Jesus’ life for ours, is a message on grace. His substitutionary death lies at the heart of our salvation. In our quest to learn God’s mind and heart, we should take care not to value interpretations that are popular because they sound logical but are not supported by Scripture:
I doubt anyone wants to hear this but the Biblical terms of “debt” and “punishment” are not found in reference to Calvary. There is no Hebrew term for “punishment” (This pre-supposes we know what we mean by this term!)
The word “atonement” was introduced in the 15th century.
The word used in the Greek for “Mercy Seat” in Paul is found only once and is translated by various theological terms, including “propitiation” and “expiation” [Romans 3:25, called the “marrow” of christian theology]. The meaning is probably a reference to the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant but scholars tend now to think otherwise.
Paul’s use of “righteousness” is peculiar to His theology and not found with the same meaning in the Pastorals or elsewhere. We know that this one word can bear multiple meanings in Scripture: righteousness, justification, and justice. The debate continues among Christian faiths as to whether we are made righteous, shown righteous, or declared righteous.
The question of Jesus’ nature has been settled for us. He is the “God-man,” to use a Catholic term. “Wäre Gott und wäre mench,” wrote Luther (truly God and truly man). This was the question that pre-occupied the theological mind of the first few centuries. Now we know that God in the person of His Son was supended there. How important was His incarnation to our understanding of “the Atonement”?
Thank God for Christmas!
These represent some of the challenges before us if we are intent on having a “theory of Atonement.” And yes, we come under strong influences of reason whether:
- Occam’s nominalism as Abelard did that we cannot be held responsible for Adam’s sin or
- The search for a non-violent justification based solely on God’s wondrous love, melting our cold, cold hearts, as postmodernists want to believe or
- A justification that satisfies without punishing as Greek influences suggested or
- The logic of the courts that seemed to explain justice best, in legalese, which the reformers of the 16th century promoted or
- The language of finance or the payment of a debt because it explains things in simplest terms.
Paul warned us not to get entangled in explanations that lead nowhere good. What is logical to our way of thinking might not be of faith. “See to it that no one carry you away with philosophical jargon after sheer human reasoning, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
Twenty-twenty-one has been for me an adventure in the Word of God and all I have accomplished is to stir up within me a deeper hunger to learn Christ [Luke 24:32] and more convinced than ever before that Jesus’ wisdom in commissioning us to preach the Cross was sheer genius [Matthew 10:7; 28:19-20]. The church cannot survive otherwise [Romans 1:16].
We enjoy discussing the Cross—and we ought to … at finding a reasonable explanation in contemporary terms what happened on Golgotha’s hill that Friday [1 Peter 3:15]. Why did Jesus have to die on a Roman cross?
We seek to learn the story of Calvary …a story still being written on our hearts and into our lives [Romans 8:29]. Until there are more answers we rest only in this promise in John 20:31: “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”