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5661613189_65be533432_bFrom time to time I make new entries into this continuing series called “Theological Primer.” The idea is to present big theological concepts in around 500 words. Today we look at limited atonement.

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The doctrine of limited atonement--the L in TULIP--teaches that Christ effectively redeems from every people “only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation” (Canons of Dort, II.8). As Ursinus explains in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Christ's death was for everyone "as it respects the sufficiency of satisfaction which he made, but not as it respects the application thereof.” In other words, the death of Christ was sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world, but it was God's will that it should effectively redeem those and only those who were chosen from eternity and given to Christ by the Father.

Particular redemption is often considered a more favorable term, because the point of the doctrine is not to limit the mercy of God, but to make clear that Jesus did not die in the place of every sinner on the earth, but for his particular people. The good shepherd lays his life down, not for the goats, but for the sheep (John 10:11). This is why John 6 says Jesus came to save those the Father had given to him, and why Matthew 1:21 says he died for his people, and John 15:13 says for his friends, and Acts 20:28 says for the church, and Ephesians 5:25 says for his bride, and Ephesians 1:4 says for those chosen in Christ Jesus.

The doctrine of particular redemption is worth defining and defending because it gets to the heart of the gospel. Should we say "Christ died so that sinners might come to him"? Or, "Christ died for sinners"? Did Christ's work on the cross make it possible for sinners to come to God? Or did Christ's work on the cross actually reconcile sinners to God? In other words, does the death of Jesus Christ make us save-able or does it make us saved?

If the atonement is not particularly and only for the sheep, then either we have universalism--Christ died in everyone's place and therefore everyone is saved--or we have something less than full substitution. "We are often told that we limit the atonement of Christ," Spurgeon observed, "because we say that Christ has not made a satisfaction for all men, or all men would be saved."  But, Spurgeon argued, it is the view of the atonement that says no one in particular was saved at the cross that actually limits Christ's death. "We say Christ so died that he infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ's death not only may be saved, but are saved, must be saved, and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved."

Christ does not come to us merely saying, "I've done my part. I laid down my life for everyone because I have saving love for everyone in the whole world. Now, if you would only believe and come to me I can save you." Instead he says to us, I was pierced for your transgressions. I was crushed for your iniquities (Isa. 53:5). I have purchased with my blood men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (Rev. 5:9). I myself bore your sins in my body on the tree, so that you might infallibly die to sins and assuredly live for righteousness. For my wounds did not merely make healing available. They healed you (1 Pet. 2:24).

"Amazing love!" a great Arminian once wrote. "How can it be that you, my God, should die for me?!" Praise be to our Good Shepherd who didn't just make our salvation possible, but sustained the anger of God in body and soul, shouldered the curse, and laid down his life for the sheep.


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85 thoughts on “Theological Primer: Limited Atonement”

  1. Barry says:

    Dylan~ To be honest, I’ve not heard your view of Christ’s atonement. Per Romans 3:23-26, “Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation (propitiation) by his blood, to be received by faith”. etc. I understand such propitiation as a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in so doing changes his wrath toward sinners into favor. At the cross his righteous anger and stored-up wrath against sin was discharged and unleashed against God’s own Son. To my mind, all competing views remain subservient to that which features the unspeakable awfulness of that ‘cup of wrath our Lord consumed. ‘

  2. Barry says:

    Dylan: Related to our discussion, are faith and repentance gifts to us from God, or not?

  3. Dylan says:

    Barry

    Thanks for taking the time to engage on more specific terms. Let me start by attempting to answer your question concerning faith and repentance. I definitely see from Scripture a sense in which faith and repentance are ‘gifts’ from God. Regarding faith in particular, one sense in which it is a gift flows from the fact that the faithfulness of Christ is the foundation of our faith…In other words, his faith (full trust in and obedience to God) gives structure, meaning, and purpose to our faith. Without his faithfulness, we really don’t know what faith is. Growing in the knowledge of Christ’s faithfulness empowers our own faith. Beyond that, it is fairly reasonable to say that faith is a ‘gift’, but here we are tempted to speculate whether we have a choice to make about receiving that gift or not. If I had to speculate, I’d say we can either accept the gift or reject it, but I don’t make it a point to judge those who speculate something else. I will however urge against trying to categorize speculation as the clear revelation of God.

    In a similar way again, I would say repentance is a gift in that it is God’s kindness which leads us to repentance. But I take it seriously that the passage doesn’t say something more like “God shows kindness toward those He has determined for repentance”. Here again, we would have little concept of genuine repentance without God’s revelation, but the Bible seems adamant to show that repentance is something we must willingly engage in.

  4. Dylan says:

    Barry

    Unfortunately, it appears that the moderators may be rejecting my attempts to respond to you along the lines you brought up. Perhaps discussing this further on another platform is possible…?

  5. Dylan says:

    Oops, nevermind…Please disregard my last comment. I guess my browser was glitching.

  6. Dylan says:

    Barry

    I’m a little conflicted on how precisely I should go about responding to you concerning how I understand Christ’s atonement from Scripture. On the one hand, I prefer to work through the Old Testament as it makes its way toward Christ…On the other hand, you have laid out a logical progression of ideas stemming from Romans 3, and could easily work through that progression with you. I think the latter may be more productive in this case.

