Two of the most controversial and persevering theological debates of recent decades concern the classic doctrines of  “Atonement” and “Justification.”  Coincidentally, both happen to share a few metaphors in common.  It won’t be surprising, therefore, to suggest that some problems encountered in their formulation might be amenable to common solutions.  For starters, I’ll be urging that a resurgence of the positive, rectifying, restorative, rewarding, or “premial” facet of God’s justice to theological consciousness can prepare the way for doctrinal reconciliation and peace.  The word “premial” (from the Latin word for the opposite of “penal”) was coined by an Anglican pastor and scholar of the early 18th century, John Balguy, in Essay on Redemption:  Being the Second Part of Divine Rectitude (London, 1741; second edition, 1785, with a Note to the Reader by his son, Thomas Balguy).  In a nutshell, “The present question is, whether the accomplishment of our Redemption is to be considered as penal, or premial; whether as resulting from a vicarious Punishment, or a personal Reward” (p. 70).  On this elegantly simple question, it seems to me, the twin themes of Atonement and Justification especially pivot, and in that order of priority.  But since this question never came up for consideration during the Protestant founding era, the proper reformation of these teachings scarcely got out of the starting block.  The explorations published on this blog site are intended to ease us further onto the appropriate field of discourse and to propose satisfactory solutions.  This process will entail adjustments of exegetical and lexical preferences–rarely a comfortable process.

The resource links I have selected for inclusion on the side have been especially helpful to me along the way, each one contributing something uniquely valuable to the restoration of the New Testament explanation of salvation.  None of those authors should be held responsible for my synthesis (nor I for theirs!), any more than my kind blogging partners should be.  Happily, our joint progress is bound to be more likely via open discussion and mutual persuasion than in isolation.  I welcome you to join the process in transparency, honesty, self-criticism, gentleness (and severity when needed), humor, and as much rigor as we can tolerate, all in a generous spirit of authentic learning and mutual edification.  Perhaps we might even be privileged to help in the ongoing re-engineering of Christian teaching to apostolic specifications so as to retool the church to produce what God desires for our own and future generations.


I’m a graduate of Bethel College (B.A.) and Bethel Theological Seminary (M.A. in Theological Studies), St. Paul, MN.  My personal biblical perspective was early rooted in extensive concordant analysis of the New Testament, building on the translations and linguistic tools pioneered by A[dolph]. E[rnst]. Knoch (1874-1965).  His Concordant Literal New Testament (with Keyword Concord-ance) (CLNT) and Concordant Version of the Old Testament (CVOT) will be the default version for Bible quotations in this blog, although often only as the underlying matrix for my own variations, resulting from decades of study since the Memorial Edition of the CLNT appeared in 1966.  Despite my disagreements with Knoch’s own theology at many points, I have benefited incomparably from his extraordinary passion for semantic accuracy and methodical consistency in translation, even where he may not have been comfortable with the full theological ramifications of his conscientious lexical choices.  He definitely set the pace, way ahead of the wave now advocated so ardently by Leland Ryken, yet earlier and perhaps most eloquently by Frank Neil Pohorlak in Proponents for a Literal Translation of the New Testament.

My interest in the topic of atonement was kicked off in the early 1980’s by the semi-scholarly journalistic ministries of Robert D. Brinsmead (The Christian Verdict) and Alexander LaBrecque (Evangelica:  A Journal of Christian Renewal), whose discerning citations introduced me to a treasury of valuable scholarship.  About the same time, I became acquainted with the atonement theology of Paul Peter Waldenström (1838-1917).  A final  “statement of faith” project at seminary, which I prolonged for a year, helped me formulate key elements of my developing position.  Just before Easter 1996, a fresh burst of understanding enabled me to integrate steadily accumulating insights into a more comprehensive framework, but I virtually sat on those insights for another ten years.  Finally, around Easter of 2006, further clarification of remaining questions drove me into a second major phase of writing and research that consolidated my outlook.  Continuing studies have occasioned minor adjustments and major confirmations.  But lest I become hardened in my faulty ways, I believe the Lord would now have me share these studies with a wider audience and invite further participation in the crucible of dialogue by way of blogging.  Will you join me?

