Christ’s Example of Unjust Suffering: Substitutionary Atonement;
Erroneous Views of the Atonement
1 Peter 3:18
1 Peter Lesson #106
September 21, 2017
“Our Father, we are indeed very grateful for Your grace, Your goodness, Your provision for us. We continue to pray for people in this congregation, people in this city, who are facing a massive task of cleanup. Here, it has been almost a month since we were hit by the storm [Hurricane Harvey]—four weeks, and there are many people who are still weeks away from being in their homes and maybe months away from getting everything back to normal.
“Father, we pray for them. We pray for those in this congregation who are facing these mountainous challenges. We pray that You would strengthen us to minister to them and that they might look at this opportunity as a time for spiritual growth and witnessing to others.
“Father, we pray for each one of us, as we study Your Word, that we might be focused tonight, that we might think through some important issues related to understanding what Christ did on the Cross, that we might come to understand it clearly and accurately, that we might better understand what we read in the Scripture and what You have done for us. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Open your Bibles with me to 1 Peter. We are in 1 Peter 3:18, and I know some people may think, “Well, we’re just going to go through some of these verses and stay there for months and months and months,” but there’s some really important stuff in 1 Peter 3:18. This is a critical verse for understanding the topic that I started last week: What the Bible Teaches about Substitutionary Atonement.
Notice on the title slide that I’ve underlined the word “atonement” because last week we looked at the concept of substitution. Tonight, we’re going to begin to think our way through this concept of atonement. This is important. How many times is the word atonement used in the New Testament? It’s not used at all in the New Testament. Not one time! It is used in the Old Testament.
Actually, it’s an English word that’s sort of a made-up word. That’s one of the issues that we have to get into in thinking through what that means, how it relates to things. It’s a term that has come into English theological language as a word that summarizes, basically, what Christ did on the Cross, the totality of His work on the Cross.
Tonight, I’m going to spend a good bit of time talking about wrong views of the atonement. One of the reasons that we do that is because I find that—maybe not as much with this doctrine but with other concepts—when we begin to go through church history and look at some of the other views that have been set forth, we realize that maybe some of those ideas have crept into our thinking. We’re going to look at one tonight. I remember, as a kid, hearing something about it or having a question related to that or something, and it was a point of confusion. Even kids hear these ideas and come up with them.
Then, we’re going to look at a couple of others that have been absolutely foundational to understanding the errors and flaws in American evangelicalism and in a lot of American Protestantism. People are unaware of it because the language they use, if they’re preaching, is pretty much the same language I use; but they don’t mean the same thing. It’s sort of a bait and switch in some ways.
We’re in 1 Peter 3:18. The verse reads, “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.” Almost every phrase there is loaded with so much to investigate and to think through. It’s just incredible.
Last time, I pointed out that the word “once” is important because Jesus isn’t an ongoing sacrifice. That’s the idea in Roman Catholic theology, that Jesus is re-crucified in the mass. This is why it is so critical. Are they turning the bread and the wine into the body and the blood of Jesus? That’s why that whole issue of transubstantiation is so important.
If you lived in England in the 1500s, Henry VIII was succeeded by his son Edward, who was a Protestant. Edward only lasted a few years. He died young. He, in turn, was succeeded by his Roman Catholic sister, Mary, who is known in history as Bloody Mary, not because she invented an alcoholic drink but because she immolated so many Protestants on pyres in England as they burned them alive.
The issue was debated by everyone. Everybody understood on the street. The homeless people could debate what the meaning of the mass was. “Is that really Jesus? Is He re-crucified or not?” I mean, they would argue on the street corners about that! If you didn’t have the right answer, depending on who the king or queen was, you could go to jail and be burned at the stake. It was a life-and-death matter.
Today, people have been in church all their lives and can’t think their way through these issues anymore, which is a sad commentary on where we are. That should not be a problem for us at this church. Jesus died for sins. I pointed out that this is a different preposition than we find normally for substitution, and we will point those out. Either we find the preposition ANTI or HUPER, but this is PERI, and it indicates more the idea that He didn’t suffer in the place of sin. He suffered with reference to sin.
The next phrase, “the just for the unjust,” brings in that preposition HUPER, which is a preposition of substitution, one in place of another. We spent most of last time talking about these two prepositions and their significance for substitutionary atonement.
I pointed out that PERI from the Septuagint is typically used in all these passages that talk about atonement. The Hebrew prepositions are not as precise, and sometimes there’s not even a preposition there, but it was translated consistently by the rabbis with this preposition.
Peter wrote to whom? Gentiles or Jews? Jewish background believers who would have known the Septuagint. They would have known the Torah, and they would have understood the significance.
