christ did in his resurrection. I refuted the idea that Psub presents a wrathful God governed by a sense of justice outside of himself by arguing that hostility to sin is part of the character of a Holy God who is love and justice and can not approach us because of the sin-barrier until Jesus does away with this - anyway - it is time nearly to hand this one in and hope for the best.

I will continue to follow any debates with interest and thank you for contributing to my learning process.
:) God bless

David Rudel said...

Hey Rachel,
With regard to PFOT, I have a hard time describing my feelings about that book without using language I would likely regret. I was considering writing a whole blog on how misleading the whole thing is, and how it actually weakens the case for PSA in parts. I don't think the writers meant to be misleading...just a matter of believing so thoroughly what they think that they see it everywhere and everything "obviously" shows it. I'm sure people who are used to a theology built on "natural theology" rather than the entirety of the Bible feel the same way about me.

With regard to Romans 3:25, the whole debate is a rather silly one. They spend 4 pages debating whether a word means "propitiation" or "expiation" and the casual reader can easily not realize that the word they are arguing over is not even in the text!

Hilasterion does not mean "propitiation" or "expiation." It is a technical term for a place where blood is sprinkled. It occurs 21 times in the LXX of the Torah to refer to the "mercy seat" and another 5 times [once in Amos 9:1, 4 times in Ezekiel] to refer to the same. In other writings it referred to the lintels of doorways where the passover blood was sacrificed.

The word is never used in the LXX to mean "atonement" itself (though of course that word is used multiple times). And how do the writers of PFoT treat this? They make it sound like "Mercy seat" is some idiosyncratic secondary option some people prefer.

If Paul wanted to say "atonemet" he jolly well could have. It is also worth pointing out that Romans 3:25 has another term that is nowhere else used: paresis. This is what gets translated "pass over" here but it is not the "normal" term used for forgiveness, etc.

I actually wrote my view of Romans 3:25 in the book I sent you. I think pages 151 and 145.

Have you read Kelly's "Early Christian Doctrines" or have access to Schaff's history of the church? All you have to do is some readings of those and then compare it to what PFoT say about what the early church father's taught to see how big of a grain of salt you have to take their points with.

David Rudel said...

A correction, I said that the term was translated "Mercy Seat" throughout the LXX. That is not true. In Ezekiel it refers to the ledges of the altar and in Amos 9:1 it appears to the lintel or posts of a doorway.

David Rudel said...

You may be interested in the discussion that has taken place on my blogpost on Matthew 8:16-17.

Rachel said...

Wow David - 52 posts.
I can admit that my brain isn't there yet, I am afraid that I am a little out of my depth as regards following all this. I can only hope that the Lord will grant me at some point both the time and the intellectual ability to grasp the amazing intricacies of his Word. I scanned through and wonder if you are perhaps more Catholic than you ever anticipated. I find the whole rejection of sola fide a little unsettling but then i suppose I am bound to because it is like throwing off an ideology and starting over. I think that there is a lot of merit in looking to a transformed life and that indeed in a Jamesian way our works testify to our faith. There are a lot of evangelicals who saved by faith, do very little to live it out but that's another story. I am appreciating more and more the faith's Catholic ancestory but there are enough doctrinal points of Catholocism with which I disagree to keep me loyally protestant. Luther, I find persuasive, on many points.

Very interesting stuff.

David Rudel said...

As I mentioned to Nick when he brought up something similar, I am not against sola fide.

I am, in fact, very much sola fide. I am 100% committed to the notion that we are "saved by faith alone." I just claim the church has totally missed the boat on what saved means.

The definition people generally use for "salvation" today matches neither the understanding any 2nd Temple Jewish Christian (i.e. the people who wrote the NT) would have, nor the salvation expressed in the prophets that foresaw the Christ and His Kingdom, nor early church's conception of the term.

Ron Henzel said...

I've posted my thoughts on the atonement in an article titled, "The Lamb That Was Slain," located at http://midwestoutreach.org/blogs/the-lamb-that-was-slain.

Rachel said...

Thank you Ron. This was very helpful.


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A little background reading so we might mutually flourish when there are different opinions