Header Image from:  uniquestylesaway.wordpress.com/

12 responses to “About

  1. Hey, Ron.
    This is Dean (from Baker Book House). I posted your blog to an online forum that I frequent. They have some criticisms that may or may not be helpful to you, so I thought I would send you the link to it.


    The audience is not entirely academics, though there are a few that show up there. If you wish to respond or have trouble figuring out how, please let me know. It would be great to see you in action!

    • Thanks again, Dean, for extending my thoughts to a new audience. As I mentioned to you at Baker a week or two ago, I was slightly dismayed that the blogger did not comment on anything I had personally authored on my blog, but instead on a piece by a friend of mine that I placed at the top of the pile of papers that I included at the beginning of the blog. A minute ago I tried to open the reddit.com link again to possibly clarify matters, but it has since been “privatized” so I can’t access it without joining. I would simply have pointed out that my friend, Donald McKay, has fairly represented the early church position on salvation. “Eternal security,” as it is popularly known, was in fact unknown prior to Augustine except among the gnostics. David Bercot, in Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up (see my “biblioroll” at the right) has exposed this one of several old gnostic errors (that Augustine uncritically recycled from his Manichaean period in the carnal heat of controversy with Pelagius) of the evangelical church that re-entered via Calvin’s parroting of Augustine and misrepresenting him as authentically Pauline. Regarding the formatting or stylistic difficulties that make McKay’s piece difficult to read, I do apologize; I had trouble formatting it in parallel columns without awkwardness. I’m open to suggestion on how to improve that. But I have no apologies for his contents. I intentionally frontloaded his handy comparison prominently because my own subsequent unreeling of the Premial explanation of the Atonement gains some thrust from that clear testimony (even if erring on the side of simplicity) to declension between the early church and post-Anselmian periods.

  2. Kurt

    I am not sure what the debate is. There is simply no “penal substitution” spoken of in the Bible. Romans 5 makes it perfectly clear that Jesus was not a penal substitute, but was rather a “righteousness substitute.” In other words, he did not take our punishment in our place, but rather was our righteousness in our place. Scholars get us all tangled and confused on this matter. It was not even an issue for me before I studied in seminary. Simple Bible believers have no problem with this.

    • Kurt,
      Nicely said. If you continue reading the first two blogs on this site, from March 11th and 25th, 2012, you will catch the further drift of this entire blog site. On March 25th I reprinted (in updated English punctuation, etc.) John Balguy’s incisive treatment of Romans 5 (from way back in 1741!). However, I would point out that the word “substitute” is quite unnecessary, if not ultimately confusing, in the phrase “righteousness substitute,” although I get your point! I wish I could agree that “simple Bible believers have no problem with this,” but I think that underestimates the influence of a seminary-educated Pulpit on them. Such believers may not articulate their pastors’ own “tangled and confused” positions, so they may simply try to ignore them to a degree. But they affect everybody who has to suffer under them. Hence the necessity for attempts like mine to untangle and deconfuse the topic. I would be interested to know what authors you have found helpful along the same lines.

  3. Julian

    Hi Ron,

    It sounds like we might be close to agreeing on the Atonement. If Paul’s use of “hylasterion” in Romans 3 is a reference to the mercy seat, then we should study the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16 in order to understand the Atonement. The purpose of the Day of Atonement was twofold: to clean the Temple of the defilement of sin; and to clean the people of sin. The first is done by the goat’s body absorbing the defilement of sin from the Temple and being put to death, taken outside the camp and burned. And then its blood is applied to the mercy seat and the altar, cleaning both of the defilement of sin. The second is done by the High Priest confressing the sins of the people onto the scapegoat, which is then driven out into the wilderness to Azazel. If Azazel is correctly translated “fierce god,” then it represents the demonic, which presumably kills the goat. Meanwhile, the people are cleansed of sin.

    Since there are two goats, I suspect that there are two aspects to the atoning work of Jesus. The first is to reconcile us to God, by condemning to death sin in the flesh. By being baptized into Jesus, we are united with him in his death to sin. And we are cleansed by his blood – his righteous life – as a sign to God that we are now also righteous.

    The second aspect is to nullify whatever legal claim the evil one has had on us. I agree that it is the wrath of the devil (Azazel) that put Jesus to death, unwittingly putting to death those who are in Christ, freeing them from whatever claim he had on them. Thus, the evil one no longer can hold us as hostages, protecting him from the wrath of God that is to coming to destroy him.