By the way, shanah tovah. Are you up to date? That’s “Happy New Year” in Hebrew because last night at sundown we celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the New Year. This is the beginning of the high holy days for the Jews. It ends with Yom Kippur, which is the Day of Atonement, in ten days. They can’t sacrifice—we’re going to talk about that sometime in this series. I don’t know how far I’ll get tonight. We’re going to have a brief hiatus for two weeks. I will be gone, but I will be here virtually.
We started a series yesterday. I came down here and videotaped two lessons on Psalm 19. You don’t want to miss that. It dovetails perfectly with what we’re studying on Tuesday nights in Psalm 18. I didn’t quite finish it in two lessons like I had hoped, so that will be three lessons. I’ll have to finish it when I get back. Then, we’ll come back to the atonement. Atonement fits into that as well. All these things are intersecting, one thing with another.
PERI HAMARTION was used in reference to the sin offerings, and so those sacrifices were understood that way. For example, Leviticus 5:6 says, “… and he shall bring his trespass offering to the Lord for his sin.” That would’ve been translated PERI HAMARTION and also “concerning his sin” down at the end of that verse. This is important.
The phrase “make atonement” is used here. This is the Hebrew word kaphar, which typically, historically for many years, has been understood to mean to cover. Oh, but that preaches well when you talk about the mercy seat and putting the blood on the mercy seat and it covers sin!
What we’ve discovered is that that may not be the meaning of this word kaphar in this context, that there is a homophone, a word that’s spelled the same, looks the same, sounds the same, but has a totally different root and meaning. That’s the one that was used to translate in Genesis 6 that Noah covered the ark with pitch. Looks like the same word, but most lexicographers today believe there are two totally distinct words, two totally different semantic values. I think that we can demonstrate that from the way the Septuagint translates it, more the idea of cleansing, forgiving, purging, wiping clean. It very much fits the picture that we have in the Day of Atonement of sin being forgiven. We’ll get to that as well.
Slides 9 and 10
These are the keywords that we find in these verses I looked at last time, introducing this concept of making atonement.
We started off with what the Bible teaches about substitutionary atonement.
We looked first at the concept of substitution, that in theology this means that Jesus took the place of the sinner. It’s called penal substitution. That’s another key phrase. It is a penalty on the Cross. He took our punishment for us, a very important idea.
I worked through nine different subpoints, a) through i). [Point] e) is a central one, where the Old Testament illustrates this through a series of sacrifices which were substitutionary in nature. The picture in Leviticus 1:4 is that the person bringing the sacrifice placed his hand on the head of the sacrifice, recited his sins, and they were transferred to that innocent animal—young, innocent animal—and then the animal was killed because of the sins of the person bringing it.
We talked again about the preposition PERI, which I talked about just a minute ago.
Under point f), I talked about how this is seen in numerous phrases in Isaiah 53, that Jesus was “wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement for our peace was laid upon Him.” It’s very clear that this was depicting substitution. He was taking upon Himself the punishment for somebody else. This was talking about the Messiah.
Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray.” We talked about that verb, “to go astray, wandering.” I get all my psalms mixed up. I think that was in Psalm 107 that we looked at last Sunday morning. This was wandering astray in error.
“And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” In the New Testament, it’s expressed in 2 Corinthians 5:21. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Once again, we see that idea of substitution.
Point j) set us up for what we’re going to cover tonight in 1 John 2:2. This is the closest we get to the concept of atonement in the New Testament, and that is, “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins.” That Greek word translated there is also connected to the word for mercy seat in the Greek that’s used in Romans. The mercy seat was the focal point of the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. Propitiation is a word not limited to propitiation, as we will see.
We have basically two issues that we have to answer when we talk about atonement. The first is, “What is the nature of the atonement?” The positive answer is, “The nature is substitutionary.” It is substitutionary.
We’re moving to the next section. The second point talks about the nature of the atonement, that it is substitutionary. I made the observation at the end of the last class that it basically took a thousand years before the church got it right in articulating the substitutionary doctrine. That doesn’t mean that they didn’t have a somewhat elementary or basic concept of substitution. It was here and there for a thousand years, but nobody sat down and analyzed it and articulated it. The closest they got—and he still had problems—was Anselm in AD 1000. We will look at that in a minute. He articulated a doctrine that is very close. It’s the closest they got until the Reformation.
If we want to understand substitutionary atonement, we can’t get it in the early church fathers or even in the theologians of the medieval period. We have to go to the Reformation, so that’s where we’re going to focus. It shouldn’t surprise us because when we study church history, we see other doctrines, such as Scripture, the development of the Canon, that they didn’t nail down until somewhere in the mid fourth century, round AD 350.
