Affirmative Answer to Question 1
Nick’s first question was a puzzling question. Rather than cross-examining me on positions I had advocated, he asked me to defend the teachings of Hodge, Boettner, MacArthur, Calvin, Luther, Luther again, and Grudem, not all of which are particularly systematic (while those who are have extensive defenses of their own on this subject).
Nick asserted that these gentlemen claim that Jesus "endure[d] not only a physical death, but a spiritual one as well." That's not quite right. They do say he experienced more than bare death, but specifically the wrath of God. Of course, that expression must be understood within their framework of thought. For them, suffering the punishments due to sinners is suffering God’s wrath: it does not mean that God the Father is displeased with the Son’s sacrifice (on the contrary – it pleases him). But, instead, it means that God’s judgment is on the Son.
Nick asks "Where does Scripture teach Jesus underwent a suffering more painful and serious than physical death?" This itself is trivially answered, since the actual experience of death isn’t something to which we attach any pain. It is the cutting off of soul from body. In Christ's case, however, the way this happened was crucifixion, an enormously painful means to that end.
What was more painful and serious than the physical pain of the crucifixion? It is apples and oranges, but Christ was humiliated in every way: he was condemned and betrayed by the leaders of his people to the gentiles. He was mocked by the gentiles. He was mocked by the thieves on the cross. He was not rescued from death by God. He was abandoned by his disciples. What more could have been done to him that was not done?
But Nick provided further provisos on his question: "Please quote and comment upon at least three distinct passages of Scripture which [sic] state Jesus endured a pain worse than physical death, specifically "the wrath of God" as described above."
I assume Nick's reference to "as described above" is not to anything I had written in this debate, but to other writers with whom it appears Nick would prefer to spar. The first verse in support of their claims is the verse Luther quoted, where Jesus cries out "My God, My God, Why hast Thou forsaken me?"
Nick's request for three distinct passages is a bit odd. I guess it would be nice if this facet of the doctrine of the atonement were brought out by numerous verses, but what if it were just that one that Luther quoted? Isn't the Scriptures saying something one time enough of a reason to believe?
Nevertheless, there are others that convey the same concept, more or less directly. For example, there are verses where salvation through Christ is contrasted with the wrath of God:
John 3:36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
This is a general verse contrasting eternal life obtained through faith in the Son with the wrath of God that otherwise abides on us. Either the wrath of God is against the Son or against us.
Romans 5:9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
This verse makes it clear that the blood of Christ (that is to say, his death) is significant in our justification. That is to say, either the blood of the Son is spilled for us, or God will require our blood.
1 Thessalonians 1:10 And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
This is yet another verse that provides the options of either Christ suffering death or us suffering the wrath of God.
1 Thessalonians 5:9 For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
This is still a further verse in the same vein. (See also Romans 2:2-11)
We can see the same thing another way by looking at Lamentations 3. That chapter begins:
Lamentations 3:1 I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.
Now, whether we view this as simply referring to the prophet Jeremiah, or whether we view it as a prophecy of Jesus the Messiah, what is interesting is how “wrath” is manifested in that chapter. It is manifested by various physical trials, pains, and humiliations. This demonstrates that the wrath of God can be manifested against someone without the person spending an eternity in hell. And, of course, none of the theologians Nick identified think that Jesus had to spend an eternity in hell.
We could, of course, give other examples. Perhaps it suffices to add to this Psalm 88. Psalm 88 is about Christ, as Augustine recognized: “The Passion of our Lord is here prophesied.” (Exposition on Psalm 88 – And the Roman Catholic “Haydock’s Bible Commentary” agrees: “A prayer of one under grievous affliction: it agrees to Christ in his passion, and allude [sic] to his death and burial.”) When it came to verse 7, this was hard for Augustine to swallow, and he was concerned that there was a mistranslation in the copies available to him. But we have better access to (and better understanding of) the Hebrew originals and know that is says:
Psalm 88:7 Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves. Selah.
Though Augustine thinks that this just expresses the beliefs of those who crucified Christ, we recognize that on the interpretation of this verse, even the great Augustine was mistaken. That’s the nice thing about Scriptures being our rule of faith, we can read them without requiring that our view of them be precisely as the fathers, among whom (of course) there was disagreement. For example, Theodoret does not appear to recognize this Psalm as Messianic.
