In a Facebook discussion I had with a Jesus-Did-Not-Die-Vicariously brother several years ago, I said:
In Galatians 3:13, Paul wrote, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’).” Then, in 1 Peter 2:24, we are told that Jesus “bore our sins in His own body on the tree [i.e., the cross].” Do not these passages, when coupled with Isaiah 53, convey the idea that Jesus suffered and died in our stead?
He replied: “Not when considered in the context of the rest of the Bible. They do however convey the idea that Jesus suffered and died on our behalf.” I probed further: “And what context in the rest of the Bible are you referring to?” He responded by saying: “The rest of the Bible that teaches Jesus died as a sacrifice NOT as a substitute (cf. John 1:29-37),” to which I replied:
Yes, by all means, Jesus was the perfect-Lamb-without-blemish sacrifice offered up for us on the cross of Calvary, as the Scriptures clearly teach. Consequently, while it is perfectly acceptable for one to preach and teach that Jesus paid the price for our sins because He was the perfectly sinless blood sacrifice for our sins, serving as the means to our redemption, it is, nevertheless, important to understand that this imagery does not fully exhaust God’s description of this sacrifice, and certainly does not exclude the substitutionary atonement.
As an example, I cited 2 Corinthians 5:21, where Paul says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” The critics of the idea that Jesus died vicariously (i.e., in our place) have called “nonsense” the idea that this passage, along with others, is teaching that Jesus actually took upon Himself our sins, thus paying in full the price for our pardon by being “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
Propitiation, Expiation, Or Both
As already noted, whether this death of Jesus was vicarious (viz., substitutionary) has now become a point of contention among brethren. This was precipitated, at least in part, by C. H. Dodd’s definition in 1935 of the Greek word ἱλαστήριος (hilastērion) as “expiation,” which up to that time had been translated in our English Bibles as “propitiation” (C. H. Dodd, The Bible and the Greeks, 1935, pp. 82-95). We see his influence reflected in the RSV’s 1952 translation of Romans 3:25a, which reads, “whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood” (emphasis mine). Although many can’t tell the difference between these two words, that difference is significant, as I hope to demonstrate.
It wasn’t very long before Dodd and Leon L. Morris locked horns over this in the 1950s-60s (cf. Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 3rd revised ed., 1965). As already stated, Dodd insisted hilastērion meant “expiation” rather than propitiation, as in the expiation (i.e., removal) of sins, while Morris was convinced the term meant “propitiation,” as in Jesus’ suffering and death resolved and pacified God’s judicial wrath against sinners. Morris was eventually backed up by the Anglian and noted Evangelical John Stott in his 1986 book The Cross of Christ (referenced in Matthew Black, Romans, New Century Bible, 1973), p. 68). Since then, it has become standard Evangelical theology to contend for a propitiatory atonement (cf. “Atonement—Propitiation, Expiation,” http://nextreformation.com/?p=8496). Most brethren, correctly rejecting the propitiatory view of the Calvinists, have nevertheless believed that Jesus’ death on the cross was, indeed, propitiatory.
But not all Evangelicals accepted the propitiatory view. One of these was the influential Anglian C. F. D. Moule. He argued that when the “halis-procedures,” as he called them, are referred to in the NT, God is never identified as the recipient of such actions, and for the word to mean the “propitiation” or “appeasement” of God, God would have to be the recipient. He went on to say that whenever the initiator or subject of the action is used in the NT, God is always the initiator, never the recipient. He mentioned Romans 3:25, as previously quoted, and 1 John 4:10, the latter of which reads, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins” as examples (emphasis mine), which are passages we’ll take a closer look as this study progresses. He concluded by saying:
If, then, God is the subject or originator, not the object or recipient, of hilas-procedures, it is manifestly inappropriate to translate them as propitiatory; one is driven to use a word such as ‘expiatory,’ which has as its object not propitiating a wrathful God but removing a barrier (Patrick Moule (author), Robert Morgan (editor), Christ Alive and at Large: The Unpublished Writings of C. F. D. Moule, Canterbury Studies in Spiritual Theology, 2011, p. 114).
Finally, “Nowhere in the NT,” he claimed, “is it said that the wrath of God was satisfied by the death of Jesus” (Ibid.).
As there are those among us who have taken up Dodd’s and Moule’s “expiation, not propitiation” chant (viz., “No matter how the word [hilastērion] is translated the object is still our sins and not God’s wrath” (quote from a recent Facebook discussion by brethren on the Substitutionary Death of Jesus debate), it behooves us to investigate just how well such assertions hold up.
The idea that hilastērion should be translated as “expiation” (RSV, NEB) completely misses the point Paul is making in Romans 3:25. He had already made it clear that God’s wrath against sinners is a fact that must be dealt with for both Gentiles (Romans 1:18-32) and Jews (Romans 2:1-3:20). Yes, clearly the expiation or remission of sins is on the table when it comes to God’s grand scheme of redemption, but before sins can be expiated or removed there must first be a way to placate God’s wrath, and in the Greek language this was the work of hilastērion or propitiation. As Romans 3:25-26 makes clear, this was a role Jesus played in the redemption of fallen man. But as indicated, it was certainly not the only role He played. Without Him being the hilastērion there was absolutely no way sinful man could be reconciled/redeemed. So even though it has become popular in some sections to reject the idea of a wrathful God in favor of one who is all-loving, the faithful student of God’s word cannot, with integrity intact, deny the wrathful side of God’s character.