Didn’t they have a Canon before that? Yes, they did. We have examples from about AD 160 of a fragment of a document that’s called the Muratorian Canon. I can’t remember exactly, but it’s close to eighteen or twenty New Testament books. I’m not exactly sure what that number is. It’s not all twenty-seven, but it’s a good bit of them they already recognized, and it didn’t include anything that is not in our New Testament. It’s not like they’ve got the Gospel of Papius, or they’ve got the Epistle of Barnabas or some of the Gnostic gospels in there. What they had was part of our New Testament, but just a fragment. It didn’t have everything.
By the middle of the second century, ~AD 250, they were getting pretty close. The questions they had were not about books that aren’t in the Canon now. The questions they had were, “What about Jude? That was written by one person. It is short. Not everybody knows about it.” “What about Hebrews? We don’t know who wrote it. Should we really include that in the Canon?” Some people said, “What about Revelation? There’s this curse in there that if we don’t interpret it rightly, we’re going to come under God’s judgment. That’s pretty serious. Maybe we don’t want to include that.” They had these kinds of debates.
The Epistle to Philemon was written to an individual. It wasn’t passed around like the epistles to the Corinthians or Galatians or Ephesians or Colossians. Those were passed around. After the end of the apostolic period, it took them 250 years to figure that out.
The same thing was true with the Trinity and the hypostatic union. The nature and purpose of the Lord’s Table was debated until into the early years of the sixteenth century and the Protestant Reformation. Luther had a view of consubstantiation, which sounded suspiciously like transubstantiation, but it was not.
Zwingli’s view was the memorial view that we hold. Calvin had a slightly different view. They were still debating that into the late 1500s. It wasn’t like they had figured this stuff out.
We stand on the shoulders of five or six people—five or six levels up, and we think, “Oh, I can tell you that the Trinity is just like that! I can explain the hypostatic union just like that.” If you talked to leading theologians in the fourth century, they wouldn’t have a clue what you’re talking about. They didn’t have the vocabulary for it yet.
When we come to studying the atonement, it’s not any different. They talked about substitution, but they didn’t take it out and analyze it. They would say, “Jesus died for our sins,” which is just quoting Scripture. Nobody was asking, “In what sense did He die for our sins? That little preposition can have other meanings maybe. What exactly does that mean, that He died for our sins?” In the Old Testament, they clearly understood the concept of substitution in the picture of the sacrifices, but it wasn’t developed. It was not theologically analyzed. The words were repeated in a rather simple manner. It took years for people to think through what that meant.
When we say, “Jesus died for us,” He paid a penalty. To whom did He pay it? Did He pay it to Satan? Did He pay it to the universe? Did He pay it to God? To whom did He pay it? In the early church, the dominant view—that nobody holds anymore—for about the first three hundred or four hundred years was that Jesus paid a ransom to Satan to free everybody. That was the most popular view. We need to understand some of these things as we go through this.
Other views came along. Jesus died for us. “He gave us an example of how to live.” “He was showing us that we should die for what we believe.” And “Jesus died to generally satisfy God’s government,” or “to show that God doesn’t like sin.” Those were different views. These views came along.
We have several ideas that we find in the early church. We will summarize them under six points.
1. The idea that the atonement was penal. It was a penalty that, in their writings, was either paid to Satan as a ransom or a few understood that it had something to do with God’s justice, but they were not spelling it out. They were not really clear or articulating it.
2. They did have an idea, in some places, of a substitution, that Jesus died in the place of sinners, the Just for the unjust, the Righteous for the unrighteous, especially in the Epistle to Diognetus, which was written about AD 180. This was about ninety years after John died, eighty-five years, something like that.
I’ve got a lengthy quote here, but I’m just going to read the core part of it, talking about God’s view toward sinners. He said, “He hated us not, neither rejected us, nor bore us malice, but was longsuffering and patient, and in pity for us took upon Himself our sins, and Himself parted with His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy for the lawless, the guileless for the evil, the just for the unjust, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal. For what else but His righteousness would have covered our sins? In whom was it possible for us lawless and ungodly men to have been justified, save only in the Son of God? O the sweet exchange, O the inscrutable creation …” You heard that word exchange? He really captured it, but he didn’t develop it any more than just skimming the surface here. That shows us that these ideas were there. Athanasius came along about one-hundred-fifty years later and said something similar, but this was not the norm at all.
3. They understood, some of them did anyway, that the work was directed to the Father, but for the most part, up through around AD 300 to AD 350, they were still thinking, even Augustine, a ransom-to-Satan view. How many people read Augustine today? Lots of people, so they still pick up on those kinds of ideas.