    “whom God put forward as an expiation (propitiation) by his blood, to be received by faith”. etc. I understand such propitiation as a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in so doing changes his wrath toward sinners into favor.”

    It’s interesting that you would quote the passage with both ‘expiation’ and ‘propitiation’ as renderings for the Greek word ‘hilasterion’, and then go on to focus the rest of your line of thinking on ‘propitiation’ only. I’m curious…Do you understand expiation and propitiation to basically mean the same thing? In any case, I acknowledge that propitiation generally refers to appeasing anger/wrath…however, I don’t see that understanding as being the only way to understand propitiation. More on that later perhaps.

    “At the cross his righteous anger and stored-up wrath against sin was discharged and unleashed against God’s own Son.”

    Up to this point, you have laid out what is generally understood concerning the word ‘propitiation’. But now you are making a definitive statement about the cross from within this propitiatory framework, and it is here that I implore you to take a step back and approach the text through biblical theology, where we strive to see from the text only what it wants to say. Let me ask you, what does the narrative of the cross reveal to us about the cross?

    “…the unspeakable awfulness of that ‘cup of wrath our Lord consumed. ‘”

    Could you lay out for me every reference in the Gospels pertaining to the cup given to Christ?

  7. Barry says:

    Thanks, Dylan. I appreciate and agree with your cmts on both faith and repentance. You possess a more full-orbed understanding of theology than I, to be sure. I love theology but am an ecologist, not a biblical scholar. As such, I will continue this link with you (as you graciously may see fit). I cannot pursue the “cup” w\o devoting more time. Hopefully TGC will not ‘close the comment period’ unannounced. (I also appreciate the many suggestions and exhortations by yourself and others who have responded to the author -Kevin- of this thread). By and large I find the manner of the replies to be biblical and Christ-honoring! thank you~

  8. Sarah says:

    This stuff makes my head/heart hurt. I’m so tired of thinking too much on the actual process of salvation – who gets saved, why, when and how. My job is to preach the gospel (of which I suck at… I will admit). Concerning how a person comes to respond to that gospel, I’m so tired of splitting hairs. I want knowledge but I also don’t want to be a know it all. I like my Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so. I used to love knowing this stuff, but why? Probably the debating made me feel superior or get a high when I won. Ugh… I love Tim Keller’s teaching though. LOL! How on earth does one stay humble when they think they truly understand what the Word says or heck… even can understand Greek, Hebrew, historical context, etc? I’m sorry… I just know from personal experience the angst this particular topic has brought me in relationships and the pride I’ve seen coming out of it. Sorry for the rant. God bless!

  9. Dylan says:

    Barry

    I’d be interested to know what your specific focus is in as an ecologist. I think ecology can be an important intersection between faith and our interaction with creation.

    I’ve had a fair bit of formal exposure to the field of biblical scholarship, but I certainly wouldn’t see myself as a biblical scholar. I would say that I am largely focused on helping to move the process of theology forward along paths that are practical and healthy for the Church. There are far more influential people than me in that venture…Just hoping I can play some part in it.

    Take any time you need, and don’t feel obligated…If we are able to continue the conversation that’s a treat, if not I’m sure we will continue to hold on to nothing but Christ and the power of his resurrection.

  10. Barry says:

    D~ (more to follow). Does TGC usually terminate these threads after a finite time? (this is my 1st go round). If they do and we both share a desire to keep contact open, can you suggest a way to exchange a ‘means’ w\o publically announcing such info? (gosh, sounds so ambiguous, sorry). IOW, I’ll see this thru if that fits on your end. Simply do not know the expiration date to these posts.

    You ask several good Q’s. I’m okay with where they could be leading. My views on ‘the Cup’ were formed yrs ago by one Albert Martin (reformed Baptist pastor from NJ). Now i’m checking out those NT passages.

    My major employment has been in aquatic ecology and fishery biology. Yes, biblical stewardship has been a guiding principle for myself but the intersection you mention has too often been absent among my many colleagues. It’s possible that some held the interactions loosely but not vocally. The last ten yrs our focus has been ecosystem restoration, so you’re right on with the nexus.

  11. Dylan says:

    I’ve only had a few interactions with this TGC site over the years so I can’t be certain, but my experience so far is that they really don’t set an expiration on these posts. For instance, I engaged at length with a couple people on a post from 3 years ago, and the comments are still open to this day. It’s fairly rare I think for a site of this caliber and level of management to leave comments open pretty much indefinitely. I’m guessing that we probably need not worry in this case, but I don’t see why we couldn’t have a contingency in place for the off chance. Other than Facebook messaging, I’m kinda drawing a blank. If I gave you my name, you could likely find me… Slightly more secure than displaying an email address.

  12. Jeff says:

    I am not a theologian and, while I appreciate the great contributions theologians have made to the faith, I find that they have an insatiable desire to define everything, sometimes failing to see that God works in ways that we cannot define.

    Is it so wrong to simply say that Christ’s death was sufficient for the sin of the entire world but only effective for those who believe, and through faith (by the work of the Holy Spirit) are justified? This does not promote universalism, nor does it say that His atonement was limited in its ability to cover all sins (should all believe).

