Monday, October 26, 2009

Substitionary Atonement

My friend and chief sermon critic "Theophilus" wrote (in a comment in response to my sermon on the Feast of St. Luke):
"Very late, in the 12th century, St. Anselm formulated his doctrine of substitution atonement. He too depicted God as a wrathful judge who had to punish someone, namely Jesus, before he could forgive sins. This false doctrine has become the chief doctrine within Christianity. Often, as I make my way from church to church on Sunday mornings, I hear a lot of religious talk from the pulpits. But, invariably, the preacher will end his sermon with a brief reminder of the doctrine of substitution atonement, thinking that he has thereby given his people the gospel in a nut shell. I do not think so. Often, over the years, I have heard Christians say, “I can sin all I want to, for all my future sins have already been punished on the cross of Christ.” What a terrible distortion! It is time to reject that doctrine and to return to God’s own self-definition. He is merciful and gracious, faithful and forgiving by name and character. He forgives sins FOR HIS NAME’S SAKE. This truly is good news."
Theophilus has compared his view of Christianity to that of Thomas Jefferson, who rejected all of the miracles of the Bible as metaphors. However, Theophilus doesn't reject all supernatural occurrences - such as the resurrection of our Lord. He does, however, believe that most (if not all) of Jesus's miracles are metaphors for what he calls the "covenant-gospel message." Theophilus argues that the doctrine of the Trinity, for instance, is unbiblical, and was invented and dogmatized by the institutional Church in the 4th century.

Anyway, that's just a bit of background. I do want to briefly address the substitutionary atonement - even as I have already addressed his concerns about the doctrine of the Trinity and the divinity of our Blessed Lord.

To claim that the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement was "formulated" by St. Anselm in the late 12th century (and implying that this was not taught in Scripture nor by the church fathers before Anselm) is the equivalent fallacy of concluding that gravity did not exist prior to Isaac Newton in the 17th century. Newton studied, theorized, researched, and systematized our knowledge of gravity, but he certainly didn't "formulate" it. Nor was he ever the first to discover or reflect on it.

Theophilus's view of Christianity boils down to little more than the fact that Jesus is a Really Nice Guy. Theophilus does not believe Jesus is God. Nor does he believe Jesus's death on the cross paid sacrificially for the sins of the world (though he does believe Jesus rose from the dead and still lives today). Of course, such a view makes Jesus's death on the cross a defeat rather than a victory, and makes St. Paul's declaration "We preach Christ crucified" (1 Cor 1:23) seem rather pointless.

The substitionary atonement has two parts: "atonement" - which involves making restitution for sin, while the "substitutionary" element deals with the fact that the sacrifice is offered on behalf of the sinner as a substitute or proxy.

"Atonement" is the English translation of the Hebrew word kapporet and its Greek equivalents are hilasmos and hilasterion. In the Old Testament, kapporet especially points us to the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant and the Day of the Atonement (Lev 16).

On this day, the high priest would enter the Most Holy Place carrying blood from the sin offering: "Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and his house" (Lev 16:6). Here we see the bull acting as the proxy and the sacrifice to cover the sins of the priest and his family. He also makes another offering, a "goat of the sin offering that is for the people" (Lev 16:15) and he would carry its blood behind the veil to where God was present, and sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant as an offering. There was also the sacrifice of another goat: "Aaron shall lay both hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness" (Lev 16:21-22). The "scapegoat" was left to die as a substitutionary atonement, bearing by proxy the sins of the people.

The Book of Hebrews points us back to this sacrificial system of substitutionary atonement of the Old Testament as types, or foreshadowings, of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ ("but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities" Heb 10:1). For "Jesus is the guarantor of a better covenant.... [who] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever (Heb 7:22-23). And yet, this "new and improved" High Priest is also Himself the offering, the substitutionary atonement: "He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself" (Heb 7:27, emphasis added). This is the very definition of a substitionary atonement.

This "once for all" offering is elaborated upon in Hebrews 10. The entire chapter is an articulation of the sacrifice of Jesus as atonement for the sins of all. For "He abolished the first in order to establish the second. And by what will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God" (Heb 10:10-12).

Heb 9:11-28 is filled with the details of Christ's death as the once-for-all sacrifice, the substitutionary atonement of the New Covenant. You can click the link here to read the entire passage. Here are a few key excepts (emphasis added):
  • "he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption" (Heb 9:12).
  • "how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Heb 9:14).
  • "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Heb 9:22).
  • "But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Heb 9:26).
  • "so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him (Heb 9:28).
The substitutionary atonement of Christ was prophesied 700 years prior by Isaiah: "Surely he has born our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed" (Isa 53:4-5 emphasis added). The flow of the pronouns in this prophecy leave no doubt of the substitutionary nature of the Messiah's sacrifice on the cross.

St. John writes: "We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation (hilasmos - see above) for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:1-2). It is no accident that the Apostle uses this phrase "sins of the whole world," as he recorded St. John the Baptist's words upon presenting Jesus: "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). The "Lamb" is an obvious reference to the concept of sacrifice. The fact that this sacrifice is being applied to the "whole world" is what makes the atonement substitutionary. John also reports the eternal song of the saints in heaven: "And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation" (Rev 5:9) - emphasis added.

St Paul writes: "that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5:19). "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time (1 Tim 2:5-6). "and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him (Col 1:20-22). St. Paul explicitly ties Jesus to the Passover sacrifice: "Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed (1 Cor 5:7). "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree" (Gal 3:13) - emphasis added.

St. Matthew, like John and Paul, also (quoting our Blessed Lord Himself) describes Jesus as a "ransom" (lutron) - which is a substitutionary payment: "even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:28). St. Luke explains the the payment made in this ransom by citing St. Paul's exhortation to the bishops of Ephesus: "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (episkopous), to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood (Acts 20:28 emphasis added).

The Apostle Peter likewise refers to the substitutionary atonment in his two epistles: "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction" (2 Peter 2:1). "knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot" (1 Pet 18-19). The substitutionary nature of the Lord's atonement is emphasized by St Peter: "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, (1 Pet 3:18) - emphasis added.

So, the substitutionary atonement is clearly taugh in both Old and New Testaments.

It was also taught by the Church fathers well before the 325 council of Nicea. Here are a few examples from the Ante-Nicene Fathers, cited in the Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, pp. 41-48 (with citations from the Ante-Nicene Fathers, vols 1-10):

"Because of the love He had for us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God. He gave His flesh for our flesh, and His soul for our souls." - Clement of Rome, 1 Corinthians, ANF 1:18, c 96 AD.

"The Father Himself placed upon Christ the burden of our iniquities. He gave His own Son as a ransom for us: the holy one for the transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked.... For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness?... O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! That the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors." - Mathetes, Letter to Diognetus, ANF 1:28, c 125-200 AD.

"Jesus Christ 'bore our sins in His own body on the tree.'" - Polycarp, 1 Philippians, ANF 1:35, c 135 AD.

"The whole human race was found to be under a curse.... The Father of all wished His Christ, for the whole human family, to take upon Him the curses of all, knowing that after He had been crucified and was dead, He would raise Him up.... His Father wished Him to suffer this, in order that by His stripes, the human race might be healed." - Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho, ANF1:247, c 160 AD.

"In place of Isaac the just, a ram appeared for slaughter, in order that Isaac might be liberated from his bonds. The slaughter of this animal redeemed Isaac from death. In like manner, the Lord, being slain, saved us. Being bound, He loosed us. Being sacrificed, He redeemed us. - Melito, Remains of the Second and Third Centuries, ANF 8:759, c 170 AD.

"Abraham, according to his faith, followed the command of the Word of God. With a ready mind, he delivered up, as a sacrifice to God, his only-begotten and beloved son. This was to demonstrate that God also might be pleased to offer up for all his seed His own beloved and only-begotten Son, as a sacrifice for our redemption." - Irenaeus, Against Heresies, ANF 1:467, c 180 AD.

"Redeeming us by His own blood in a manner of harmony with reason, He gave Himself as a redemption for those who had been led into captivity." Irenaeus, Against Heresies, ANF 1:527, c 180 AD.

"In this manner, the Lord has redeemed us through His own blood, giving His soul for our souls, and His flesh for our flesh." - Irenaeus, Against Heresies, ANF 1:527, c 180 AD.

"For you, I [Christ] contended with Death, and I paid your death, which you owed for your former sins and your unbelief towards God." - Clement of Alexandria, Who is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved?, ANF 2:598, c 195 AD.

"You have already been ransomed by Christ - and that at a great price!" - Tertullian, The Chaplet, ANF 3:101, c 211 AD.

"A man could not give anything as an exchange for his own life, but God gave an exchange for the life of us all, 'the precious blood of Christ Jesus.' Accordingly, 'we were bought with a price,' 'having been redeemed, not with corruptible things as silver or gold, but with precious blood." - Origin, Commentary on Matthew, ANF 9:465, c 245 AD.

"The Son also gave Himself to death for us, so that He was delivered up - not only by the Father - but also by Himself." - Origin, Commentary on Matthew, ANF 9:479, c 245 AD.

"For man's salvation, He was made man in order to overcome death and to set all men free. In that He offered Himself as a victim to the Father on our behalf, He was called a calf." - Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse, ANF 7:348, c 280 AD.

There are many more citations of ante-Nicene fathers on the atonement listed in the Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, pp. 41-48. These are just a smattering. These demonstrate that the clear scriptural interpretation of the substitutionary atonement of Christ was understood by the early Church from the apostolic fathers on. St. Anselm did not pull this doctrine out of a hat, but rather received it from the early fathers who in turn received it from the Word of God.

This is why we continue to "preach Christ crucified," and not merely Christ the Nice Guy, but rather "a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Cor 1:23-25).


Jonathan said...

Um, hey, Theo, if Jesus was just a 'nice guy' and all, then what's in it for me? What's the point?

SKPeterson said...

What about Aulen's characterization of the "Ransom Theory" of the early church v. Anselm's "Satisfaction Theory"? As I recall, Aulen explains the Crucifixion (or interprets the early fathers) as Ransom being more Gospel-centered, i.e., freeing us from death, while Anselm's view is more of a transactional Law-oriented interpretation of satisfying the terms of the Law.

Theophilus said...

TO Jonathan:

I have never characterized Jesus as a "nice guy." He certainly did not act like a nice guy in the temple when he put a temporary halt to the Temple's sacrificial system. I have always characterized him as a "son of God" (covenant language as with Israel and with us), even as the "son of God," a "righteous man" in the tradition of the faithful prophets, one who was willing to face death for the sake of his life-giving message.

"Surely he was the son of God" (Matthew 27:54)is a parallel statement to "Surely this was a righteous man." We sons of God today are righteous people.

Theophilus, Follower of the Way

Theophilus said...

TO SKPeterson:

Aulen's "Ransom Theory" sounds interesting. Please explain that to me in contrast to Anselm's "Satisfaction Theory."
Does Aulen's theory take seriously God's own self-definition - merciful and forgiving by name and character? Thanks.

Theophilus, Follower of the Way

Theophilus said...

TO Father Hollywood:

WOW! What a thorough defense of “substitution atonement” you just made! Yes, there is a lot of language that suggests substitution atonement in Leviticus and Hebrews. Sometimes I think those two books should not have made it into the Bible. They obscure God’s own self-definition. And they lead to this question: To be God-like, must we now require punishment before we can forgive someone?

The problem with all this for me is that early self-definition by Jehovah (Exodus 34:6-7) If God is by name and character merciful and forgiving, one who forgives sins for his name’s sake, as the Psalmist declares, why were all those sacrifices necessary? The Israelites seemed to be in great bondage to them. This seems contradictory to me. I much prefer a merciful “Father” who forgives me for his name’s sake over a vindictive “Judge” who must kill an animal (OT) or person (NT) before he can forgive.
CERTAINLY, JESUS SACRIFICED HIS LIFE FOR US IN FAITHFULNESS TO HIS LIFE-GIVING MESSAGE! It is his message that pronounces us forgiven, and forgiven we are.

Seeing Jesus’ death as substitution atonement required a great stretch of imagination for the writer to the Hebrews. It appears as if he, realizing that the entire Old Testament sacrificial system no longer existed, substituted Jesus as a sacrificial lamb to keep that dead system alive. But why, when our Father in heaven forgives us for his name’s sake?