4. It was in the late-first century, mid- to late-first century, that Tertullian introduced the concept of satisfaction. He used the word, but he didn’t explain it. That’s what I mean by unanalyzed. They were using language that communicated something, but they didn’t talk about or explain, “How was God satisfied? In what way does that work?” They were not explaining that. Most of you can do that!
5. Irenaeus, mid-second century, held to the recapitulation view. He had it as a punishment. It was penal, and it was somewhat substitutionary but not in the full sense that you and I would think about it.
6. We see that this understanding of the atonement was, like much in the early church, held simply, but it was not analyzed or thought through. There was a lot to think about, so what happened?
7. With the advent of allegorical interpretation in the early third century, which impacted so much of the historical understanding of Scripture, the ideas of substitution became muddied and lost. It took a thousand years, and then they only got sort of in the ballpark. They were still out in left field in some ways. It wasn’t until the Reformation in the mid- to late-fifteen-hundreds that these ideas were clearly articulated.
I want to go through, briefly, some of the views.
The first view is usually attributed to Origen. Origen’s dates are late-second century. AD 190 or so was his birth to about AD 250, somewhere in there. He was the first to articulate it more, but we can go back to Clement, who was in the late-first century. Clement of Rome had a ransom-to-Satan view. It was unanalyzed. It was not well developed. Origen was the one who developed it. It had the idea that sinners are in bondage to Satan. It used the idea of a war as the background. Satan won in the Garden, so the human race was his prisoner. He was the one who imprisoned us. To free the captives, a ransom price had to be paid to Satan. They were released because of that payment, because of Christ’s righteousness. That was the basic idea.
He had this demonic, satanic element to his view of atonement. First of all, he thought that Christ’s death was a victory over demonic authorities and that related to His freeing the captives. Second, he did have the idea that death is a satisfaction to God, but he didn’t play that out.
One of the things I want to point out here is that, historically, they were beginning to understand that part of atonement is the idea of propitiation, the satisfaction of God’s righteousness and justice. We will see that as we go through that.
He did have a rather superficial understanding of substitution, but it was not developed. He used the language, but, ultimately, he saw the payment. What’s the word we use to describe the payment price? What’s that theological word? Go back to basics. What’s the theological word we use in relation to the work of Christ on the Cross that always has the idea of payment? Redemption! That’s right. Redemption is always the payment of a price.
I pointed out here that we have two corollary ideas. Propitiation and redemption are closely tied to this idea of atonement. That’s what we’re going to see. The word atonement really covers and assumes all of the facets of Christ’s work on the Cross.
When we look at this, the advocates in the early church were Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Jerome, who translated the Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, into Latin, then, Augustine. By the late medieval church, it was virtually abandoned. It was hardly mentioned by anyone during the Reformation.
When we evaluate it, there are elements of truth there. The Bible does talk about the fact that we are in slavery, but not to Satan. We are in slavery to sin, Romans 6:17. It’s clear that a debt is owed. We will see that in Colossians 2:13–14. The certificate of debt was wiped out, forgiven. We also have the idea that a ransom was paid. It was that payment of a price, but it was not paid to Satan but to the justice of God. That brings in that idea of propitiation. Lastly, Satan was not paid a ransom price by Jesus at the Cross. He was judged at the Cross. We see that many different ideas sound sort of right, but they are not adequate, and they’re not biblical.
A second view that came out in the early church was Irenaeus’. Irenaeus’ dates were AD 140 to AD 202. He was at the end of the second century. For example, I mentioned Origen earlier. I don’t have the exact dates on Origen, but Origen was late-second century into the early-third century. He died, I think, around AD 250. Irenaeus was a little before him. They overlapped a little bit. His view was also called the recapitulation view.
His view was that Christ was going to recapitulate all the stages of mankind. He began innocent, free of sin. He became a sinner. He was punished and resurrected, but this shows that He was able to overcome where Adam was unable to overcome. He gives eternal life to those who believe in Him and trust in Him. Most of those who held to this view believed that Jesus only died for the sin of Adam, not for anybody else’s sin. That opens the door to something called works, doesn’t it? Yes.
Where he went astray … The Scripture says Jesus is the last Adam, so he was building that analogy. This is a problem with theologians. They see an analogy in Scripture, and they sort of free-float off into theological speculation rather than sticking with the text. He was correct in that he said that Jesus was without sin, but he was incorrect in the way he expressed Christ’s recapitulation of human sin. He was correct in Christ’s death and resurrection, but he was incorrect in that Christ died for all sins, not just Adam’s sin. Much about salvation, much about atonement, much about Christ’s work on the Cross was omitted, so it was clearly incomplete. He had a little bit of an idea of substitution and a little bit of an idea of propitiation and redemption, but he really didn’t develop them very much. Nobody really held to this view after three hundred to four hundred years.