  13. Barry says:

    Dylan~
    Circling back to “the Cup given to Christ”: Seems that there are numerous literal and figurative refs to ‘the cup”. I found the following NT and several relevant OT passages –
    In the OT we see “the Cup of God’s Wrath” here: Jer 25:15-16, Isa 51:17, Jer 49:12, Lam 4:21, Ezek 23:31, and Rev 14:10
    Also, “Babylon was a gold cup in the Lord’s hands” Jer 51:7, Isa 51;22, Dan 2:32-43, Jer 25:15-16, 49:12.

    In no particular order, from the NT: As I veiwed these, Dylan, I was first reminded of the Passion movie. Jn 18;11 shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?’ Mk 10:38, 45, 14:36 – Can you drink the cup I drink? etc The cup Jesus had to drink refers to divine punishment of sins that he bore in place of sinful mankind.
    Mat.20:22-23 ‘Can you drink the cup I’m going to drink? And, you will indeed drink from my cup”. see Acts 12:2″James was put to death with the sword”, one of many fulfillments. Rev 1:9, 20:24.
    Mt 26:38 ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the pt of death”. v39 “My Father, if it ispossible may this cup be taken from me”. We know that Jesus was NO mere martyr. As the Lamb of God he bore the sins of the entire human race. God’s wrath was unleashed on him.
    Lk 22:42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me, yet not my will but yours be done”.
    Lk 22:20 “This cup is the NC in my blood, which is poured out for you”. Repeated in 1 Cor 11:25. And in 1 Cor 10:21 ” you cannot drink the cup of the Lord and of demons too; you cannot have part in the Lord’s table and the table of demons”.
    This is probably not the full listing of scripture. I believe these do highlight the primary ways in which the Bible addresses ‘the Cup’. You will remember my initial cmt where this idea was linked with what I believe was a main purpose for the Lord’s Atonement.

  14. neville briggs says:

    The writer above, Sarah , has made the most insightful comment. I am looking here at very convoluted debating about theological concepts and I wonder what the value of this debate could be. Jesus chided the “theologians” of Judea by saying ” you search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life : ”

    It would seem that what the Lord wants is not expertise in theological primers, but He wants us ( any us ) to come to Him in faith and trust and He wants us to have life.
    Let’s send all those deep books to the paper recycle depot and let’s ” get a life ” , it’s about relationships; Jesus said so..

  15. Dylan says:

    Barry

    Thanks for taking the time to gather those passages…You went the extra mile with the OT references, for I had asked only for NT passages. Let’s dive into these then. First, a question about the OT passages. Given that all these OT passages speak of various people groups drinking from the cup of God’s wrath, is it your understanding that all these people groups, including Israel, did in fact drink from that cup and drink it to the full? Or do you see these passages as saying that all those people groups deserved the cup of God’s wrath, but haven’t actually drank from it yet?

    I have an observation or two about the use of the term ‘cup’ when comparing the OT with the NT. In virtually every instance in the OT, the cup is either identified explicitly by title with God’s wrath or is explicitly associated with God’s wrath. Looking at the NT passages however, with the exception of the Revelation texts, not a single instance connects ‘cup’ explicitly with God’s wrath. Just to clarify, I acknowledge the possibility of seeing an ‘implicit’ connection (obviously many Christians see an implicit connection)…But my point is that the connection isn’t even remotely explicit as that which we see in the OT passages. This is important from a hermeneutical standpoint, because we must strive to ascertain what is explicit in any particular text over and above what may or may not be implicit…In other words, be satisfied with what is plainly visible in the text.

    Another observation, one which your NT passages bear out rather well, is that there appear to be different cups for different situations. For instance there is the cup of the new covenant, which Christ shared with the disciples and also shares with us all. This is the cup of his blood, which he speaks of longing to drink and share. There is also the cup ‘of his Passion’, which is given to Christ from the Father. This cup is different, because we see that Christ fervently desired this cup to be taken away. My point here is that we must carefully see whether there be crucial distinctions within the text which dilineat one sort of thing from another sort.

    (More to come…)

    P.S. you may try looking me up on Facebook if you like…Dylan Caspari — Longmont CO

  16. Dylan says:

    Sarah and neville briggs

    Hopefully your thoughts are welcomed by all participating here. Please know that I feel what you feel. Mostly by virtue of the fact that I have engaged significantly with this post, it likely appears at first glance that my intent is to prove others wrong or show how my theology is more biblical or something like that. My hope rather is to demonstrate how complex theology and biblical interpretation is, to show how much of our particular theological distinctives is the result of rampant speculation rather than divine revelation, and to confront the notion that theological speculation should be the grounds for our divisions.

  17. Dylan says:

    Barry

    (Continued from previous)

    “The cup Jesus had to drink refers to divine punishment of sins that he bore in place of sinful mankind.”

    You make this statement immediately after referencing Mark chapter 10 and chapter 14. I’m not seeing any explicit connections with divine punishment for sins in those passages. Is it your position that the connection is explicit or simply implicit in these passages?

    It appears that you see the cup in chapter 10 as being the same cup in chapter 14. If that is your position, I agree with you, although I would say that the connection between the two texts is implicit, as in not plainly laid out. My point here is that we must continually be wary of our assumptions and be willing to evaluate them.

    Taking those two instances to be the same cup, we can test some ideas on what that particular cup represents. If we say the cup may represent the pouring out of God’s wrath, a question immediately arises: is this to mean that James and John were to share the wrath of God along with Christ? Correct me if I’m wrong, but did you answer by saying that James was himself executed, and that Jesus, far from being merely executed, suffered the wrath of God? I’m sorry if I haven’t understood your statements correctly. Let me know if I’m totally off your track.