Affirmative Answer to Question 2The question, briefly stated, was whether atonement can be made without penal substitution. The answer is that atonement (reconciliation) does not, as such, require any particular form: i.e., two parties can be variously reconciled.
The case of God, however, is a special case. Justice demands bloodshed. God is perfectly just, and consequently cannot simply overlook the demands of justice. Justice must be satisfied through punishment.
Thus, regarding God’s punishment against sin, there are two options: either the sinner himself is punished or someone else is punished in the place of the sinner.
There are, however, a number of premises in the question itself that need to be addressed:
The “atonement” identified by Nick in Exodus 30:11-16 is a special payment to be made when making a census. If it is not made, God becomes angry and sends judgment on the people. In 2 Samuel 24, David accidentally triggered this provision of the law. David performed a census of the people but did not collect the mandatory ½ shekel (a bekah). Accordingly, a plague came upon the people as promised in Exodus 30:11-16. This plague was the result of the omission of the ½ shekel census payments which would have kept the people atoned-for.
The plague was stayed by making burnt offerings and peace offerings as reported at 2 Samuel 24:25:
2 Samuel 24:25 And David built there an altar unto the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the LORD was intreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel.
Contrary to the seeming presuppositions of Nick’s argument, David didn’t try to buy out God by providing ½ shekel per numbered person. The reason why, is that the sin had already been committed, so there was need to make a blood offering.
After all, this is the general rule, as Scriptures declare:
Hebrews 9:22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.
The second case that was mentioned was not the case of negligent homicide (as Nick seems to think) but homicide by a dangerous chattel – homicide by an animal that was a known danger. It’s similar to negligent homicide, but it differs because there is another actor than the person himself who does the killing.
To understand the ransom involved here, it is important to recognize the way that the Jewish civil law worked. In general, the criminal could avoid the law’s penalty by paying off the victim. For example, if you maimed someone, the law declared that you should be maimed (eye for eye etc.). You could avoid this penalty by paying off the victim. The victim, however, could only demand so much from you, because you could always agree to receive the punishment instead of paying (which helped to keep the buyout amount reasonable).
In the case of the notoriously dangerous loose ox that gores someone, the death penalty was the judgment, but the criminal could pay off the victim’s family. This is significant, because there was a notable exception to permitting criminals to ransom themselves:
Numbers 35:31 Moreover ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death.
In any event, Nick is right that Jesus’ death is sometimes referred to as a “ransom” or a payment of some sort. The commercial analogy is not wrong, it is just not sufficient. Christ’s satisfaction was chiefly penal: it was not “this much for that many” but the substitution of an innocent victim for the guilty people he represents.
The ½ shekel payment would not be a counter-example in favor of a pure commercial analogy for two reasons: (1) it is a payment not for those who have sinned, but for those who are in the army:
Numbers 1:3 From twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: thou and Aaron shall number them by their armies.
(2) it is an individual payment, but it is not proportioned to individual sin. In other words, the payment is exactly the same for everyone, whether rich or poor. Thus, although it has definite “commercial” connotations, in that it is monetary, it is not an example of commercial satisfaction that can serve as a legitimate model for any alternative view for Nick.
Finally, Nick mentions the idea of “giving his life as a ransom” as referring to the life (as such) being of a particular value and quality. The first thing that must be addressed here is that “giving his life” means “dying.” It’s unclear whether Nick realizes this, or views the death itself as an inconsequential aside. The second thing is that the value and quality of life is important. The victim must be spotless, i.e. blameless (Cf. Lev 23:12 And ye shall offer that day when ye wave the sheaf an he lamb without blemish of the first year for a burnt offering unto the LORD.), otherwise his death would not be substitutionary: it would be for his own sins.
Christ is that spotless victim:
Hebrews 9:14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
The unique dignity of Christ’s person was important for our atonement too. The blood of bulls and of goats was never actually able to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.), but the blood of Christ can take away not just he sins of a single man (as perhaps the death of a righteous mere man might) but of the world (John 1:29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.).
So, our atonement from sin and hell is a penal substitution.