There were three views that were close to this. There was Abelard’s view, called the moral-influence view. Then, we are going to look at a view that came along that was a lot the same but more liberal, and that was called the example theory. Then, there was a third view that came out after that which was an attempt to make a correction, and that was called the governmental view. These are important if you want to understand what’s going on in evangelicalism today. You have never heard of these guys. They are not preached in almost any kind of church that we have other than the really conservative Bible-based churches.
Abelard’s dates were AD 1079 to AD 1142. This was a thousand years after the death of the Apostle Paul, roughly, who died about AD 95 to AD 100. He was reacting to Anselm’s view. Anselm’s dates were a little bit earlier, but they overlapped. Anselm had what they call a commercial view, but it was close to a substitutionary view. The commercial view was a transaction view. Jesus was substituting; He was paying a price. He was the closest there was to a clear substitutionary atonement in the earlier medieval church, but he was not quite there.
Abelard rejected that. His view was very different. He said that there was no need to satisfy any wrath against sin. There was no reason to satisfy God’s righteousness or justice. There was no need to have any kind of an expiation for sin. What does that tell you right away? He had a high view of man and a low view of sin. He had a view that men can still do good things; they can still do things that are positive righteousness. That was the problem with all three of these views, the moral-influence view, the example view, and the government view.
God was showing how much He loves us at the Cross. It was a demonstration of God’s love, but what was happening on the Cross was not about bringing us just to God’s love. What was happening on the Cross? It demonstrated God’s love because He was paying the penalty for us. Abelard completely excluded anything related to satisfying God’s righteousness or justice. His idea was that God demonstrated His love in a way that sinners’ hearts are going to be softened, and then they will turn to Him because of how good God is to them. It’s emotional.
Do you hear echoes of that in a lot of the ways revivalists preach the gospel? It was certainly true of Finney. Finney didn’t hold to this view. He held to the governmental view. This idea runs in all three of these views, that, basically, man is capable of doing good things. He’s perfectible. He just needs a little encouragement, a little motivation to turn to God, because they’ve got this low view of sin and high view of human ability. This was the first stab at it—Abelard.
Abelard was followed by a number of modern liberals, beginning with Horace Bushnell from the early nineteenth century and then several big names in the rise of nineteenth century Protestant liberalism, like Albert Réville and some others. It’s true that the Cross demonstrated the love of God, Romans 5:8. It’s true that God wants sinners to turn to Him. We could talk about 2 Peter 3:9 and some other passages. But this view sees the basis for Christ’s death to be God’s love rather than His righteousness and justice. The need for the death of Christ was that the righteousness and justice of God needed to be satisfied, and it totally ignored that. It was also based on moving people emotionally, that the reason they don’t come to God is they don’t realize He loves them.
I want you to think about what I just said. How many times do you pick up on that idea, that emphasis on God’s love, in a lot of churches today, in these big evangelical churches. Their doctrinal statement may emphasize substitutionary atonement, but the way they are approaching the gospel and your need to come to church is because it’s all about God’s love to the exclusion of His righteousness and His justice. Practically, they have been influenced by this idea even though on their doctrinal statement they say, “We believe in substitutionary atonement.” It’s just words! A lot of these guys don’t have enough theological training to understand these distinctions.
That’s the moral-influence view. It’s based on motivating people to turn to God because of His love, without realizing what Christ did as a substitute on the Cross to pay for sin. It’s a denial of substitution and an emphasis on love. The next view that’s similar but different—much more liberal—is called the example theory.
Let me back up just so you can review it a little bit. The first one we looked at was the ransom-to-Satan view. The second one was Irenaeus’s recapitulation view. The third one was Abelard’s moral-influence view. And this was called the example theory, which came out of something called Socinianism. Y’all know what Socinianism is, don’t you? I remember the first time I was reading through Chafer’s Systematic Theology, and he was talking about Socinianism like I was supposed understand what that was! Shows our lack of education.
There were two guys. Their name was Sozzini! They were Italians. They were from Siena. Who knew? They were the founders of Unitarianism. Lelio Sozzini and his nephew Fausto lived in the mid to late 1500s. One died in 1562; the nephew, Fausto, who was the real organizer of it, died in 1604. It was very radical. It denied a lot of the authority of Scripture.