  18. Barry says:

    Dylan, before proceeding, perhaps you could let us know what sources constitute your understanding of Christ’s Crosswork, and of his Atonement on Golgotha. I think we risk talking past one another otherwise.
    I’ve asked this after re-reading your original post to me or your reply to Kevin before that. For me, Christ is my (our) wrath-remover. Much more to be certain, but not less. Admittedly many of my cmts have been terse, but we must acknowledge that the Cross and Atonement are anything but trivial. We are trying to discuss our Infinite God here; you are right to answer the recent ‘objectors’ who fuss about hair-splitting and semantics. I do not have these discussions because I enjoy debating! And I have stopped discussing or “debating” secondary theological issues (things interesting, but non-essential, e.g., the age of the universe, eschatology, etc.).

    Since we have strayed from the ‘L’ of tulip, perhaps it’s time soon to take this off line. I do not wish to upset others further; altho I ‘d wish they too would engage unless it’s felt this diversion isn’t all that significant.

    And most of the Gospel passages cited were ‘yes’ implicitly references to the notion of divine wrath, not explicit .
    Tks for making these distinctions.
    Dylan, James and John ‘shared in Christ’s sufferings’ along with all true believers in some sense; however, as I said Jesus was no mere martyr! He atoned for the sins of the world. Neither James, nor John, nor Paul, nor Peter, could do that. Their deaths were more attributed to the displeasure and wrath of Satan, certainly not their Lord.

    Thank you for prompting deeper thought into these passages!

  19. Barry says:

    sorry; meant to be a colon following your name in my last paragraph from above.

  20. Dylan says:

    Barry

    I certainly do want to help ensure that we avoid talking past each other, and so I will share some of what I see as the groundwork of both atonement and the overall work of the cross from Scripture. Bear with me…this is going to be very lengthy. I understand your desire to stay on topic with atonement…the reality though is that atonement theology is not a first order subject. Atonement theology depends on other subjects having first been worked out. You are thus probably correct that a different venue is necessary for this discussion.

    Be that as it may, I still want to provide here a sample with regard to your question for the sake of engagement.

    There are so many places to begin, but I think I’ll go with the words of John the Baptist: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” I first want to suggest that what Christ removes from us is our sins, not God’s wrath. By removing our sins and washing us in his blood that purifies us from all unrighteousness, he brings us out from under wrath that we would otherwise be experiencing. Here I would propose that we may at some point need to take a fresh look at ‘wrath’, because how we understand wrath has bearing on how we understand God and His attitude toward mankind.

    Second, we both would agree that the words of John the Baptist here are pretty much an explicit reference to the OT framework of sacrifice. However, more work is needed to ascertain precisely what aspect of the sacrificial framework John was connecting Christ to. Some for instance would say that John connected Christ with the Passover Lamb of Exodus. For reasons I would be happy to go over with you, I do not believe that to be the connection being made. I believe the connection being made is to the ‘Day of Atonement’ in Leviticus 16…more specifically to the ‘scapegoat’ within that ceremony. The scapegoat is the only instance of OT sacrifice that I am aware of in which sins are confessed over a lamb (goat)…In this case, the animal is lead away from the community to wander in the wilderness. In this way, the sins of the community are taken away and the community atoned for.

    Much, much more could certainly be said here, but I want to highlight one more key point related to atonement. The blood that is used on the Day of Atonement is sprinkled on various furnishings within the tabernacle in response to the uncleanness of the people. The blood here is used to cleanse from impurity rather than to appease or satisfy wrath. Leviticus 17 suggests that the fundamental mechanism of atonement is in the blood, not in the killing of the animal. If we look at the work of atonement in Leviticus 16 as being the satisfaction of wrath, as though the blood sprinkled on the furnishings represents substitutionary appeasement, then I would expect there to be stipulations in the law requiring that lawbreakers be slaughtered in the tent of meeting, provided that their blood be sprinkled on the furnishings. Because there is no indication of this, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the blood cleanses rather than appeases or satisfies.

    The Passover feast does also inform my understanding of the cross, because it is during that feast that Christ undergoes his Passion. More on that in a future response.

  21. Dylan says:

    Regarding the connection between Passover and the cross, there are several things I notice. Most importantly, the Passover/Exodus is Israel’s deliverance/salvation story par excellence. All that we see in the OT of God working through and lifting up Israel flows out of and echoes the dramatic rescue of the people of the promise from the ultimate external forces of oppression. The foundational elements of this rescue must inform how we see the purpose of Christ’s Passion.

    As I dive deeper into these foundational elements, I notice that the ‘adversary’, or the ‘antagonist’…The dilemma that gives rise to the rescue is oppression by Pharaoh, who represents the false gods of Egypt. Fundamentally, the rescue is from external oppression, not from personal sin. This observation must be allowed to help explain the mystery of the cross. Needless to say, there are a lot of distinct things that intersect at Christ’s Passion, and we need to be very careful to identify and hold those distinctions within their proper narratives. Atonement for sins happened at the cross, but so did the defeat of the evil forces and the deliverance of the oppressed from captivity. Thus I would say that through being united to Christ, the pollution of our sin is cleansed, the evil forces of sin are destroyed, and we ourselves are released to walk in the fullness of our true vocation…the paths of righteousness rather than the paths of self-destruction.

