THE MASQUERADE OF PENAL SUBSTITUTION ASSUMPTIONS UNMASKED
DISSOLVING THE CHAINS OF PENAL SATISFACTION BY AN ALTERNATIVE
CONCATENATION OF DIALECTICAL QUERIES—A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT
oh alright, just some mind-altering brain-teasers for thinking outside the box for Heaven’s sake
Now I may be wrong, but…
What if sacrificial blood is directly associated with virtually every soteriological category in the New Testament? —
Forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:28; Eph. 1:7; Heb. 9:22)
Rescue from wrath (1 Thess. 1:10, cf. Rom. 5:9)
Life everlasting (John 6:53-58; 1 John 5:5-13,20)
Freedom from the law of slavery to sin and the fear of death (Rom. 8:2,21-23, cf. John 6:53-58,
5:21-26; 1 John 5:6-12,20; Heb. 2:10-3:6; Gal. 4:22-5:1; 1 Cor. 7:22-23, 6:20; Rev. 5:9, cf. 1 Pet. 1:18-19)
Procuring the church of God (Acts 20:28)
Atoning/protective shelter around sins (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:14-18; 1 John 1:7-2:2)
Justification (Rom. 5:9)
Salvation (Rom. 5:9)
Blessing (1 Cor. 10:16)
Deliverance/liberation (Eph. 1:7; [Col. 1:14;] Rom. 3:24-25; Heb. 9:15)
Nearness to God (Eph. 2:13)
Peacemaking with God and between Jew and Gentile (Col. 1:20; Eph. 2:13-14)
Reconciling the universe to Christ—earth and heaven, Jew and Gentile (Col. 1:20-22, cf. Eph. 2:16; Rom. 5:8-11)
Uniting Jew and Gentile into one new humanity, one body in Christ (Eph. 2:11-4:5; Col. 3:15)
Ministry in the Holy Places (Heb. 9:7-8,11-12,25-26, 10:19, 13:11)
Redemption everlasting (Heb. 9:12)
Hallowing/sanctifying us (Heb. 9:13, 10:29, 13:12)
Cleansing everything from sin (Heb. 9:13-14,19-23, 10:2; 1 John 1:7)
Obtaining the promised everlasting inheritance (Heb. 9:13-18, cf. Tit. 3:5-7; 1 Pet. 1:1-4)
Dedicating covenants (Heb. 9:15-18, 10:19-20)
Rejecting sin (Heb. 9:25-26)
Eliminating sin (Heb. 10:4, cf. 10:11)
Perfecting to finality those who have gotten sanctified (Heb. 10:12-22)
Making Passover to protect from the exterminator of the firstborn (Heb. 11:28)
Crying out for divine avenging for being murdered (Heb. 12:24, 11:4; Rev. 6:10, 19:2)
Leading up from the dead the Great Shepherd himself, the Lord Jesus (Heb. 13:20)
Ransoming from vain behavior (1 Pet. 1:19)
Conquering Satan (Rev. 12:9-11), the Wicked One (1 John 2:13-14) the world (1 John 5:4-8),
and deceiving spirits of Counter-Messiah not confessing Messiah Jesus (1 John 4:1-6)
Loosing from sins (Rev. 1:5)
Buying for God (Rev. 5:9)
Whitening robes for a right to the Tree of Life and holy city, New Jerusalem (Rev. 7:14, 22:14)
Accordingly, what if sacrificial blood is the authentic root metaphor for atonement—in fact, for salvation as a whole—in the Bible?
Hence, what if we need to develop a theological Hematology?
Yet what if sacrificial blood represents “[living] soul” (Lev. 17:11,14) or, by metonymy, simply “life,” particularly life-from-the-dead, vivification, or resurrection, including its power for atoning, sanctifying consecrating, cleansing, forgiving, healing, etc., yet never death as such?
Thus, what if the resurrectionary power of divine life touches whatever the blood “sprinkles”?
Then what if the diversity of salvation associated with sacrificial blood (virtually every category) should be understood as rooted in and ramifying from the power of Christ’s resurrected life?
What if the sacrificial blood from the slain Lion of Judah (Gen. 49:8-12; Rev. 5:5; Heb. 7:11-19) signifies life from the dead, as does the honey that Samson drew from the carcass of the lion he slew (Judg. 14), and as honey revitalized the exhausted Jonathan, (1 Sam. 14:23-30)?:
“Out of the eater came something to eat,
And out of the strong came something sweet.” (v.14)
“What is sweeter than honey?
And what is stronger than a lion?” (v.18)
What if even Aslan (C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Chap. 14) never suffered a moment of penal wrath from “the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea”—does this mean the beloved noble feline couldn’t possibly have saved Edmund and Narnia after all? (Unimaginable.)
What if sacrificial blood is the Old Covenant ritual symbol of life-out-of-death, foreshadowing the Resurrection of Christ?
What if under the Old Covenant administration there could be no remission of sins without shed blood (Heb. 9:18-22) for the simple reason that such blood was the temporary ritual token of Christ’s life-from-the-dead, i.e., his resurrected living soul…now a life-making Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45), toward which the whole Levitical economy looked for fulfillment as the true power source for removing sins wholesale under the unconditional New Covenant yet to come?
What if the parallelism in Romans 5:8-10, rightly divided, expresses how the sinless blood of Christ bridged death and life—the transistor in the judicial circuit that amplified (by the power of God’s supercompensating justice) the output of the life criminally taken, thereupon paying a high-yield return to Christ—“Whom God raises, loosing the pangs of death, forasmuch as it was not possible for him to get held by it” (Acts 2:24)—sufficient to justify life for all mankind?
What if the Levitical blood sacrifices were prophetic ritual rehearsals of Israel’s prime atrocity, culminating all its depravity in a single outrageous staging of human sacrifice as a once-and-for-all showdown that would unveil how God ventured to solve the agelong sin problem peaceably?
What if the reason God commanded some sacrificial blood to be splashed around the base of the altar is that, as a place of ritual wrongful death, the altar itself needed to be ritually atoned for, and only the blood (not the death itself) could do the job?
What if the cross “really works” to condemn sin, conquer Satan, and abolish death, not because it was right in any sense (not even substitutionally), but precisely because it was dead wrong?
What if Christ, in his sacrifice on the cross, was not bearing punishment for sins others committed, but bearing sins committed against him, which themselves cried out for punishment?
What if the ancient ritual murders depicted by animal sacrifices only ceased with the Ultimate Murder in c. 30 A.D., when the shedding of Christ’s blood—not merely “innocent” but perfectly sinless—would have defiled the whole land in extremis if God Himself had not intervened?
In other words, what if Jesus was bearing crime, not punishment: Israel’s unjust lethal assault by the hand of priestly representatives (at Satan’s bidding), which itself called upon God’s justice to avenge his innocent blood at their hands (Matt. 23:20-36, 27:4,24-25; Luke 11:50-51, 18:1-8, 21:20-23, 23:27-31; Acts 5:28, 18:6, 20:26; Rom. 12:19; 1 Thess. 2:14-16; 2 Thess. 1:4-10; Heb. 10:26-31; Rev. 6:10, 16:6, 17:6, 19:2), consequently his sacrifice was not in the least penal on God’s part—in His eyes, intention, or reckoning?
What if, after all, God did not shed His beloved Son’s blood, nor did Jesus “shed his own blood,” as we sometimes say (but Scripture never does)—rather, others (no exception) shed his blood (Matt. 21:45-46, 22:15, 26:4; Mark 12:12-13, 14:1; Luke 11:53-54, 20:19-20; John 5:15-18, 7:1,19-25, 8:12-59, 11:53, 18:31; 1 Thess. 2:15), even as he himself prophesied they would (Matt. 16:21, 17:23; Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:34; Luke 9:22, 18:31-32), as they did to the prophets before him (Matt. 14:5, 21:33-44, 22:6, 23:33-39; Mark 6:19, 12:1-11; Luke 11:45-52, 13:31-34, 20:9-18; 1 Thess. 2:15), as he warned his disciples that they would do to them (Matt. 10:28, 24:9; Luke 12:4-12; John 12:10-11, 16:2), and as subsequently happened (Acts 12:1-4, 21:27-32, 23:12-15, 20-21, 26-27; Rev. 11:8)?:
- “…this One, given up in the specific counsel and foreknowledge of God [although not culpable of what was to follow], you, gibbeting by the hand of the lawless, assassinate” (Acts 2:23).
- “…this Jesus whom you crucify!” (2:36).
- “…Jesus, whom you, indeed, surrender and disown before the face of Pilate, when he decides to release him. Now you disown the holy and just One and request a man, a murderer, to be surrendered to you as a favor. Yet the Inaugurator of life you kill…” (3:13-15).
- “Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, whom you crucify…this is the Stone that is being scorned by you builders…” (4:10, 11).
- “…Jesus, on whom you lay hands, hanging him on a pole.” (5:30).
- “…the Just One, of whom now you became the traitors and murderers…” (7:52).
- “…whom they [the Jews] assassinate also, hanging him on a pole” (10:39).
- “…those dwelling in Jerusalem and their chiefs, being ignorant of him and of the voices of the prophets which are read on every Sabbath, fulfill them [according to the Spirit of God’s foreknowledge, not with His complicity] in judging him. And, finding not one cause of death, they request Pilate to have him despatched. Now as they accomplish all that which is written concerning him [by foreknowledge, not “predestination”], taking him down from the pole…” (13:27-29).
What if the Old Covenant required victims to be overcompensated in order to satisfy justice (Ex. 21:34-22:15; Lev. 5:16, 6:5; Num. 5:7; 2 Sam. 12:6; Prov. 6:30-31; Is. 61:7; Zech. 9:12)?
What if the vengefulness exhibited by Lamech: “Since avenging is seven times for Cain, for Lamech it shall be seventy-seven times [hebdomekontakis hepta]” (Gen. 4:23-24, LXX), was flipped by Jesus, who was evidently alluding to him in his reply: “I am not saying [to forgive] ‘Till seven times,’ but ‘Till seventy-seven times [hebdomekontakis hepta]’” (Matt. 18:22)?
What if Christ’s “blood of sprinkling…is speaking better than [the righteous (dikaion)] Abel” (Heb. 11:4, 12:24; Matt. 23:35, cf. Luke 11:51) because it was perfectly righteous, hence his shed blood cried out for a more perfect avenging (ekdikesis) than Abel’s—an immediate and total reversal of death, plus life superabundant enough for all takers?
And what if God’s avenging of that innocent blood on Christ’s own behalf (i.e., premially) is, more than coincidentally, what inaugurated the New Covenant in that blood (Matt. 26:27-28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25-32), by glorifying him and awarding him the restitution of abundant life in the Holy Spirit to pass along, out of love, to our mortal race (John 5:21-29, 6:47-63, 7:37-39; Gal. 2:29-6:18; Rom. 8; 2 Cor. 3:1-18, 13:4; 2 Tim. 1:1; 1 John 4:1-5:13)?
That is, what if the New Covenant was inaugurated by the power of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, not at his cross, and that’s why his blood may be said to “avail”?
And what if that blood, the cup of New Covenant blessings (1 Cor. 10:16-22) along with its varied powers, is appropriated by us when we simply drink it worthily, by faith, in the risen Lord’s Supper, for a recollection of him, announcing his wrongful (not penal) death until he comes (1 Cor. 11:26) by his blood getting shed criminally (not penally) (Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20-22), for the sake of many, for the pardon of sins?