I do admire the effort you put into your responses to my three doctrinal challenges (not really sermon critiques) and thank you for the time it took to do that. I will read your responses carefully again. Perhaps there may be some light in that for me yet unseen. I do not wish to become a burden on your time. So I will refrain from any further such challenges, although I will undoubtedly continue to read what you write and comment briefly on occasion.

This all has been interesting to me.


Theophilus, Follower of the Way

SKPeterson said...


The "Ransom Theory" is not Aulen's per se, but rather that Aulen, in his book "Christus Victor" lays out the notion of the Crucifixion as in terms of ransom, as opposed to what he characterizes as Anselm's later innovation of satisfaction. Aulen holds that the ransom viewpoint was the view of the early Church and emphasizes the Pauline doctrine that Christ's death kills death and defeats the Sin and the Devil, rather than the death of Christ actually killing Christ as the Devil hopes. In contrast, Anselm holds that because of the Law, satisfaction must be given and that Christ is that satisfaction. The differences between the two views is surficially quite subtle, at least to me, but perhaps Fr. H can provide more light on the specifics of the one v. the other.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear SK:

I haven't read Bishop Aulen's book, but I do understand that the church has emphasized different aspects ("theories") of the atonement, such as the Christus Victor theme (which stresses the Lord's triumph over the devil at His crucifixion) as well as the Anselmic view (which stresses the Lord's payment for sin).

There is no reason for these to be mutually exclusive.

I think the evidence for both is overwhelming in Scripture, and both are advocated with different degrees of stress by various church fathers. The Lord is triumphant precisely because he defeated the devil by becoming the satisfaction for our sins, and His triumph was confirmed by the resurrection.

Peter said...

Well done, Father Hollywood.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theo:

You write:

"Yes, there is a lot of language that suggests substitution atonement in Leviticus and Hebrews. Sometimes I think those two books should not have made it into the Bible."

And yet, there they are.

You write:

"They obscure God’s own self-definition."

Not if they are part of God's own self-definition.

You write:

"To be God-like, must we now require punishment before we can forgive someone?"

No. Jesus has already paid the price for their sins. To strive to be Godlike is to strive to turn the other cheek, go the second mile, and pray for one's enemies. And being persecuted for the faith is a cross that is described as a beatitude.

You write:

"The problem with all this for me is that early self-definition by Jehovah (Exodus 34:6-7)If God is by name and character merciful and forgiving, one who forgives sins for his name’s sake, as the Psalmist declares, why were all those sacrifices necessary? The Israelites seemed to be in great bondage to them. This seems contradictory to me."

If the Word of God seems contradictory, we need to check our own premises. Maybe we are the ones who are erring, not the Bible. The sacrifices (which date back to Genesis 3 in which the Lord killed innocent animals to cover Adam and Eve's shame (Gen 3:21) point to the greatest divine act of mercy of all, in which God Himself would bear the punishment for our breaking of the covenant. In God's covenant with Adam, Abraham was not required to walk between the bloodied halves of the animals - only God passed through. This implies that even should man break the covenant, it would be God whose blood would be shed (Gen 15:7-19).

You write:

"I much prefer a merciful “Father” who forgives me for his name’s sake over a vindictive “Judge” who must kill an animal (OT) or person (NT) before he can forgive.
CERTAINLY, JESUS SACRIFICED HIS LIFE FOR US IN FAITHFULNESS TO HIS LIFE-GIVING MESSAGE! It is his message that pronounces us forgiven, and forgiven we are."

Well, God says "I AM who I AM" (Ex 3:14), He does not say: "I AM whom you prefer." Our duty is to submit to Him, not craft a version of Him that we prefer. Jesus asked point-blank if this cup could pass from Him, yet conceded that this was indeed the father's will (Matt 26:39). He willingly gave Himself up for us on the cross according to the Father's will.

You write:

"Seeing Jesus’ death as substitution atonement required a great stretch of imagination for the writer to the Hebrews."

Which assumes the book is a fraud. It is either "imagination" or "inspiration."

You write:

"It appears as if he, realizing that the entire Old Testament sacrificial system no longer existed, substituted Jesus as a sacrificial lamb to keep that dead system alive. But why, when our Father in heaven forgives us for his name’s sake?"

His Name's sake means for the sake of Jesus, whose Name is "above every name" (Phil 2:9), into whose Name we baptize (Matt 28:19).

You write:

"I do admire the effort you put into your responses to my three doctrinal challenges (not really sermon critiques) and thank you for the time it took to do that. I will read your responses carefully again. Perhaps there may be some light in that for me yet unseen. I do not wish to become a burden on your time. So I will refrain from any further such challenges, although I will undoubtedly continue to read what you write and comment briefly on occasion."

Please feel free to comment any time. If this is what we believe, we have the burden to defend it.

You write:

"This all has been interesting to me. Blessings! Theophilus, Follower of the Way"

Likewise! Peace be with you, Theophilus!

SKPeterson said...

Fr H.,

Thanks. I haven't really had a good sense of exactly what the differences are between the two "schools", but I think Aulen views an overemphasis on what he calls the Anselmian view to be too focused on the Crucifixion as a legalistic enterprise rather than the action of a loving God to redeem a fallen humanity. I can see how one could easily counter that the satisfaction for sins given by Christ's sacrifice satisfies the Law and kills it, while redeeming humanity and defeating the Devil. But, to paraphrase, God is in the details, and beyond my feeble limits to differentiate His actions regarding ransom and satisfaction.

Peter said...

It's important, I think, to know that God's justice is a result of his mercy and love. If we say that God forgives without payment, we are actually denying his love. That is, to say that God does not punish sin is to say that, when it comes right down to it, he doesn't care. So, let's say a child is beaten. What should happen? Forgive and forget? Is it vindictive to demand justice. No, just the opposite. It shows you care about the child. A God who does not demand justice is not merciful, he is apathetic. The great love of God is found in his Son who meets the demand of justice on our behalf.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Peter--boom! You nailed it. Thanks for that excellent and brief point regarding justice and mercy.

Fr. Hollywood--boom! You nailed it too! A guy I know who went to the Orthodox Church claims that the concept of forensic justification is foreign to the Scriptures. Interesting theory.

Matthias Flacius said...


Excellent defense of biblical doctrine!

BTW, Theophilus, actually Anselm died in 1109, so he did most of his formulating in the eleventh century. However, I realize that is a minor point.

mlorfeld said...

"I much prefer a merciful “Father” who forgives me for his name’s sake over a vindictive “Judge” who must kill an animal (OT) or person (NT) before he can forgive."

I'm sorry but this kind of thinking is completely backwards. Christ was not required to be a sacrifice because that's the system that God established for the forgiveness of sins. Rather, the entire sacrificial system from the animal that was killed to cover Adam and Eve's shame to the ox (there's a nice St. Luke connection for you) that Zechariah (presumably, since he was the high priest) sacrificed were necessary because Christ was crucified. They were substitutionary because Christ's sacrifice was substitutionary.

FB, SSP said...

Fr. Hollywood,
The above is why I am still a Lutheran, and did not convert to Eastern Orthodoxy.
I've heard tell that the doctrine of substitutionary atonement is allowed in the EO church, but everything I've heard and read is that they consider it on the border of heresy.

Past Elder said...

Great Caesar's Ghost!

It is the most universal spiritual intuition of Man that we are not right with God and that something must be done to correct that.

All religions are answers as to what that is. Unfortunately, it is also a universal human intuition that WE must do something to correct that.

Us. Our works. Anything and everything from human sacrifice to being in favour of government programmes to give everybody everything. All works righteousness.

The Law is God's response to that intuition. He says: if you want to correct the distance between you and me, here is exactly how to do it, right down to where to put the candles; in fact, I'll call out a people to lay this on through Moses rather than lay it on all of you, and that will be a light to the rest who only have to follow the part to Noah.

And we couldn't do it.

Even the Law is a work of love. If God were purely about justice, as some think is the Law's only function, there would be no Law. As Rabbi Luzzato pointed out, if God were about only justice he would have obliterated us on the spot for our transgressions without a word as to why. So he gave us the Law.

There are only two responses, assuming one accepts the Law. One is that of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, who observed that with the Temple being gone and the Law now literally physically impossible to observe, based on Hosea 6:6 prayer and good works now take the place of the former sacrifices. This is not a function of Messiah; forgiveness is already there in the Law, and mercy is in accepting partial payment rather than full.

The other is another rabbi, who said he is the Temple, he is the Priest, he is the Victim, he is the Passover, to which all that pointed.

So salvation is by works, thing is, whose, yours and mine, or his.

A god who takes everything you've got and cancels the rest is not merciful; a god who gives everything you've got is.

(Even Grant let 'em go home with a horse and sidearm.)

Maybe it's just a huge case of survivor's guilt that we can't quite accept that, and remake Christianity itself into works, which God either accepts as far as they go and forgets the rest or continues the process after death.

We cannot be holy, God cannot be sinful. But God made himself sin for us, that we might be made holy for him. A stumbling block of you're looking for works, foolishness if you're looking for wisdom. But through faith in the works of God made Man, salvation, full and free.

(Which, btw, leaves one free not from good works, but to do good works, knowing we do them because we're saved and not to be saved.)

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Peter:

I think you've hit on a central point - the paradox between divine justice and divine mercy.

Though it is only an analogy, I think we could use Timothy McVeigh as an example. Before he was executed, he received Roman Catholic last rites, which normally includes a final confession and absolution.

If McVeigh were forgiven, then he indeed found mercy and forgiveness. And yet, he still underwent justice. Had the state let him go, it would not have been an act of mercy to everyone else. And yet, had the priest denied him (assuming he was penitent) absolution, that would not have been an act of justice.

God, being righteous, cannot be unjust, and being love cannot be unmerciful. Luther used to exhort people to "let God be God." I think this is a case where we need to do just that. For God the merciful has not failed to save us in order to serve justice, nor has He, the righteous One, simply ignored our sins in order to be loving.

He became like the proverbial soldier who falls on the grenade to save His friends. Love impels the lover to sacrifice himself for the beloved.

It is the theology (or as the world would say: folly) of the cross.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Jonathan:

In fairness, Theophilus did not say Jesus was just a nice guy. I characterized his view of a non-divine, non-sacrificial Jesus in that way. He denies having that point of view, though I don't see how he can avoid it as a conclusion to his premises.

But again, in fairness, he does not hold this view.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

The problem lies not so much in "atonement" nor yet even in "substitutionary." Probably most or all Christians agree Jesus died so we wouldn't have to. That's substitutionary.

The problem arises when we affix "Penal" to the front of the phrase.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Anastasia:

I do think a lot of the discussion and debate between eastern and western Christians regarding our approaches to the atonement are semantic and related to how our separated histories have played out more than real disagreement in substance.

Theophilus is coming at this from a different angle all together.

He does not believe in the Trinity or the Divinity of Christ. His problem is mainly with a God that would require the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sin. He finds that irreconcilable with a God who is merciful. I believe I summed up his position fairly, and if not, I certainly invite his correction.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

His problem is mainly with a God that would require the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sin.

Whether or not this is "irreconcilable with a God who is merciful" depends, it seems to me, upon exactly why that blood is necessary. If it's necessary because somehow it appeases an otherwise unmerciful God, or because suffering, blood, and/or death are what one must give Him in order for Him to be merciful, then Theophilus is of course right. If it's all about displaced punishment, then there IS no actual mercy, just, well, displaced punishment.

If it's blood being the seat of life (animals' blood symbolically and Christ's divine blood really) and if the problem is to undo death with eternal life, then that's another story altogether, and, Theophilus, you've missed a very important point (or two or three or more).

mlorfeld said...

Again, that is somewhat of a backwards way of looking at it (though a very common one). The answer to "why that blood is necessary" is not because of some rule or limit that God somehow imposed on Himself, but rather it is because Christ was crucified. We are not at liberty to play "what if" games with God. So we can't ask if there was another way God could have dealt with sin. He dealt with it by sending His Son to die on the Cross.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Not playing any what-if games, with God or with us. Christ was/is crucified and that IS how God dealt with sin. And we must deal with what actually happened and not with hypothetical alternatives.

But the issue is what exactly all this means. How do sin and crucifixion fit together? What has each to do with the other?

If the answer is penal in nature, we have a problem. If it is something else, perhaps we haven't.

If anybody is interested, I wrote about a 19-post series last year called, "Why Did Jesus Die?" Part 04 deals with the subject of what the blood was FOR.