Affirmative Answer to Question 3I had pointed out that Deuteronomy 9:16-21 does not make reference to an atonement. Now, Nick has taken the position that “it turns out that the term ‘atonement’ is applied to this event,” citing Exodus 32:30.
The answer here is that Moses overestimated himself. Let’s examine the entire relevant passage:
Exodus 32:30-35Moses apparently offered himself as a victim to atone for the sins of the people, but whether that was what Moses was trying to offer or not, God rejected his offer and plagued the people because they made the calf.
30 And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the LORD; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin. 31 And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. 32 Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin--; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.
33 And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. 34 Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee: behold, mine Angel shall go before thee: nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them. 35 And the LORD plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made.
Christ’s offer to substitute himself for the sins of his people is not refused by the Father. That’s one way in which Christ is much better than Moses.
Hebrews 3:3 For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house.
That would seem to answer Nick’s question, but again, Nick’s question also contains some faulty premises that need to be corrected.
Nick states: “Surely Christ’s ‘unjust sufferings’ were of infinitely more value than what Moses could provide.” There are a few things that should be noted:
(1) Yes, Christ’s sufferings were of more value than anything Moses could provide, because Christ did not deserve to suffer, but Moses did deserve to suffer, and because Christ was both God and man in two distinct natures and one person.
(2) Moses, to the extent that he saved the people in Deuteronomy 9, did not save them from hell: he saved them from immediate destruction. Thus, the nature of the salvation provided is quite different.
(3) Nick’s comment, though, seems to view the sufferings of Christ as the primary source of value, whereas it is by Christ’s death (sometimes called his “blood”) that we are saved.
Romans 3:25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
One can also this principle in the discussion, for example, of Tertullian (a discussion I almost included in responses to others of these questions):
Tertullian - Against Praxeas (Chapter 30)
You have Him exclaiming in the midst of His passion: "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" Either, then, the Son suffered, being "forsaken" by the Father, and the Father consequently suffered nothing, inasmuch as He forsook the Son; or else, if it was the Father who suffered, then to what God was it that He addressed His cry? But this was the voice of flesh and soul, that is to say, of man— not of the Word and Spirit, that is to say, not of God; and it was uttered so as to prove the impassibility of God, who "forsook" His Son, so far as He handed over His human substance to the suffering of death. This verity the apostle also perceived, when he writes to this effect: "If the Father spared not His own Son." This did Isaiah before him likewise perceive, when he declared: "And the Lord has delivered Him up for our offences." In this manner He "forsook" Him, in not sparing Him; "forsook" Him, in delivering Him up. In all other respects the Father did not forsake the Son, for it was into His Father's hands that the Son commended His spirit. Indeed, after so commending it, He instantly died; and as the Spirit remained with the flesh, the flesh cannot undergo the full extent of death, i.e., in corruption and decay. For the Son, therefore, to die, amounted to His being forsaken by the Father. The Son, then, both dies and rises again, according to the Scriptures. It is the Son, too, who ascends to the heights of heaven, and also descends to the inner parts of the earth. "He sits at the Father's right hand" — not the Father at His own.As you can see, Tertullian rightly focuses on the “suffering of death” (i.e. dying). There is some interesting ways in which Tertullian also addresses the issue of Jesus being “forsaken” (see Answer to Question 4) and of the Trinitarian and Hypostatic relationships (see Answer to Question 5).
Thus, likewise Augustine – On the Creed:
"Patience of Job, end of the Lord." The patience of Job we know, and the end of the Lord we know. What end of the Lord? "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?" They are the words of the Lord hanging on the cross. He did as it were leave Him for present felicity, not leave Him for eternal immortality. In this is "the end of the Lord." The Jews hold Him, the Jews insult, the Jews bind Him, crown Him with thorns, dishonor Him with spitting, scourge Him, overwhelm Him with revilings, hang Him upon the tree, pierce Him with a spear, last of all bury Him.So then, this humiliation up to and including Christ’s death was necessary for our atonement, though not for just any atonement.
