Tuesday, May 12, 2009

When Propitiation isn't Propitiation

Nick has brought up an interesting point on his blog. In the context of a debate about Psub, he has essentially pointed out that those who favor Penal Substitution are rather misusing a term. If one follows the rabbit trail logically, it's hard to see how propitiation and Penal substitution can go together.

When we think of the word propitiation, most people think of God's wrath being vented upon Christ rather than on those who have sinned (i.e. everyone else). God's wrath is turned away from us and delivered to Christ instead. This upholds God's sense of Justice (so the theory goes) because the punishment for sin has been meted out.

But, as Nick points out, that is not what propitiation even means. Propitiation means "to (re)gain another's favor." Etymologically it refers to making another gracious toward you. In the 1st century it referred to appeasing pagan gods through sacrifice. These sacrifices neutralised these pagan gods.

The thing is, nowhere do we find the actual wrath of these pagan gods actually being vented. The idea was not that someone else received the wrath. The wrath was not "turned away (to someone else)." Rather the gods repented of the wrath due to sacrifice.

And so, it seems you cannot really have both propittiation and Psub. You can say God vented wrath upon Christ, but in that case the wrath was not turned away, it actually occurred (just not on us). Or, you can say that propitiation occurred because of any number of reasons ("Jesus, the new Adam, was faithful unto death and hence caused God to repent of the wrath humanity deserved" is but one of many, many options).

If you say "God sacrificed Jesus as a sacrifice to Godself, and that appeased God." then we have lost the substitution aspect because now Jesus is not being punished due to our sins but rather as a blemishless sacrifice. Jesus can either be a sinless sacrifice to appease (propitiate) God, Jesus can "absorb" or have "transferred to Him" the sin of mankind and suffer in mankind's place, but you cannot have it both ways. In the first case we have propitiation. In the second we have substitution.

And this really gets back to another observation: the only sacrifice in the OT that involved transfer of sin was the scapegoat sacrifice (and the "live bird" sacrifice for lepers, perhaps), and that is the one sacrifice that was not killed. And for very good reason: had the sacrifice died in the camp, it would have defiled the camp. The scapegoat was meant to "take away" the sin, not merely suffer for them. The lamb that was sacrificed would have defiled the temple (rather than cleansing it) if it had sins transferred to it. [See Leviticus 16:21-22]

Jesus is not mentioned once as a scapegoat offering, which is odd, as He is mentioned as almost every other type [passover, sin offering, guilt offering, burnt offering come to my mind without looking].

So, those who adhere to Penal Substitution need to come up with a different term because what they claim is happening does not fit the meaning of "propitiation."

If you absolutely want to make Jesus a scapegoat and want to adhere to penal substitution, then you should no longer consider Jesus' death as a sacrifice. The "sacrifice" would then be God's releasing Jesus into the hands of men (Luke 22:53 and note Jesus words to Pilate in John 19:11).

There is actually some support for this notion, as it makes more sense of the "three days and three nights in the belly of the earth" prophecy. The idea is that Jesus time in "the belly of the earth" was the time He was within the power of humanity to do what they pleased.

Thus we have an odd role-reversal here. In cultic Judaism, the sins are placed on the goat and let loose for God to punish. Now God (in Jesus) is given the sins of humanity and let loose for humanity to punish. In this sense, God was not sacrificing Jesus to Godself but rather was sacrificing Jesus to mankind to do with what they desire.

NOTE: I'm not supporting the above theology...just presenting the sort of atonement theology you have to accept if you really want a "substitution" atonement where sins are transferred to Jesus. Now, if you do not want the actual sin transferred to Jesus. Most Penal Substitution types adhere to this type [where both sin and punishment are commuted to Jesus], but one could allow for a type of Penal Substitution wherein the sins were not transferred to Christ while God's wrath was. I know this sounds like God is then being unjust, for Christ is now being punished for sins Jesus never did...even statutorily. But I think a case could be made for it. There are other examples where someone bore the burden/consequences/punishment of a sin without bearing the guilt. Indeed, that is how Athanasius saw original sin. We all bore the consequence of Adam's rebellion but not Adam's guilt.