What if minimizing the seriousness of the crime of the Jews in crucifying their Messiah at Roman hands trivializes the magnitude of the premial justice of God in resurrecting him from the dead?
What if by “the righteousness of God,” as commonly but one-sidedly translated, the apostle Paul was not referring so much to the character quality as to an historic event—the event of Christ’s resurrection, which singularly, publicly exhibited God’s restorative premial justice?
What if, somewhat ironically, only the Roman Catholic Douay-Rheims Version of the Bible (1582/1609) translated from Jerome’s Latin Vulgate (as compared with the Hebrew and Greek), consistently renders dikaiosune/justitia as “justice,” which, although likewise one-sided (but the opposite side, reflecting Roman legal predilections), yet just so happens to make far better sense in many of Paul’s key passages as well as elsewhere in the New Testament?
What if the “righteousness of God” fell on the Third Day as rightful justice for Jesus and has no reference to the Cross at all?
That is, what if Paul’s famous phrase “the righteousness of God” refers to God’s justice in action (dikaiosune includes both personal and social—I suggest the composite rendering ‘justness’) revealed (Rom. 1:17), manifested (Rom. 3:21), and displayed (Rom. 3:25, 26) by His raising Jesus from the dead, executed on the Third Day as restorative justice for His Son?
In brief, what if “the justness of God” refers first of all to the Event that made it most famous: His raising Christ from the dead?
What if Martin Luther would have been an order of magnitude more overjoyed to discover that “the righteousness of God” was full-on premial to Christ and not in the least penal?
What if the following instances of dikaiosune probably refer to God’s justice as epitomized by Christ’s resurrection, encompassing the just due He awarded to Christ: Rom. 1:17, 3:5,21,22,25,26, 5:17,21, 8:10, 10:3a,3c; 2 Cor. 3:9, 5:21, 9:9; Phil. 1:11, 3:9b?
Thereupon, what if such phrases as “justness of/for faith” (Rom. 1:17, 4:11,13, 9:30,32, 10:4,5,10; Gal. 5:5), “faith accounted for justness [apart from works/acts]” (Rom. [2:26,] 4:3,5,6,8,9,10,11,22,23,24, 9:8; [2 Cor. 5:19;] Gal. 3:6; Phil. 3:9; [Heb. 11:17-19]), the justness which accords with faith (Heb. 11:7), justifying faith (Rom. 3:24,), etc., all refer to Christ’s just-award, the Gift of the vital power of God’s resurrectionary public justice—the Holy Spirit—now graciously poured out upon us, encompassing every spiritual gift and blessing of the New Covenant, as promised by God “to [eis]” and “on [epi]” our faith (Rom. 1:17, 3:22; Phil. 3:9)?
What if the Gospel (euaggelion) of “the righteousness/justice of God,” from another perspective, is simply the proclamation of His righteous fulfillment of His ancient covenanted promises (epaggelia), first to Abraham regarding descendants and a Promised Land (Acts 7:5,17; Gal. 3:8, 14-29; Rom. 4:13-21, 9:4-9; Heb. 7:6, 11:9-19), then to David regarding Seed Royal who would save Israel (Acts 13:23,32-39, 26:6-8), and ultimately to everyone who has the faith of Abraham, concerning the Gift of the Holy Spirit of adoption, the down payment of an inheritance of everlasting life in the Messiah (Luke 24:49; John 5:21-29; Acts 1:4-5, 2:33,38-39; Gal. 4:23,28; Rom. 15:8-12; 2 Cor. 1:18-20, 6:14-7:1; Eph. 1:13-14, 2:11-13, 3:1-12; 2 Tim. 1:1; Tit. 1:2-3; Heb. 4:1-2, 6:11-20, 8:6-7, 9:15, 10:23,35-39, 11:39-40; 12:25-28; James 1:12, 2:5; 2 Pet. 3:4,9,13; 1 John 2:25), which all nations could now access by faith and immersion into Christ’s faithfulness and divine favor (Rom. 5:1-2), divine power, indeed, even participation in divine nature (2 Pet. 1:1-4)?
What if when we hunger and thirst for justice/justness (Matt. 5:6), like the Psalmists, we aren’t begging God for punishment (duh?) but for restoration of violated wealth, health, safety, reputation, peace of mind, etc. (or is this asking too much)?
What if Jesus never asked God for mercy, but his sinless blood did cry out for just avenging?
What if the only thing that could really satisfy God’s justice was to welcome His Son alive and well back Home, restore his fortunes, exalt him over his enemies, and then kindly show them mercy so they could repent and be saved…and even share his good fortune?
So what if God’s justice fell on the Third Day, not on a hill far away?
What if God’s justice was only “satisfied” by the resurrection, not by the cross, per se, at all, and therefore Christ’s resurrection is actually a paramount judicial act of God?
What if Paul never used such phrases as “Christ’s righteousness” or “the righteousness of Jesus/Christ,” etc., for the simple reason that he intends by “the righteousness of God” to denote the Father’s restorative justice toward the Son (and through him dispensed to others of faith) in distinction from the Son’s obedience of faithfulness (Rom. 1:5, 16:26) toward the Father?
What if Paul’s famous reiteration of “the just shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:2-4; Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38), which so resonated with Martin Luther, refers in the first place to the Lord Jesus himself—the Just One (Acts 3:14, 7:52, 22:14; 1 John 2:1,29, 3:7; Matt. 27:19,24; Luke 23:47; 1 Pet. 3:18; Rev. 15:3), who, due to his own faithfulness to God (Rom. 3:22,25,26; Gal. 2:16,16,20, 3:22; Eph. 3:12; Phil. 3:9; Rev. 1:5, 3:14, 19:11), was raised to superabundant life (John 5:21-29, 10:10; 1 Cor. 15:45)?
What if Paul’s strategically repeated phrase, “the faith[fulness] of Christ” (pistis christou—subjective genitive case) refers to Jesus’ own covenantal response to God’s will and promises (Rom. 3:22,26; Gal. 2:16,16,20, 3:22; Eph. 3:12; Phil. 3:9), to which we should add “through (dia) [the] faithfulness” where it plausibly refers to Christ’s own (Gal. 2:16, 3:14,26; Rom. 3:22,30,31; Phil. 3:9; Eph. 2:8, 3:12,17; Col. 2:12; 2 Tim. 3:15), plus instances where the “faithfulness within (en) Christ” himself seems to be in view (Gal. 3:26; 1 Tim. 3:13; 2 Tim. 3:15; Rom. 3:25, where it may be figured in his blood—as it were, the vital active ingredient), sometimes coupled with love (Eph. 1:15; Col. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:13), but does not include our faith in Christ (objective genitive case), which is usually denoted by a different preposition (eis, literally ‘into’) and occurs abundantly throughout the New Testament for a complementary purpose?
What if even the Latin Vulgate has retained each of the eight “faith of Christ” renderings intact, and the Aramaic Peshitta retains all but the two in Gal. 2:16?
What if, in fact, Paul is framing “God’s justice” and “Christ’s faithfulness” as covenantal correlates in order to highlight and epitomize their respective, discrete mutual obligations in the full process of our salvation?
What if, in view of the fact that a truly Just Man had finally shown up in Israel, Yahweh could finally break with long grim tradition and, instead of the routine curses, unleash wholesale the blessings He had vowed to give any perfect Covenant-keeper (Lev. 26; Deut. 28)?
What if Jesus, by his Covenant faithfulness, won all the promised blessings of the Old Covenant (so inaccessible to any mortal sinner) so that he could prudently give them away for free to repentant Covenant-breakers on the gracious condition of mere faith alone, by having negotiated via covenant renewal a New Covenant no longer liable to default by human failure?
Furthermore, what if Paul’s expressions, “the faithfulness of God”—Rom. 3:3-5, where “our injustice” of crucifying the Lord is actually said to be “commending God’s justness” of raising him from the dead!—and “the faithfulness of the operation of God” (Col. 2:12) are connected to and exhibited by Christ’s resurrection?
What if this curiously profound truth of the Cross commending the Resurrection only really makes sense on the assumption of premial justice and elegantly accounts for those two puzzling passages (inexplicable on a penal assumption) where Paul denounces judgment against slanderers who alleged he taught “We should be doing evil that good may be coming” (Rom. 3:8), similarly echoed in, “We may be persisting in sin that grace should be increasing” (Rom. 5:20-6:1), and whose germ of truth Paul himself reprised so memorably in Romans 8:28, “God is working all together for the good of those who are loving God…,” itself a reflection of Joseph’s declaration to his brothers, “You devised evil against me, yet God, He devised it for good in order to accomplish, as at this day, to preserve many people alive” (Gen. 50:19), as we would expect of the living God?
What if the cargo to be conveyed in salvation is Christ’s own personal just-award of damages from God, transferred through him as Sponsor (Heb. 7:22) and Mediator (Heb. 8:6-13, 9:15, 12:24) of this fresh, new, better, everlasting Covenant (Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; Rom. 11:27; 1 Cor. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3:6; Gal. 4:21-5:1; Heb. 13:20), to us as the stipulated beneficiaries, instead of our deserved punishment transferred to him (as postulated by not-quite-ancient-enough Protestant tradition)?
What if the uniquely Protestant expression, “the imputation of Christ’s righteousness” (in overreaction to the medieval Roman Catholic doctrine that the interior operation of the Holy Spirit makes us righteous pending justification at the Final Judgment), has served to obscure Paul’s teaching that the Gift of Holy Spirit constitutes the subjective contents of God’s justness (via Christ’s just-award redistribution) within believers/saints (2 Cor. 3; Gal. 2:20-3:29; Rom. 5:5-21, 8:11-30, 14:17; 2 Cor. 9:8-15; 2 Pet. 3:13; John 16:7-11)?
What if such “imputation” theology all comes down to artful accounting—“cooking the books”?
What if one person’s sin, guilt, or punishment cannot economically, legally, or morally be accounted, imputed, or transferred to another (Deut. 24:16; Jer. 31:29-30; Ez. 18:1-32, 14:14-20), yet one person’s reward, by contrast, can be further distributed at its recipient’s discretion?
What if true justice often requires redistributing wealth to restore peace (or hadn’t you noticed)?
What if the alternatives reduce down to: either Christ’s sufferings were undeserved by him but borne as a substitute in the place of sinners who did deserve them, and then diverticularly rationalized to benefit sinners somehow, OR Christ’s sufferings were undeserved by him and hence deserved compensating justice from God to repay him with an extraordinary award of damages, which could be transferred to whosoever will receive them by faith?
What if the “merits” of Christ were not transferred by imputation, but justly super-compensated with the Holy Spirit of life, which is then given away graciously for free to whoever believes?
What if the Protestant doctrine perpetuates a vestige of medieval Roman Catholic penitential speculation about the separability, commodifiability, accumulation (“treasury”), and transferability of supererogatory “merits” of the innocent suffering of a “Saint” to another person, and accordingly, the transfer of Christ’s personal righteousness to a believing sinner?
What if exactly that kind of “commercialization” led to the invention of indulgences, the abuses of Tetzel, the rationalizations of Eck, and the explosive protest of Martin Luther that kicked off the Protestant Reformation with his “Ninety-Five Theses” on indulgences, in the first place?