  22. Bill says:

    It is interesting that Kevin quotes Ursinus, because Ursinus clearly stood for unlimited atonement. Christ died sufficiently for all with regard to the sufficiency but not the application is a clear definition of unlimited atonement, Ursinus clearly states that Christ satisfied for all, he does so in other parts of his commentary on the Heidelberg catechism as well. The sufficiency of Christ’s atonement is what makes it unlimited. The application of the atonement is when people come to faith, and it is completely independent of the sufficiency, the sufficiency is for all, the atonement is unlimited. That not all come to faith has nothing to do with any defect in the atonement or the universality of the atonement, all do not believe is a fact and that is all it means. We cannot blame the death of Christ which is sufficient for all on the unbelief of many, the atonement is universal for all, faith is not universal, very few trust in Christ. This was the teaching of Luther, Calvin, Ursinus, Musculus, and every reformed theologian prior to Theodore Beza who made up out of thin air the heresy of particular redemption or limited atonement.

    That the lamb of God took away the sin of the world is the gospel, this is an objective truth regardless whether people believe it or not. Through faith we receive the forgiveness of sins (the merits of Christ) which he won for all men, this is the gospel, the object of faith is the redemption that is in Christ Jesus for all sinners. All sinners have eternal life in Christ because Christ has satisfied in full for them, yet they deny this testimony. 1 John 5:10-11 clearly says that the testimony we give is that we all have eternal life (believer and unbeliever), yet the unbeliever denies that he has eternal life in Christ, the unbeliever rejects God’s grace in Christ Jesus, rejects the forgiveness of sin that Christ won on the cross for him. Without unlimited atonement we have no gospel and no good news to offer to those that are perishing. The problem for the unbeliever is that the good news (that Christ died for him) came to him and he did not believe it. Hebrews 4:2 cannot be clearer the good news (that Christ died for our sins) came to both believer and unbeliever, the unbeliever did not profit because he did not believe that Christ had made full atonement for his sin. The unbeliever rejects the good news of the gospel.

    An analogy is the day of atonement where the sacrifice took away the sin of all israelites, Leviticus 16. Yet those that did not purify themselves Leviticus 16 and Leviticus 23 did not profit from it. They basically rejected the sacrifice that was made for them.

  23. Bill says:

    With regard to wrath, every man is under the wrath of God until he / she comes to faith. God is reconciled to all men , Christ satisfied for all, God is not the problem any longer. He does not need to be appeased by good works of sacrifices by any man, Christ has already satisfied for all. God is reconciled to the whole world 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 . Yet though God is reconciled to us, we are not reconciled to God, this happens when we come to faith. 2 Corinthians 5:20 . Again what this shows is that God is not the problem, he has atoned for all our sins and does not impute sin any longer, yet we must believe this, Paul implores us to be reconciled to God in light of the fact that God is already reconciled to us. The forgiveness of sin took place in Calvary for all sinners (unlimited atonement), yet nobody benefits unless unless we receive this forgiveness by faith. Without unlimited atonement there is no objective gosple truth, there is no object of faith, there is no Christ to believe in. The object of faith (the atonement of my sin at Calvary) remains true whether I believe it or not, it is the object of faith, yet the atoning sacrifice of Jesus must be received by faith, we are commanded to believe in it, and put our trust in Christ. Yet, regardless whether we believe it or not, our sins have been taken away at Calvary.

  24. Barry says:

    Dylan~
    Before looking at what you wrote on the 21st and 22nd, I’d like to double back to a few earlier posts left unanswered. On the 15th, to repeat your summary for the A(tonement) you said “it was not about appeasement\wrath, not payment of debt . . . . . it is Christ’s blood and his being led outside the city which accomplishes A”. I recall you cited Lev. saying “not about wrath or debt but, repair and purification.” (I note there is NO ref to the Cup). I’ll have to disagree at this point inasmuch as scripture plainly states that ‘the Father put forth or forward his son the lamb of God as a propitiation, by his blood . . . . . ” Additional NT passages referencing Jesus’ death as a propitiation are Heb. 2:17, 1 Jn 2:2, and 1 Jn 4:10. (in the past I erred by using this term and expiation interchangeably).

    from July 20th: Re: the OT texts I offered – you asked about the various people groups with respect to the cup. From history, I believe we can agree that many in fact did from the cup per God’s prophetic warnings. This will be fulfilled again of course at the consummation of the age. Then, regards your observation #1 of the OT and NT texts on the cup and wrath, since as you say there is no obvious explicit explanation for the NT scriptures, (save for the Rev. scriptures) then it seems safe to go with ‘the majority evangelical report’ of the implicit textual meanings. Also, I was not unaware of your 2nd observation; I’d go further by referencing the OT mention of cup of blessings (salvation) and cup of cursing (destruction). And, ‘yes’ I do see that the cup in Mk 10 and 14 are one in the same. We’d both agree that the connection is implicit. I’ll look at your comments from the last two days next.