They developed this idea that—again—it was all about God’s love. Their doctrines, their ideas, became very influential in a radical Protestant group called the Polish Brethren or the Minor Reformed Church of Poland. Y’all have heard of that, right? This stuff is obscure, but you go down here to this Unity Church, down here off Hillcroft, and they trace their theological roots right back to Fausto Sozzini.
If you go to any of these Unitarian churches and you run into anybody who doesn’t believe in the Trinity and they want to hold to some form of Christianity, this is their great, great granddaddy. This was their idea. Again, it had the idea that Christ did not need to satisfy God’s justice per se. His death was an example of faith and obedience. It showed us that if we are committed to what we believe to the point we are willing to die for it, we too can have eternal life. He gave us an example, not only of how to die but also how to live. It had nothing to do with punishment; it had nothing to do with sin; it had everything to do with human ability.
Jesus was viewed as just a man. He was Unitarian. There’s no Trinity. He is not the God-Man. It denies a need for sin to be punished, so it has a very high view of man’s ability, a very low view of sin, and a low view of God’s righteousness and justice. It fails to see any relationship between the sinner’s sin and Christ’s death. He just died to give an example. It had nothing to do with sin whatsoever.
I heard years ago that a couple of these churches where they had singles groups and they were the places to go. It was more exciting to go there than to go to a local bar because they had no moral values whatsoever because if you don’t believe in sin, then anything’s okay!
It all works itself out in our culture. We’re living in an age of such moral relativism. I was talking to Bob Guerra the other day. He was telling me what’s going on in courts today, that we’ve gone from moral relativism to legal relativism. It doesn’t matter what the Constitution or the law says. That’s what they thought. “Let’s fudge a little. It’s all relative and makes perfect sense. There’s no sin for Jesus to die for, so He just was giving us an example of how to live.”
The third form of this is called the governmental view. Of course, it was put forth by a lawyer by the name of Hugo Grotius. His dates were AD 1583 to AD 1645. In the early 1600s, he was considered one of the greatest jurists in England, but he had a liberal theology. He tried to bring things back from the brink, from Socinianism and even Abelard, to try to get somewhere close to a substitutionary idea.
He had a low view of sin, once again, and a high view of man. He thought that God will forgive sin. At least he had a view that God needs to forgive sin, but there doesn’t need to be an equivalent penalty. There needs to be a payment; it’s a token payment to show that it really upsets God that man has sinned. God has to uphold His principle of government by exacting a token penalty for sin through Christ’s death.
When Christ died, God accepted that token payment and set aside the requirement of the Law. “God really said that the penalty is death, but wait a minute, because Jesus died, I’ll back off of that and I’ll change the penalty.” God’s will became somewhat arbitrary. It had this high view of man, that man is able, man is perfectible, and that it’s not a substitutionary atonement. Jesus wasn’t paying our penalty. We can handle that ourselves because we are basically good.
That was an important idea historically. It influenced Daniel Whitby, the father of post-millennialism. Post-millennialism, basically, at this point and its liberal manifestation in the nineteenth century, built off of this. If man is not a totally corrupt, totally depraved sinner, then he’s perfectible on his own. If you as an individual are perfectible, then y’all as a group are perfectible, and we can together bring in the Kingdom and the Millennium.
This was very much part of the thinking of an early nineteenth century evangelist by the name of Charles Grandison Finney. Some of you may have heard Finney’s name. Finney founded Oberlin College. Sally went up there for little while to Oberlin Conservatory of Music, as did Lewis Sperry Chafer. Oberlin was the seed, the root, of the abolitionist theology before the American War between the States.
It was a radical movement based on this governmental theory of the atonement—that man is perfectible. “We can improve ourselves, and we can perfect the country. We just have to get rid of these five big sins. If we can get rid of slavery, and if we can give women equality, if we can get rid of child labor, if we can get rid of liquor.” I think there was a fifth one. “If we can get rid of these things, we’ll have perfected society.” It was all about works.
This is why the Second Great Awakening was so fraudulent as an awakening. The First Great Awakening in the 1740s was about coming to terms with God’s grace at the Cross, but the Second Great Awakening’s major evangelists … there were many … some were right, but most of them were not. They were like Finney. Finney didn’t believe in substitutionary atonement, and he was a post-millennialist. He didn’t believe in eternal security. Yet, we hear people tout him as a great theologian.
I remember one time—many, many years ago—when Dave Hunt was visiting with me in Dallas. Some of you know who Dave was. He was very active, wrote a great book, The Seduction of Christianity. He was very active at Pre-Trib. Tommy [Ice] was up there, and they got into a discussion on Finney. Dave had come out of a little bit of a holiness background, a Brethren movement. Somewhere along the line he’d gotten turned on to Finney. Tommy really set him straight, and Dave Hunt turned on a dime against Finney once he learned his theology, but you don’t get people talking about these things. So that’s important to understand.