Indeed, the best way to view God’s wrath is to think of it “as not essentially different from his holiness, but as holiness itself in its confrontation with actual sin” (Jack Cottrell, What The Bible Says About God The Redeemer 1987, p. 275). In other words, God’s righteous anger is the manifestation of a righteous Judge who cannot tolerate sin of any sort. But if this is true (and it is), then how was it that Paul, who describes himself as the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), could say, with any assurance, “Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8)? The answer is, he could do so because of the gospel he believed and taught to others—the very basis of which he described in Romans 3:24b-26 as:
Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, (26) to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
In other words, and as frank as I know how to be, without propitiation (hilastērion) in connection with the blood of Christ, God cannot be just when justifying (forgiving) sinners. Please catch my drift here, as it is extremely important. God, because HE IS WHO HE IS (Exodus. 3:14), could not save man “just any old way!” In order to be just when justifying sinners, God, the righteous Judge, whose righteous law had to be vindicated, was Himself compelled to provide the propitiation that would be able to placate His righteous wrath. Thus, the divine Logos, who was with God and was God had to take upon Himself flesh, live a perfect life of obedience to God the Father, suffering and dying a cursed death on a cruel tree outside of the gates of Jerusalem some two thousand years ago. This is what Paul was talking about when he said, in Galatians 3:13, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE’).”
So, contrary to Dodd and Moule, God was both the initiator and recipient of hilastērion, as well as the hilastērion Himself.
In 1 John 4:10, a different, but equivalent, word is used (hilasmos): “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Therefore, if we really what to get blown away by the magnificence of God’s love toward us, then we need to get our minds wrapped around the fact that He loved us so much that He was willing to do for us, from start to finish, what we, as sinners, were unable to do for ourselves. Indeed, when it comes to our reconciliation to God and the forgiveness of our sins, God did it all, praise be to Him!
Therefore, and contrary to Dodd and Moule, if God was both the initiator and recipient of hilastērion, as well as Himself the hilastērion or halismon, then we have every reason to reject their bold assertion that the wrath of God was not one of the things that needed to be factored into God’s justification of sinners. Truth is, this is the very thing Paul is writing about in Romans 3:21-26, which says:
But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, (22) even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; (23) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (24) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (25) whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, (26) to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Without the propitiation (appeasement or satisfying) of the righteous Judge’s judicial wrath, there can be no remission of sins—a feat that was simply not possible without the shedding of blood (or death) of Jesus of Nazareth, the Father’s only begotten Son (cf. Hebrews 9:22-28). As such, He “was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9). That is, He was made a little lower than the angels in order to “suffer” (“taste”) death “for.” “on behalf of,” or “in place of” (huper, #G5228 ) every man. It is in this sense that Jesus of Nazareth, who was perfectly sinless in all His doings, was made “sin for us.” Again, the word “for” here is huper and could just as well have been translated as “on behalf of” or “in place of.” Nevertheless, these last two translations, particularly the latter, are vigorously opposed by those who do not believe Jesus died in our stead or place.
It should be clear from these passages along with the correct interpretation of Hebrews 2:9, that the Father “treated as sin” His Son, “who knew no sin.” All sorts of “red herrings” have been thrown in our path by the Jesus-didn’t-die-vicariously brethren concerning this passage. One of these has to do with how Jesus, who was sinless, could “become” a sinner. This, of course, has nothing to do with the correct exegesis of this passage. Instead, such serves only to call into question a passage that stands in the way of those who want to deny that Jesus suffered any sort of judicial wrath from His Father when willingly sacrificing Himself on the cross for us; namely, the idea that says, “It is not God that is propitiated but our sins.” However, the one who so argues propitiation does not even believe the Bible says anything about such a concept. Instead, he advocates expiation, which although related, is an entirely different concept.
(Please make a note of the fact that I do not deny the concept of expiation. Without the expiation or removal of sin, we cannot be saved. The Bible teaches that BOTH propitiation AND expiation are absolutely necessary for us to be saved by grace through faith. Thus, when speaking of propitiation and expiation, it is not “either-or,” as some think, but “both-and,” as the Bible teaches. This is because there’s simply no way God can be just in justifying sinners (i.e., by forgiving or expiating sin) unless, and until, His judicial wrath has been appeased. Accordingly, propitiation is but one aspect of fallen man’s problem. Another facet is the actual expiation (or forgiveness) of our sins. Although these two aspects of saving grace may be spoken of separately, they are connected, when it comes to God’s grand scheme of redemption, via the precious blood of Jesus Christ.)
We’ll pick up here in the next post in this series.