Dan Martin said...

VERY interesting point, Dave (and Nick). While it's not classic PSA (or maybe BECAUSE it's not. . .), your theory actually has a ring of sense to it. Try this additional modification on for size (part of my trial balloon on Warfare World View atonement):

What if God released Jesus (or Jesus submitted himself--closer to my thoughts), not to humanity alone, but to the powers that had humanity in their grasp? And not to carry sins, so much as to absorb the consequence (penalty?) for rebellion--death at the hands of the powers and those humans in their thrall?

What the powers didn't know about was (to borrow Lewis' phrase) the "deeper magic from before the dawn of time. . ." in which the innocent victim of the powers would in fact be raised from dead and break their stranglehold.

I'm not fully convinced yet, I really consider this a working hypothesis, but a close friend and I have been wrestling with this one for a while, and a lot of things seem to have fallen into place in surprising and beautiful ways, once we looked at the possibility that the wrath in question wasn't God's. . .

Nick said...


Thanks for mentioning this point about propitiation, I can't believe this view is so common among those who embrace Psub. It is more amazing when they quote passages like 1 John 2:2 (which speaks of propitiation) and read it as Psub!

One neat detail I just noticed about the scapegoat:
"Lev 16:10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat."

I've never noticed it before, but the text applies "atonement" to this event...No death occurs, just sending it off makes atonement!
Many will say the implication is that the goat will be killed in the wilderness (eg wild animals), my response is that the text says nothing about it's death, that isn't important.

Another point I've noticed in the past is that the killing of the sacrifice and the making of atonement are not the same event. So as an example in Lev 16:14f, the goat is slaughtered, but that's not where atonement is made, it's made when the blood is taken and sprinkled. This removes the emphasis away from the death itself (where Psub is focused) and places it on the value of life. This is even more brought out for the other sacrifices where the priest is the one who makes atonement by sprinkling but the priest is not the one who kills that animal.

I realize you don't endorse what I'm saying on this point, but I'd like to know what is leading you to the conclusion that God's wrath had to be vented on Christ at all? It seems totally unnecessary to me. For my view of propitiation, it shouldn't be seen even as a pagan god who has bipolar in regards to wrath that needs to be appeased, but more along the lines of Jesus making reparations through an act of love of infinite value.

1 John 3:16 says:
"This is how we know what love is:
Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.
And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers."

The term "for" here is the 'huper' term which many Psub advocates say means "in place of" when in fact "on behalf of" fits the evidence better. In the case of this verse, it is clear Psub cannot be the meaning of "lay down life for" because Christians are called to "lay down our life for" others. While the value of the "laying down" need not be the same, the nature of it needs to be, otherwise John is equivocating.

Steve said...

Very good analyses, Dave. I myself am totally against any notions of Jesus' death being a sacrifice, atonement, punishment, or anything else smacking of the notion that "Christ died for our sins." These things all turn my stomach. Yeah, I know the Bible teaches it--but these teachings are not found in the gospels. It's Paul and the other epistle writers who gave us these grotesque teachings. And I don't feel in any way compelled to accept these teachings as truth, after having read and studied them for well over thirty years.

David Rudel said...

I'm unconvinced as to the importance of focusing on the "powers and principalities" here, but to me the issue is not whether Jesus was given over to them but rather the means by which His death and resurrection defeated them.

Rather than say that God was trying to appease these powers and forces (which suggests they have actual rights and God had a need to appease them), can't the whole thing be cast in terms of Jesus as obedient leader?

We are told Jesus and His later-persecuted disciples "share" the same cup. I'm not sure how much we can press that single reed, but if we do press it, can we not say that Jesus was killed as a martyrdom to Christian living, and that death (as well as His entire life beforehand) proved His absolute merit and for that reason God gives Him everything.