What if such abuses of imputation (Augustine started it) also undermine the apostle Paul’s categorical declaration that our faulty human faith is imputed or accounted for justness precisely because it is not a work at all (much less a “supererogatory” work of a “Saint”), so accords fully with God’s graciousness (Rom. 4:4,16)?
What if God chose faith as His condition for selecting sons and heirs because it is not a work at all, but a work-stoppage or Sabbath (Rom. 4:1-6; Heb. 3-4), thus it cannot render God indebted to sinners on account of their work, yet it does necessarily obligate Him on account of His own voluntary, oath-bound promise to Abraham (Gal. 3:15-29; Rom. 4:7-22; Heb. 6:13-20) to reward his faith with the status of justness, and thereupon confer life?
What if the stimulus that generates faith is the vital power of the Gospel narrative about God the Father raising up His Own wickedly sacrificed Son instead of—that is, “as a substitute for”—destroying the wicked, so that this Story itself gets accorded the distinctive credit for conciliating God’s enemies peacefully, without violence from His side, and turning them into friends (Heb. 4:12; 1 Pet. 1:23,25; James 1:21; 1 Cor. 1:18,23,24; John 6:44, 12:32; Rom. 10:9; Rom. 1:16-17, 10:17; 2 Tim. 1:7-10, 3:15; Tit. 1:1-3; Acts 20:32, cf. John 17:17-20, 1:1-5; 1 John 1:1-7)?
What if the sin that kept Moses (and Aaron) out of the Promised Land (Deut. 1:37, 4:21, which say the Lord was “angered” [anaph] or “furious” [LXX ethumothe] with Moses over it; cf. Deut. 3:23-27, “enraged” [evrah]) was precisely that he “struck [epataxe] the rock [petran] twice,” (Num. 20:11, LXX), i.e., in wrath (“Hear, I pray, you rebels! From this crag shall we bring forth water for you?” Num. 20:10; cf. Ps. 106:32-33, “provoked to wrath,” [katzaph; LXX parorgisan]), hence God declared, “Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me before the eyes of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I will give to them” (Num. 20:12)?
Yet most significantly, what if “all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank of the spiritual Rock [petras] which followed; now the Rock [petra] was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4), thereby emphasizing, if rather severely, how unholy/unsanctified it would be to impute divine wrath to the striking of that antitypal Rock on Golgotha before the eyes of the children of Israel?
So if God’s holiness was compromised because Moses represented God as wrathful when He was in fact not, then what if the doctrine that God poured out His wrath on His own sinless Son in order to vindicate His holiness likewise compromises that holiness and makes God indignant, yet praying, “Hallowed be Your name,” rehabilitates the graciousness of God’s premial justice?
What if Yahweh distinguished carefully (Num. 35:20-24) between being guilty or not guilty of striking (nakah) in “enmity” (ehvah; LXX, echthran) or “hatred” (sinah; LXX, menin ‘rage’, associated with thumos ‘fury’ in Gen. 49:7)?
What if the only enmity at the Cross was between Satan and Christ: “And enmity [ehvah; echthran, LXX] am I setting between you [the Serpent] and the woman [Eve], and between your seed and her Seed. He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise His heel” (Gen. 3:15)?
What if God, by declaring, “I shall be striking [nakah; pataxo, LXX] the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered” (Zech. 13:7; Matt. 26:31; Mk. 14:27), no more behaved in enmity or wrath toward His beloved Son before raising (egeiro) him from death in the resurrection (anastasis), than the angel struck (pataxas) Peter in enmity or wrath before raising (egeiren) him from sleep to rescue him from prison, commanding, “Rise!” (anasta) (Acts 12:7)?
What if Isaiah, in 53:4, “And we account him assaulted, struck [nakah] by God and humbled,” is faithfully reporting Israel’s slipping into an unnuanced imputation of divine enmity and wrath toward His Servant, due to their forensic blindness to God’s ways of wisdom?
What if God “desires [“plans,” bouletai (LXX)] to crush [daka]” (Is. 53:10) him whom He actually favors, on account of the extraordinary good results that He planned to bring out of it to bless and benefit multitudes of others (Ps. 34:15-18-22, 44:9-19-26, 38:1-8-22, 143:1-3-12; Is. 57:13b-15-18—and if these outcomes apply to the sinful, then how much more to the Sinless!)?
What if, to tally up the “theology of the cross” in the book of Acts, we find that of its eleven Gospel testimonies (five by Peter, one by Stephen, five by Paul), Peter mentions “hanging (him) on a pole [xulon, “tree” (LXX), intimating to his hearers that they had invoked the curse of Deut. 21:23 on their own Messiah]” twice (5:30, 10:39), “crucify” twice (2:36, 4:10), “assassinate” twice (2:23, 10:29), “gibbeting” (2:13), “kill” (3:15); Stephen cites “murderers” (7:52); while four of Paul’s speeches use no equivalent for “cross” at all, while another uses “do away with” (13:28) and, in passing, “taking him down from the pole” (13:29)?
What if the word “cross” (stauros) itself is mentioned exactly nowhere in the book of Acts?
By stark contrast, what if every one of those episodes without fail emphasizes Christ’s resurrection, and most of them more than once: Peter at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-40) four times; Peter at the Porch of Solomon (3:12-26), three times; Peter to the rulers, chief priest, elders, and scribes (4:8-12); Peter to the Sanhedrin (5:29-32), twice; Stephen to the Sanhedrin (7:1-60), climaxing with his on-the-spot live eyewitness show-stopper of the heavens getting opened up to reveal the now-risen Son of Man standing (not sitting for this one!) at the right hand of God (Dan. 7:13-14); Peter to the household of Cornelius (10:34-43), twice; Paul in the synagogue in Antioch, Pisidia (13:16-41) five times; Paul in Athens (17:16-31), twice; Paul to the Jerusalem mob and Sanhedrin (21:40-21,30-23:11), where, having testified to a public encounter with the risen Jesus the Nazarene, yet rudely cut short by the mob from delivering his punch line, speedily cuts to the chase before the Sanhedrin with the explosive one-liner, “Concerning the expectation and resurrection of the dead am I being judged,” which brought the house down (21:40-21,30-23:11), twice; Paul’s defense before Felix (24:10-21,25), three times (including his testimony of publicly encountering the risen Nazarene); Paul’s defense before Festus and Agrippa (26:2-23), twice; for a grand total of twenty-seven references in only eleven speeches?
What if a chief function of Luke’s record in the Acts of the Apostles “whom [Jesus] chooses through Holy Spirit, to whom he presents himself alive also, after his suffering, with many tokens, during forty days, getting visualized to them and telling them that which concerns the kingdom of God” (1:3), building as it does on Luke’s Gospel (24:43), is to serve as a repository of public testimony (1:22) to the apostolic “teaching…and announcing, in Jesus, the resurrection from the dead” at the end of the age (4:1-2), which Jesus’ own resurrection confirms, for our assurance and consolation: “And with great power the apostles rendered testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Lord. Besides, great grace was on them all…” (4:33)?
What if the Holy Spirit was commissioned to corroborate with additional power of signs and miracles Christ’s own testimony about everlasting life (John 5:21-44, 8:12-18, 10:25, 15:26-27, 18:37) as well as the apostles’ testimony about his life from the dead (Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:8, 2:30-33, 3:12-15, 4:33, 5:30-32, 10:38-48, 14:3, 15:7-9; 1 Cor. 1:6; 2 Tim. 1:6-14)?
What if the centrality of such resurrection testimony is emphatically confirmed elsewhere in the New Testament: John 5:39, 15:27, 21:24; 1 Cor. 1:6, 2:1-2, 15:15; 2 Thess. 1:10; 1 Tim. 2:5-7; 2 Tim. 1:8-10; Heb. 11:1-12:2; 1 Pet. 5:1; 1 John 1:1-2, 4:14, 5:5-13; Rev. 1:2,5,9, 2:13, 8:14, 6:9, 12:11,17, 17:6, 19:10, 20:4, 22:16-17?
Oh, and did I forget, what if the four Gospels stand as towering interdependent testimonies to the incontrovertible resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from an officially certified execution?
However, what if there is no mention of the cross or crucifixion (stauroo/stauros, xulon, prospegnumi) at all in the apostle Paul’s weightiest epistle, to the Romans, his landmark elaboration of the Gospel?
What if, by stark contrast, words and expressions referring or alluding to resurrection proliferate (egeiro, anistemi/anastasis, haima, zoopoieo, zesetai/zoe (ek nekron/aionion), dikaiosune (tou theou), dikaioma, anakainoo/kainotes, sozo/soteria, apolutrosis, huiothesia, doxa/doxazo, elpis/elpizo, epaggellomai/epaggelia): Rom. 1:4,16-17, 2:7,10, 3:24-25, 4:17,24-25, 5:9-10,15-18,21, 6:4-5,8-11,13,22-23, 7:4,6, 8:2,4,6,10-11,13,15,17-19,21,23-27,29-30,34, 9:23, 10:1,7,9-10,13,15, 11:11,14,26, 12:1-2; 13:11, 14:7-9 15:4,13) and constitute his pervasive centerpiece?
What if the unique expression, “word (logos) of the cross,” although launched in 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul strategically delayed elaborating until chapter 15 (“the Resurrection chapter”) so that in the meantime he could correct his spiritual offspring about crucial ethical matters without prejudice, since they had become ensnared by semi-gnostic, anti-somatic, hence anti-resurrection doctrines that Apollos learned from Philo in Alexandria and introduced in the church at Corinth?
What if Paul never wrote, “If Christ has not gotten crucified, vain is your faith—you are still in your sins!” but instead said, “If Christ has not gotten raised, vain is your faith—you are still in your sins!” (1 Cor. 15:17)?
What if the “word (logos) of the cross” can be spelled: R E S U R R E C T I O N ?
What if the cross alone is never said to be the “power of God”—only “the word of the cross” is?
What if the New Testament never attributes power to the cross, but only to the resurrectionary “explanation of the Cross” (1 Cor. 1:18), to the testimony, explanation, declaration, proclamation, or heralding of the risen “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23-24, 2:1-5), of the risen Christ (Acts 8:4-19, 10:36-47; Rom. 15:18-20), of the risen Jesus (Mark 16:6,14-20; Luke 24:44-49; Acts 4:1-14, 6:8-14; Rom. 1:2-4,16), of the risen Lord (Acts 19:10-13; 2 Cor. 4:3-15; 1 Tim. 1:8; Heb. 2:3-4), of the risen Son (1 Thess. 1:5-10; 2 Pet. 2:16-18), of the living God (Heb. 6:5, cf. 4:12), of the Kingdom of God and the name of the risen Jesus Christ (Acts 8:12-13; 1 Cor. 4:20), to faith in the living God (Heb. 11:11-12; 1 Pet. 1:5), or simply to God’s raising the Lord and us to life (1 Cor. 6:14, 15:42-43; 2 Cor. 13:3-4; Phil. 3:10; Heb. 7:15-17; 2 Pet. 1:3)?
What if the cross is virtually never depicted by Christians in the earliest attested Christian art (whether catacombs, baptisteries, early house churches, etc.) before the era of Constantine?
What if the New Testament contains virtually no “theology of the cross”; instead, its focus is riveted on Christ’s resurrection from the dead?
What if in the New Testament the cross is an Event, certainly; an Ethic, without a doubt; but never an Emblem, and definitely not a Theology?
What if the cross only became an Emblem, under Constantine, when it stopped being an Ethic, and thereafter was ripe for mutating into a Theology?