  25. Dylan says:

    Barry

    “I’ll have to disagree at this point inasmuch as scripture plainly states that ‘the Father put forth or forward his son the lamb of God as a propitiation, by his blood . . . . . ”

    Let’s bring back into focus what I observed about that passage in Romans 3. The Greek word used is ‘hilasterion’, and there continues to be tremendous disagreement among scholars as to how to understand that word and render it in English. Some translations have chose to render it ‘propitiation’, while others chose simply ‘atonement’ or ‘place of atonement’ or ‘sacrifice of atonement’. This is the reality of translation, and it is dangerous to ignore that reality. There is nothing ‘plainly’ understood about this passage, at least from our vantage point.

    It’s interesting that the Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT) uses the word ‘hilasterion’ when it identifies the mercy seat that covers the ark of the covenant in the most holy place. This is why going back to Leviticus 16 and 17 and understanding what is really going on there is key for understanding what is really going on in Romans 3:25. In Leviticus 16, there is not a single mention of wrath, but there is a whole lot in the way of cleansing and taking away of sin.

    When looking at hilasterion, and other associated words like hilasmos (1 John) and hilaskomai (Hebrews 2:17), we have to determine the object of the action. The difference between the renderings of expiation and propitiation is fundamentally based on this determination. With expiation, the object of the action is sins…With propitiation, the object of the action is generally either God himself or wrath/anger. So in these texts we have to determine what the action is directed toward.

    “This will be fulfilled again of course at the consummation of the age.”

    I don’t see the wrath revealed in Revelation as being the ‘fulfillment’ of those various OT allusions to wrath. To me, the ‘cup of God’s wrath’ is presented at various stages in the narrative as being poured out in judgement. The wickedness of various groups causes the cup to fill to the point that it gets poured out. This is not merely a taste of the judgement they will later ultimately encounter at the end of the age. Ultimately however, the point I am making is that the cup of wrath in those OT passages had already fulfilled it’s purpose by the time of Christ, and the next time the cup is mentioned by name is in Revelation, when it is Christ’s enemies who are made to drink from it.

    “then it seems safe to go with ‘the majority evangelical report’ of the implicit textual meanings.”

    I wonder how it is that you go about identifying the ‘majority evangelical report’.

  26. Barry says:

    Dylan,
    I am retracting my use of “hylasterion” as being clearly understood; I see now that it is anything but.
    This word to which I think the NIV refer to “the atonement cover” (used to be called the mercy seat) may also be found in Heb 9:5. The “hilasterion” or atonement cover was for the Jews then the place where or the means which God took care of the people’s sin problem. Christ, is his sacrifice on the cross, is now the place and means where God takes care of his people’s sins. I will continue to look more deeply at this but for now think the term to be broad enough to encompass the acts of both expiation and propitiation.
    I do not at this point see references to wrath in Lev. 16. However, I’m wondering why you select the Day of Atonement over the Feast of Passover from the OT.

    Can you tell me why you speak of “the cup of wrath” in the OT passages at all, if you see no intention of anger\wrath on Calvery, in Christ’s cup, or appeasement of God’s righteous anger and judgement. Perhaps the NT God is devoid of such an attribute? I mean no disrespect; I’m trying to get underneath what we’re writing to each other. I’m making concessions, but there is more to be said.

  27. Dylan says:

    Barry

    “”However, I’m wondering why you select the Day of Atonement over the Feast of Passover from the OT.”

    I focused on the DOA specifically with respect to the words of John the Baptist in John 1:29. I do believe that Passover comes into play at many points with regard to the atonement (as I briefly mentioned before), but specifically regarding John 1:29 I don’t see it connected with the Passover for a couple of reasons. For one, the context of John the Baptist’s ministry of baptism in the wilderness was a call to repentance. Repentance and the taking away of sin are central themes of the DOA, but do not seem to me to be prominent in the Passover narrative. I have heard it taught many times that the Passover sacrifice was slaughtered as a sin sacrifice so that the sins of Israel would be covered so that God’s wrath wouldn’t come upon them along with the Egyptians…but it seems to me to clearly be read into the narrative rather than gathered from it. The blood of the offering is used to mark out God’s people from the Egyptians, because God wanted to show Pharaoh that Israel belonged to Him.

    Overall, I actually tend to look at Passover as the most important framework to view the cross through, because the crucifixion occurred on the night of Passover.

    “Can you tell me why you speak of “the cup of wrath” in the OT passages at all, if you see no intention of anger\wrath on Calvery, in Christ’s cup, or appeasement of God’s righteous anger and judgement.”

    I figured we’d eventually need to discuss the details of wrath…We may not get much further in understanding each other unless we do so now. When looking at wrath in the Bible, I have tried to consistently avoid reading the relevant passages through our contemporary understandings of law and justice. For instance, we must avoid looking at the Torah as though it is basically just a collection of various laws that have legal consequences for breaking. The Torah is God’s revelation of covenant community…The means by which His people would be set apart from the wickedness around them. If they abandoned the Torah, destruction would come upon them. But this destruction isn’t the result of merely a few transgressions here and there, as though each sin itself deserves punishment in a legal since. It is only when the whole community (or sometimes large segments of it) has gone after other gods that this destruction comes upon them. Their idolatry makes them subject to the very plagues that came upon Egypt. Large scale sin disrupts the created order and threatens the set boundaries within creation. In the flood, the waters above come crashing down; in Sodom and Gomorrah, fire and brimstone are unleashed; in Egypt…flies, frogs, and darkness invade; in the wilderness, the ground opens up to devour and venomous snakes come out of nowhere. These catastrophes are not judicial punishments in the sense of legal dessert. They are the effects of sin’s interaction with the created order. They are associated with God’s wrath because, as creator, God is the one who ultimately manages the set boundaries and restrains chaotic forces. This all moves toward a sort of finality when Scripture begins speaking about the ‘cup of God’s wrath’. In these instances, God involves Himself on a more personal, intentional level to in some instances ensure the finality and conclusiveness of judgement and destruction. But these are generally reserved for apocalyptic/eschatological narratives.