    • Welcome, Julian!

      You have scored some profound insights, in my opinion, and have stimulated my thinking further.

      Popular mistranslations of “hilasterion” in Romans 3 as if it were a reference to the altar (see notably the NIV) is quite irresponsible, it seems to me. As you say, we must explore the Day of Atonement references to “mercy seat” (as Luther’s German translation signifies, and which partially grasps its sense of “protective shelter/shielding” or indemnification).

      However, I think you’ll find that the popular notion of “the goat’s body absorbing the defilement of sin” is wayward from a conceptually tight biblical angle. My most recent posts on May 12-13, 2015 of John Lightfoot’s expositions concerning whether the wrath of God was actually borne by the Lamb of God should lay this idea to rest. (They should be read in “reverse” order, i.e., May 13th BEFORE May 12th, to allow his argument to build logically, as I have now rearranged my hardcopies of the three excerpts for handing out.) I have also written on this subject in several blogs since the launch three years ago. Martin Luther got this matter terribly wrong, so multitudes have followed into that ditch. Please do reconsider your compliance in this important matter. In short, THE GOATS WERE THE ONES SINNED AGAINST; that’s precisely what makes them the “SIN[-offering]”! We ought to perceive the INJUSTICE meant to be revealed by this prophetic ritual deed; only this prepares us to appreciate the SACRIFICIAL BLOOD as the Old Covenant sign of THE LAMB’S RESURRECTION BY THE JUSTICE OF GOD, including all that imports of DIVINE POWER FOR WASHING, CLEANSING, HEALING, “ATONING” (COVERING PROTECTIVELY), SANCTIFYING/ HALLOWING, DEDICATING, etc.–namely, THE PROMISE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN RENEWING, RESTORING, REFRESHING, REJUVENATING, REVIVIFYING PRESENCE.

      I believe you’re correct that the two identical goats represent aspects of the single work of Christ. However, I see those in a somewhat different light and mutual relation. I don’t think “reconciliation” can be so handily allotted to one goat, as it were. Nor, I would argue, is “reconciliation” to be interpreted as bilateral, as if God Himself ever needed to “be reconciled” to mankind or to sin, or to whatever. (Paul Peter Waldenström clarifies this better than any other theologian I have come across. Wipf & Stock Publishers released a new book only a couple of months ago that contains numerous previously untranslated selections from his writings on the Atonement, etc., namely, The Swedish Pietists: A Reader — https://wipfandstock.com/the-swedish-pietists-a-reader.html ) The Greek term “apokatallaso” is best rendered “conciliate,” and unilaterally refers to human conciliation to God. (A. E. Knoch, translator of the Concordant Literal New Testament, credited near the top of this page, has rendered this family of words more consistently than any others I know.)

      I must say that I am still working through the issue of “Azazel,” which as you must know is still unsettled. I’m not so sure that this is meant to be an allusion to the devil, as you allege, although this may turn out to be correct. A few of the sources that may facilitate the resolution of this isolated reference in Leviticus are the Book of Enoch, Jewish legendary material (in general, see Louis Ginzberg’s Legends of the Jews, 1909: http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/loj/), rabbinic literature, and, most notably, Immanuel Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision, 1950 (several reprints available), who is aware of all the above and has integrated a vast array of scattered evidence into a revolutionary but highly convincing synthesis, necessitating, however, a decisive paradigm switch concerning antiquity. The latter’s findings should long ago have been absorbed and integrated gratefully, if critically, by Christian scholars.

      Your observation, “By being baptized into Jesus, we are united with him in his death to sin,” is both crisply stated and right on! However, I might slightly differ with your next sentence, “we are cleansed by his blood – his righteous life – as a sign to God that we are now also righteous.” Is that cleansing really a “sign to God,” or is it the very power and substance of our righteousness? To be sure, blood symbolizes the living soul of the sacrificial victim, and if that soul should happen to be the sinless Lamb’s, then it would surely include the denoted righteousness. I have argued that its sum and substance is the Holy Spirit of life now available to us as the divine reward of Christ’s suffering at unjust hands. Thus we receive life and righteousness only through Jesus Christ, and the means is simple baptism in water and Spirit, actuated by faith. (Waldenström has accordingly written beautifully on the topics of baptism, communion, and faith in the above referenced new book.)