What if the death of the Cross is encompassed in the Resurrection, but not the other way around?
What if “the apostolic preaching of the cross” is a full-grown oxymoron ready for sacrificing?
What if in the absence of a sound theology of the Resurrection, Martin Luther’s doctrine of the Atonement fractured into a paradoxical, cheerless, comfortless theologia crucis on the one hand, and on the other hand deteriorated into reviling every “theology of glory,” by which he meant every fumbling attempt to rise above the variously approved “uses of the Law” to grasp a lifestyle of walking in the Spirit—the gifts and the fruits alike, drawing from the cornucopia of Christ’s resurrection power?
What if the cross is not self-explanatory (as the theologia crucis seems to presume) but demands an explanation or reason (logos) that accounts for its necessity—the most “necessary evil” of all?
What if the cross was necessary in order to certify Christ’s real death, and so reinforce the authenticity of his extraordinary resurrection from the dead?
What if the cross was the fulcrum that leveraged the resurrection, because you can’t get behind proclaiming a plausible resurrection without a successful crucifixion?
What if, by means of the cross, the ancient Serpent bruised Christ in the heel, yet by his resurrection, Christ bruised that Great Dragon, called “Adversary” and “Satan,” in the head (Gen. 3:14-15; Rev. 12:9-11)?
What if the cup Christ drank (Matt. 26:37-46, Mark 14:33-42, Luke 22:41-46), which so “disturbed” (John 12:27), “overawed,” and “depressed” him—“Sorrow-stricken is my soul to death” (Matt. 26:37-38; Mark 14:33-34)—was not God’s wrath, but the prophesied bitter cup of afflictions from Satan, as with Joseph in Egypt (Gen. 39:19-23; 50:19-21; Ps. 105:17-22) and Job (!), but with no holds barred this time around, so as to win a more extreme prize in his battle victory over Satan at the cross, proving God is for the underdog who endures faithful?
What if the cross was the arch-exhibit of Satan’s rage and fury (Rev. 12:12,17), whereas the resurrection was the landmark exhibition of God’s grace and favor, which, to be sure, was abundantly present at the cross as well, to sustain the Lord in his trial (Heb. 2:9-18, 4:14-16, 5:7-14), but was strategically hidden then by God’s wisdom?
What if Jesus stayed put for two days (John 11:6) before proceeding to raise Lazarus from a death he could have prevented (John 11:21-26,32,37) for the same reason his own Father waited two days before raising him from a death He could have prevented—for the greater credit of God, for Heaven’s sake (John 11:4,40, cf. 9:3-5, 12:23,28, 13:31-32, 17:1-5)?
What if the obedient Boy must be killed or the Father’s transcendent resurrectionary justice must lay dormant forever, along with all its ultra-compensating hope and redemption for the cosmos?
What if God’s wrath against sin is sufficiently revealed by His myriad punishments shown throughout history (particularly Israel’s), so that the cross (at which Israel committed its greatest sin) was designed to reveal, by contrast, the very opposite: the Lord’s mercy for not calling more than twelve legions of angels to destroy those tormentors (merely Satan’s pawns, after all)?
What if the cross was violent because sinners “needed” to vent their enmity in order for God to leverage His readiness to forgive even such a nefarious misdeed by showing His miraculous power to set matters right even after the fact, and thus God was playing to our human weakness?
What if God did not “choose so violent a means of reconciliation” as such, He simply chose a supreme blue-ribbon opportunity allowing His extraordinary conciliating touch, for Heaven’s sake, i.e., He needed suitable material to mold and stage a salvation Event of memorable dimensions, and nothing less horrific could leverage so great a salvation?
What if God needed a paramount episode of official, public, excruciating injustice in order to certify the wrongful death He had been planning to reverse since before sin entered history?
Conversely, what if God’s justice was “revealed from heaven” as life-raised-from-the-dead for the One who was “just by faith,” in fact, who was “the Inaugurator and Perfecter of faith,” who “for the joy lying before him endures a cross” (Heb. 12:2), a joy undimmed by God’s wrath?
What if there was no outpouring of God’s wrath at the cross, no punishment, no condemnation, no penal judgment—in fact, no justice whatsoever, either from God or human being?
What if Christ was wrath-proof, due to his perfectly faithful obedience, especially under extreme trial, so that whatever suffering he endured could only have been wrongfully inflicted, hence he remained beloved, God’s delight (Matt. 3:17, 12:18, 17:5; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22; 2 Pet. 1:16-18; Col. 1:19), ever in His favor (Heb. 2:9; Eph. 1:5-6; Phil. 2:8-9, 1:29), all the way through his well-pleasing sacrifice (Eph. 4:32-5:2; Phil. 4:18; Rom. 12:1; Heb. 11:6, 12:1-2,28, 13:16,20-21), and all the more so when temptations to revile and threaten became more severe (1 Pet. 2:19-23; Ps. 105:17-22)?
What if God was hyper-pleased with and copiously rewarded Jesus precisely because he did not return reviling for reviling, much less avenge himself (as he had the right to) but instead bore it all, and even made intercession for his foes, dying without an unkind word on his lips, therefore God brought him back for a curtain call—so it’s in his reward that we get justified and our sins washed away, because of God’s justness in him “acted out” so graphically (Gal. 3:1)?
What if we are safe from God’s eschatological wrath, then, if we are baptized into, and stay in, Christ by faith?
What if we are called to “be drinking the cup” that Christ drank (Matt. 20:22-23; Mark 10:38-39) and “be baptized with the baptism” that Jesus underwent (Mark 10:38-39; Luke 12:50), then shouldn’t we likewise suffer God’s wrath as he was said to, or does this parallel fall apart?
What if we who wish to follow Christ are called to bear our cross even as Jesus did, then are we likewise called to bear God’s wrath as he is alleged to have done, or does this analogy inexplicably break down here, too, and we get off “cheap”?
What if the author of Hebrews stressed that Jesus “endures [hupemeinen] a cross, despising the shame [aischunes]” (Heb. 12:2), but missed a golden opportunity to mention the allegedly more efficacious wrath of God—something kinda’ crucial to some folks?
What if James, the half-brother of Jesus, similarly refers us to “the endurance [hupomonen] of Job” (James 5:11), to admonish us by his “example of suffering evil and patience” (5:10), along with the many “prophets who speak in the name of the Lord. Lo! We are counting those happy who endure” (5:11), yet neglects to mention all the “wrath of God” Job was put through?
Or what if all Job’s suffering was an unsuspected encounter with Satan instead, whereas in hindsight we can now see “the consummation of the Lord” in awarding Job over the top for his sterling, if flawed, endurance (Job 42:10-17) of undeserved trials by the Wicked One—“for very compassionate and pitiful is the Lord” (James 5:11), and “No trial has taken you except what is human. Now faithful is God, Who will not be leaving you to be tried above what you are able, but together with the trial, will be making a sequel also, to enable you to undergo it” (1 Cor. 10:13)?
But what if Christ’s trial was not merely “human” but more than human—then would that “extra” consist in his additionally bearing God’s wrath, or rather in his undergoing Satan unleashed, since God had charged Satan, “only keep his soul [alive]” (Job 2:1-6) in the case of the all-too-human Job, who in the end confessed, “I recant and repent on soil and ashes” (Job 42:6), whereas Jesus declared that he had come “to give his soul a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45) as a Good Shepherd (John 10:10-18) for his sheep, since he had the authority from his Father, and for which the Father loves him, because this is what a person does for friends (John 15:13) and family (1 John 3:16), since this is how we conquer Satan (Rev. 12:11)?
What if both the ordeals of Job and of Jesus, in view of “the consummation of the Lord” (James 5:11), are meant to heighten our expectation that God will certainly come through for us if we similarly bear our own crosses in vivid view of the glorious outcome?
What if, unlike Job, whose benefit from undeserved suffering accrued to his own family (cf. also Ez. 14:14-20), and unlike Joseph, his distant relative, whose benefit from undeserved suffering in Egypt accrued to that nation and Israel, our Lord Jesus Christ suffered without breaking down into a sinful reaction or casting blame—for the benefit of the whole blamed world?
Alas, what if Job’s “comforters” were compelled to offer up ascent offerings on their own behalf, “For you did not speak concerning Me what is rightly so as My servant Job has done” (Job 42:8), indeed, even daring to “teach” Job that he was suffering the wrathful displeasure of God (Job 20:20-29, etc.) so that if Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were found guilty of false doctrine concerning the wrath of God, then how much more are modern theologians and ministers guilty of teaching that God’s wrath was poured out on His beloved Son?
What if Christ tasted wrongful sufferings and death in the graciousness of God so as to mature his faith through hard discipline (paideia, Ps. 105:22 LXX; Is. 53:5 LXX; Heb. 2:9-18, 12:1-11; Rev. 3:19; in classical antiquity, just preceding translation of the Septuagint, paideia denoted training or education in Greek culture, art, philosophy, science, etc., not penal chastising)?
What if the “smoking stove and fiery torch” that appeared when the sun went down and a “darkening [flame, LXX] came,” and passed between the severed halves of the sacrificed animals during the cutting of the Covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15:17), were not signs of God’s wrath but of His acceptance, as when fire would fall from heaven to consume well-pleasing sacrifices (even as with the tongues of fire at Pentecost, betokening cleansing for service as living sacrifices), plus divine graciousness in the midst of “the dread of looming darkness” (Gen. 15:12), prophetic of the 400 years of humbling slavery (Gen. 15:13), followed by analogous events at the Sinai Covenant (Ex. 19:18, 20:18-21), for “afterward they shall come forth with a great many goods” and “you shall come to your fathers in peace” and be entombed “at a good greyhaired age” (Gen. 15:14-15)—all tokens of God’s favor?
What if the odd Levitical curse for getting hung on a tree (Deut. 21:22-23) was unjustly evoked (Gal. 3:13—atypically, not for sinful behavior), and was overturned by the more ancient precedent of God’s Covenant with Abraham (Gal. 3:15-29), whose faith was accounted for justness (Gen. 15:6)—that his Seed would outnumber stars and sand—thus pre-empting any lethal late-coming curse (much less any alleged accompanying wrath), even as Christ’s Melchizedekian status and standing outranked any Aaronic pretensions (Heb. 5-7; Ps. 110)?
What if Moses’ curse simply can’t hold a candle to God’s oath to Abraham (Gal. 3:5-19; Gen. 15, 50:24; Ps. 105:8-11,42; cf. 109:28-31)?
What if the conciliation “we now obtained” (Rom. 5:11) equates to the solid realization that in fact God, for His part, does not harbor hostility or enmity toward sinners, so does not need to be reconciled with us, but only desires to conciliate us to Himself in grace and peace?
What if Scripture never states or implies that God was reconciled to human beings or sinners?
What if such a notion is only a hypothetical “necessity” of the economic-legal framing of the penal substitution theory, but has no support in apostolic Scripture?
What if the Gospel reveals a God Who can reconcile because He can recreate, Who can give in, even give up, because He can give back?