    The Apostle Paul carries forth and applies these understandings in his statements in Romans 1 concerning God’s wrath. The refusal to acknowledge God and the ensuing idolatry leads into a downward spiral of wickedness, and God is presented as giving them over to that deprivation…He does not hold back or restrain the effects of their sin. In other words, the way that Paul recognized wrath was when people spiraled down into increasing wickedness. In contrast, through repentance and the cleansing of blood, Paul observed that a life of faithful obedience brings us out from being subject to that wicked spiral so that we reap life instead of destruction.

    Bringing this all back to the cross, my understanding is that what Christ endured in his body, mind, and soul was what the sins of the world result in…namely death. And by being made an offering for sin, Christ’s blood was given to cleanse all things of sins pollution, that all things in heaven and earth might be reconciled to the Father. Through being cleansed, and walking in newness of life, we no longer subject ourselves to wrath.

    There is however one sense in which it can be said that Christ endured ‘wrath’ on our behalf. The entire first century context of Palestine was one that was very clearly indicative of wrath. The leaders of Israel were blind and corrupt; the people in large part were oppressed of sickness, immorality, and demons; Rome ruled with an iron fist. In to this steps God Himself…and instead of restraining these chaotic forces, the Father allows it all to focus in on the Son. The Son meets it all head on, and pleases the Father to the very end by his intercession for the very people who carried out the event of the cross. It seems to me then that it is fine to identify the cross with ‘wrath’, so long as wrath is understood within the biblical narrative and not within some foreign judicial construct.

  28. Dylan says:

    Continued from previous comment…

    If people want to use the term ‘penal substitution’ to identify an aspect of atonement within the biblical narrative, that’s fine (so long as the biblical narrative is allowed to dictate how the term ‘penal’ is understood. However, I believe that term is highly problematic, because it tends to carry ideas about sin, atonement, and wrath that flow from our human institutions of justice rather than from the biblical narrative.

  29. mike says:

    Bill,
    In order for there to be wrath, real wrath, there must be real sin. Wrath is a reaction to sin. In order for God to pour out His wrath on His Son, real sin must be involved. But Jesus had no sin at all. lets look at how it works: a person sins and earns God’s wrath. Your sins and my sins earn God’s wrath. Justice demands that sinners pay for their sins. You violate God’s Law you earn the consequence of wrath and eternal death. Now we all have sinned and earned wrath and eternal death: the wages of sin is death. Those that come by faith in Jesus, though escape their just deserts and receive life because why? because Jesus has experienced God’s wrath in their place. Their sins, my sins, your sins were paid for by Jesus on the cross. God is transcendent over time and place, and the sins we WILL sin against Him are already known by Him. Since he knows [one way to look at it] who will believe He pours out their deserved wrath onto Jesus at the cross. Hence the atonement is limited because God is not. But a better way to look at it, and closer to the Scripture testimony from genesis on, is to see that faith is a gift of God. That God has chosen from before the foundation of the world who He will save and sends Jesus into the world to suffer and die for their sins and brings them to faith and repentance and sonship. Blessings

  30. Bill says:

    Mike,

    If Christ paid for the sins of the elect alone, then the reason people go to hell is because they were not covered by the atonement. So God is to blame. As I explained at length in my two posts above and provided scripture to back it up, the problem does not lie with God or the atonement. I will give you another analogy (beside the date of atonement which I explained earlier), let’s look at the parable of the sower. The seed that falls by the wayside, on rocky ground, or is choked by weeds is exactly the same seed that falls on good ground and prospers and produces a good crop. The problem is not with the seed, the problem is with the ground. And the same can be said about the atonement, the problem lies with man why they go to hell, and not with God. When Christ said it is finished at the cross all sins of all mankind were fully paid for, full satisfaction was made. And this truth needs to be preached to all, but those that reject it go to hell solely because of their rejection. Man is 100 % to blame for his damnation, there is nothing in the atonement that Christ accomplished for the elect that he did not accomplish for the reprobate as well. Christ laid down his life Peter as much as he did for Judas. Judas betrayed Jesus, rejected him, and this is the sole reason for his condemnation. The death of Christ blotted out all of Judas sins, yet he rejected it and was thus condemned. The atonement was perfect and took away the sins of the whole world, all sins of all people, yet if people do not apply the atonement to themselves and trust that it applies to them and their sins have been forgiven, then they are rejecting the only and perfect sacrifice and are damned as a result of their rejection of Christ. It cannot be more clear.

  31. Dylan says:

    Mike,

    It seems that your entire viewpoint of the atonement flows from an understanding of ‘justice’ that is foreign to Scripture. Your understanding of justice can be summed up in the one statement: “Justice demands that sinners pay for their sins.”. If this is true, then justice is essentially God, and the God of the Bible is subservient to it. But this is not what we see in Scripture. In Scripture, the justice of God is represented by his working to put all things to rights…To restore harmony in His domain, which is all of creation. His justice is not ‘penal’ in nature…it is restorative in nature. His ways are not our ways.