These three ideas are either overtly or covertly dominating most of American evangelicalism today because it makes man feel good that he is capable of doing something to please and impress God.
The last view is the view of Anselm. Anselm wrote a book called Cur Deus Homo? (Why the God Man?). It was a foundational theological book. It talked about the importance of the hypostatic union, and in that, he worked it out in terms of this substitutionary idea. It’s sometimes called the commercial theory. His dates are just a little bit earlier than the dates of Abelard. Abelard was born in AD 1079. Anselm was about forty-five years older. Anselm was born in AD 1033 and lived to AD 1109.
He understood some basic concepts. He understood that Christ restored to humanity what was lost through Adam’s sin, that that’s what He was giving. It has this idea of righteousness. The idea of imputation is on the edges. He viewed the essence of Christ’s work to be substitutionary, but he didn’t fully develop that out. He understood that the judgment at the Cross was judicial in nature, that God’s righteousness and justice had to be satisfied or there would be eternal condemnation.
He wrote in odd terms though. He thought of God’s righteousness and justice as His honor. He thought sin robbed God of His honor and Christ’s death satisfied God’s honor. It was a substitutionary transaction. In many ways, it was the most complete view of the atonement in the period before the Reformation. While it’s true that sin involves not giving God honor and glory, it is much more than that. He had this idea that the atonement at its very core had to do with satisfying the righteousness and justice of God, and that the atonement was a penalty. It was punitive.
Generally, the Anselmic view influenced the classic Reformed view. I’m talking about sixteenth-seventeenth-century Lutherans, Calvinists, Arminians, Wesleyans, and Amyraldians. I’m not talking about the twentieth century here because we’ve got all kinds of splits and denominations now because of the influence of liberalism. The Abelardian view influenced Socinians, Unitarians, and religious liberals. That’s going to be where they’re coming from.
Here’s another chart. We’re going to take a lot of time looking at this. We see here that among Anselm and the Reformers, the atonement was necessary. Arminians, too; it’s necessary—Arminian and Calvinist reformers. It’s a substitutionary penalty. With Arminianism, it only deals with past sin. “You may commit a sin in the future, and you’ll lose your salvation.” It really doesn’t deal with future sin.
Only the view of substitutionary atonement that came out of the Reformation is important. Then, we have to ask the question, “What’s the extent of the atonement? Is it only for the elect, or is it for everyone?” We’ll get into that a little later.
The second part. Remember, in the first part, I asked the question, “What is substitution?” We talked about the biblical view of substitutionary atonement, satisfying God’s righteousness and justice. These were the wrong views that I’ve spent this evening on.
The second issue after we’ve asked the question “What is substitutionary?” is “What does it mean for atonement?” The basic idea that we’ve often heard is that the idea of this word kaphar is to cover or to make atonement. Essentially, the second line is better. It means, “to cleanse; to wipe clean; and it has a heavy emphasis on forgiveness.”
A number of years ago, I read through Randy Price’s book, The Coming Last Days Temple, which is about 750 pages. Probably with a little tongue-in-cheek, the late John Walvoord, then the president of Dallas Seminary, wrote the forward, and he said that this was probably the most extensive book on the temple that anyone ever thought of writing or dreamed of writing. Randy never left a molecule unturned, but the value of that is the amount of research that he brings and the information that he brings.
This was the first time that I had come to realize that from the time I’d been in seminary in the 1990s until this time that there was a huge discussion that was taking place among language scholars on the exact meaning of the word kaphar. Typically, dictionaries define it as atonement, but atonement is a made-up word. It came from the idea that people who were opposed to one another would be brought together and made as one. It was an English made-up word called “at-one-ment.” The idea that comes to mind with that is the idea of reconciliation.
What have we seen so far? We’ve seen the idea of redemption. The ransom idea is present when we talk about atonement. We see the idea of propitiation, of satisfaction, as part of that. We see, from some other passages, the idea of cleansing, that whole thing of forgiveness that’s present on the Day of Atonement, which we’ll talk about as we go through this study, the importance of that forgiveness that’s pictured on the Day of Atonement as it’s described in Leviticus.
First, a bull was sacrificed for the high priest, so he was cleansed. Then, two goats were brought in. One was sacrificed, and its blood was put on the altar. The other had the sins of the nation placed upon it. The high priest recited their sins on the head of the goat, and then that goat was taken out into the wilderness, far, far away where it could never wander back. This pictured the mercy of God forgiving sin that was on the mercy seat. The complete removal of that sin—God removes it and forgets it—was pictured by the goat and taking it off into the wilderness. These are the ideas that are present so far. It’s a multifaceted idea.