And for that reason, Jesus can pray to the Father to send the Spirit. [Just as Moses interceded for Israel]

So, the "Powers" can have their role, but not in the sense of a special status that allows for special petitions before God.

Just some thoughts on that.

David Rudel said...

Sorry I think I might have conflated your comment with Dan's. With regard to my thoughts on God's wrath needing to be addressed, see my comment in the Matthew thread.

You'll notice the reasoning is rather separate from anything regarding the cultic sacrificial system.

Dan Martin said...

OK, I need to clarify my terminology, because you point out an important weakness in the way I said it. God wasn't trying to appease the Powers (though they may have thought so). He was actually subverting them. Death--demanded of humanity who gave themselves (ourselves) over to serve the Powers by seizing our own perceived "sovereignty" instead of God's--This death was the result and demand of the powers, for all those in allegiance to them. It was, in a very negative way, the birthright of fallen humanity.

Jesus submitted himself to that birthright when he submitted to becoming human, but his (and the Father's) intent all along was to break death by passing through it and out the other side. . .not as an appeasement to the Powers, to whom God owes nothing, but rather as an assault on their flank.

In this view, sin is relevant in that it shifted our allegiance from God to his enemies, but it is not so much the atonement of sin per se, but rather the repair of the damage it did, which Jesus death AND RESURRECTION accomplished. In other words, he died to rise and destroy death. He "died to save sinners" not so much by atoning their sin or appeasing anybody, but by breaking the chains that bound the sinners to their temporal masters. It was actually a very subversive invasion of hostile territory.

I haven't unpacked the "sharing the same cup" thing; frankly I never thought about it till Nick suggested it, and I think it does have merit. In this model (which I stress is still a working model), I can see a possibility that any time a faithful follower of Jesus dies a martyr's death, they are again re-stating the confidence that Jesus has defeated death and it is therefore a weapon that holds no threat. . .

Anonymous said...

Jesus did not atone for any ones sins. That is a myth and a lie.

Bro B

Steve said...

I agree with Bro B.

Mofi said...

David, thanks for some interesting thoughts. My understanding has always been that Jesus became sin for us; meaning that our sins was put on Him and then our penalty was poured out on Him on the cross. Maybe too standard to be interesting but sometimes people get excited about something new and lose track of the beauty that was in the old view.

I think seeing the penalty for sin as death clears up a lot of confusion. When the punishment is eternal torment in fire; the cross seems very strange indeed and all ideas of transferring God's wrath upon Jesus become strange indeed.

I am supposed to do a Bible study in my church tomorrow and the study can be found here: GraceMy friend called me an hour ago and told me that his Mormon friends have decided to come to church so I am wondering about your thoughts on this. Grace as you understand it; grace as you see it in the study ( if you have time ) and then grace as Mormons understand it.

If you don't have time I totally understand; just curious to hear your thoughts and wondering how I should deal with grace when Mormons are among those who are listening.

David Rudel said...

Hi Mofi,

I am honored you would ask my opinion on the question of how to speak with LDS/Mormons. I don't have a solid understanding of what the term grace means to that sect, but I'm reasonably sure that they believe God "provided redemption" through Jesus.

With regard to my views on "grace," I think I will put that in a separate blog post.

Finally I wanted to comment on the www.helltruth.com page, or at least the "The With of Endor" video, which I watched today. I think many of my remarks will apply to the other sites as well.

First, I should say flat out that I'm not a big fan of the "you go to heaven when you die" idea, and I think many of the things the preacher said were accurate. But I don't think the case is as clear a he presents it. Here are some problems I see with what he had to say:

A. The use of "soul" in the OT.
The term "soul" has changed in meaning over the years. I [personally] see the notion of a soul as "having the capacity to hold a spirit."
The issue is that in the OT there was no such term. The word we see translated as "soul" is really the same word as that which is translated "life" "creature" or "person." It's all the same term. Thus, rather than press any verse that would suggest "all creatures have souls" it would probably be best simply not to appeal to these words for proof about what exactly a "soul" is, for that is simply a matter of semantics.
[this does, of course, support what the pastor says later about the Bible not preaching on the immortality of the soul...such a phrase could not even be linguistically meaningful using the Greek/Hebrew available.]
Note that the Bible does preach on this notion of the "capacity to house a spirit." That is, after all, how someone could be possessed. It is also relevant to being able to receive the Holy Spirit once our "souls" my definition] are consecrated and strengthened [new wineskins for new wine.]