      The meaning of your final sentence is not very clear to me. You may want to elaborate a bit more. My current understanding is that Satan “holds us hostage” (not actually a biblical expression, although especially some post-Nicene Christian authors creatively talked this way) by our fear of death and lack of Holy Spirit. I elaborate on this idea extensively in my blog posts. You may wish to scan these for your own purposes.

      Thanks again for your acute observations, Julian. My daughter Marie informed me that Micah referred you to my site. Hence, I hope we can meet some time and compare notes in person. Press on!

  4. Julian

    Hi Ron,

    I forgot to ask for your email, so I’m sending this to you via a blog comment. Here is the passage in G.E. Ladd’s A Theology of the New Testament about being in Christ:

    “….Paul conceives of two races of men. Natural men are in Adam; renewed men are in Christ. As Adam is the head and representative of the old race, so Christ is the head and representative of the new humanity. In Adam came sin, disobedience, condemnation, and death; in Christ comes righteousness, obedience, acquittal, and life (Rom. 5:12ff). Those who are in Adam belong to the old aeon with its bondage to sin and death; those who belong to Christ belong to the new aeon with its freedom and life. Best [a theologian] explains it in terms of the history of redemption. ‘The phrase “in Christ” is the phrase for the salvation-historical (heilsgeschichtlich) situation of those who belong to Christ in virtue of their existential union with the death and resurrection of Christ.’ The same idea can be expressed in terms of eschatology. ‘….The death and resurrection of Jesus were eschatological events, effecting the transition from this age to the Age to Come. Believers could take advantage of this transition, but the transference from the one age to the other could take place only “in Christ.” Those who belonged to him by faith passed through death and resurrection and so came to be alive to God.’ Therefore to be ‘in Christ’ means to be in the new sphere of salvation….” (Ladd, p. 482-483)

    In my opinion, this is how we are to understand the Atonement. By faith in Messiah Jesus we have been united with him in his death and resurrection, and have been transferred from being in Adam to being in the Messiah. Now God is satisfied with us and declares us to be in a right relationship with him (justified).

    • Julian,

      After our conversation at the Bitter End Coffee House last Sunday night, I went home and pulled my copy of Ladd’s Theology of the New Testament (first edition, which I assumed you were referring to) off my shelf and plunged into the chapter indicated. But I only got a start. Thanks for excerpting the heart of the matter.

      The apostle Paul’s repeated expression, “in Christ,” seems to me to point up the centrality of baptism for his conception of our multi-faceted salvation. I wonder why this word seems so seldom mentioned in some treatments of the topic. For instance, I recently read through Richard B. Gaffin’s classic treatment, Resurrection and Redemption, in anticipation of his visit to Grand Rapids, where his son lives. I’ve been hoping to meet him and discuss “The Centrality of the Resurrection,” which happens to be the original title of his book (his doctoral dissertation for Westminster Seminary). And although he refers extensively to this language of being “in Christ,” he assiduously overlooks the connection with the simple reality of baptism to account for Paul’s use of the phrase. Why is that? He seems to me to “Calvinize” the simple Biblical concept and raise needless difficulties for himself and his readers.

      It is baptism that “unites” us with Christ, our Head, supplying us accordingly with the Holy Spirit, which his unjust sufferings won for all who by faith have entrance “into” his extraordinary favor from God. However, I find your last sentence, “Now God is satisfied with us and declares us to be in a right relationship with him (justified),” to depart a bit from the New Testament patterns of explanation. This use of “satisfied” seems like a curtsy to “satisfaction” language, which has spawned so many errors in relation to the Atonement. (However, full disclosure: I do this myself sometimes to score humorously ironic blows against the satisfaction theories that abound. If that’s what you’re doing here, then bravo. But your intention here is not entirely clear to me.)

      But I have some ill-ease with the reduction of justification to “right relationship” language, which seems to me like a fuzzy diversion from a more rigorous concept. You’ll see what I mean when you sample any of my blogs or papers dealing with justice. The not uncommon displacement of justice by “right relationship” seems to me to be the result of having defined justice in an exclusively penal fashion and thus boycotting the premial side of justice. This historically orthodox one-sidedness (and especially the incongruous application of divine penal sanctions “substitutionarily” against the Lord Jesus Christ, as if this could somehow be “atoning”) naturally evokes an overreaction in the opposite direction. This would include approaches that go so far as to redefine justice as “right relationship,” etc., in order to relieve the intolerable burden of perceived divine mischaracterization.