What if that conciliation amounts to accepting the conciliatory terms and measures God initiated to placate our alienated race, namely, that His Son, “given up (ekdotos) in the specific counsel (boule; cf. Isaiah 53:10,11, LXX bouletai) and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23), God Himself surrendered (paradidomi) to the tender mercies of his foes (Rom. 4:25, 8:32; cf. John 3:16), in concert with Christ’s willingness to surrender (paradidomi) himself into the hands of sinners for our sakes (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:2, 5:25), and give (didomi) his soul a ransom to redeem many from sin (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45; 1 Tim. 2:6; Tit. 2:14; Gal. 1:4)—yet without a hint of wrath toward them, and certainly not toward himself, in the process—becoming thus impoverished in order to enrich us as co-heirs with him (Rom. 8:32; 2 Cor. 8:9)?
Indeed, what if quite a diverse group got in on the action of surrendering Jesus—not only the Father and the Son, but also the disciple Judas (Matt. 10:4, 17:22, 20:18-19, 26:2,15-48, 27:3-4; Mark 3:19, 9:31, 10:33, 14:10-44; Luke 9:44, 22:4-6,21-22,48, 24:7; John 6:64,71, 12:4, 13:2,11,21, 18:2-5,30-36, 21:20), the chief priests, elders, scribes, and Sanhedrin (Matt. 27:1-2,15-18; Mark 10:33, 15:1,9-11; Luke 18:32, 20:19-20, 24:20; John 19:11; Acts 3:13), plus the Roman Procurator Pilate (Mark 15:15; Luke 23:17-25; John 19:16)?
What if the “grace and peace” from God and the Lord Jesus, with which Paul, Peter, and John almost invariably open their epistles, and the “peace” of God with which they, along with Hebrews and Jude, usually close them, instead of requiring a monumental display of God’s wrath and violence toward the Lord Jesus Christ, really only demand a credible demonstration of grace and peace in order to prove them plausible to sinners? (Is this a no-brainer or what?)
What if shalom is actually a Hebrew economic term for a state of harmonization, equilibrium, balance, or stasis of economic obligations and satisfactions finding just, equitable resolutions without need for intrusive interventions or war to avenge imbalances and restore peaceful order?
What if forgiveness did not have to wait until someone blamelessly innocent came along to suffer as a substitute, or what other blessings of our salvation would in that case likewise depend on substitutionary punishment to be deployed—specifically, was God’s expression of grace dependent on His wrath getting exerted in order to satisfy His honor, holiness, or penal justice?
What if the active ingredients of the Atonement are not wrath and violence from God, in the least, but the diametric opposite, grace and peace from God, which were exuberantly unveiled following Christ’s resurrection as the divine answer to all the Satanically inspired human wrath and violence at the Cross?
What if grace and peace did not, after all, come by wrath and violence from God—for otherwise wouldn’t the Gospel harbor a preposterous absurdity that undercuts its inner consistency, integrity, and credibility?
What if in the actual historical denouement of Jesus’ prophetic parable of the vineyard owner (Matt. 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-20) God did not, after all, immediately destroy His Son’s murderers, but instead, in place of their well-deserved deaths, as a substitute for their timely destruction, He gently brought His precious Son back to life and declared a reprieve of one generation to give the killers time to repent before wreaking due wrathful vengeance upon the incorrigible by “surrendering” (paradidomi, Rom. 1:24,26,28) them to their self-invoked curse (Matt. 27:24-25; Acts 5:28) in a horror of unspeakable self-inflicted atrocities such as the nation has never experienced before or since (Matt. 3:7-12; Luke 3:7-9, 21:20-24, 23:26-31; 1 Thess. 2:14-16; 2 Thess. 1:4-10); however, divine wrath against His Son—what conceivable utility could that have, and what prophet ever announced such a travesty?
What if death was inherited from our original progenitor Adam (through whom sin entered the world) by the ban from the Tree of Life, whereupon (epho) everyone sinned willy nilly (Rom. 5:12), i.e., what if “original sin” is a phantom, whereas the biblical facts point to “original death” yielding bondage to sin’s reign by instilling fear of death (Rom. 5:21; Heb. 2:14-15)?
What if Adam’s descendants are not bearing the penalty for Adam’s sin, but instead are suffering the radiating collateral evil effects of his sin, even as the children of an abusive parent may suffer many sinful assaults yet remain innocent, not guilty of their parent’s wickedness, regardless of agonizing delays until the long arm of the law finally catches up to penalize the guilty parent (Deut. 24:16; Jer. 31:29-30; Ez. 18:1-19-31)?
In fact, what if, in the Old Testament, voluntary “bearing” (nasa) of the iniquity/sin of another person equates to “forgiving/pardoning” that person, and is usually so translated?
What if bearing a sin entails suffering the collateral evil consequences it causes?
So, what if the only New Testament passages that use this expression (Heb. 9:28 and 1 Pet. 2:24) likewise should be interpreted as Christ (and God in Christ) pardoning the deplorable national sin that rendered the crucifixion a sin-offering, and by that conciliating act of peacemaking, beseeching the whole doomed world for Christ’s sake, “Be conciliated to God!” (2 Cor. 5:20)?
What if Aaron remained “Holy unto Yahweh” despite his duty to “bear the iniquity of the holy things” (Ex. 28:36-38; Lev. 10:17-18), because bearing the sins of others does not make a person guilty of sin for doing so—far from it!—it can be an act well pleasing to God (Ez. 4:4-6)?
What if this means that the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement was likewise holy because it bore the iniquity of the people of Israel (Lev. 10:12-20, 16:20-22)?
Thus, what if this means that Christ remained holy while suffering the iniquitous assaults from Jews and Romans, so could not possibly have “become sin,” but rather “became a sin-offering,” i.e., the One-Sinned-Against?
What if the damage sustained by the first Adam’s descendants cannot properly fall under the rubric of punishment for his disobedience, nevertheless, whatever benefit redounds to sinners from the second Adam does properly fall under the category of reward for his obedience?
What if to suppose both the first and second Adam punished breaks the marvel of sustained antithetical parallelism and destroys the dialectic showcased in Paul’s sevenfold layering of logic in Romans 5:15-21, whereby in each of these seven verses he variously drills the identical contrasting correspondence epitomized by 5:19: “even as through the disobedience of the one person the many were constituted sinners, thus likewise through the obedience of the One, the many shall be constituted just,” with no implied parity of punishment whatsoever (which would heavy-handedly overrule heuristic exposition with dogmatic imposition)?
What if “Christ is the end of the Law for justness” (Rom. 10:4) precisely because “the just-award of the Law” (Rom. 5:16,18, 8:3) that he alone could rightly claim for faithful obedience to God’s will (Rom. 5:16,18,19 8:3; Gal. 4:4-5; Phil. 2:8; Heb. 5:8-9, 10:5-14; John 4:34, 5:30, 6:38-40, 8:29, 9:31-33), and for which God’s justness duly super-compensated him (Rom. 5:17,21, 8:10), namely, the covenant-promised Gift of the vivifying Holy Spirit that raised him from the dead (Rom. 8:11; 2 Cor. 3:6; 1 Pet. 3:18-22), he turned right around and dispensed for free (2 Cor. 3:3-18) to his believing brethren, apart from “works of the Law” (Gal. 2:16-5:14; Rom. 3:21-24), in order to fill them (Rom. 8:3-17), so they can walk in that same Spirit of love (Rom. 5:5; Eph. 5:28-33) bearing all the fruits of the Spirit, against which there is no law (Gal. 5:14-6:2)?
Since Christ fulfilled Isaiah 53:4a (“He our infirmities got, and the diseases he bears”) by miraculously expelling demonic spirits and curing illnesses (Matt. 8:16-17), then what if he similarly fulfilled Isaiah 53:5,6,11,12 (“…he was wounded from our transgressions and crushed from our depravities…Yahweh Himself causes to come upon him the depravity of us all…with their depravities he himself shall be burdened…he himself bears the sin of many…) by miraculously rising from the dead (Is. 53:10b-12a, 52:13), thereby abolishing and swallowing up death in victory and simultaneously condemning sin, which can only reign in death, and whose power is the Law, the just-award of which Christ had won hands down (Rom. 8:3, 5:21; 1 Cor. 15:21-26,54-57), and thereby both morbidity and mortality melt away miraculously?
What if, in accord with the Patristic epitome that “What Christ does not assume, he does not heal” (Gregory Nazianzus, Epistle 110; Theodoret), so, by the logical law of conversion, what Christ does heal (consummately!) via his resurrection—namely, his Adamic mortality—he must have assumed, i.e., Adam’s “body of death” = “the flesh of sin” (Rom. 7:24, 8:3)?
What if sin was “condemned in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3) when Christ was “justified in Spirit” (1 Tim. 3:16) as the “life-making Spirit” (1 Cor. 15:43-45, 2 Cor. 3:3,6, 13:3-4) of the better, New Covenant (Heb. 7:11-28) at his resurrection, hence God never “needed” to condemn the Savior in order to condemn sin?
What if the world (lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, ostentation of livelihood) was conquered in Christ’s own mortal flesh by his perfect learning of obedience (1 John 1:7-9, 2:12-14, 4:4, 5:1-8; Rev. 3:21), enabling him to defeat Satan at that last great trial (1 Cor. 10:11-13) and cast him out of the world by obedient endurance of the cross (John 12:31-33; 1 Cor. 2:8; Heb. 2:9-18), which God swiftly repaid by resurrection, thus swallowing up death decisively, including sin, which can only reign in death (Rom. 5:21; 1 Cor. 15:55-57)?
What if Christ’s two-fold victory over Satan’s temptations—at the outset of his ministry, but ultimately at the appointed time of the cross (Luke 4:13)—equates to his condemnation of sin (Rom. 8:3), the judging of the world, the expulsion of Satan (John 12:31), the erasing and nailing to the cross of the handwriting of Jewish decrees (Col. 2:14-15), and the “killing the enmity” in his circumcised Jewish flesh (Eph. 2:15-22) that had perennially separated Jew from Gentile?
What if at the Cross, in one fell swoop, Christ gained a decisive and total victory over Moses’ Law (with its curses), Satan the Tempter, along with the sovereignties and authorities in high places, plus Death and Sin—all by surrendering himself to be murdered by those he came to save and then waiting for God to justify him to new, immortal life (with a generous surplus to throw a gigantic giveaway) and exalt him to a throne of sovereignty, authority, honor, glory, and majesty over all things—a compound conquest completed, however, only in the aftermath of his resurrection from the dead (Rom. 8:1-3; Eph. 2:13-18; Col. 2:8-3:5)?
What if Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is the prophetic enlargement upon the manifold unjust sufferings that the Servant of Yahweh willingly and nobly bore, simultaneously from and for his wayward people, which won him exuberant favor and ultra-compensation from God in return for all his troubles—enough to justify life forever for sinners who would grasp this conciliatory gesture?
What if the two massive multi-volume compilations of ancient and medieval Christian commentators on Scripture by Thomas C. Oden (Isaiah 40-66, vol. XI, ed. by Mark W. Elliott [Inter-Varsity, 2007]), an evangelical Methodist and ardent penal substitution advocate, and Robert Louis Wilken (Eerdmans, 2007) were not able to come up with even a single line of commentary on Isaiah 52:13-53:12 that could be construed as penal substitutionary except the words of Theodore of Heraclea (d. 319): “He bore the sum of human evils and every form of transgression as well as their recompense and punishment” (Oden, p. 164) and of Augustine (354-430): “having paid for crimes against God committed by all humanity” (Oden, p. 170), neither of which have the faintest foundation in the “pattern of sound words” in Paul’s writings or any other Biblical Scriptures? (Nice try.)