Past Elder said...

Great Judas in the judge's chambers, once you realise you've done a capital offence and the sentence is capital punishment, when the sentence is commuted do you wait to walk free until you understand how the lawyers got it or complain it's all too forensic?

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

But where are you getting all that? I can't find in Scripture anything that says every sin is a capital offense. Yes, I'm aware that every sin is entirely WORTHY of death, but not that death is actually to be imposed for it. It's a logical assumption, but it doesn't appear to be biblical.

What trial? Where in Scripture has there been any trial for you and me? Judgment Day hasn't arrived yet, and won't until the end of the world.

And where in the Law is there any provision for the wrong person to carry the sentence? How is it in any way legal (let alone fair or moral) to sentence an innocent man?

Past Elder said...

Exactly what my rabbi said.

mlorfeld said...

Well, the very fact that dikaioō is a legal term of declaring righteous/innocent (as also used in Plato's Dialogues vol. VI), I don't know how you can not see this in a legal sense.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Of course it can be seen in a legal sense: Christ obeyed the Law perfectly and offered the Father this perfect obedience on behalf of us all, thus fulfilling the Old Covenant and inaugurating of the New. Add the Father accepted this offering of perfect obedience for the whole human race, making more than full restitution and more than cancelling out all our sin.

Another facet of justification is that we are baptized into Christ's death. The Law has jurisdiction only as long as a person lives. Once he dies, the Law ceases to apply to him. (See first half of Romans 7.) So when we die with Christ and then rise with Him - and the Law knows nothing of resurrection - it means Christ has placed us beyond the reach of the Law, safe from any verdict prescribed therein. Henceforth we dwell by grace and through faith in His own bosom, where there is everlasting mercy. In this sense, too, we are justified.

Those are some legal ways of looking at it that pose no problem to anyone I know.

The problem only arises if we imagine God requiring vengeance or payback or retaliation or punishment or "satisfaction" or whatever word for it you may prefer, in exchange for His mercy. Because of His unfathomable love, His mercy is absolutely free; it is a gift, not an item to be bought or sold. That's not what the blood is all about.

For what the blood IS all about, and why it is absolutely necessary, I'll again simply refer you to my blog post on that subject, rather than repeat it here.

Benjamin Harju said...

Regarding the comment about Plato:

If we are going to dwell on the proper use of words, then at St. Paul's time diky was a term used to refer to a juridical verdict, while dikaios and dikaiosyne refer to a moral quality, and its force is comparable to hagiwsyne.

Simply making a reference to Plato does not undo the overwhelming evidence of this distinction found in ancient Greek juridical court proceedings, nor does it peg Plato down. In other writings he is known to use dikaios in a moral sense, not juridical.

Theophilus said...

I think I struck a nerve. All the responses to my challenge to Anselm's "theory" of substitution atonement have been most interesting to me. I will have to read them all again and again to get into the thought process of you theologians.

From my perspective in the pew, it is sufficient for me to know that God is by name (Jehovah or Father)
merciful and forgiving. He forgives me for his name's sake, for that is what his name means, that he is merciful and forgiving by character.

That is how I want to be, merciful and forgiving by virtue of my being a follower of Jesus the Christ. I cannot imagine requiring someone to be sacrificially punished before I can forgive him. Jesus clearly did the same. He forgave people without requiring some form of punishment of them. He said very simply and authentically, "Your sins are forgiven. Go and sin no more." Wonderfully simple and effective!

In society it is different. In this world wrongdoing must be punished for the sake of justice. But government requires the punishing, not me. I can forgive someone who has shot and wounded me, but society still demands justice, and rightfully so, to maintain order in our society.

Yes, I do have serious concerns about Jesus' divinity. That defies any logic or reason. If he is God walking around on earth, then he is very different from me. Then I cannot identify with him at all. Then his suffering was not really suffering, and his death was not really death. For God cannot die! I want to follow one who was like me in every way, one who maintained faithfulness in walking in the righteousness of faith and obedience. For then I can do likewise. But I cannot be like a perfect divinity and would not even try. I have looked carefully at every use of the name, "Son of God" in the Bible. All reference alike are covenant language, not deity language, for Israel, for Jesus, and for us. God established a Father-son covenant relationship with us all, saying to us all, "I will be your merciful heavenly Father, and you shall be my beloved son." That was true of Israel; that was true of Jesus; and that is true of us. I can follow that Jesus. I claim to be a follower of his way. It is very significant that on the Mount of Transfiguration (a resurrection story) God says to us, 'LISTEN TO HIM!" He does not say, "Worship him as God!" The name that is above all names is the covenant name, "Son of God," for Israel, for Jesus, and for us. It behooves us all to live out this our name in the way of righteousness, as did Jesus.

I think I like Aulen's "Ransom Theory" better than Anselm's "Satisfaction Theory," although I need to know more about the "Ransom Theory." They do not appear to be two sides of one coin. Thanks.

I appreciate your invitation to continue to enter into this interesting discussion, even though the theological concepts are somewhat alien to me.

Theophilus Ben Raska
"Follower of the Way" (Acts 24:10-16)

Peter said...

"Penal"(admittedly an awful sounding word) substitution is a result of mercy. It means that God cares when others have been wronged, and demands justice. So, say your daughter was raped, and you "let it slide." Would that show love in any meaningful way? But then, you might say, not all sins are of that nature. Yet, Christ says that hatred is, in its essence murder."
It should also be noted that mercy precedes justice. Our Lord was slain before the foundation of the world. So also, our Father in mercy sent his Son. The death of Christ is not an exchange for God's mercy. He shows his mercy in offering up his Son on the cross. (Here, I think that Luther's hymn "Dear Christians One and All Rejoice" is very helpful in depicting the Father and the Son in conversation about how to save mankind). And, I think we need to be clear that death is not the core problem. Death is the fruit of sin. Sin has to be dealt with first. I wish this were really a semantic problem, but don't think it is.

Anonymous said...

Hello Theophilus!

Your comment:

He does not say, "Worship him as God!"

You might find the Book of Revelation helpful in this regard:

"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing" (5:12).

The oneness of this Lamb with the Father as the object of worship is further emphasized as the whole cosmos joins in praise: "To Him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever" (5:13).

Although Revelation overtly confesses the trinitarian nature of God (1:4-5), the Lamb remains the visible focus of the worship of this one true God. Angels and saints in heaven bow before Him. If He were not God that would be rank idolatry.

Jesus died in His human nature, not His divinity. This is a mystery we will never understand this side of heaven but has been clearly revealed.



SKPeterson said...


I think Aulen would hold that the Ransom theory is summarized by Paul in Galatians 2:20 as expounded upon by Luther. Luther writes concerning the verse "If I, a condemned sinner, could have been purchased and redeemed by any other price, why should the Son of God have given Himself for me? Just because there was no other price in heaven and on earth big and good enough, was it necessary for the Son of God to be delivered for me. This He did out of His great love for me, for the Apostle says, 'Who loved me.'"

This lays out the Ransom Theory quite well in my mind. Perhaps the others will see this as also vindicating Substitution. Luther seems to promote this theory in other parts of his commentary, so I think he would see them as two sides of the same coin. Aulen's criticism of Anselm seems to be more against those who view the Crucifixion more as a transaction rather than a rescue.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Peter, I have to agree with you that unfortunately, this is no mere semantic problem.

If my daughter had been raped and murdered, the only thing that would make that really, truly right would be to bring her back to life unharmed. Hanging the person responsible wouldn’t accomplish that. Even if you could hang the offender a dozen times my daughter would still have been violated and would still be dead; therefore, justice would still not be done. She would not be made whole and neither would I. I might take some grim satisfaction in having my lust for revenge indulged, but that's a far cry and a pathetic substitute for REAL justice, from having my daughter back and unraped.

But God’s all-wise and miraculous Justice isn’t like that. His divine justice does make us all whole again. He not only can make us alive again, as we had been before, but He gives us an entirely new KIND of life, namely, eternal life, His own Life. Moreover, in Christ a rape can become an experience from which we actually profit, spiritually, and grow better than we might have, had the rape never occurred.

Then God’s Justice goes even further than that, because He is also capable of converting the heart of the rapist/murderer and making a saint of him. This, too, is divine justice, because from God’s point of view, it is totally UNJUST to let satan steal any of God’s own, cherished handiwork, which rightfully belongs to God alone.

This is God’s marvelous Justice. And it is so much better, and so much more just, than any penal system can ever be.

And it is synonymous with His Mercy and with His Love. In Penal Substitutionary Atonement, by contrast, absolutely everything and everyone is punished, albeit vicariously, which is the oppostie of anything being actually forgiven. It means there is no real mercy. Forgiveness means lifting, not shifting, the penalty, and there is no place for that in the Pen-Sub Theory. There is no more role for true mercy than for true justice. In short, this theory shows a considerable underestimation of God’s Love,of His Justice, and of His power. The only thing the Penal Substitution Theory does accomplish is to gratify, in some measure, our lust for revenge – which gratification sometimes passes for justice, but is not.


Sin has two major aspects: guilt and death, and they’re two sides of the same coin, sin. Neither guilt nor death is the core issue, but sin, which comprises both.

Humanity first contracted sin by scorning and rejecting Life (God). In that sense, we may say, loosely, that sin “causes” death, but that’s a little like saying headache causes pain. More accurately, headache IS pain and sin IS death.

But then death, mortality, the scorpion within fallen man, turns around and lashes him, stings him, goads him, into committing more sin. “The sting of death is sin.” Not, “the sting of sin is death.”

Guilt and death both need getting rid of, but so intertwined are they that neither can be done away with unless the other is. The thing is, guilt is by far the easier to deal with. It can simply be forgiven. But to reverse death, to cleanse us of our self-inflicted mortality, that’s a bit more complicated. That requires the Medicine of Immortality, the Life-giving Body and Blood of the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Anastasia:

You write:

"Humanity first contracted sin by scorning and rejecting Life (God). In that sense, we may say, loosely, that sin “causes” death, but that’s a little like saying headache causes pain. More accurately, headache IS pain and sin IS death."

But St. Paul does not agree with such a cavalier dismissal of the cause and effect relationship between sin and death: "the wages (opsomia) of sin is death, but the gift (charisma) of God is eternal life..." Rom 6:23.

The result, the payment, of sin is death. By contrast, the result of grace is life.

So, under sin, we are accumulating wages of debts (opheilemata) of a sort - which we plead to have wiped out, saying, "forgive" (aphes), in the divine bankruptcy court, (Matt 6:12), a court in which we "have an advocate (parakleton) with the Father" (1 John 2:1). We're asking "our Father" to forgive us our debts. We ask Him because He is the one we owe. And as Scripture repeatedly says all over the place, there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood (e.g. Heb 9:22).

Because of our sins, God owes us our wages (death), but instead, he "pays" us with grace (charis, charity?) by forgiving our debt - which was paid fully, as St. Peter teaches us: "not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Pet 1:18-19)." Peter elaborates: "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit (1 Pet 3:18)"

There is an atonement. It is substitutionary. The atonement was made by Christ in His death and applied to us forensically through faith as a merciful gift of the Father, the angel of death passing over us by the blood of the Lamb.

The Scriptures teach it, and the early fathers did not shy from describing it in this way. I don't understand why our Eastern brethren have such a problem with this. But I suppose I should be grateful, as if the East were to change gears on this, we might lose more of our Lutheran brethren looking in the direction of the rising sun.

As it stands now, I think this rejection of the substitutionary atonement by our Eastern brethren will make a lot of people reconsider and stay firmly put in the West - especially among Lutherans whose confessions are steeped in the language of grace owing to our own history.

Maybe we need t-shirts that say: "The Substitutionary Atonement: It's a Western thing, you wouldn't understand." ;-)

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Hey, I’m a Westerner! Not only that, I’m a former believer and proponent of Penal Substitutionary Atonement, too. I do understand things Western.

Let’s look at what Romans 6:23 actually says. Here’s a quiz, intended to be a bit humorous, but also to make a couple of points.

1. In this verse, what do we earn if we are the employees of sin?

A. Eternal life
B. Death
C. Don’t know
D. All of the above
E. None of the above

Answer: B. If we work for sin, we earn death.

2. In this verse, who is owed the payment of the wages?

A. God
B. Satan
C. The sinner
D. Don’t know
E. All of the above
F. Two of the above
G. None of the above

Answer: C. The one who has earned death is the sinner. He is the one to whom the “reward” is due.