Affirmative Answer to Question 4
Nick asked for patristic support for the quotations he identified in Question 1. With the word limits it is impossible to identify all the relevant quotations or address every facet, but several quotations should illustrate the same kinds of thoughts:
Augustine – On the Trinity – Book IV, Chapter III:
Leo the Great – Sermon 68:
John of Damascus - An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith (Book IV):
Augustine – On the Trinity – Book IV, Chapter III:
6. Therefore on this double death of ours our Saviour bestowed His own single death; and to cause both our resurrections, He appointed beforehand and set forth in mystery and type His own one resurrection. For He was not a sinner or ungodly, that, as though dead in spirit, He should need to be renewed in the inner man, and to be recalled as it were to the life of righteousness by repentance; but being clothed in mortal flesh, and in that alone dying, in that alone rising again, in that alone did He answer to both for us; since in it was wrought a mystery as regards the inner man, and a type as regards the outer. For it was in a mystery as regards our inner man, so as to signify the death of our soul, that those words were uttered, not only in the Psalm, but also on the cross: "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" To which words the apostle agrees, saying, "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin;" since by the crucifixion of the inner man are understood the pains of repentance, and a certain wholesome agony of self-control, by which death the death of ungodliness is destroyed, and in which death God has left us. And so the body of sin is destroyed through such a cross, that now we should not yield our members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin.This quotation provides an example of the basic concept behind the “Reformed” quotations Nick provided: Christ’s one death substitutes for our two deaths. I’d love to provide many more quotations from Augustine, who consistently refers these words to Christ speaking on our behalf, as our substitute, and the representative of the old man. These may be found, for example in his Expositions of Psalms 22, 38, 42, 44, 50, 71, and 141. The issue of wrath, in particular, being on this representative head may be found in his exposition on Psalm 88: “Over that Body, which constitutes the unity of the Saints and the faithful, whose Head is Christ, go the wraths of God: yet abide not: since it is of the unbelieving only that it is written, that ‘the wrath of God abides upon him.’”
The one death therefore of our Saviour brought salvation to our double death, and His one resurrection wrought for us two resurrections; since His body in both cases, that is, both in His death and in His resurrection, was ministered to us by a kind of healing suitableness, both as a mystery of the inner man, and as a type of the outer.
Leo the Great – Sermon 68:
Jesus, therefore, cried with a loud voice, saying, "Why have You forsaken Me?" in order to notify to all how it behoved Him not to be rescued, not to be defended, but to be given up into the hands of cruel men, that is to become the Saviour of the world and the Redeemer of all men, not by misery but by mercy; and not by the failure of succour but by the determination to die. But what must we feel to be the intercessory power of His life Who died and rose again by His own inherent power. For the blessed Apostle says the Father "spared not His own Son, but gave Him up for us all;" and again, he says, "For Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify it ." And hence the giving up of the Lord to His Passion was as much of the Father's as of His own will, so that not only did the Father "forsake" Him, but He also abandoned Himself in a certain sense, not in hasty flight, but in voluntary withdrawal. For the might of the Crucified restrained itself from those wicked men, and in order to avail Himself of a secret design, He refused to avail Himself of His open power. For how would He who had come to destroy death and the author of death by His Passion have saved sinners, if he had resisted His persecutors?Leo the Great, unlike some of the other fathers, is willing to acknowledge that there is a sense in which Jesus was forsaken by the Father, though (of course) this was voluntary (as the Reformed acknowledge)
John of Damascus - An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith (Book IV):
Others again are said in the manner of association and relation , as, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? and He has made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin, and being made a curse for us; also, Then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him. For neither as God nor as man was He ever forsaken by the Father, nor did He become sin or a curse, nor did He require to be made subject to the Father. For as God He is equal to the Father and not opposed to Him nor subjected to Him; and as God, He was never at any time disobedient to His Begetter to make it necessary for Him to make Him subject. Appropriating, then, our person and ranking Himself with us, He used these words. For we are bound in the fetters of sin and the curse as faithless and disobedient, and therefore forsaken.John of Damascus appears to be recognizing that these words are spoken in Jesus’ appropriated role as our representative: receiving (and expressing) the forsakenness we deserve for our sins.
Affirmative Answer to Question 5Nick insists it is orthodox to say when Jesus slept that “God was asleep” because Jesus is the second person of the Trinity.
Here, Nick appears to part ways with folks like Ambrose.