What if 1 Peter 2, 3:8-4:2,12-5:12 was the apostle’s deliberate elaboration on especially this crucial point of unjust suffering in Isaiah’s most famous passage, rather than on anything penal?
What if “the death of the animal sacrifice” was a substitute for the death of the Lamb of God, not “a substitute for the death of the sinner”?
Accordingly, what if the ram in the thicket on Mount Moriah (Gen. 22:13) was an animal substitute for Christ on Mount Calvary, not a substitute either for Abraham or for his son Isaac (who was himself but a sinful surrogate for God’s own Son—highlighting the emotional depths God would go to save us), and whose human sacrifice would have constituted an abomination to God, as indeed Christ’s was (which helps account for the three-hour darkness shrouding that scene of horror: Matt. 27:45, Mark 15:33, Luke 23:44-45), only without the happy ending?
What if perfectly good animals (living-souls), “flawless” and “without blemish” (physically), could not properly be ritual substitutes for Abraham, Isaac, et al, since no human soul is perfectly good, i.e., “blameless” and “sinless” (morally)…well, okay, except for Jesus?
In other words, what if the offering was not a shadow of, or substitute for, the offerer, but for the ultimate Offering, the Lord Jesus Christ, who did fulfill all such conditions?
What if the Old Testament type was simply a makeshift stopgap—a substitute—for the New Covenant Antitype until he should finally appear in the flesh and bring all the forfeited blessings of the violated Covenant?
What if the Passover lamb, the daily sin-offerings, and the identical goats on the Day of Atonement were all temporary animal substitutes, prophetic stand-ins, for God’s own Lamb, who would actually, really and truly take away sins, not partially (Ex. 34:7; Num. 14:18; Deut. 7:10; Acts 13:38-39), cheaply, substitutionally, and would thus bring life?
What if just because the ancient animal sacrifices were substitutes for the Lamb of God, doesn’t mean Jesus was the “ultimate Substitute,” but rather the ultimate Sacrifice to end all substitutes?
What if it doesn’t take a “Substitute” to bring salvation and life, but rather a Savior?
What if the twin goats on the Day of Atonement denote the twin epicenters of the Atonement—wrongful death by bloodshed and rightful resurrection to new, enlarged life, free from captivity (goats, unlike sheep, are renowned wilderness survivors)?
What if only Christ, “the Lamb slain” (Rev. 5:6,8-9,12, 13:8), by dying and living to tell about it (Rev. 1:18, 2:8), could fulfill the tandem functions of the twin goats on the Day of Atonement?
What if the Levitical ritual of “laying hands on the head” of the sacrificial animal (Ex. 29:10,15,17; Lev. 1:4, 3:2,8,13, 4:4,15,24,29,33, 8:14,18,22, 16:21, 24:14) was the prophetic type of the priests laying treasonous hands on their own Messiah (anointed Head) to surrender him (Matt. 17:22, 26:45; Mark 9:31, 14:41; Luke 9:44, 22:21,53, 24:7; John 10:39) and sacrifice him (Matt. 26:50; Mark 14:46; Luke 20:19; John 7:30,44, 11:47-53)?
What if Christ’s crucifixion was prefigured and appropriately termed a sin-offering (chattath/ hamartia, LXX) precisely because it was a sin (chattath/hamartia, LXX)—the Supreme Sin—demanding speedy divine super-compensation to rectify (Luke 18:7-8)?
What if that rectification of the unjust human (Satanic) guilty verdict and death sentence against Christ soon showed up in the startling form of rightful resurrection—certainly a “sufficient satisfaction of justice” (premial) for the Victim, but simultaneously a “good-enough substitute” (penal) for rightful execution of the offenders?
What if Christ’s resurrection was ironically substitutionary in the sense that it was mercifully executed instead of, and in place of, the destruction of his murderous enemies in order to morph them into friends, for Heaven’s premial sake—the diametric opposite of penal substitution?
What if this stunning upset play, rather than the alleged exchange of “our guilt for Christ’s righteousness,” was the authentically biblical “joyous exchange” (“fröhliche Wechsel,” à la Luther) that so amazingly revealed God’s love and mercy to the world?
What if no rationally calculable exchange rate is conceivable between “the degree of Christ’s sufferings” and “the number of sinners his redemption can buy”?
What if all the evil that was done to Jesus, culminating in his crucifixion, was a divine set-up so that God could work it all together for the incomparable good of all mankind, come Pentecost and beyond (Rom. 8:28-39), recollecting Joseph’s flash of insight in Genesis 50:15-21?
Ergo: What if raising a murder victim from the dead nullifies any legal necessity of judicially avenging the victim with the death of the capital offenders?
What if “the forbearance of God” in “passing over the penalties of sins which occurred before” Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 3:25), like the other virtues with which forbearance/tolerance (anechomai/anoche) is associated—kindness, patience, amenableness, humility, love, peace, blessing others, pitying and tender compassions, dealing graciously, enduring persecutions, not reviling in return, not threatening others, not avenging oneself (Rom. 2:3-6; 1 Cor. 4:12; Eph. 4:1-3; Col. 3:12-15; 2 Thess. 1:3-10; Rom. 12:17-21; Gal. 5:22-6:2; 1 Pet. 2:20-25, 3:8-18)—is of one piece with the justness (dikaiosune) displayed by God at Christ’s resurrection, although, to be sure, the latter overwhelmingly transcends all the former in magnitude?
In sum, what if God did not need to “pay back” or “hang in effigy” those earlier sinners to “show His hatred for sin,” since He’d devised a way to pay back the Sinned-Against so as to swallow up any deserved wrath by overwhelming graciousness…abundant enough to cover the sins of “the current era” (Rom. 3:26) in the bargain (getting raised from the dead is such sweet revenge)?
Thus, what if Paul is here unveiling God’s premial rationale: a resurrectionary act of justice that packs enough punch to fund all that historic forbearance in “passing over” past sins (all of which were committed not only against the Father, out of Whom are all things, but also against the Son, through whom all things were made—John 1:1-5; Rom. 11:33-36 1 Cor. 8:6; Eph. 1:10; Col. 1:15-20; Heb. 1:2-3, 2:10-11, 11:2; 1 John 1:1-9), namely, by bestowing resurrectionary justice that awarded the divine Victim directly (instead of penal justice to punish us indirectly, as a mere substitute)—a rationale equally applicable “in the current era,” and which would render God most eminently just?
What if integral distributive justice must encompass both penal and premial/restorative facets—in other words, it is double-edged or symmetrical, congruent with God’s curse/blessing sanctions in the Old Covenant?
What if, in Romans 2:32, 5:16,18, and 8:4, dikaioma (whose ancient meaning has been very diversely rendered: “righteousness,” “act of righteousness,” “act of uprightness,” ”righteous act,” “righteous deed,” “establishment of righteousness,” “accomplished righteousness,” “recovery of righteousness,” “righteous result,” “righteous judgment,” “judgment,” “judicial decision,” “righteous sentence,” “sentence,” “sentence of absolution,” “verdict,” “justification,” “justifying,” “God’s approval,” “undeserved gift of ‘Not guilty’,” “acquittal,” “declaration of ‘Righteous’,” “right standing,” “establishment of right,” “establishing of right,” “re-establishing of the right,” “restoration of the right,” “amendment of a wrong,” “legal ordainment of the law,” “legal claim of the law,” “legal deed of right,” “plea of right,” “pleadings,” “document [in a suit],” “fulfilling of the law,” “legitimate claim,” “righteous award,” “righteous demands,” “righteous requirement,” “just requirement,” “duty,” “God’s standards,” “God’s law,” “ordinance,” “decree”—so much for consensus!) can be narrowed by its cultural sitz im leben and these particular contexts to its forensic sense of the just due judicially decreed by law to recompense a defendant’s deed(s)—whether penalty or reward, depending on the criminal deserts or legitimate claims of the individual defendant (hupodikos, Rom. 3:19), according to God’s judgment, such that Paul’s meaning here may most accurately be distilled as “just deserts,” which in Christ’s particular case (not being liable to lawful penalty) would equate to legal damages, i.e., a “just award,” conferred in his favor?
And hence, what if God’s integral Covenant justice (i.e., both penal retribution and premial restitution) is designed to play out as punishments/curses for the sinners who deserve those, but also as rewards/blessings for the righteous/just who deserve those, as the case may be?
What if, instead of giving Christ “what we deserved,” at the cross, God gave him what he himself deserved, at the resurrection, thereby both reversing fortunes and sharing the bounty?
Conversely, what if God, with His Son’s uncoerced prior agreement, strategically authorized (John 10:17-18) him to suffer from Satan what he did not deserve, precisely so He could unload His ultra-compensating premial justice on that single flawless Covenant-keeper who ever lived?
What if God graciously includes us, the undeserving, in the Covenant blessings that the Covenant-keeping Savior exclusively deserved, by means of the graphic rite of water baptism?
What if Paul’s characteristic “in Christ” language is baptismal imagery, referring to the entire creation-renovating contents of our salvation-of-such-proportions policy package (Heb. 2:5) into which we get immersed, namely, the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11, 28:19; Mark 1:7-8, 16:14-20; Luke 3:16; John 1:32-34; Acts 1:4-5, 2:38-39, 8:14-17, 9:17-19, 10:37-48, 11:15-18, 16:30-34, 19:2-6, 22:16; Gal. 3:26-29; Rom. 6:3-4; 1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 4:3-5; Col. 2:9-13; 1 Pet. 3:18-22), the down payment of the future complete inheritance in Christ (Eph. 1:13-14), so human options reduce down to either live in Christ or die in Sin?
What if Jesus came to baptize both in the Holy Spirit (the just-award of premial justice) and in fire (the punishment of penal justice) because he was specified by God to be Judge of the living and the dead (Matt. 3:7-12; Luke 3:16-17; Acts 10:42, 17:31; John 5:21-24; Rom. 2:16; 2 Tim. 4:1,8; 1 Pet. 4:5-6)?
What if the Holy Spirit just so happens to testify to these factors as well (John 16:7-11)?
What if grace characterizes God’s premial justice, even as wrath characterizes His penal justice?
What if Christ never got “punished in our place,” yet we do get rewarded in his place, as portrayed by baptismal inclusion in his wrongful death and compensating rightful resurrection?
What if Jesus, by getting baptized by John although he had no sin to repent from or get forgiven for, was not identifying with our sin, but with our plight as sinners, in effect saying, “I’m all in!” and so joining us in our deserved judgment ordeal, which for him was undeserved and would be super-compensated when God justified him by a vast overflow of life-making Spirit to baptize us?
What if Christ, on the cross, was “identifying with” neither the guilt of sinners, nor their sin itself, nor their deserved punishment, yet now indeed does welcome all sinners to “identify with” his own undeserved death and well-deserved resurrection, by means of faith and baptism?
What if the Bible’s angle on Atonement should be characterized not as “penal substitution,” but as “premial inclusion,” so aptly depicted by water baptism and realized in Spirit baptism?
What if there was no need for any payment for sin’s debt at the cross, because there was more than ample repayment for its injuries at the resurrection, and that made all the difference?
What if the finite terrestrial crime of the cross was repaid to Jesus at a super-compensatory rate in accord with the celestial appraisal of God’s fully restorative premial justice?