3. Who or what in this verse pays the wages?

A. God
B. Satan
C. The sinner
D. Sin
E. Don’t know
F. All of the above
G. None of the above

Answer: D. Sin is what recompenses us with death. Another correct answer would be B, satan, since he was the murderer from the beginning, but that isn’t what this particular verse says; it says sin. In either case, it isn’t God!

4. Who or what, in this verse, gives us eternal life?

A. God
B. Satan
C. The sinner
D. Sin
E. Don’t know
F. All of the above
G. None of the above

Answer: A, God.

5. In this verse, what does one receive from God?

A. Eternal life
B. Death
C. Don’t know
D. All of the above
E. None of the above

Answer: A. Eternal life is what God gives.

6. According to this verse, eternal life is…

A. Earned by us
B. Earned by Jesus Christ
C. Unearned
D. All of the above
E. None of the above
F. Don’t know

Answer: C. Eternal life is the GIFT of God, meaning it is not earned, whether by us or by Jesus Christ. It is pure gift, not a bargain or an exchange.

In summary:

pays us
what we have earned,
namely, death.

But God
gives us
what we have not earned,
namely, eternal life.
Or, sin kills and those it kills deserve it; but God gives eternal life.

More in another comment, so this won’t grow any longer.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, "This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you." Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.

Why did Moses sprinkle the book, the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry? Had they sinned? Did they have any guilt? Did a book or vessel need forgiving?

No. But according to this verse, they did need purification. They were all tainted because they all belonged to this earthly order of sin and death. They must be cleansed to be made fit for the service of the Lord.

And so must we. And that is what the blood is for. (“Remission”, in this verse, rather than “forgiveness,” is the better translation of aphesis.”)

Agreed, every man owes God honor, glory, worship and obedience, and every man has failed to render what he owes. Except Jesus Christ, who offered the Father perfect love, perfect faith, perfect obedience, on behalf of us all, infinitely more than repaying our debt.

Agreed, we are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, but not in the sense that the Father needed any compensation or payback; all His gifts are jut that, gifts. It isn’t from the Father we are redeemed, but from the devil, from death. The Blood, together with the Body of Christ, crucified and risen, is immortal and confers immortality upon those who partake of it (John 6), and that’s why it was needed. It is not something the Father requires for Himself at all, but rather, something He gives to us:

For the life of the flesh [is] in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it [is] the blood [that] makes atonement for the soul. (Leviticus 17:11)

He gives it to us because it gives us life. That’s why all blood was sacred to God, why it all had to be offered to the Lord. (Lev. 1:1 ff.)

Of course in the OT this was just a type, a symbol, a foreshadowing, but in Christ it is fulfilled. Christ’s blood literally DOES contain and confer immortality. That is why it needed to be shed: to undo the death in us. His blood gives us back Life, which we had lost, of which sin had deprived us. The Hebrew word used in this verse is “nephesh” which means “life” or “person”, not just “soul”. The idea is to counteract death with Life, and Life is in Christ’s Body and Blood.

In 1 Pet 1:18-19, the lamb without blemish or spot recalls the Passover Lamb. That’s the kind of offering Christ was. “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” Not so much the scapegoat, whose blood was not shed, who was not slaughtered, but led away alive. Not so much the calves or doves; nobody ever says, “Behold the bullock of God.” Not the lamb of the sin offering, so much, either, which, for common folk at least, had to be FEMALE, probably precisely to keep us from making too close an identification there. All these are indeed lesser types of Christ, but THE type par excellence is the Passover Lamb. That’s why He died at Passover and ate a Passover supper beforehand. Like the Passover Lamb, He keeps the Angel of Death away from those marked with His blood.

I suppose you’re right about this being a major stumbling block to people who are potentially looking Eastward. One such convert told me only yesterday it had been THE hardest thing. It’s just really, really hard for us in the West, including me (and I blame this on the influence of the papacy on all of us), to accept how much God really loves us, and that He isn’t out for revenge, or for anything else for Himself (I Cor. 13:5) but only seeks the best for us. Especially when we know we so do not deserve His rich gifts.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Anastasia:

You write:

"6. According to this verse, eternal life is…

A. Earned by us
B. Earned by Jesus Christ
C. Unearned
D. All of the above
E. None of the above
F. Don’t know Answer:

C. Eternal life is the GIFT of God, meaning it is not earned, whether by us or by Jesus Christ. It is pure gift, not a bargain or an exchange."

I think I see your problem.

Eternal life is indeed a gift to us, but it was earned by Jesus. Otherwise, Peter's first letter ("not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot") is a lie. I realize Peter was the first pope and all, but this was before the Great Schism - so I think the Orthodox should give him a pass.

So, the correct answer, according to the whole of Scripture (not just one verse plucked from context) is B.

To put it a different way, if my dad sends me a $50 for my birthday, it is a gift. But at the same time, my dad earned the money before giving it to me. The gift is a gift to the receiver. It is not a gift to the sender.

Jesus ransomed us. He didn't merely die on the cross because he was bored and looking for an extreme sport to participate in.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Anastasia:

According to your logic, Jesus's blood (our ransom) was paid to the devil instead of offered to the Father as a sacrifice (which in the OT are always made to the Father, and is a pleasant aroma to Him). They are never offered to Satan - at least not by the Israelites.

Anonymous said...

The Blood, together with the Body of Christ, crucified and risen, is immortal and confers immortality upon those who partake of it (John 6), and that’s why it was needed. It is not something the Father requires for Himself at all, but rather, something He gives to us:

Speaking of John 6 . . .

My Pastor gave a wonderful sermon about just this. Classic Catholic theology has always interpreted this to mean the Eucharist, but my Pastor doesn't. The references to Jesus as the living bread, etc. are to the Word which feeds and transforms the life of the Christian.

The Eucharist had not been instituted at that point so Jesus' hearers wouldn't have had the faintest idea of what he was talking about, but the Jews misinterpreted Him to be saying that they needed to eat His literal body and blood, which of course would have been abhorrent to them since they were forbidden to eat blood.

What does Jesus say? Go into all the world and preach the Good News. He who is baptized and believes will be saved, he who does not believe will be condemned.

Not a word about the Eucharist, which is available only to the Church, not the nonbeliever. The Word is given for everyone so that through the working of the Holy Spirit salvation is offered to all.

The thief on the cross, also, was saved by his faith. He never received the Eucharist either.


Peter said...

Christine, the way I see it, the reason many followers left Jesus (John 6) was because they knew precisely what our Lord was talking about - - eating his body and drinking his blood (John 6:54) - - which is a rather odd thing to say if Jesus was just talking about symbolic bread. And, note, Jesus doesn't try to bring them back, saying, "Hey, I meant symbolically." The thief on the cross would never have rejected the body of Christ had he been given the opportunity. Receiving Christ's body is salvific, while rejecting it brings condemnation.
(And the fact that he hadn't instituted it yet means little. After all, you teach something FIRST, before you institute any new policy, much less something as signficant as the Lord's Supper) And, for that matter, Jesus said a lot of things which no one understood until AFTER the resurrection.

Peter said...

And, Amen to Father Hollywood on the money analogy, which is what we find in the gospels as well. There's no such thing as a free lunch. What's free to us is paid by someone else. Unless, of course, God is like our government and simply prints more money . . . which, of course, isn't free either, as it devalues everything, in this case, Christ's death.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Christine:

I don't see how Jesus can say *eat my flesh* and *drink my blood* and it not be Eucharistic. There is only one flesh of Jesus and only one blood of Jesus.

In fact, I think Exodus 12 is Eucharistic - even though Jesus was some 14 centuries away from establishing the Lord's Supper.

Jesus fulfills all of the prophecies - even His own!

And what an "aha!" moment it must have been when the Lord suddenly interrupted the Passover liturgy, and said "This IS my Body!" and "This IS my blood!" At some point (perhaps like the Lord opening the eyes of the disciples on the road to Emmaus), it must have all flooded in, all the memories about the sacrifices, the Passover, Psalm 22, the Bread of Life discourse, Isaiah 53, Jesus' talk about "on the third day" and "rebuilding the Temple," etc.

If John 6 can't be Eucharistic because Jesus hadn't established it yet, than John 3 ("water and the Spirit") can't be baptismal either, since Jesus had not given the "Great Commission" yet.

But thanks be to God He is not bound to time the way we are, and further thanks that He does reveal Himself to us "in the breaking of the bread" even though it takes us a while to catch on!

Anonymous said...

Hi Father Hollywood,

Besides my Pastor, who is very Confessional and Liturgical, LCMS Pastor Richard Bolland has made a very compelling case for what I stated.

Yes, I know, this sounds very shocking. As a Catholic I was taught that in John 6 Jesus specifically referred to His body and blood.

But, for further consideration, perhaps Jesus was emphasizing that eternal life comes only to those who trust in the promises and person of the humble, flesh-and-blood Messiah.

Peter himself said when asked if he, too, wanted to go "Lord, to whom shall we go?" You alone have the words of eternal life."

That's why the only road to heaven passes through Jesus, because only He has the words of eternal life, and that Word endures forever.

I'm going to see if I can find some other Lutheran sources that support this. I'm very curious.


Anonymous said...

I did find the comment made by Pastor Bolland at The Wittenberg Trail:

Luther quote of the day:

"John 6 must be set aside entirely, since not a single syllable of it refers to the Sacrament. For not only was the Sacrament not instituted as yet, but the very sequence of thoughts show rather plainly that Christ is speaking of faith in the Word that was made flesh...For He says: 'My words are spirit, and they are life' (John 6:63). This shows that He is speaking of a spiritual eating whereby whosoever eats has life, while the Jews understood Him to be speaking of bodily eating and therefore argued with Him (v. 52). But no eating gives life except that which is of faith, for that is the truly spiritual and living eating. Thus Saint Augustine says: Why do you prepare the stomach and the teeth? Believe, and you have eaten. For sacramental eating does not give life, since many eat unworthily. Therefore He cannot be understood as speaking of the Sacrament at this place." (W 6, 502 -- E op var arg 5, 22 -- SL 19,14)


Father Hollywood said...

Dear Christine:

No, it's not shocking.

Raising John 6 among Lutheran (especially clergy and theologians) is the equivalent to tying the tails of two tomcats together to watch the fight. These squabbles come up over and over, especially on the internet.

But as a pastor, it is always a joy when I ask the laypeople in my Bible classes, my confirmation classes (youth and adult), Sunday School, or even my junior high school kids, what Jesus means when He says: "eat My flesh" and "drink My blood" in John 6. They always, always, always automatically say (and rather matter-of-factly) "The Lord's Supper." In fact, they look stunned when I tell them some Lutherans find this controversial.

It's really only egghead theologians that like to make this an issue, and really all because Luther took John 6 "off the table" in his colloquy with Zwingli (all the while, commenting and wring about it being Eucharistic in his lectures and sermons).

If the Lord says "eat My flesh" and "drink my blood," but only means to do so symbolically, that segues seamlessly right into a symbolic interpretation of the Supper itself. This is pure Reformed theology - and this is exactly (and ironically) why Luther parted company with Zwingli.

The Apology of the Augsburg Confession likewise interprets John 6 Eucharistically (Ap 24:75), citing John 6:35 and then concluding: "This proves that the sacrament offers the forgiveness of sins..."

I don't see how a Lutheran pastor can reject a Eucharistic reading of John 6 and maintain his subscription to the Apology.

Peter said...