  32. Barry says:

    Dylan,
    So now to the DOA, we have brought in a brief mention of the Passover. In Ex. 12 we find much detail for the event. Doesn’t seem to require much editorializing. The DOA taken alone presents an incomplete picture.
    “the catastrophes of the OT are not judicial punishments . . . . they are the effects of sins interaction with the created order.”
    I think that we see throughout scripture God dealing with disobedience and rebellion. There are warnings after warnings followed by ‘over-ruling’ grace, in both testaments. (here’s my 2 cents: ‘judgment is never God’s first priority; however, perhaps some Christians have forgotten that the Lord is faithful in both blessings and discipline).

    I appreciate what you write about Romans 1. That does seem to be a divine ‘MO’. I believe that Gal. 6 confirms
    that the moral universe does have consequences. The individual who sows to his sinful nature reaps spiritual breakdown and destruction. Paul may be saying that sin makes things disintegrate or fall apart.

    The closing 2 paragraphs present ‘a’ way of looking at the cross. Now we approach the nitty-gritty again. Shame on me for assuming belief in a vicarious, penal, substitutionary atonement was most commonly held. I have traced out the history of A views and it’s been revealing. Today, I find that many prefer a “blend” of views which may not be unhelpful. I have even noticed the attempts of some to apportion the views by percentages as in a recipe. Again, that may be harmless too.

    Personally, I would not want to insist upon the conditions you apply to “wrath” and the cross. Next time I may have something to comment about foreign judicial constructs.

  33. Dylan says:

    “I think that we see throughout scripture God dealing with disobedience and rebellion.”

    Indeed, I fully agree with you there. God is every bit as faithful in judgement as He is in blessing. The nuanced distinction in our understanding of this (if there even is one) is that I see God’s dealings with disobedience/rebellion almost exclusively in the context of Israel as the set-apart community of God. In other words, God foretells judgement against the entire community for their idolatry, and then steps in to execute that judgement when practically the whole community has foresaken the covenant.

    I of course would not insist on anyone holding precisely to this particular view…it simply is the best way I have found to understand the narrative. What I do largely insist is that we not allow this issue to deepen the divisions in the Church.

  34. Barry says:

    Dylan,

    You’ve taken quite a bit of time sharing your views and interpretations for the atonement, etc. I have benefited from our exchange. Apparently these “theories” of the atonement are so called for a reason.
    Now I wonder to what extent those who strongly oppose ‘substitution and penal’ have been much influenced from across the pond by N.T. Wright and Steve Chalke.

    As some of these authors appear to re-invent the teachings of Jesus for our century, by correcting faulty doctrine and interpretation from the past, they “imagine” a God of their choosing and liking in a similar way they accuse others of having done. Somewhere at the root there exists a disdain for divine attributes of anger, jealousy, and wrath. I am left with the impression, furthermore, that some writers are ‘guilty’ of casting the God of the OT against the God of the New. Or if that is an unfair statement, then they would say we have even misread the OT as well as the new. Witness the current attacks on Original Sin.

    The gospel accounts of our Lord’s atonement and passion become symbolic and metaphoric. Let’s just then apply that hermaneutic along with allegory across the board.

    I will defer from getting into the topic of justice, as I had wanted to. I believe I now understand where that would lead us both.

  35. Dylan says:

    “Now I wonder to what extent those who strongly oppose ‘substitution and penal’ have been much influenced from across the pond by N.T. Wright and Steve Chalke.”

    To me, it seems quite unfortunate that we are even having these battles over terms like ‘substitution’ and ‘penal’. The moment we insist that certain key terms must be central to our understanding of Christ’s work, that is the very moment that we risk disembowelment of the gospel proclamation. Equally unfortunate is the fact that many Christians respond to this sad state of affairs by abandoning any notion that Scripture speaks of condemnation of sin and judgement of the wicked. That of course is not the answer. But we need to hold the terms we use rather loosely, because these terms can be understood in ways that are contrary to the biblical narrative.

    As for Wright and Chalke, I wonder what your understanding is of their positions on the atonement. If you have not read at length the portions of their writings that lay those positions out, you risk basing their conclusions on one-liners that have been plucked from their larger contexts.

    “Somewhere at the root there exists a disdain for divine attributes of anger, jealousy, and wrath.”

    I’m not sure if you are here still referring to authors like Wright and Chalke…If so, I see absolutely no warrant for believing they have any disdain for those attributes. Wright in particular would uphold those attributes, while insisting that those attributes be understood strictly within the biblical narrative. What they would disdain is understanding those attributes within narratives that are foreign to Scripture.

    “Or if that is an unfair statement, then they would say we have even misread the OT as well as the new. Witness the current attacks on Original Sin.”

    Let me ask you…If we have been misreading the OT, then don’t you think we should make the adjustments needed so as to read the OT more accurately? After all, if we misread the OT, then we can’t hope to comprehend the message of the NT. I would think you would admire their insistence on ‘sola scriptura’.

    Regarding ‘original sin’, the issues here basically boil down to whether one upholds the idea of federal headship or not. Again, there are various ways to understand the concept of original sin…Rejecting the idea of federal headship does not mean one is attacking the doctrine of original sin. Maybe you could provide specific examples of the attacks you are referring to.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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