What if the New Testament teaches that Christ “bought” and paid for sinners with a “price” (Luke 1:68, 2:38, 24:20-21; Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 6:20, 7:23; 1 Tim. 2:6; 2 Tim. 2:20-21; Tit. 2:14; Heb. 9:12; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; 2 Pet. 2:1; Jude 4; Rev. 5:9, 6:10, 14:3-4), yet never that he “paid the penalty” or “satisfied the debt” of their sins, but instead simply forgives them like his Father does (and like all God’s children who are maturing in love should be learning to do)?
What if God’s entire ethic of forgiveness is founded not on His Son’s paying Him back for his losses from infractions against His honor, rights, or property, but much rather on His own letting go of His honor, rights, and property…including surrendering even His own precious Son to the tender mercies of maliciously envious rivals, precisely so He could prove to the wondering universe His persistent tough love and genuine mercy against the worst odds imaginable, and thereby even win the additional love and praise of former enemies?
What if the Gospel simultaneously teaches, demonstrates, and empowers the ethic of Jesus?
What if it seems more in Character for our Father in heaven to forgive without payment than to “forgive” after payment, or is He obliged by some postulated “moral order” to somehow, somewhere, somewhen receive payment before He can forgive “justly”?
After all, what if God is “faithful and just that He may be pardoning us our sins and should be cleansing us from all injustice” (1 John 1:9-2:1; Rom. 3:25-26)—how exactly does that work…?
What if in Jesus’ parable of the king and the indebted slave (Matt. 18:23-35) the king actually had it right the first time, when he was merciful and forgave the slave who merely entreated him for patience to allow him to repay (whereas the king graciously decided to absorb the cost personally and simply remit the loan in its entirety…), or did the king have a relative handy who could subsidize, indemnify, or pay him back for his losses to the debtor, and yet (by some intra-trinitarian abara c’ dabara) still allow him to claim extra credit for pardoning him as well?
What if the only necessity urged in the parable is that “it was binding [edei] to be merciful [eleesai]” to others if you have been shown mercy, even if to do so entails some loss to yourself, yet without any hint of some necessity to get paid back fully, come Hell or global warming?
What if Jesus taught that to become perfect and holy like our Father in heaven is perfect and holy, we must learn to pardon outright those who ask our forgiveness rather than demanding them to pay us back for the loss first, because after all, children of God are “not simply loving, but also holy” like our heavenly Father is holy, and therefore pardons in such a manner?
What if being “not only loving but also holy” does not mean that we are bound to demand repayment or punishment for every debt or injury, as we have been taught a “holy” God does, but that we are bound to show mercy to those who repent and entreat us to forgive them?
What if the only wrath (orgistheis) in the parable (Matt. 18:34) is actually expressed by the king toward the debtor’s unmercifulness to other debtors, not toward his indebtedness per se?
Hence, what if it is morally incoherent to conceive that God’s holiness requires free forgiveness, yet in the same breath insist that God’s holiness requires that He somehow punish every last sin?
What if a penal atonement spoils the true spirit of Christian personal and social ethics, for it showcases a Savior who not only was not requited (komizo) with wages (misthos) or reward (misapodocia), nor recompensed (antapodidomi) or paid (apodidomi) by God for his superior service, but instead was consigned to a cross in order to suffer God’s wrath in order to pay back God the Creator by himself (were it even possible, Rom. 11:33-36) for the cosmic sin-debt incurred by human beings, so God gets off the hook without having to forgive anything at all?
What if downplaying the fact that the Lord Jesus himself was rewarded for doing good actually undermines our own human incentive to do the good works God intends us to “walk in”?
What if God—His entire contents—was in Christ on the cross (2 Cor. 5:19, cf. Col. 1:19-20), Himself absorbing the cost that released the world from debt, not accounting their offenses to them, self-sacrificially conciliating the universe—He simply “ate the loss” (to get all technical), thus Christ wasn’t paying God to do it, he was demonstrating God doing it?
But since God can be two places at once, what if He was also outside of Christ, doling out wrath on…Them Both—you know, to pay for sin and all that? On second thought…
That is to say, what if the cross did not somehow “bring,” “effect,” “secure,” “achieve [complete],” “enable [final],” or “provide [full]” forgiveness of sins—instead, these words are linguistic substitutes, decoys, red meat thrown around to distract us from all the clues pointing to the cross as an actual bona fide revelation, manifestation, display, or demonstration of God actually forgiving His embittered enemies, and not merely a penal substitutionary mechanism, instrumentality, or expedient to “get there from here”?
What if Paul, by the “handwriting of the decrees against us, which was hostile to us” (Col. 2:14)—unlike God Himself, who was “getting all our offenses handled graciously” (Col. 2:13), “not accounting their offenses to them” (2 Cor. 5:19), “passing over…the penalties-of-sins which occurred before in the forbearance of God” (Rom. 3:25), “while we are still infirm, still in accord with the era…irreverent…still sinners” (Rom. 5:6,8)—was alluding to “the dispensation of death, by letters chiseled in stones,” “the dispensation of condemnation” (2 Cor. 3:7,9) of the Old Covenant economy, which had seen its better days, “growing old and decrepit…near its disappearance” (Heb. 8:13)?
What if, in context, “the handwriting of the decrees” refers to the decrees for Israel regulating circumcision in particular (Col. 2:8-13; Eph. 2:11-22), but also diet, festivals, and sabbaths (Col. 2:16-23), which caused enmity between Jew and Gentile as well as alienation of humanity from God, so can scarcely refer to some insinuated “bond” (RSV), “written bond of our sins” (Lamsa), “note” (Williams), “certificate of debt” (NAS), “unfavorable record of our debts” (GNFMM), or any conjectured “certificate of indebtedness” (New Geneva Study Bible/Reformation Study Bible, notes), record of debt, IOU, or, in the slanted elaboration of Thayer’s Lexicon, “metaph. applied in Col. ii. 14 [(where R.V. bond)] to the Mosaic law, which shews men to be chargeable with offences for which they must pay the penalty” (final italics added), which in any case God summarily “disappeared” from the record by raising and glorifying Christ, thereby more than restoring his losses from all their crimes and misdemeanors, thus obviating any alleged necessity, whether of direct repayment or substitute penalization?
What if by “the circumcision of Christ” that transpired “in the stripping off (apekdusei) of the body of flesh” at the cross (Col. 2:11), God was ipso facto “getting the sovereignties and authorities stripped off (apekdusamenos) with boldness” themselves (Col. 2:15), who had dared to line up against His Son and abuse their power in order to strip him of the last vestige of his humanity—his body of flesh (Jewish as it so happened, significantly)—and then was graciously turning the tables by raising him back to life and conferring all sovereignty, authority, power, etc. (Dan. 7:14) on him in a fair exchange and triumphant show of premially poetic justice?
What if that Old Covenant handwriting of decrees got disabled from holding us in “debt” who possess the “Spirit of the living God” sent to engrave an epistle of Christ on our hearts of flesh, in fulfillment of the New Covenant, in which God would impart His laws to our comprehensions, inscribe them on our hearts, shield our injustices, and under no circumstances still be reminded of our sins and lawlessnesses (2 Cor. 3:1-6; Heb. 8:8-13; Jer. 31:31-34; Ez. 11:19-20)?
What if, because of the titanic labors of Christ to inaugurate the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit got commissioned to dispense the very life and liberty that the Old Covenant curses claimed to preempt to Covenant-breakers, and thus the Holy Spirit duly supplanted that Old Covenant’s merely parenthetical “in loco Parentis” authority as a pedagogue (2 Cor. 3:17-18; Rom. 8:21; Gal. 2:4, 4:21-5:1; 1 Cor. 10:29; Phm.; Heb. 7:11-19; 1 Pet, 2:16; James 1:25, 2:12)?
And what if that liberty was won not by Christ satisfying any debt of, or paying any penalty for, sins, but by God awarding him the superabundant endowment of life-giving Holy Spirit when he was glorified, for his willing obedience to endure even a hyper-undeserved crucifixion?
What if our Savior died for our sins yet never paid a shekel for them?
In fact, what if “pay”/“payment” never occurs among some thirty Greek word families that the Holy Spirit specifically associated with sin in the New Testament to elaborate upon its remedy?—
- “to be saving [zosei] his people from their sin” (Matt. 1:21)
- to be “taking away [airon] the sin of the world” (John 1:29; Heb. 10:4,11; 1 John 3:5)
- “for the erasure [exaleiphthenai] of your sins” (Acts 3:19)
- to “bathe off [apolousai] your sins” (Acts 22:16)
- to assure that “sins were covered over” [epekaluphthesan] (Rom. 4:7)
- “that the body of sin may be nullified” [katargethe] (Rom. 6:6)
- that we might “die to [apethan-] sin” (Rom. 6:2,10)
- that we might “be reckoning [logizesthe] ourselves to be dead [einai/ontas nekrous] to sin(s)” (Rom. 6:11; Eph. 2:1, not “in”), “to offenses” (Eph. 2:1,4, not “in”; Col. 2:13), “to lusts” (Eph. 2:4), and “to the foreskin of your flesh” (Col. 2:13)
- that we might get “justified [dikaio-] from sin” (Rom. 6:7)
- that we might “be freed [eleutherothentes] from sin” (Rom. 6:18,22)
- to “die for [apethanen huper] our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3)
- so God “makes [epoiesan] him a sin-offering [hamartian] for our sakes” (2 Cor. 5:12)
- to “give himself [dontos eauton] for our sins so that he might extricate [exeletai] us out of the present wicked age” (Gal. 1:4)
- to “get a cleansing [katharismon] of sins made” (Heb. 1:3), even “from the penalties-of-sins [hamartematon] of old” (2 Pet. 1:9)
- “to get a protective cover made for [hilaskesthai] the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17); to be “a protective shelter [hilasmon] around our sins, yet not around ours only, but around the whole world also” (1 John 2:1, 4:10)
- “for the repudiation [athetesin] of sin through his sacrifice [thusias]” (Heb. 9:26)
- to be “offering [prosenegkas] one sacrifice [thusian] for sins” (Heb. 10:12)
- to fulfill the New Covenant by “becoming obedient unto death, even a death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8), so that “of [Israel’s] sins and their lawlessnesses [God] should under no circumstances still be reminded [oume mnestho eti]” (Heb. 8:12, 10:17)
- to be “offered [prosenechtheis] once for bearing [anenegkein] sins of many” (Heb. 9:28)
- “who himself carries up [anenegken] our sins in his body on the pole [xulon],
- that coming away from [apogenomenoi] sins, we should be living to justness,
- by whose welt [molopi] you were healed [iathete]” (1 Pet. 2:24)
- to “once suffer [epathen] concerning sins, the Just for the sake of the unjust, that he may be leading [prosagage] us to God” (1 Pet. 2:18)
- who “looses [lusanti] us from our sins” (Rev. 1:5)
- to “by no means be accounting [oume logisetai] sin” (Rom. 4:6), or “offenses” (2 Cor. 5:19) to us
- to “be protective [hileos] to their injustices” (Heb. 8:12/Jer. 31:34)
- to “be surrendered [paredothe] because of our offenses” (Rom. 4:25), “Surely He Who spares not His own Son, but surrenders [paredoken] him for us all, how shall He not, together with him, also, be graciously granting [charisetai] us all?” (Rom. 8:32)
- to “become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, dealing graciously [charizomenoi] among yourselves, according as God also, in Christ, deals graciously [echarisato] with you. Become, then, imitators of God, as beloved children, and be walking in love, according as Christ also loves you, and surrenders [paredoken] himself for us, an approach present [prosphoran] and sacrifice [thusian] to God, for a fragrant odor [osmen euodias]” (Eph. 4:32-5:2)
- to be “dealing graciously [charisamenos] with all our offenses, erasing [exaleipsas] the handwriting of the decrees [of circumcision, etc.] against us, which was hostile to us, and has taken it away [erken] out of the midst, nailing [proselosas] it to the cross, getting the sovereignties and authorities stripped off [apekdusamenos], in boldness he makes an example of them, triumphing over [thriambeusas] them in him” (Col. 2:14-15)
- to “forgive/pardon [aphiemi] sin(s)” (Matt. 9:2,5,6, 18:21; Mark 2:5,7,9,10, 3:28,29, 4:12; Luke 5:20,21,23,24, 7:47,47,48,49, 11:4,4, 17:3,4, 23:34, 20:23; James 5:16; 1 John 1:7, 2:12), “lawlessnesses” (Rom. 4:7), and “offenses” (Matt. 6:14,14,15,15; Mark 11:25,25,26,26; Eph. 1:7)—more mentions than all the above terms combined!