Peter said, "You have the words of eternal life." To what words was he referring. How about, "This is my body," and "This is my blood."
With these words Jesus himself comes to us with his forgiveness. These are the words that scandalized some, and seemed like foolishness to others. (But, please know that I have great respect for your pastor. It's simply a disagreement)

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

I had a feeling the unfortunate way I worded that would bring up this objection…

“Ransom” language about the crucifixion emphasizes the great price Christ paid to set us free. There is a right way and a popular wrong way to think of how He ransomed us. The wrong way is pointed out by St. Gregory Nazianzus:

To whom was that blood offered that was shed for us, and why was it shed? I mean the precious and glorious blood of God, the blood of the High Priest and of the Sacrifice. We were in bondage to the devil and sold under sin, having become corrupt through our con¬cupiscence. Now, since a ransom is paid to him who holds us in his power, I ask to whom such a price was offered and why? If to the devil, it is outrageous! The robber receives the ransom, not only from God, but a ransom consisting of God himself. He de¬mands so exorbitant a payment for his tyranny that it would have been right for him to have freed us altogether. But if the price is offered to the Father, I ask first of all, how? For it was not the Father who held us captive. Why then should be blood of His only begotten Son please the Father, who would not even receive Isaac when he was offered as a whole burnt offering by Abraham, but replaced the human sacri¬fice with a ram? Is it not evident that the Father accepts the sacrifice not because he demanded it or be¬cause He felt any need for it, but on account of economy: because man must be sanctified by the humanity of God, and God Himself must deliver us by over¬coming the tyrant through His own power, and drawing us to Him¬self by the mediation of the Son who effects this all for the honor of God, to whom He was obedient in every¬thing…What remains to be said shall be covered with a reverent silence…

In other words, the wrong understanding of ransom or redemption language is the very literal one. Christ “paid the price” for our redemption in much the same way a soldier might pay a heavy price, might even “pay the ultimate price”, his life, to free his country. Or when we look at the sweaty, dehydrated, ex¬hausted, aching body of a victori¬ous athlete, when we consider how much of his life he had to give up for training, and when we say what a stiff price he paid for his victory, we do not mean he bribed the judges or referee, or paid off his opponent. We mean he endured a severe ordeal. We mean he gave up much. That is how we mean it when we speak of Christ having ransomed us or having bought us with a price.

You have redeemed us from the curse of the Law by Your precious Blood. By being nailed to the Cross and pierced with the Spear, You have poured forth immortality on mankind. O our Saviour, glory to You.

Actually, in the verse you cited, I Peter 1:18, St. Peter does not say anything was earned by Jesus, does not contradict Romans 6:23. He says we were ransomed. And he specifies what he means we are ransomed from, and it is neither God nor from the devil, nor sin nor death nor hell, in this particular case. He says, “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold,” etc. Nothing to do with earning anything.

A gift is not earned.

And vicarious punishment is not mercy.


1 In sanctum Pascha, or. XLV, 2’, P.G., t 36, 653 AB, quoted in Lossky, Mystical Theology, p. 153.
2 Great Friday prayer in Greek Orthodox Services, p. 269

Anonymous said...

"You have the words of eternal life."

Hi Peter,

If you have one, you might find the study notes in the Lutheran Study Bible interesting as regards John 6.

Dear Father Hollywood,

Raising John 6 among Lutheran (especially clergy and theologians) is the equivalent to tying the tails of two tomcats together to watch the fight. These squabbles come up over and over, especially on the internet.


If I am remembering correctly, my pastor's position is not that the Real Presence is not there in the Holy Supper, he most definitely believes it is after the institution, but that in the John 6 discourse the "flesh" and "blood" Jesus is referring to is the Word that gives life through the Spirit. He felt it doesn't really make sense for Jesus to be speaking of the Eucharist to unbelievers since it was instituted as His Testament among those who had come to believe in Him.

At any rate, you have inspired me to haul out my BoC and find the relevant passages which I will ask my Pastor about.


Anonymous said...

Oh, and one more approach from our good friends at the WELS (in 2 parts):

There are several things in the discourse itself that show that Jesus does not seem to be speaking of the Lord’s Supper in John 6. First of all, consider the context. Jesus has just fed the five thousand (John 6:1-15) who have now followed him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, hoping that Jesus will feed them miraculously again. But Jesus turns their minds from earthly food to the more important matter of having a right relationship with God (cf. John 6:27-29; note how the people’s response to Jesus’ words shows their understanding of his figurative language).

Remember also that the Lord’s Supper has not yet been established. You mentioned that perhaps we have in John 6 an “indirect” looking ahead to the Supper similar to Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 3 concerning baptism (John 3:5-8). But note that God had given a transitional or preparatory rite in John’s baptism to help people (like Nicodemus) understand the sacramental aspect of such a washing. There is no such transitional, preparatory rite that preceded the Lord’s Supper.

Also remember that Jesus’ audience is vastly different in John 6 from the setting on Maundy Thursday in that upper room. In John 6, Jesus is not in an intimate setting with his carefully instructed disciples giving his last will and testament. In John 6 Jesus is surrounded by a group in which most do not believe him to be anything other than a worker of wonders. It would be strange if Jesus would introduce a sacrament that can be taken to one’s judgment, if taken unworthily, in such a setting.

Anonymous said...

Secondly, if John 6 is speaking of the Lord’s Supper, there are several statements that seem to disagree with what the rest of Scripture says is true of the sacrament. Eternal life is guaranteed to the one who eats and drinks (John 6:54); this is not true in every case of the Lord’s Supper (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:27, 29). Jesus says that eternal life is impossible without the eating and drinking he describes (John 6:53); but it is possible to attain eternal life without receiving the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 18:2-6; Hebrews 11). In addition, Jesus gives no means by which the people could actually eat his flesh and drink his blood. It would seem pointless for Jesus to impress upon the people the absolute necessity of doing something for which he has established no means to do it!

Notice also the care with which Jesus chooses his terms in this discussion. Throughout the chapter, Jesus always refers to his “flesh” (Greek: sarx) rather than his “body” (Greek: soma). It would seem strange – if Jesus wants us to understand the eating and drinking here to refer to the Lord’s Supper – that he would use a different word than the one he used in the upper room and with Paul.

So if John 6 doesn’t refer to the Supper (and on the basis of the above evidence, we don’t believe it does), what is the point Jesus is making? The text and context of John 6 indicate that Jesus was impressing upon the hearts of his hearers that there is no salvation except by faith in him. Jesus says in plain language already in the beginning of the discourse that this is his topic: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29). He even repeats this assertion throughout the discourse (cf. vv. 35, 40, 47).

The reaction of the crowds and the disciples also show that they understood him to be speaking of the necessity of believing in him for salvation. The people initially begin to grumble and complain because this true man – a man they watched grow up, a man whose parents they knew – was claiming to be the bread that comes down from heaven, the only way to heaven (John 6:41, 42). It is not the idea of eating and drinking that really causes the people to grumble, but the recognition of the fact that Jesus is claiming that the only way to heaven is by believing in him. The disciples’ reaction shows the same. When Jesus asks if they too are going to leave, they respond, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69).

So, in John 6, we see Jesus pointing to himself in his work as the bread of life. In giving himself for us, he gives us his flesh. The figurative phrase “eating him” or “eating his flesh and drinking his blood” is a metaphorical expression for “believing.” In light of the setting (the feeding of the five thousand), this figurative language fit the occasion perfectly.



mlorfeld said...

That was THE first study note that I checked out, and they dropped the ball on that one. Fortunately, the study notes are not the Word of God, they are not always right... and that's ok. Lutherans have always had some disagreement about the interpretation of this passage... though as has already been pointed out, Luther's rejection of John 6 as Eucharistic was in direct response to Zwingli who argued for a symbolic view of the Lord's Supper based on this chapter. So invoking Luther on this one is a bit historically myopic unless one is engaged in a similar dispute.

Anonymous said...

I do want to emphasize that my Pastor fully believes in the Real Presence, but not in the context of John 6. He seems to agree with the WELS position that the Eucharist was established at, not prior to, the Last Supper.

I did find the study notes in TLSB to be somewhat ambiguous.


mlorfeld said...

That argument would have some credit if this were John live blogging Jesus' ministry... but it's not. Again, John wrote this about 30-50 years after the fact, and this isn't a chronological telling of the story (however, yes the feeding of the 5,000 chronologically did come before the Last Supper). There is a reason, and it's not strictly chronological, that the feeding of the 5,000 comes at this point in John, it was to teach. What the WELS has on their webpage on this issue is not a Lutheran way of reading Scripture.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Anastasia:

And for all of that, a ransom has indeed been paid. It was a sacrificial offering. Our Lord's death on the cross was an offering of the unblemished Lamb. And He was offered to whom? The crucifixion was a propitious sacrifice offered to the Father.

This was not a sacrifice to the devil. Rather "God Himself provided the Lamb" for the sacrifice.

Again, both Scriptures and the fathers speak in explicit terms of substitutionary atonement, and the crucifixion as a propitious sacrifice.

I find the EO fixation on denying this to be bizarre. I understand that it is outside of the focus of your tradition, and that the EO emphasizethe Christus Victor theme. And yet, I don't understand the EO need to make a both/and into an either/or. It is as though you are afraid some other tradition may actually have something to offer theologically, which would contradict the Orthodox dogma of not recognizing Lutheran churches to be churches, our priests to be priests, or our sacraments to be sacraments.

I also find your virtual agreement with a non-Trinitarian who denies the divinity of our Lord quite interesting.

But I think this is a healthy discussion that may well serve as a wake-up call to any Lutherans who may be interested in converting to Orthodoxy, and vice versa. I think some converts don't really understand what they are getting into.

Benjamin Harju said...

Fr. Hollywood wrote:
Again, both Scriptures and the fathers speak in explicit terms of substitutionary atonement, and the crucifixion as a propitious sacrifice.

Would you mind listing the patristic references you have in mind? I would like to read these sources, if I haven't already.

Fr. Hollywood wrote:
I find the EO fixation on denying this to be bizarre. ...

I think it's rather some of the assumptions about God and the manner in which the Scriptures are handled that come with these ideas that causes some alarm.

Fr. Hollywood wrote:
It is as though you are afraid some other tradition may actually have something to offer theologically, which would contradict the Orthodox dogma of not recognizing Lutheran churches to be churches, our priests to be priests, or our sacraments to be sacraments.

Does such validation really matter to you?

As I read this interesting debate, I have one real question for you, Larry: From whom does death come originally, from God or from Man? How do you understand this term death? How does that bear upon your view of substitutionary atonement? (It may read like three questions, but it's really one.) I'm not going to debate you on your answer, but I would like to know how this fits into your presentation here. If you've already made it clear, forgive me for missing it.

However, Larry, is it really appropriate to make harsh insinuations about Anastasia because a non-Trinitarian has some of the same ideas? It doesn't seem fair.

FB, SSP said...

Past Elder said...

Well gee guys, all these difficulties about what Jesus or John meant go away when you look at it like I was taught in Scripture class in college by guys with collars and degrees so they must be right --

Little to none of this was actually written by John or said by Jesus, but rather, it represents the believing community's reflexion on its belief, then stated by putting it in the pen of John putting it in the mouth of Jesus, which is not making stuff up as ancient ideas of authorship had to do with ideas rather than actual words or writing.

Which is why the Synoptic Gospels with their more Judaic imagery have Last Supper stories and not this discourse but John with its Greek imagery has this discourse and no Last Supper story. One believing community states its Eucharistic beliefs one way, another another, but the belief is the same that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of the Lord and only our theological traditions as to how this is keep us apart so we must overcome that to fulfill the wish and prayer of Christ that we may be one.

Don't like that? How about this:

How can eating and drinking do all this? It is not eating and drinking that does this, but the words, given and shed for you for the remission of sins. These words, along with eating and drinking, are the main thing in the sacrament. And whoever believes these words has exactly what they say, forgiveness of sins.

So it's all of the above -- eating and drinking, the Word of God, and faith -- and not any one or two of them.

Theophilus said...

TO Father Hollywood:

This exchange between all of you has been most interesting.

Regarding John 6, I agree with Christi. Eating Jesus flesh and drinking his blood is metaphor language. It refers to Jesus' covenant-gospel message. This is the bread of life from heaven which sustains life forever when it is consumed by faith.

Jesus covenant-gospel is "a hard teaching." Jesus teaches us to treat others, even those unclean "Gentiles," like the beloved sons of God and extend to them the same dignity we have received from our heavenly Father, who named us his beloved sons.
Jesus teaches us to live righteous lives, loving our neighbor as ourselves, forgiving our enemies from the heart, being a blessing to all the families of the earth, even to those unclean "Gentiles." Jesus assures us that our heavenly Father's presence will accompany us through this difficult wilderness journey in the midst of persecution. Therefore we do not have to fear that. Jesus' covenant-gospel certainly is a hard teaching.

Here is a fresh interpretation of the Lord's Supper for all people of the pew, like me. Unlike all the theological hair-splitting that theologians engage in, which the laity does not understand, this interpretation is easy to understand:

The psalmist once complained about evildoers who "eat up my people as they eat bread."(Psalm 14:4, 53:4, 27:2, 41:9, also John 13:18)
Both Micah and Isaiah complained about those who hate the good and love the evil, who "eat the body of my people." (Micah 2:2-3, Isaiah 9:20) That is what Jesus' disciples were doing to him on the evening before his crucifixion. They were contributing to his death by crucifixion.