B. Spirit versus breath.
Similar issue here. The word for "spirit" is the same for the word for "breath," but that does not suggest that our life is merely God's breath.
There are certainly individual spirits portrayed in the Bible [Judges 9:23] and Numbers 14:24 shows that the "spirit" that is within us not merely a generic "spirit of life" [for otherwise it is impossible for someone to have a different type of spirit than another].

Furthermore, Job 26:5 speak of "departed spirits" trembling under the waters. If our "spirit" were just the life-breath of God, that would make no sense.

C. Use of wisdom literature. You will notice that practically all of the two dozen or so verses that were cited were quotations from wisdom literature. [Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Psalms, Job]

Wisdom literature needs to be understood as the opinion of the person writing it. If we held everything in wisdom literature to the same standard that we hold, say, actual prophets speaking God's word to Israel, we would arrive at hopeless contradictions.

The wisdom literature is important, because it shows that Jews up until Isaiah had no conception of a bodily afterlife. However, we should not take a psalm of David as having the same authority as part of the Bible narrative or a word of God directly from a prophet's mouth.

D. The Witch of Endor
Here is the biggest issue. Unlike the other quotes, the discussion of the spiritual medium that Saul consults is actually part of the Biblical narrative. I believe you will find that the Bible does not say that this was a fake vision. The indication is that this really is Samuel and the medium really did get some revelation from him.

There are several reasons for this:
1. The Bible does not say this was a fake. It says "Samuel spoke to Saul." [1st Samuel 28:15] How could Samuel speak if this were all a trick? It says "The woman saw Samuel."[1st Samuel 28:12] There is no indication that this was "hocus pocus" or a faker.

2. Saul was disguised in this story (because he had outlawed divination). And it is only after the seer sees Samuel that she identifies that it is Saul who has come [1st Samuel 28:12]. Obviously, this suggests that she really saw something, and that something really informed her of something she did not already know.

3. The utterance given turns out to be true, and there is nothing in the narrative to suggest that this was not a true prophecy given by an actual spirit. There is no mixture of truth and lies here. There is no deception.

E. Nitpicks:
1."gods ascending out of the earth" is not a problem. The word "god" is sometimes used to refer to a person who is not God.
2.No scripture claims Satan was ever an Angel. We are told Satan has been a "sinner" and a "murderer" from the beginning (though one could ask what the latter even means).
3.It is generally accepted that Christ's action may have altered the rules about the grave, where He may have preached afterward [1st Peter 3:19, which is open to interpretation.]
4.The discussion of the resurrection is not really moot here because the whole point is whether spirits may roam the planes between now and the Judgment. (and also recall there are two separate resurrections: Revelation 20:5 and Revelation 20:13. Taking Revelation literally, they are separated by 1000 years.

Mofi said...

Dave, thanks for your response; very interesting. I like the way you wrestle with issues; maybe it's because I am a programmer like you so maybe we like to solve theological issues in similar ways we solve programming problems :)

DavidSimilar issue here. The word for "spirit" is the same for the word for "breath," but that does not suggest that our life is merely God's breathNot merely God's breath but a being that has God's breath to energize it so that it's alive.

That being has a spirit and it can be good or bad, depending on the person. This can then be confused to spirit beings like angels or devils. Like in the example of Judges 9:23, it doesn't seem to be a spirit being but some kind of an attitude that the person get's.

In that verse we see something that confuses a lot of people; I still find it confusing, but that is the idea that God was actually doing something actively to an individual. Like God hardening Faros heart, like it was God's fault that Israel was not allowed to go. But that's a totally different topic...