Ambrose - Exposition of the Christian Faith - Book II, Chapter VII:
56. As being man, therefore, He doubts; as man He is amazed. Neither His power nor His Godhead is amazed, but His soul; He is amazed by consequence of having taken human infirmity upon Him. Seeing, then, that He took upon Himself a soul He also took the affections of a soul, for God could not have been distressed or have died in respect of His being God. Finally, He cried: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” As being man, therefore, He speaks, bearing with Him my terrors, for when we are in the midst of dangers we think ourself abandoned by God. As man, therefore, He is distressed, as man He weeps, as man He is crucified.When Nick asks, “Can the statement ‘God died on the cross’ be understood in a truly orthodox sense?” the answer seems to be “No.”
57. For so hath the Apostle Paul likewise said: “Because they have crucified the flesh of Christ.” And again the Apostle Peter saith: “Christ having suffered according to the flesh.” It was the flesh, therefore, that suffered; the Godhead above secure from death; to suffering His body yielded, after the law of human nature; can the Godhead die, then, if the soul cannot? “Fear not them,” said our Lord, “which can kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.” If the soul, then, cannot be killed, how can the Godhead?
58. When we read, then, that the Lord of glory was crucified, let us not suppose that He was crucified as in His glory. It is because He Who is God is also man, God by virtue of His Divinity, and by taking upon Him of the flesh, the man Christ Jesus, that the Lord of glory is said to have been crucified; for, possessing both natures, that is, the human and the divine, He endured the Passion in His humanity, in order that without distinction He Who suffered should be called both Lord of glory and Son of man, even as it is written: “Who descended from heaven.”
The expression "in an orthodox sense" invites trouble, since "God does not exist" could be understood in an orthodox sense if further qualified, such as by "in the thoughts of a fool."
Standing alone, the comment that “God died” is facially heterodox, although it can be qualified to some other meaning. The Orthodox way to describe it is "Jesus Christ died on the cross." The church fathers agree.
Thus, Leo the Great, in Sermon 68, explained:
The last discourse, dearly-beloved, of which we desire now to give the promised portion, had reached that point in the argument where we were speaking of that cry which the crucified Lord uttered to the Father: we bade the simple and unthinking hearer not take the words "My God, &c.," in a sense as if, when Jesus was fixed upon the wood of the cross, the Omnipotence of the Father's Deity had gone away from Him; seeing that God's and Man's Nature were so completely joined in Him that the union could not be destroyed by punishment nor by death. For while each substance retained its own properties, God neither held aloof from the suffering of His body nor was made passible by the flesh, because the Godhead which was in the Sufferer did not actually suffer. And hence, in accordance with the Nature of the Word made Man, He Who was made in the midst of all is the same as He through Whom all things were made. He Who is arrested by the hands of wicked men is the same as He Who is bound by no limits. He Who is pierced with nails is the same as He Whom no wound can affect. Finally, He Who underwent death is the same as He Who never ceased to be eternal, so that both facts are established by indubitable signs, namely, the truth of the humiliation in Christ and the truth of the majesty; because Divine power joined itself to human frailty to this end, that God, while making what was ours His, might at the same time make what was His ours.Theodoret, in Letter 170, goes a bit further:
For in these very Chapters the author of the noxious productions teaches that the Godhead of the only begotten Son suffered, instead of the manhood which He assumed for the sake of our salvation, the indwelling Godhead manifestly appropriating the sufferings as of Its own body, though suffering nothing in Its own nature; and further that there is made one nature of both Godhead and manhood,— for so he explains "The Word was made flesh," as though the Godhead had undergone some change, and been turned into flesh.
And, further, he anathematizes those who make a distinction between the terms used by apostles and evangelists about the Lord Christ, referring those of humiliation to the manhood, and those of divine glory to the Godhead, of the Lord Christ. It is with these views that Arians and Eunomians, attributing the terms of humiliation to the Godhead, have not shrunk from declaring God the Word to be made and created, of another substance, and unlike the Father.
What blasphemy follows on these statements it is not difficult to perceive. There is introduced a confusion of the natures, and to God the Word are applied the words "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me;" and "Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me," the hunger, the thirst, and the strengthening by an angel; His saying "Now is my soul troubled," and "my soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death," and all similar passages belonging to the manhood of the Christ.