We, however, eat his body NEW in the Kingdom of God. By out eating of Christ's body, we now signify our willingness to throw in our lot with Jesus, to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, and to follow our lord and teacher along the way of righteousness, counting the cost. This is how I approach the altar when taking the Lord's Supper.

Theophilus, "Follower of the Way"

Peter said...

I don't think Jesus' hard saying was this "covenant-gospel," whatever that might mean in terms of John 6. What strikes me is that the John 6 discourse is what caused disciples, not enemies or the crowds, to leave him. What Jesus said about eating his body and drinking his blood was the issue, and a startling one at that. To his disicples, Jesus had spoken many words to the effect that he would offer himself up for the sin of the world. But only now does he speak about eating and drinking his body and blood. This they had never heard before, and many disicples could not stomach such a thoght.
Yet, this is what makes communion communion. This is what brings us into the life of God about which the Orthodox speak about so eloquently. What was metaphor and sign in the Old Testament (eating bread) becomes reality in the New Testament. Even as the Jewish people feasted on the Passover Lamb, our Lord invites us to partake of him, and to join in the communion with him, and then also with the Father. It's sad, I think, that in Lutheran theology, we've missed out on this great chapter of scripture, because it has tended to impoverish us concerning the supper. Yes, it is forgiveness, but it is also true communion and life. It is what makes us like a vine to Christ branches, thoroughly united to him. It is the fruit from the tree of life that Adam never ate.
It's a tangible food that we finally are invited to eat, and now live.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating discussion here!

Dear Theophilus,

Thank you for your comments. In fairness I should, however, clarify that I accept the historic teaching of the Church that when the Lord Jesus instituted His Holy Supper it was indeed to bestow the New Testament in His true Body and Blood, "Given for us Christians to eat and drink" as Martin Luther wrote.

What the WELS has on their webpage on this issue is not a Lutheran way of reading Scripture.

Pastor, and yet, with all due respect, there are LCMS Lutherans who agree with the WELS position. The WELS accepts the sacramental nature of Holy Communion and Holy Baptism in the same manner as the LCMS, if I recall correctly.


Anonymous said...

It's sad, I think, that in Lutheran theology, we've missed out on this great chapter of scripture, because it has tended to impoverish us concerning the supper.

Dear Peter,

Perhaps because of the controversies at the Reformation about the nature of the Eucharist which Rome insisted is also a true and propitiary sacrifice on behalf of the living and the dead Lutherans have tended not to define it as explicitly.

However, the catechesis I received as a Lutheran kid never shied away from declaring firmly and uniquivocally that in the mystery of the Sacrament the communicant receives the true Body and Blood of the Lord. We just never theologized it to death the way Rome sometimes does. It is enough to obey the Lord's command to eat and drink, knowing that He is imparting His very life to us.


Peter said...

Theologizing it to death? Well, I understand this if you mean by this that some think of the supper as a thing in and of itself, or as if it were some magic potion. But that's not it. I mean, this is the essence of what Jesus meant when he said, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age." So, for me, it's not about theology in a book - - it's very personal and comforting. It means he feeds me, he forgives me, and he is with me. And it means my life comes organically from him. I am attached to him (Baptism), and he to me (the Supper). This is the fulfillment of Psalm 23, and gives me comfort as I walk through the valley of death.
But, having said this, I have no doubtyou feel the same way.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Ben:

In my post, I listed many references from Scripture and the fathers. I guess you must have read all the comments and skipped the post itself. I wrote it in response to a question from a blog reader who honestly does not understand several tenets of our faith - including the Trinity and the divinity of our Lord. We have been in patient dialogue with one another for some time.

He and I disagree with each other, but there is mutual respect.

He has not changed his mind, but I think he understands the argument better. And that was my goal.

Your questions, by contrast, are not questions, Ben. You are not seeking understanding about Western or Lutheran theology because you are confused about what we believe. You have a masters degree from a Lutheran seminary and you were a Lutheran pastor - and you already know the answers to every question you posed.

You just disagree with how we answer those questions. And that's fine.

But you should admit that your "questions" are not questions at all. You are making a statement. You are seeking converts. And you are using my blog to do it.

It is that dishonesty on the part of our Orthodox brethren that I find irritating. You're not honestly inquiring what Lutherans believe, and how we make our case from Scripture and the fathers.

The same is true for Anastasia.

I appreciate *honest* dialogue. That is not what you are after at all.

And I think the Orthodox - at least the converts from Lutheranism - are the ones seeking validation. I have never gone to an EO blog and picked a fight with them or tried to validate myself in their eyes. I don't even read your blog any more, Ben. I have no interest in being "validated" by you or any other EO Christian.

But this happens on Lutheran blogs all the time. Why do you people care what we think? You don't even believe we're Christians?

I'm thinking that maybe some of you have doubts, and you need constant reassurance that you haven't made a mistake. Otherwise, why not go your way in peace?

Honest inquiry and dialogue is more than welcome here. But this is not what you and Anastasia are doing. The Christian thing would be to admit that your "questions" are not questions and that you are lurking here not to inquire about Lutheran theology, but to preach EO theology and to try to lure people away from their Western Catholic faith.

Or it may be simpler than that - you harbor hidden regrets for leaving.

But whatever the reason, it isn't because you don't understand how we get from Scripture and the fathers to the substitutionary atonement.

I'm tired of the mendacity.

Anonymous said...

Dear Peter,

Yes, indeed, I do feel the very same way!


Peter said...

Frankly, the whole discussion on substitutionary atonement saddens me. How such a basic teaching can be obscured or denied is hard for me to understand. I do understand the many faults of contemporary Lutheranism, as I sympathize with the desire to get back to tradition. But to deny the price Christ paid for our salvation is much too high a price to pay. I pray that those who have left will come to their senses.

Peter said...

Pax, Christine.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Peter, our Lord's peace be yours as well!


Anastasia Theodoridis said... deny the price Christ paid for our salvation...

Peter, nobody has done that. In my last comment, I affirmed it three times.

Peter said...

Yeah, but your definition of "paid the price" is something akin to, "It was hard," or "He did what it took." But, given that, you are right. We know we disagree. My goal is that Lutherans know what they are giving up when they turn Orthodox. They are giving up a lot, at least according to what we confess to hold dear. For us, it's not just a theory of the atonement, but the gospel itself.

Benjamin Harju said...

Pastor Beane,

I cut reading your post short without realizing it. Sorry. As for the list of fathers, I don't see anything there that supports the sort of thing Anastasia is arguing against. I'd ask for something better, but I think my welcome was worn out before I arrived.

My question about the origin of death is sincere, not because I lack understanding, but because I wanted to know which of the variations I found at seminary and among LCMS Lutherans you were holding. I have come to believe that across-the-board Lutheran thinking doesn't exist, and I've resigned myself to asking individuals, rather than just make assumptions anymore.

Pastor Beane, you have always been one of my favorite people. You're getting pretty nasty with me, so I'm just going to say good-bye.

Theophilus said...

Father Hollywood:

Last night I read all the comments under “Substitutionary Atonement” once again. At the end I thought to myself, “Very interesting, but not convincing.” Here is the reason:

Institutional Christianity focuses primarily on the death of Jesus and comes up with a number of theories to explain its meaning. The second article of the Apostles Creed promotes this focus, for it jumps from Jesus’ birth to his death, completely overlooking his all-important ministry of preaching and teaching his “covenant-gospel,” The “covenant” was the message God revealed to the Israelites through the prophets. Jesus embodied and renewed this message among his people as his “gospel.”

Jesus stated clearly and repeatedly that his primary mission among his people was this proclamation. Read carefully Matthew 4:23; 9:35; Mark 1:38-39; 1:14; Luke 4:43-44; 8:1;

It is abundantly clear that our focus needs to be on Jesus’ covenant-gospel message of glad tidings which renews broken lives and makes them whole. Only his message, and not institutional Christianity’s dogma-tradition, can unite us all in love, joy, peace, and hope.

We look around and see clearly that the world in which we live and our own personal lives and relationships are in a horrendous mess. Suddenly, the voice of God our heavenly Father breaks into our lives and reveals to us that he is gracious and merciful, faithful and forgiving by name and character. He pronounces us forgiven, and forgiven we are! This is wonderfully good news!

Then our Father declares out of the blue that we are his beloved sons full of dignity, honor, and worth. No longer can there be inferiority or superiority claims among us. We are all equally precious in his sight. This is wonderfully good news!

Then our Father invites us to live righteous lives in relation to our neighbor, even our enemies, and reveals to us that this new life given freely to us is the eternal life in us even now. This is wonderfully good news!

Then our Father promises us that his merciful and faithful presence will accompany us throughout our wilderness journey, filled with testings, until we reach the land of our inheritance and our eternal rest. He promises us that by clinging by faith to his message we will live forever. This is wonderfully good news!

Shifting the focus away from Jesus’ life-giving message to the cross and theologians’ theories of atonement only muddies the living water of Jesus’ message for me. I am a person of the pew. Jesus’ actual message is so clear to me and easy to understand. Even children can understand it. WHY NOT FOCUS ON THAT RATHER THAN ON ALL THOSE THEORIES OF ATONEMENT??? This is my question to you all.

THE CROSS: Jesus embodied his covenant-gospel. He and his message cannot be separated, for they are one. Jesus and his gospel met with great opposition, for they bumped heads with the Temple Tradition, resulting in his cruel crucifixion. Jesus willingly faced his crucifixion for the sake of his message to us. Had he escaped this death, as he could have, his message would have been totally discredited. In his resurrection, Jesus’ Father and our Father vindicated him, his message, and his righteous way of life by declaring in that post-resurrection metaphor story which presents Jesus in his resurrection glory on the Mountain of Transfiguration, "THIS IS MY BELOVED SON. LISTEN TO HIM!” Yes! “LISTEN TO HIM!”

Theophilus "Follower of the Way"

Anonymous said...

I've resigned myself to asking individuals, rather than just make assumptions anymore.

This coming from a former Lutheran pastor is strange, to say the least. Also strange is for a Lutheran converts to Orthodoxy to come to Lutheran blogs and criticize Lutherans for being Lutheran. But this seems to be a convert thing. I've yet to see cradle Orthodox on other Christian blogs doing this.

Dear Theophilus,

The Apostles Creed became the baptismal symbol in the early church and is thereby shorter than the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds which are fuller summaries of the faith.

As far as the "institution" of the Church is concerned, the New Testament tells us that Jesus attended the Synagogue every week. He took part in the public worship of Israel and Christians, as His followers, do the same as His Body, the Church.

It is always problematic to focus on one part of Scripture without taking the whole into consideration. The New Testament is also clear that if Christ has not been raised from the dead we are still in our sins and have no hope. But as St. Paul says, Christ HAS been raised from the dead. This has been the consistent witness of the Church from the very beginning.

That the Church is full of sinners, like me, there is no doubt. But thanks be to God, Jesus has accomplished what you, I and no one ever could and in Him we are new creations who, by His merit alone, will live with Him forever.

In Christ,


Theophilus said...

Father Hollywood:


Following Jesus’ resurrection, God’s people were seriously divided, as they are today. This metaphor pictures the three major divisions in the presence of the risen Christ. Elijah depicts the followers of John the Baptist, the Elijah to come. Moses depicts the people of the temple and synagogues. The disciples depict the followers of Jesus. Peter suggests a reasonable solution to this disunity among God’s beloved sons. Let each have their own tabernacle so that they can maintain their own traditions and live in peaceful co-existence. No! God’s people cannot be divided! The true solution is voiced by the heavenly Father: “This is my beloved son. LISTEN TO HIM!” Unity among God’s beloved sons – Jews, Eastern Orthodox, Western Catholic - can come about only by listening to Jesus’ covenant-gospel message of peace and unity. Yes!

Theophilus, Follower of the Way

Past Elder said...

Jesus was not executed because of his "message". You can claim to be the Messiah and not be, you can bear messages of peace and good will, and you will either simply be wrong in the former and a really nice guy in the later. No executions. He was executed for blasphemy, claiming to be God. And, unless he is, the sentence was valid under the Law.

Theophilus said...