DavidC. Use of wisdom literature.This comment surprised me. I don't feel comfortable with dismissing these books as just personal opinions of David and Solomon. I do think you have a point that it's hard to give it the same authority as when a prophet proclaims "God said".

But what hopeless contradictions do you have in mind?

If we look at the statements they make concerning the state of the dead; do you find it contradicting other statements found in the Bible?

DavidI believe you will find that the Bible does not say that this was a fake vision. The indication is that this really is Samuel and the medium really did get some revelation from him.It's true the Bible doesn't say it was a fake vision but it also doesn't state that it was a true vision.

We have here three choices:

1. The witch was bluffing.
2. The witch saw a demon spirit which then bluffed the both of them.
3. The witch had the power to raise Samuel and it really was Samuel.

Of these I believe number 2 is the most likely to be the truth.

First God had given strict orders not to consult with witches or the dead. Secondly the spirit that claimed to be Samuel said the witch had the power to raise him but the Bible is clear that only Jesus has the power to raise people from death. Thirdly Saul died unsaved and committed suicide and the spirit said that he and Samuel would be with together in the afterlife. That can't be true, that Samuel a beloved prophet of God would be with Saul in the here after.

Also interesting to remember that the Bible says that the devil has the ability to transform him self into an angel of light so transforming him self into looking like the prophet Samuel to a witch should be easy enough for him.

Interesting nitpicks, though nothingthat I would start a new church over :)

Tyrone Palmer said...

Jesus was a propitiatory sacrifice, He was an unblemished and sinless sacrificial lamb sacrificed in our stead to appease the wrath of God. Hebrews 10:4-5 Hebrews 10:4-5(KJV)
"4For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.5Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me:" Jesus knew He was going to be sent by God to save mankind and He willingly gave His body to pay the penalty of sin, so that believers would be able to have a relationship with God and to purchase for us a New Covenant.

Dan Martin said...

You're conflating concepts that don't belong together, Tyrone. Hebrews tells us of Jesus' sacrifice as cleansing (rather like what we see in Leviticus), but never once is that sacrifice described in Hebrews as "appeasing the wrath of God." That concept is an extrabiblical superimposition on the text. "Propitiation" and "cleansing" are not one and the same, and particularly the latter has nothing to do with appeasing wrath.

To clarify: Hebrews 10:1-2 refers to the sacrifices' inability to "make the comers thereunto perfect" (v1 KJV), and to the worshippers being "purged" (v2). The referent in these verses is the sinner, not God's wrath. It is pure speculation to tie the two together on the basis of Hebrews 10.

Mofi said...

When we read about the punishment of sin like in Jude where Sodom and Gomorrah are our example of the punishment of sin then when Jesus pays the fine for sin or becomes sin for us it's logical to express it in terms of Him suffering because of what the punishment of sin will be for sinners.

Should it be in terms of God's wrath or anger; maybe not but I understand people who do use those words.

David Rudel said...


This is going to get sorta long ;)

David, thanks for some interesting thoughts. My understanding has always been that Jesus became sin for us; meaning that our sins was put on Him and then our penalty was poured out on Him on the cross. Maybe too standard to be interesting but sometimes people get excited about something new and lose track of the beauty that was in the old view.

The thing is, that is not really an "old" view, at least not as old as other views. You won't find that understanding in the writings of the early Church fathers, at least not the first few hundred years. Nor is this cosmic exchange ever stated in the Bible. Note how Matthew describes Christ's work in Matthew 8:16-17. This shows even Isaiah 53 does not indicate a true transfer of guilt or punishment. [a transfer of guilt/punishment that is absolutely absent from every single discussion of the Judgment in the entire Bible!]

But what hopeless contradictions do you have in mind?

[This was in reference to my point that we have to be careful how we take "wisdom literature" because often the narrative simply describes what the person whose words are being recorded believed about something. If the Bible says that Job said "X" it does not mean "X" is true...it just means that Job said it.

