Monday, February 25, 2008

Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

The ongoing xmedia debate of my 'sadism' (cross/hell) talk at Exeter is starting to get to the heart of the issue. They say: "To interpret [hilasmos] as "God sent his son to die in our place so we wouldn’t be condemned to hell" is, again, to interpret what the Bible actually says to fit in with a specific doctrine. Throughout the works of the Church Fathers this word, hilasmos, refers to the mercy seat, to the cleansing of sins, to forgiveness, to healing, not to a violent and bloody punishment."

I'm offered an apology at the start of that post. Accepted.

It should be said that this issue is an old one, debated most recently between liberalism and evangelicalism. See Adrian Warnock on Steve Chalke for example. The debate here arises from a talk I gave on behalf of the Evangelical Christian Union at Exeter University.

This is a critique of me using the translation propitiation (as the ESV does) or it's meaning in the NIV footnotes 'the one who would turn aside wrath, taking away sin' (NIV text goes with the nebulous 'sacrifice of atonement'). I didn't want to use the technical term in my talk so I paraphrased it using the meaning rather than the word itself.

This is with reference to 1 John 4v10 in my talk. Though the word also appears in Romans 3v25, 1 John 2v2 and Hebrews 2v17. It's not the only word used to describe what happened at the cross but is pretty vital as to why Jesus had to die.

The debate at xmedia suggests it's better historically to talk of the mercy seat or cleansing or forgivness or healing. This is no new debate. It raged in the past and it's been raging in the last few years (Steve Chalke etc). Let me say that cleansing and forgiveness and healing are wonderful effects of the cross. Propitiation is about God being made propitious - utterly favourable towards us. The question is how does the cross of Christ bring these benefits?

Considering the 'mercy seat' is appropriate. This is the place on the ark of the covenant where the blood sacrifices for sin would be put. So you can't really go for mercy seat without being bloody. Moreover blood does cleanse, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9v22 - see Hebrews 8-10, or indeed read the book of Leviticus, especially chapter 16 which sets out The Day of Atonement). That was the blood of burnt offerings which are offerings for the guilt of sin. Offerings in which the curse of death falls on an animal in the place of the people - just as the curse of death would fall on Jesus at the cross in the place of his people.

In this Jesus is both the sacrifice and the priest who takes the blood into the Most Holy Place (where the mercy seat is), not in the shadows of the OT law but in the reality (see Hebrews 8-10). He who bears wrath so that cleansing, forgiveness and healing can be secured. And more than that so can justification, adoption and the reconciliation of God's people to himself. Jesus taking us back into the Most Holy Place (Eden) with him to enjoy his infinite personal loving favour forever.

The context of Romans is about wrath and justice needing to be satisfied (horrendous offenses against God have been committed and should be punished by the holy God) - and it's by the death of Jesus that God is and is shown to be just and the justifier (i.e. he becomes propitious towards us). The context in 1 John is of love, which is also utterly appropriate since the purpose of the cross is salvation, justification... to adoption. Bringing us who were previously God's enemies into eternal perfect loving relationship with him, enjoying his blood-secured favour. Wrath and mercy meet at the cross of Christ.

Packer provides some excellent help here: It is impossible to focus the atonement properly until the biblical mode of Trinitarian and incarnational thought about Jesus Christ is embraced. The Trinitarian principle is that the three distinct persons within the divine unity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, always work inseparably together, as in creation, so in providence and in every aspect of the work of redemption.... Tellingly, Paul, having announced “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation (i.e., wrath-quencher) by his blood, to be received by faith,” goes on to say: “This was… to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:2-26, my emphasis). Just justification- justified justification- through the doing of justice in penal substitution is integral to the message of the gospel.

This reflects my approach of speaking first of Trinity then of the meaning of the cross. The charged leveled was that "To interpret [hilasmos] as "God sent his son to die in our place so we wouldn’t be condemned to hell" is, again, to interpret what the Bible actually says to fit in with a specific doctrine." Far from it, the local and wider biblical contexts tell me what the word means and from that I, with many others, derive this most precious of doctrines.

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