      The solution to such skirting of the fully integral concept of justice found in both Hebrew and Greek Scripture is to embrace amenably the heretofore neglected “other side” of justice. Yet without the coming of God’s Son in the flesh to reveal what perfectly faithful obedience looks like on the ground, the outrageous graciousness of the premial function of God’s justice could scarcely have made its glorious advent via Jesus’ Resurrection. The weighty burden of Hebrew prophecy was intended to raise expectations for this seemingly increasing historic “impossibility” after the even only partial (!) return from the Exile.

      I see this “premial” solution as fitting hand in glove with Paul’s usage of the baptismal “in Christ” language. Well, whaddya think?

  5. Julian

    I use “satisfied” as a curtsy to Ladd’s argument in his “Atonement” section that “hilasterion” should be translated as “propitiation,” not “expiation.” I’m willing to grant him the point, but think it doesn’t matter.

    Allow me to offer an analogy. The children come in to eat supper. But before they can start eating, the mother commands them to wash up, first. Only when she is satisfied that they are clean will she let them sit at the table and eat.

    Likewise, I think the Father looks at us the same way. He calls us in to communion with him, but insists that we be cleaned up first. I think this cleaning up takes place when we have faith in and are baptized into the Lord Jesus, which means that our sinful flesh has been put to death, and we are now raised in the Lord’s new life. Now the Father is satisfied (propitiated) with us.

    As far as my use of “right with God” for “justification,” again I’m relying on Ladd’s discussion of the term in that section of his book (right after “Atonement”). Ladd argued that the Hebraic understanding of justification differed from the Greek, in that it was about one’s relationship with God, not about some Platonic idea of justice. By declaring us justified, God is saying that we are in a right relationship with him. It has nothing to do with the idea of someone needing to satisfy retributive justice.

    By the way, this makes it even more puzzling to understand how Ladd could have still defended Penal Substitution.

    • Please forgive my delay, Julian! I’ve just finished a multi-week project that absorbed me. Thanks for your kind patience.

      Thanks for clarifying why you use “satisfy” language. I’m not quite so willing to grant Ladd this point. I tend to use “protective cover/shelter/shielding” instead of either “propitiation” or “expiation.” You may be right that “it doesn’t matter” which of the latter two alternatives you choose, because both land you in prickly penal problems of one sort or another.

      Your analogy has a certain appeal, I think, but shouldn’t we expect biblical contexts about baptism and communion to come up with this such “satisfaction” language themselves? Yet do they? It would be worth exploring Paul’s language and arguments in Romans 5-7 in this connection. We probably ought to trek off to the Bitter End again, totin’ our volumes, so we can talk it through.

      I would agree that “justification” is about our relationship with God, but I do not see that this demands us to jettison ideas of retributive justice (so long as we restore the premial along with the penal). Here I differ with Derek Flood’s otherwise quite insightful journal articles on the subject, where he debates a traditional PS theologian from England. This concept of retributive justice is not Platonic, however. Roman law did play a role in its later development, but it was certainly part of the Hebraic concept of justice as well, I would argue.

      I see your point about Ladd’s inconsistency. He seemed to want it both ways, but for different reasons; one made him cutting edge, the other kept him orthodox. Is that fence sitting? It’s time to wrestle this issue to the mat.

  6. lincoln young

    a Ron its Lincoln just checked out your blog and looked at it a bit. ill keep looking at it! just wanted to let you know. i have not read a whole lot but i do like the different font and color words it helps me.

    • Hi Lincoln,
      At last, someone who likes my font emphases and coloring! Actually, many folks find it hard to read, and I can understand that. But I started doing it, in part, so that I would remember what to emphasaize when I read them out loud for audio recordings (podcasts, etc). I have only recorded a few (some of my “papers” at the top of the site, which you can listen to by clicking the audio icons when you open the pages). In any case, I think it can help readers understand the points I make and my special emphases. Happy reading, Lincoln! I’ keep an eye out for any comments or questions you may have.

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