A major example would, for example, Ecc 3:19-22, which claims humans have no hope of life after death. King Hezekiah says that the dead cannot hope for God's faithfulness [Isaiah 38:18].

It's true the Bible doesn't say it was a fake vision but it also doesn't state that it was a true vision.

I disagree. The Bible does say it is a true vision. It does not say "The person who looked like Samuel." It says "she saw Samule." It says "the words of Samuel..." over and over again it says the person speaking is Samuel. At least 5 times the being who was called up is referenced as Samuel.

First God had given strict orders not to consult with witches or the dead.

That's true, but that does not mean we should instantly assume those who did were wicked. Recall that Joseph himself performed divination. (Genesis 44:5) And in Isaiah 3:2 diviners are grouped with positive elements of the state.

Secondly the spirit that claimed to be Samuel said the witch had the power to raise him but the Bible is clear that only Jesus has the power to raise people from death.

That's not true at all. Old Testament prophets raised people from the dead, so did Paul and Peter. But that's not really what is being described here. They raised people BODILY to new life. What is discussed here is simply conversing with the dead. There is no indication that this was/is impossible Indeed, there would be no need for a law against such things if they were impossible to do.

Thirdly Saul died unsaved and committed suicide and the spirit said that he and Samuel would be with together in the afterlife. That can't be true, that Samuel a beloved prophet of God would be with Saul in the here after.

I believe you will find that even the preacher whose video you asked me to watch would agree that everyone does go to the same place. That is, in fact, what one of the earlier quotes I mentioned says. Peter says the same thing in Acts 2:29. David, as beloved as he was, went to the same place everyone else did.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that that scripture the pastor in the video reference as his defense for saying the woman was being deceived refers to a particular situation that occurred after the events in 1st Samuel. Look at the context of 1st Kings 22:22 and it shows that God is not referring to something that had been going on all along but a specific choice made at a specific time [well after Saul!] to accomplish a specific purpose.

David Rudel said...

Sorry, had to break my comment in two because it got past the 4096 character limit.

Should it be in terms of God's wrath or anger; maybe not but I understand people who do use those words.

The people who express it in those terms are often very adamant that it must be thought of as God's actual wrath and that any other understanding is a "watered down" version.

David Rudel said...

To add to what Dan mentioned, the writer of Hebrews specifically has cleansing in mind [see Hebrews 9:22 and Hebrews 9:9].

But, putting away Hebrews for a bit, the question remains "In what way would Jesus' death appease God's wrath?"

If you say "Because Jesus took our place and suffered the wrath that was for us," then that is not appeasement at all. The wrath was still meted out. While people call that propitiation, it really isn't.

If you say, however, that Christ died because evil men who had no heart for God killed Him, and in so doing Jesus showed everyone who perfect He was...and that appeased God [in much the same way as Moses did Exodus 32:32], then that is propitiation, but obviously there is nothing like Penal Substitution there.

And that is the point of my post...what people call "propitiation" isn't propitiation at all. This is more than mere semantics because those who try to press for this "Wrath Re-directed" view attempt to justify it [partially] by the meaning of the word translated "atonement" or "propitiation" in the Bible...but the meaning of that word (as shown by its use in other contexts) is not this notion of wrath redirected.

So, we have a meaning being pressed upon us of a word that never meant what people try to tell you it did. The word that is translated "atonement" may very well mean propitiation (by examining how the term is used in other instances), but it doesn't mean "redirect punishment from one object to another," which is what people have been cajoled into believing.

The term that is translated "atonement" or "propitiation" was most commonly used in reference to items sacrificed to Gods [no surprise there], but it didn't have the idea that the sacrificed item was bearing the disfavor of the god/idol in question. It was rather that the sacrifice was causing the god/idol to change its mind and develop a heart of graciousness to the people. That is, in fact, the root of the word "propitiation." It literally means "to cause one to be gracious towards."

"propitiation" does not mean the wrath gets spent elsewhere, it means it never gets spent at all. [Just like in the numerous examples in the Old Testament.]