Redemption Reconsidered

Author: Dwight A. Pryor
THE NEW TESTAMENT knows nothing of a “Theory of Atonement.”
That Jesus’ eath was an atoning sa!rifi!e is affirme re"eate#y in the A"osto#i!
Writings $e.g.% &om. ':()* + John (:(* He,. (:+-.. /ut how Messiah’s eath an
resurre!tion sa0es us from sin an re!on!i#es us to 1o% an why the A#mighty !hose this
metho to a!hie0e su!h an en is #eft une2"#aine.
The nee for a #ogi!a# e2"#anation "ro0e far more "ressing to the Western% &oman
minset than to the first3!entury Jewish a"ost#es. An e#e0enth3!entury "hi#oso"her name
Anse#m% the Ar!h,isho" of 4anter,ury% "ro"ose a o!trine of atonement that ser0es as
the stanar in 4hristian theo#ogy to this ay. 4a##e the “Satisfa!tion” theory% Anse#m
a0erre that Jesus’ eath “satisfies” the honor 1o is ue as 4reator an 5ing% a
res"onsi,i#ity ee"#y ,rea!he ,y the sin of Aam an su,se6uent humankin. As our
re"resentati0e% Messiah ies for us. His sin#ess #ife an se#f#ess sa!rifi!e restore to 1o
the honor an g#ory ue His name an there,y e2"iates our offenses.
A 0ariation on Anse#m’s o!trine is the "re0ai#ing 7rotestant "araigm% !a##e the
“7ena#” theory% in whi!h the em"hasis is not so mu!h on 1o’s honor as His 8usti!e.
4onstraine ,y the righteous emans of His a,so#ute 8usti!e% 1o !annot sim"#y e2!use
humanity’s sin an re,e##ion. The wages of sin must ,e "ai% the wrath of a ho#y 1o
must ,e "ro"itiate% so that He !an a!t fa0ora,#y towar us an forgi0e. 9n this moe#
Jesus ies instead of us% as our su,stitute:taking u"on himse#f the "ena#ty for sins
righteous#y re6uire ,y ;i0ine 8usti!e.
THE<&9ES /= NAT>&E TEN; T< 49&4>MS4&9/E an thus #imit the rea#ity ,eing
efine. These theories of atonement% for e2am"#e% reu!e the essentia# sa0ing work of
Messiah to a #ega# transa!tion $8ustifi!ation.% with the fo!us ,eing the ini0iua#’s sin an
gui#t.
The New Testament ,y !ontrast is"#ays a more fu##3or,e 0iew of atonement. 9t
es!ri,es the mu#ti"#e fa!ets of the sa0ing work of 1o in Messiah not in theories ,ut
through a series of images or motifs rawn from the He,rew s!ri"tures. Justifi!ation an
E2"iation are among them% though far from ominant. <thers in!#ue: 4onf#i!t an
?i!tory o0er E0i#% &ansom an @i,eration% Sa!rifi!es an Suffering% &e!on!i#iation% an
Ao"tion into a Aami#y.
9mages e0oke an in0ite. They are winows into whi!h we !an gaBe an oors through
whi!h we !an wa#k to e2"#ore the mu#tiimensiona# mysteries of the work of 1o an
His S"irit. When% for e2am"#e% John the /a"tiBer e!#are% “/eho# the @am, of 1o
who takes away the sin of the wor#” $John +:(C.% e0o!ations of 7asso0er an Tem"#e
Sa!rifi!es wou# ha0e resonate ee"#y in the hearts of his auien!e.
THE 7ASS<?E& M<T9A% a"ro"os to this season% is "regnant with im"#i!ations an
a""#i!ations that are "rofoun#y re#e0ant to e0ery ,e#ie0er’s wa#k of faith. Here are three
e2am"#es that re!ei0e #itt#e noti!e within the !#assi!a# E0ange#i!a# "ur0iew.
+D 7asso0er esta,#ishes a reem"ti0e "araigm of gra!e $!ontra the ,ias that “Jews know
nothing of gra!e on#y @aw”.. The A#mighty i not sen Moses to the ens#a0e 9srae#ites
with the Ten 4ommanments in han% saying% “9f you wi## kee" these #aws 9 wi## sa0e
youE” &e0e#ation $with !on!omitant res"onsi,i#ity. follows reem"tion% an ,oth are
ri0en ,y gra!e.
(D 9srae# was sa0e in orer to raw near an ser0e their &eeemer in this world.
&eem"tion !reate a covenant community that wou# san!tify the name of the true an
#i0ing 1o here and now. E0ange#i!a#ism tens to efine reem"tion "rimari#y as a legal
transaction% fo!use a#most e2!#usi0e#y u"on the individual% with the goa# ,eing the
world to come. &e0e#ation is of se!onary signifi!an!e* is!i"#eshi" is o"tiona#.
'D 9n !#assi!a# 4hristian theories of atonement we are free from the wrath of God. The
!ore issue !onfronte in the origina# 7asso0er howe0er was freeom from an ens#a0ing
evil power. 9n this #ight re!onsier He,rews (:+F3+)% that the 7ioneer of our sa#0ation
"artook of human nature that “through eath he might estroy him who has the "ower of
eath% that is% the e0i#% an e#i0er a## those who through fear of eath were su,8e!t to
#ife#ong ,onage.”
All the moe#s of reem"tion an atonement image in the New Testament are treasures
to ,e e2"#ore an truths to ,e affirme. A fu##er an more faithfu# image of 1o our
Aather wi## there,y emerge.
G (H+F The 4enter for Juai!34hristian Stuies.
A## rights reser0e.

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