As I began to look at different studies, I realized that if we look at older Hebrew dictionaries, we find the emphasis on this idea of covering. We can see that idea, where they got that from both the use in Genesis, as well as putting the blood on the mercy seat. Inside were the broken tablets; it covered the sin. That preaches well. It’s a nice image, but if you look at what you find in the way the rabbis translated kaphar into the Septuagint—not every time but many, many times—they used the word KATHARIZO, which means to cleanse. It brings in the whole idea of forgiveness.
That’s what I have on this slide, the meanings I talked about earlier. This is from the Classic Hebrew Lexicon (CHL). There are only six volumes out now, which I have in Logos, fortunately, at a discount price. It’s extremely expensive. It lists these as definitions: atone, make expiation for you. Remember hearing about that? I can’t remember too many sermons on expiation, but I remember hearing about the barrier when I was a kid.
Expiation is another word for forgiveness. It means to cancel a debt, but it’s not a word we use a lot anymore. I don’t read it much even among theologians. It was used in the King James translation, so that made it a usable word. It means “to make amends for something, to free something from sin, to purify it, to effect a ransom for something”—that’s that idea of redemption.
We have forgiveness up here and expiation. We have redemption here in ransom. We have God as a subject. Sometimes, it has the idea of forgiving sin. It’s translated KATHARISMOS, which means, in the Septuagint, atonement. This is the noun form. The verb is KATHARIZO. The noun form, KATHARISMOS, means purification or to purge or to clean. That makes a lot more sense with the visual imagery of the Day of Atonement.
Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and Greek Lexicon, the older lexicon, says that, “perhaps [it means to] cover, but [it’s] primarily related to the Arabic cognate for wiping clean.” Arabic and Akkadian are Semitic languages like Hebrew that are very close. Sometimes, if you don’t really know what a word means in Hebrew, you go look at its cognate in Arabic and Akkadian and see what that means there and that gives you clues. That’s just typical word study methodology that any pastor ought to be able to do if he is worth his salt.
This is the idea that we have here. It was depicted on the Day of Atonement when the blood of the sacrifice was placed on the mercy seat. This was the mercy seat. Inside the box—that’s the ark, that’s what “ark” means—inside the box was the Covenant, the testimony of the Law, the broken tablets.
Outside, I believe, they placed Aaron’s rod that budded and the manna. Some people say it was inside the box, but it was probably outside the box based on some passages. The blood was placed here. Two angels, cherubs actually, looked down, and they were looking at the blood.
Cherubs are always associated in Scripture with the holiness of God. They represent the satisfaction of God’s righteousness and His justice. This happened as the Old Testament depiction. It was substitutionary and related to satisfaction. The Greek word HILASTERION, which is translated propitiation—which means satisfaction—was used to translate kapporet. Hear the kaphar there? It just adds a “t”, kapporet—that’s the noun for the mercy seat in Hebrew.
1. Atonement comes from the English phrase, at-one-ment, and it emphasizes reconciliation, another broad category term for the work of Christ on the Cross.
2. The blood sacrifice related to the payment of a price—that’s the idea of redemption.
3. The mercy seat related to the satisfaction of God’s righteousness and justice—that’s propitiation.
4. Because God was propitiated and the penalty was paid, the debt of sin was canceled—that’s expiation and forgiveness.
Look at those ideas that are present there. I’m going to skip this just a minute and put this slide up. I’ll review it when I come back.
These are the many facets of atonement: redemption, expiation, propitiation, reconciliation, and forgiveness. What does atonement mean? All of these ideas are part of the meaning of this word when you look at how it goes through. It is substitutionary. Christ paid the penalty for sin so that our sins are completely wiped out. They are cleansed.
We’ll come back and look at Colossians 2:13–14. The debt has been canceled—at the Cross—not when we believe, but at the Cross.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things and to be reminded of these important doctrines, rehearse the history, understand how these ideas were finally understood throughout the history of Christianity, and come to understand that Your righteousness and justice are satisfied. There’s no reason for us to feel guilty about our sins because that guilt—the true legal guilt—has been transferred to Christ on the Cross where He paid the penalty. We have the price paid, and we have forgiveness of sin. No matter what sins may be out there—no matter what sins may be in our past—they have all been paid for. There’s no sin that’s too great for the grace of God, no sin that wasn’t known by Your omniscience in eternity past, but all sin has been paid for at the Cross.
“And, Father, we pray that You would help us to understand this, think it through, make it part of our souls and our thinking. In Christ’s name. Amen.”