TO Past Elder

In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus confesses to being the “son of God” before the Sanhedrin. This is not deity language but covenant language as when God said to Pharoah, “Israel is my first born son.” (Exodus 4:22) The Sanhedrin charged Jesus with blasphemy because it was unthinkable that a Samaritan-Gentile could be the expected messiah. Jesus’ mother, Mary, was a Galilean Samaritan. Prior to 80 BC, Galilee was part of Samaria. In John’s Gospel, the Judeans asked Jesus, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan?” They, of course, were right about that. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus is that good Samaritan.

At the cross, the Centurion declares, “Surely he was a son of God.” (Matthew 27:54) This same Centurion is recorded in Luke’s Gospel as declaring, “Surely this was a righteous man.” (23:47) These are parallel expressions. TO BE A SON OF GOD IS TO BE A RIGHTEOUS MAN. Throughout his ministry, Jesus got into trouble for being a righteous man in his relationship to unclean Samaritans and Gentiles. He treated them as fellow sons of God and extended to them the same dignity and honor he had received from his heavenly Father. He got into trouble for reaching out to outcast “sinners” and forgiving them. All this culminated in his being crucified as a blasphemer, not because he called himself God, but because he was so gracious and merciful to Samaritans and Gentiles, who were considered to be unclean and were to be avoided.

In Galatians 3:26 the Apostle Paul calls us today the sons of God, righteous people, Jews and Gentiles alike. This too is covenant language, and not deity language.


Theophilus, Follower of the Way

Past Elder said...

Well, it's a nice story for Halloween anyway.

Theophilus said...

Father Hollywood:


The birth stories, understood literally, do not make sense. Mary, a Galilean-Samaritan, visits her cousin, Elizabeth, who is not her cousin, but a descendent of Aaron. Mary, pregnant out of wedlock, an offense, makes a second impossibly long and very difficult journey, this time to Bethlehem, for the required census. Mary, literally a virgin, gives birth to God and is known in Christian tradition as the mother of God.

On the other hand, understood as parable-metaphor, the birth stories make sense. The Samaritans in the northern portion of Samaria (Mary) were betrothed to the Judeans (Joseph) in 80 BC when that region was renamed Galilee. Then the Samaritans there were purified through circumcision and allowed to worship at the temple in Jerusalem. It was only after the resurrection of Jesus, when the gospel spread outward from Judea to Samaria and Galilee, that the Judean Christians (Joseph) and the Galilean-Samaritan Christians (Mary) were truly united in marriage, giving birth to the young church (Jesus). The early church councils literalized these stories giving support to the doctrine of the deity of Jesus.


“With many similar parables [which include metaphors] Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. HE DID NOT SAY ANYTHING TO THEM WITHOUT USING A PARABLE.”
(Mark 4:33-34,) After Jesus’ resurrection, his Apostles went forth and also spoke in parables-metaphors. A good number of those post-resurrection stories are included in the Gospels. The Transfiguration metaphor and the birth metaphors are among them.


Theophilus, Follower of the Way

Theophilus said...

TO Christi:

I too give praise and honor and glory to Jesus for his faithfulness even unto death. I am not, however, worshipping him as God, but as a son of God, a righteous man, in whose following I find myself. I too am a son of God, hopefully, a righteous man.

The problem I have with "institutional" Christianity is its departure from Jesus' covenant-gospel message and its embracing of the dogma-tradition. Although I am not an official member of any congregation, I do worship every Sunday in a church that functions under the category of "institutional" Christianity. I hear the dogma-traditon proclaimed far more than I do Jesus' actual message, which is troubling to me. I continue to worship, because I do benefit from the Bible readings, and I do want to stay in touch with fellow Christians for the sake of mutual edification. I worship in Lutheran churches more frequently than in churches of other denominations, although I am out of heart with the ELCA for its recent convention decision to allow sexually active gays and lesbians to serve as their pastors. Clearly, the ELCA, on the institutional level, has departed from Jesus' clear message.


Theophilus, Follower of the Way

Anonymous said...

Dear Theophilus,

Since the very beginning of the Christian era there have been those who accepted Jesus in His humanity but not His divinity.

If you read the Epistles you will find that St. John says one of the marks of those who have fallen from the faith is the denial that Jesus is God in the flesh.

That the Church is at times racked by scandal, weakness and woe is beyond dispute and yet she has accomplished marvelous things as long as she preaches the pure Gospel and administers the true Sacraments.

There are many factors which keep me Lutheran (and the LCMS has not made the decisions that the ELCA has), the chief one being her faithfulness to the Word.

Don't let the world and the evil one blind you as to who Jesus is and what he came to do for you. As for the rest, the Lord tells us to let the wheat grow with the tares, even in the Church. He will separate them at the harvest. He also says "I know my own and my own know me."

I mean no offense to you but the Christianity you propose was embraced by some very early in the Church's history and was one of the dividing marks between those who proclaimed Jesus as Lord and God and those who, like the Muslims and Gnostics of today, consider Him merely a prophet.



tbenraska said...

TO Christi:

Thanks for your gentle admonition.

One point, though: You say, "merely a prophet." Was not the prophetic word in the Old Testament powerful and effective in bringing salvation to all who heeded that word? Is not Jesus called the greatest of the PROPHETS? I believe that Jesus embodied and renewed that very prophetic word which continues to be powerful and effective in bringing salvation to all who heed it today, including Jews and Arabs. Whether or not Jesus was divine or human does not in any way affect the efficacy of his word. That is why I keep appealing to all to focus on his actual word, rather than to debate endlessly what theologians over the centuries have said ABOUT him, which brings salvation to no one.
Many have been labeled "heretics" over the centuries, including Martin Luther. Does that rule them out of the kingdom of God? I think not.

Theophilus, Follower of the Way

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theo:

You wrote:

"Whether or not Jesus was divine or human does not in any way affect the efficacy of his word."

I believe it makes all the difference.

For if Jesus is God, His Word is God's Word, and it is efficacious as only God's Word can be: "And God said 'Let there be light, and there was light.'" (Gen 1)

God's Word is creative and powerful.

And Jesus Himself is called "The Word" (John 1). In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.... The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us."

The words of men can only describe reality, "The grass is green, the sky is blue." The Word of God creates reality: "Let there be grass. Let there be sky. This is my body. This is my blood. I forgive you all your sins..."

If Jesus is only human and not God, then His words can only describe reality. And his words can even be in error. But if He is God, if He is the Word Made Flesh, then His Word is efficacious and creates the reality of a saint out of a sinner.

Somewhere else you said that Jesus does not call Himself God, but only the Son of God. But He also calls Himself Son of Man. The fact that He is Son of Man does not mean He is not human. To the contrary, Son of Man is an affirmation of His humanity, just as Son of God is the affirmation of His divinity. He is Son of God the Father - literally and miraculously - even as He is the Son of Mary - also literally and miraculously.

The Jews and the Muslims are lost because they believe Jesus is only a man, not God's Son, capable of error, capable of sin. And so, ultimately, how can His Word be efficacious to them? His Word ultimately carries the same weight as John Lennon or Eddie Murphy. But the Word of the Word Made Flesh, the same reality-creating Word that said: "Let there be light" - now that is what I call "efficacious!"

The Man who walked out of His own tomb is the same Word of God who said "Let there be light." That is why we Christians have hope. That is what separates us from Jews, Muslims, and other religions - as well as from heretical splits from the Christian faith.

It all boils down to the big question of who Jesus is. And this is why Jews, Muslims, and Christians can never have fellowship with one another, for they answer that question in ways that are completely opposed to one another.

Theophilus said...

TO Father Hollywood:

I am finding these exchanges most interesting and am pleased that you are still willing to be in dialogue with one who has been called a heretic, an honor I share with Martin Luther. (..)

Are you suggesting that the word of God spoken through the OT prophets was not efficacious because the prophets were not deities? What about the word of God spoken through preachers today who are not deities? The prophetic word of God (covenant) embodied and renewed by Jesus (gospel) was efficacious whether or not he was a deity, because it came from his heavenly Father. (John 7:16)

I have been told that in the Greek language there are two words for “word.” One is masculine, and the other is neutral. If the translator who translated these words from Aramaic, the spoken language of Jesus’ day, to Greek had used the neutral word for “word,” the translation would have gone like this, and correctly so: “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. IT was with God in the beginning. Through IT all things were made, without IT nothing was made that has been made.”

I believe that “son of God” and “son of man” mean the same, since “son of God” is always covenant language for Israel, for Jesus, and for us.

Muslims call Jesus one of their prophets. But they do not know his covenant-gospel. If they could hear it from us Christians, instead of our dogma, they would rejoice over it. They too think incorrectly that “son of God” is deity language and reject that. If they were told that God, their merciful heavenly Father, had named them his beloved sons and thereby formed a Father-son covenant relationship with them, they would rejoice and desire fellowship with us.

The Jews too rightly reject the deity of Jesus. Remove that false barrier, and they too will desire fellowship with us as the beloved sons of God they have always been ever since God declared to Pharaoh, “Israel is my first born son.” Let the Jews hear from us the EVERLASTING covenant God made with them, the covenant which was embodied and renewed by Jesus.

As Thomas Jefferson attempted to do, trash the corruptions and focus on the actual message Jesus proclaimed for all men everywhere. That efficacious word is the only word that unites us all in joy and peace.

I think I understand the difference between us. You appear to view everything in the Bible through the lens of Jesus' deity. I view everything in the Bible through the lens of Jesus' covenant-gospel. Therefore, we see everything very differently.


Theophilus, Followers of the Way

Theophilus said...

Father Hollywood:

Interchangeable names for God which have the same meaning: JEHOVAH and FATHER and I AM WHO I AM. They all mean that God is by name and character gracious and merciful, faithful and forgiving toward us.

Interchangeable names for us which have the same meaning: SON OF GOD and SON OF MAN and LAMB OF GOD. They all mean that we are the beloved children of our heavenly Father who has bestowed upon us great honor and dignity and worth.

You are just the theologian I have been looking for with whom to enter into dialogue. You are knowledgeable and articulate and well versed in Christianity’s dogma-tradition. You are just the person with whom I need to put my beliefs to the test. Thanks!

Scroll up until they appear. I think those stories make much more sense understood as metaphor.


Theopphilus, Follower of the Way

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theo:

There is meaning in the Transfiguration. There is a reason it happened, why Jesus pulled aside the veil and let us catch a glimpse of His Divinity. There is teaching going on there.

And yet, there is no reason to reduce it to a "metaphor."

Why would you assume the Resurrection was a literal fact of history, that Jesus literally walked out of His own tomb, but then assume that the Transfiguration was not a literal fact of history?

I understand Jefferson's logical consistency in denying the entire supernatural (including the Resurrection) and seeing Jesus as a mere moral teacher, a sort of Jewish Aesop. But your religion seems to have one foot in the supernatural and one foot in the denial of the supernatural.

You claim all of Jesus's miracles are just metaphors and didn't really happen, except the Resurrection, which you argue did really happen.

Why not just say that was a nice story too? Maybe the Resurrection symbolizes how the teachings of Jesus rose from His crucifixion, or maybe His body rising is only a metaphor for the Church?

I don;t think your religion is tenable. I think you either need to accept, on faith, the whole miraculous supernatural Jesus, or you need to accept, on reason, the Jesus that Jefferson claimed died and did not rise.

You seem to be reverse-engineering your theology for the sake of creating a super-world-religion of Jewstianslam, or some such.

But truth doesn;t work that way.

Theophilus said...

Father Hollywood:

In parable-metaphor Jesus proclaimed his covenant-gospel. (Mark 4:34) What he proclaimed in that literary style were not fairy tales but the word he received from his heavenly Father. (John 7:16) Is the parable of the Good Samaritan a fairy tale that didn’t happen? Certainly not. This parable depicts Jesus as the Good Samaritan (John 8:48) ministering to those “sinners” who were cast out of the temple and synagogues. This ministry really happened! The “sinners” truly were anointed with the oil of Jesus’ covenant-gospel. And they became whole.

I truly believe that Jesus performed MIRACLES through his covenant-gospel. He healed the leprosy of sin by pronouncing “sinners” forgiven. He opened eyes of faith in those who were spiritually blind. He healed the lame who were limping along in wickedness and enabled them to rise up and walk in righteousness. He opened up the ears of the spiritually deaf so that they could hear and believe his message. Jesus raised up the spiritually dead and enabled them to live a new life in his following. These are SPIRITUAL miracles, the most important of all. The prayers of the church, which I often hear on Sunday mornings, are concerned almost exclusively about physical miracles. It would be refreshing to hear prayers offered to God for spiritual healing and new life. Please note that every petition of the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer for spiritual needs, including the petition for the bread of life from heaven each day, our daily bread.