- but not to “pay [apodo-]” Not once. Ever. Did I say never? ’Cause I meant never.
Therefore, what if there is no Biblical warrant at all for sins getting paid for at the Cross, thus not only is it not “perfectly harmless to teach anyway,” but, much rather, such words are forbidden by what else the Bible does say?
What if the veil of the Temple was torn (Matt. 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45) in order to make way for the Son of God, the Forerunner, to pass into the Holy of Holies (Heb. 6:19-20; 10:19-20), or at least miraculously dramatize before human eyewitnesses on earth the heavenly scene soon to unfold (rather than portraying that access for us, first of all, who will follow later)?
What if the opening of the tombs by the earthquake when Jesus’ expired on the cross, then the subsequent raising of many saints from the dead after Jesus’ own raising (Matt. 27:52-53), both highlight the overwhelming vivifying power released from on high by Jesus’ accomplishing in that moment the final Old Covenant prophecy concerning the Messiah’s saving deeds on behalf of the whole world (Luke 22:37-38; John 4:34, 5:36, 17:4, 19:28-30)?
What if, in fact, atonement was not accomplished on earth at the cross (O.T.—altar) at all, but before the throne of God (O.T.—ark of the Covenant) in the Holy of Holies within the tabernacle made without hands, in Heaven (Heb. 8-10), when His risen Son was brought before and presented to Him after the ascension (Dan. 7:13-14), to receive his inheritance?
What if Christ’s covenanted inheritance for his obedience through suffering includes also “the river of water of life…issuing out of the throne of God” (Rev. 22:1)—symbolized by the O.T. ark of the Covenant containing the miraculously written tables of Law for Israel’s life; Aaron’s rod that miraculously came to life and budded, which brought miraculous rescue of Israel’s life; and the jar of manna from heaven that miraculously sustained Israel’s life forty years, all overseen by fearsome cherubim stationed to guard the way of life (Gen. 3:24, Ex. 37:6-9)—namely, the life-making Holy Spirit?
What if Christ’s “inheritance of all” (Heb. 1:2-4; Rom. 8:17; Eph. 1:18; Matt. 21:38; Mark 12:7; Luke 20:14)—a Kingdom covenanted to him by the Father (Luke 22:29)—was founded squarely on the resurrectionary justice (dikaiosune) of avenging (ekdikesis) the sinless blood of the Lamb of God unjustly slain (Rev. 5:6,8,12, 13:8), as the covenanting Mediator (Heb. 9:15-16), so that his just-award (dikaioma), the promise of the everlasting inheritance, inclusive of every Covenant blessing, could now get released from on High—the power and fullness of the Holy Spirit poured out richly (Tit. 3:2-7)—and thus we come full circle from the declaration that in Christ’s blood, i.e., in his living soul, all the contents of Deity (Col. 1:13-19, 2:9) are dwelling: all the wealth of a salvation of such proportions, so that God may be all and in all (2 Cor. 8:9; Col. 1:15-20, 3:11; Eph. 1:18-22, 4:4-10; Heb. 2:5-10; 1 Cor. 15:20-28; Ps. 110; Rom. 11:36)?
What if we cannot do without a Lord, a Messiah, a High Priest, a Mediator and Sponsor of a New Covenant, a Just One, a Holy One, a Passover Lamb, a Forerunner into the Holy of Holies, a Protective Shelter, a Savior from sin, a Rescuer out of divine wrath, a Benefactor, a Teacher, an Example—and with all these genuine, full-on Realities, what need do we have of a “Substitute”?
What if just because the ancient sacrificial animals were substitutes for Christ doesn’t mean Christ himself was consequently the “Ultimate Substitute” or “Supreme Substitute,” any more than just because a school may need to occasionally hire a substitute teacher to fill in for a while doesn’t mean that the originally contracted teacher, when she finally returns, is then the “final substitute,” the real, true substitute teacher?
Now, what if a highly decorated general asks for volunteers for an explicit suicide mission when, with their full understanding and cooperation, they will be placed strategically in harm’s way; is that military officer exhibiting personal, forensic, penal wrath toward them when they actually do get killed as foreseen, or if he exerted no wrath then what good was their sacrifice anyway?
Or what if a king commissions his own son, with his full agreement, as a ransom in exchange for freeing a shipload of kidnapped loyal subjects held captive at cutlass point by wicked pirates? Is the king indulging personal, forensic, penal wrath against his own son by sending him to his certain death? Or would this be an act of compassionate, self-sacrificial heroism for which they would both be celebrated for generations by survivors and loved ones? Is that prince “satisfying” his father’s royal honor? Is he somehow paying with his own life a penalty for his subjects’ wrongdoings? Or is he simply surrendering (paying) himself to the pirates to satisfy their thirst for blood in exchange for his people’s life and liberty? Moreover, if he should somehow survive walking the plank, would he need to press capital charges against the pirates, who, after all, were unsuccessful in their attempted regicide? Would the prince be compelled by some statutory necessity to prosecute and execute those treacherous pirates, or could he, at his royal discretion, announce a pardon if the culprits repented, promised to change their ways…and submitted to counseling and probation? And would they maybe be a little grateful or what?
Finally, what if God Himself intended, carefully planned (bouletai, Is. 53:10,11, LXX; Acts 2:23), and even pre-announced a suicide mission for His Son, with his willing agreement and full cooperation (Ps. 40:6-8, LXX; Heb. 10:7), in order to finally save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21), make known His power over Death (Is. 53:10-11; Rom. 8:31-39, 9:23,17) in a display of His restorative justice (Is. 53:10-12; Rom. 3:25-26), to reward His Son’s faithful, loyal service (Is. 53:11-12), against ferocious opposition from Satan (Rev. 12; John 12:31), with extraordinary spoils and a vast inheritance to freely give away to His needy people (Is. 53:12); moreover, what if He expressed His extreme pleasure (Is. 53:10a) at His Son’s willing subjection to strenuous training (paideia, Is. 53:5 LXX) in conjunction with his sterling execution of the excruciating lethal plan, which entailed extreme disgrace at false accusations and wrongful imputation of sin and guilt (Is. 53:4), including the wickedness of unjust fatal assaults by the very ones he came to save (Is. 53:5-9), in order to achieve success in the peace-making negotiation with those at enmity with God, and also serve as a model for the behavior of those under the New Covenant that was to come (1 Pet. 2, 3:8-4:2,12-5:12)—then would this scenario necessarily—could it conceivably?—entail God’s personal, forensic, penal, eschatological wrath against His faithful Son and suffering Servant?
What if the greatest impediment to achieving the noblest goals of the Protestant Reformation is the “orthodox” doctrine of the Atonement itself: Penal Satisfaction/Substitution—having evoked immense opposition, spawned wearisome irresolvable theological difficulties that waste the precious time of God’s people, provoked divisive debates that have decimated the ranks, created ethical dilemmas, fostered scandalous behaviors and monstrous practices, brought on needless reproaches from unbelievers, aroused alienating misunderstandings that promote sectarianism, destroyed faith in the Bible, unsettled young believers, fostered arrogance, compromised intellectual integrity, etc.—but otherwise, no harm done?
What if penal substitution is like putting the emphásis on the wrong sylláble, only, uh…worse?
What if hymn writers have all too often been as guilty of obscuring the New Testament message as so many preachers and theologians have (see my “Penal Satisfaction/…in English Hymns”)?
What if 500 years is a disgracefully long time for God to be misrepresented by His loved ones, who have defamed his reputation by laboring vigorously to defend the indefensible instead of thinking through opponents’ conscientious objections with fairness—thinking outside the box?
However, what if even the defamation of God’s character and justice that penal substitution has spread far, deep, and wide has been kindly indemnified by God’s authentically apostolic premial Atonement—yet will its mighty men admit confusion, repent of misrepresentations, jettison their toxic substitute, switch loyalties, and humbly avail themselves of the genuine article?
What if the premial atonement turns out to contain no imponderable mystery, no existential dilemma, no dialectical tension, no economic duplicity, no financial cooking of books, no legal double-talk, no moral compromise, no ethical conundrum, no “cosmic child abuse”?
What if the premial explanation, unlike the penal, is not a theory at all but simply a rediscovery of the New Testament doctrine of salvation?
What if, after all, the Bible’s own explanatory system does make more rational sense than all our cherished theological systems put together (all the King’s horses—you can lead ‘em to water but can’t make ‘em think—and all the King’s men couldn’t do it)?
What if the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the paramount theodicy of Biblical Christianity?
What if neglecting to integrate Christ’s resurrection into the atonement disintegrates the Gospel?
What if, as Martin Luther protested, “I am neither so rash as to wish that my sole opinion should be preferred to that of all other men, nor so senseless as to be willing that the Word of God should be made to give place to fables, devised by human reason”?
What if God doesn’t expect us to hold our nose and swallow fables—fur, fins, feathers and all?
What if the wax nose of penal substitution is finally suffering meltdown from over-tweaking—shall we finally pull down this sagging substitute or keep on keeping up appearances?
What if it’s time to jettison the dead weight of penal substitution terms and get back to the Bible?
What if, after reading through these challenges to penal substitution assumptions and implications, you agree we’ve been colossally snookered for roughly 500 years…and the future looks even rougher if we don’t switch courses soon—then who’re you gonna believe?
What if this is the season for judgment to begin from the house of God (1 Pet. 4:17-18; 1 Cor. 5:12-6:7, 11:29-34; Heb. 10:30)?
What if it’s time for a resounding new Protest and a resolute fresh Reform? What now?
What if you choose to accept this inconvenient truth, this impossible mission? What then?
Indeed, what if this changes EVERYTHING?
Then again, I may be wrong.
And yet the earth does move. “Neither my thoughts nor the thoughts of all the doctors and priests that live now or ever have lived can the least alter facts. You have no right, I have no right, to determine what is. All our determinations must fall before the truth when that is discovered to us.” — Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)
“The truth must dazzle gradually, or every man be blind.” — Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
“Love The Light Forever” — Marie Roper
Aug. 24-25,27-31, Sept. 1-2,5-30, Oct. 1-21,24,26-27,29-31, Nov. 4-5,7,9-10,12,14-15,17,19-20,23-25,28-29, Dec. 2-4,13, 2017.