Jesus truly was resurrected by his heavenly Father. Matthew’s Gospel gives us a hint regarding Jesus’ corpse. The soldiers were bribed to say that his disciples came during the night and stole him away while they were asleep. Why? Because people other than Jesus’ disciples took his body and buried it elsewhere, probably where they thought a blasphemer should have been buried in the first place. In John’s Gospel, Mary says, “They have taken my lord away, and I don’t know where they have put him.” She was right about that. But who? Probably temple authorities.

That doesn’t really matter, for we do not seek the living among dead corpses. We know that God kept his promise given through his prophet Hosea (6:1-2). “After two days, on the third day” (a symbolic expression), God raised Jesus. He now lives in his Father’s presence. That certainly is a miracle! That really happened! Keep in mind the Apostle Paul’s words, “If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.” And again, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” Jesus’ is the first fruits of my resurrection. I too shall be resurrected to live in the presence of my heavenly Father. And my earthly body will return to the dust from whence it came. I trust that my family will not seek the living among dead corpses.

Again, we are having great difficulty in this dialogue because you appear to view everything in the Bible through the lens of Jesus’ divinity. I view everything in the Bible through the lens of Jesus’ covenant-gospel message of glad tidings. You seem to view the miracles as physical miracles which prove Jesus’ divinity. I view the same miracles as metaphorical depictions of spiritual healings and new life that truly took place as Jesus preached and taught the people.
I am not sure how this is going to be resolved between us, but I continue to find this dialogue very stimulating.


Theophilus, Follower of the Way

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theophilus:

About the only thing I agree with you on is this:

"Again, we are having great difficulty in this dialogue because you appear to view everything in the Bible through the lens of Jesus’ divinity....
I am not sure how this is going to be resolved between us, but I continue to find this dialogue very stimulating."

It can't be "resolved." We hold two diametrically opposite premises. Either one of us is right and the other wrong, or both of us are wrong.

But like you, I find the discussion to be worthwhile, and I think it helps both of us understand our own confession better.


Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theo:

You write:

"Are you suggesting that the word of God spoken through the OT prophets was not efficacious because the prophets were not deities? What about the word of God spoken through preachers today who are not deities?"

The difference is that prophets and pastors do not speak on their own authority. They speak the Word (of Christ!) as it has been revealed to them - prophets of old through revelation, pastors through Holy Scripture.

Jesus was not merely a Prophet, but is the Word (John 1). He speaks of His own authority, which baffled and flummoxed the Pharisees (Matt 7:29). Unlike the prophets, He forgave sins by His own authority, not simply declaring God's forgiveness (Mark 2:5-12). This goes beyond any prophet. Jesus speaks God's Word because He is the Word and He is Gos (John 1:1).

Jesus is not a messenger, but rather the source.

This is why Hebrews 1:1-2 explains that God used to speak through prophets, but now speaks by the Son "through whom also He created the world."

This is why our Lord, unlike all the prophets, walked out of His tomb, and lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

To reduce our Lord to the mere level of prophet (as the Muslims do) or a mere rabbi (as the Jews do) is contrary to the New Testament - which is why they reject the NT. This is why we Christians can never be reconciled with these other religions (though I do believe in peaceful coexistence rather than seeking conversion by the sword).

You cannot simultaneously confess Jesus as the eternal Word made flesh (John 1) and at the same time, uphold the Koran or deny the New Testament.

Theophilus said...

Father Hollywood:

I understand that when you view the Gospels through the lens of Jesus' deity, then Jesus is not merely a prophet, but God.

When I view the Gospels through the lens of Jesus' covenant-gospel, then Jesus is the greatest of all the prophets, not merely a prophet.

I am captivated by Jesus' words, "My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me." (John 7:16) All the prophets taught what had come to them from their heavenly Father, including the greatest of the prophets.

I believe that Jesus certainly embodied that teaching, that word.
He taught that word truthfully; he lived out that word in obedience; he was even willing to die for that word. And look, his heavenly Father raised him up from death and vindicated him, his word, and his righteous way of life. Truly, he was the greatest of all the prophets.

Perhaps it would be helpful if I would spell out the NT evidence that contradicts the deity doctrine, in my opinion:

1. That Israel, Jesus, and we Christians all were named "Son of God" at our baptismal events indicates Jesus' authentic humanity with us. This name for all of us is a covenant, not deity, name.

2. The Apostle Paul declares, "The gospel regarding his son, WHO AS TO HIS HUMAN NATURE WAS A DESCENDENT OF DAVID" - clearly through Joseph his natural father.

3. Jesus called his disciples "my brothers" and taught them to pray "our Father" with him. Yes, Jesus prayed the "Our Father" prayer. Why, if he was God?

4. When a man addressed Jesus as "Good Teacher," he responded, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone." (Mark 10:18)

5. Philip identified Jesus as "the son of Joseph." So did the Jews. (John 1:45, 6:42)

6. The voice of our heavenly Father at the Mount of Transfiguration instructs us to "LISTEN TO HIM!" We are not instructed to worship him as God.

7. Many ancient near eastern religions deified their kings and called them "Son of God." When the church went forth from Jerusalem into the Greek world, this idea crept into the church and was made legitimate later by the church councils. The Apostle Paul had to deal with this same deification at Lystra. (Acts 14:11-13)

So, you see, there is considerable Biblical evidence that Jesus was not God, but a real human like us.

Some critical questions: If Jesus is both God and man, how can we tell when he is God and when he is man? If he was God on the cross, did he really suffer? Did he really die, for God cannot die? Do you remember Gibsons movie about Jesus' crucifixion? You will remember that on the way of the cross Jesus shed tons of blood, far more than any human could lose without losing consciousness. Was that Gibson's way of portraying him as God rather than as man? If he was God when he did those physical miracles, was it his only purpose to prove his deity? Why did he not heal everyone and resusitate every dead person he encountered? To see Jesus as a deity walking around on earth poses a host of questions that no one seems able to answer adequately.


Theophilus, Follower of the Way

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theo:

You are indeed citing evidence of our Blessed Lord's humanity - about which I agree with you 100%! Jesus is 100% human! Though I don't agree with your conclusion that Joseph was the Lord's biological father. Scripture clearly says otherwise (Matt 1:18). Even the Muslims concede that Joseph was not Jesus's father. I don't think any Jewish sources make this claim either. Joseph was clearly "out of the loop" when his betrothed announced her pregnancy.

But in your citations of Scripture, you are ignoring the other side of the coin - our Lord's 100% divinity! And your careful omissions are telling.

Now, we've been around this block before. There are simply such clear passages as:

John 1:1, 14: "the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... The Word became flesh and dwelt among us."

The Word is Jesus. He was with God in the beginning. And yet at the same time, He was God. He is God enfleshed (incarnate).

You simply cannot ignore this irreducible conclusion that Jesus = God.

In Romans 9:5, St. Paul refers to: "the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

See also Isa 45:23 and Phil 2:10, in the latter of which St. Paul paraphrases the former, with "Jesus" being used in place of "God" (not to mention a couple verses earlier, in 2:6, in which Jesus has "equality with God" according to the apostle).

In his letter to St. Titus, St. Paul refers to "Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ" (2:13).

You can't get much clearer than that!

In Acts 7:59, the dying St. Stephen prays to Jesus: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

After the resurrection, St. Thomas addresses Jesus explicitly as "my Lord and my God" (John 20:28). Instead of "correcting" Thomas, Jesus says those of us who have not seen what he has seen, yet who believe as he did (!), are "blessed."

I cited other scriptural proofs of the divinity of Jesus in a comment to this post.

I may cull those out and put them into a separate blog post.

This is why the Trinity is a mystery. Jesus is clearly confessed as 100% human by Scripture (and thank God He is, because He is fully one of us). Jesus is also 100% divine (and thank God He is, because He has the power to save us).

And this is the beauty of the Incarnation. It reminds us that we are not God, that God does not have to conform to our own sense of logic, space, and time. And yet, this incomprehensible God deigns to come into our flesh as a child, and die as a despised criminal - all out of love. In Jesus, man and God have full communion. For Jesus is "Immanuel" - "God with us."

Therefore, I believe God was born of a virgin mother, God was enrobed in human flesh, God died on the cross. Absolutely. And yet the Father has no physical body, has no mother, and has never died. The Son underwent a voluntary death in order to save us. And yet, God (the Father and the Holy Spirit) did not take flesh and die.

Wonderful and wondrous stuff!

As apologist Dorothy Sayers said: "The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man - and the dogma is the drama."

I commend to you St. Athanasius's joyful work "On the Incarnation" - as it captures the mystery and yet the down-to-earth implications of the Lord's incarnation.


Theophilus said...

Father Hollywood:

I would like to demonstrate the difference, as I understand it, between viewing a story through the lens of the deity of Jesus and viewing the same story through the lens of Jesus’ covenant-gospel. Since John 6 previously was under discussion, I would like to focus on John 6:1-14.

It is fully understandable that viewing these verses through the lens of Jesus’ deity leads to certain conclusions:

1. The “miraculous signs” Jesus performed on the sick and diseased were physical healings through his word of command or his gently physical touch.
2. Literally, 5,000 people sat down in the grassy field and were fed with 5 loaves of barley bread. Jesus literally stretched each small loaf of bread sufficiently to feed 1,000 men.
3. 12 literal baskets of barley loaf fragments were left over and gathered so that nothing would be wasted.
4. At the end, this is called a “miraculous sign” intended to prove the deity of Jesus.

It is not my intention to try to change your mind, for I know you are committed to a literal interpretation of this story. I only wish to illustrate how this story is interpreted when viewing it through the lens of Jesus’ covenant-gospel, which I summarized previously.

1. I take seriously Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:39. “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a MIRACULOUS SIGN! But none will be given it except the sign of the PROPHET Jonah.” I take “miraculous sign” here to refer to physical healings and physical resuscitations. Jonah ran away from his calling to preach his prophetic message, the covenant word of the Lord, to Nineveh. But God pursued him like the “Hound of Heaven” (I have a Basset Hound who pursues nice scents unrelentingly) until he caught him. After dying to his past disobedience, Jonah was raised up to fulfill his calling. He preached the prophetic word of the Lord to Nineveh, and the entire population repented and believed his covenant message. This is the “sign of Jonah.”
2. Therefore, I conclude that the sick and diseased people were SPIRITUALLY sick and diseased. Jesus healed them through his efficacious covenant-gospel.
3. I see signs of metaphor throughout verses 5-14. This story is reminiscent of 2 Kings 4:42-43 – 20 loaves of barley bread for 100 men. Elisha fed them all and even had some bread left over.
4. In John 6:5-14, the ratio is one small loaf for every 1,000 men who are seated in a grass-filled pasture like sheep being fed by a shepherd.
5. 12 baskets of bread fragments are gathered up so that it will not be wasted. That bread will be sufficient for all the 12 tribes of Israel.
6. The clincher for me is the response of the crowd. They did not say that Jesus was a deity or a miracle worker who had come among them. They said, “Surely this is the PROPHET who is to come into the world.” The task of a prophet like Elisha or Jonah is to proclaim the covenant word of the Lord, the bread of life from heaven, which brings spiritual healing and wholeness and new life to people. Jesus embodied this covenant word of the Lord and renewed it among his people. This was his gospel. This bread of life from heaven is sufficient for all men everywhere.

This metaphor is not a fairy tale. This actually happened and is being described in the language of metaphor. Jesus did bring spiritual healing and wholeness and new life to people who believed his message. Jesus’ message brings spiritual healing and wholeness and new life to broken and sin-diseased lives still today when proclaimed by preachers. Yes, this message is efficacious when proclaimed by preachers today.

Theophilus, Follower of the Way

Theophilus said...

Father Hollywood:

In my last comment I neglected to make a very important point. It is critically important that preachers not just talk about this story, but proclaim the actual message Jesus proclaimed. Otherwise the people will go home not having been fed with those barley loaves.

Again, thanks for hearing me out. A heretic has to put his beliefs to the test continuously lest Christianity's dogma-tradition overwhelms him.

Over 90 comments under "SUBSTITUTIONARY ATONEMENT!
A real surprise!

Theophilus, Follower of the Way