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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What did Jesus mean by "It is finished"?

Protestants are fond of saying that Catholics reject "the finished work of Christ" since Catholics reject Salvation by Faith Alone. A popular text they appeal to is John 19:30, which mentions the final words of Jesus on the Cross, "It is finished!" By this, they suggest Christ did everything necessary for our salvation, that He paid everything, all that's left is for us to believe. To deny this, they say, is to deny the Gospel. While at first this might sound convincing, it's an unfortunate and serious distortion of a beautiful text. 

The first thing I'd suggest people think about is that Jesus said "It is finished" before He actually died  and before He Resurrected. If someone were to push this too far in the wrong way, it would end up saying the Resurrection and even the Death itself wasn't necessary. (Note: Calvinists technically deny the sufficiency of the Cross, they just don't realize it.) Given this, there needs to be a more careful approach to the text. 

What many don't know is that there is actually a very good explanation to this text that can be discerned simply by examining the context: 
28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Notice that the focus of this event was not about Jesus paying the full penalty for sin, but rather about fulfilling an Old Testament prophecy. It was when Jesus received the sour wine (vinegar) that He spoke these words, fulfilling the set up from verse 28. In fact, the Greek word for "finished" only appears twice in John, in verse 19:28 and 19:30, under the same verbal form (tetelestai), strongly suggesting the two go together. And the context shows that a few other Old Testament prophecies were also going to be fulfilled (John 19:31-37). So it should really be understood as "It is fulfilled," or more traditionally, "It is Consummated."

The "fulfill" ("consummated") reading also makes better sense of the Greek term used (see how it's used in Luke 18:31 and Acts 13:29). In the 26 verses the word appears in, only twice is it used to refer to payment, and even in these two verse it only refers to paying taxes (Mt 17:24; Rom 13:6) and not some full payment. In virtually every other verse it's used, it means "fulfill" or "conclude". Given this, it is absolutely astonishing the way many Protestants will over-reach with this word to make it suggest a financial transaction of "payment in full" and completely ignore the Biblical evidence available. 

This is not to suggest that the "It is Consummated" doesn't have a deeper significance than just saying "this one prophecy was fulfilled," but rather that Christ's death is to be understood as the Old Testament said it would happen. For example, Protestants love to point to Jesus on the Cross saying "My God, why have You abandoned me," and claim this verse proves the Father's wrath was poured out on Jesus. But any alert reader would know Jesus was intoning Psalm 22, which clearly is speaking of David/Jesus being persecuted by enemies and not being rescued (immediately) by God. This same kind of distortion is happening when Protestants quote "It is finished." In the case of "I thirst," the cross-reference given for this is Psalm 69:21, which is a Messianic Psalm talking about how David was persecuted and insulted by his fellow Jews and now how Jesus is persecuted and insulted by the Jews. Nothing to do with taking someone's punishment or the Father's wrath being dumped on them. 

Hat tip to this Catholic blogger for his work on this verse.

14 comments:

Michael Taylor said...

Hey Nick,

Except for the part about Calvinists denying the sufficiency of the cross (you'll have to explain that one in more detail, and then I'll show you why it's actually Rome that denies its sufficiency and possibly even its necessity), I actually agree with most of what you said. And that may be a first.

I think you may be correct that "tetelestai" does not mean "paid in full" in this context, (though I have heard the claim, but have never been able to verify, that it was the word that was often stamped on documents once a debt was fully paid off). I agree that OT fulfillment is what is uppermost in mind, though I wouldn't rule out the motif of redemption (paying a debt in full).

That said, I do think it is accurate to say Christ paid our debt in full on the cross. That's the language of redemption and ransom found all over the New Testament. It's one of many metaphors used to describe the benefits that come to us from the cross, but it isn't the *only* one, which, as you seem to suggest, is the de facto position of many Protestants.

As for God pouring out his wrath on Jesus--that's trickier, for it sort of depends upon what you mean by "pouring out wrath." Of course, Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, so I suppose an analogy must be made between the sacrificial lambs of the OT and Jesus' cross work, right? And certainly there is an an element of propitiation going on there, no?

That Christ's atonement is vicarious or substitutionary, yes, I can affirm that. But does that mean God sadistically punished his son, like some cosmic child abuser? That's only a caricature of PSA (penal substitutionary atonement).

So in other words, I agree with the historic catholic (small c) view of PSA, but also agree with you that "it is finished" may not be as clearly tied to that concept as many Protestants have historically claimed.

Cheers,

Mike (aka "Miguel")

Michael Taylor said...

Nick,

On the other hand...I've given some more thought to what "tetelestai" may mean in John 19. While I still lean in your direction, I can see why many have made the connection to the "paid in full" motif.

Consider this source (which I do not vouch for), but which may possibly be legit:

>>The word tetelestai was also written on business documents or receipts in New Testament times to show indicating that a bill had been paid in full. The Greek-English lexicon by Moulton and Milligan says this:

“Receipts are often introduced by the phrase [sic] tetelestai, usually written in an abbreviated manner...” (p. 630). The connection between receipts and what Christ accomplished would have been quite clear to John’s Greek-speaking readership; it would be unmistakable that Jesus Christ had died to pay for their sins.<<

Source: http://bible.org/question/what-does-greek-word-8216itetelestaii’-mean

Let's assume the source is solid. Would that mean "tetelestai" means "paid in full" in John 19? Not necessarily and perhaps not even probably. Why? Because the meaning of a term is determined by its context. So even if tetelestai *may mean* "paid in full," that does not mean it has that meaning in John 19. And since there seems to be nothing about paying debts or giving receipts in John 19, "paid in full" seems to be prima facie unlikely. Still, one wonders if John's audience would have made an immediate connection to the term if, in their everyday experience, "tetelestai" had that meaning.

So I consider it at least *possible* that "paid in full" may have been intended.

Possible is, however, not probable. But perhaps this piece of evidence may add some probability. Raymond E. Brown, S.S., sees a connection between Revelation 16:17, "it is done" with "it is finished" in John 19.

Interestingly, the context speaks of divine wrath, specifically the 7th bowl judgement. I also find it fascinating that an earthquake is one of the results of this judgment. Do think it's possible that the earthquake the split the temple curtain (see Matthew 27:51-54) connects God's wrath to the crucifixion?

If so, then perhaps "it is done" and "it is finished" are parallel concepts with respect to God's wrath. The difference, of course, is that in Revelation it is finished being poured out on the earth, whereas in John it may be that it has been fully satisfied.

Just some thoughts for your consideration....

Mike Taylor

De Maria said...

Hey Nick,

Except for the part about Calvinists denying the sufficiency of the cross (you'll have to explain that one in more detail, and then I'll show you why it's actually Rome that denies its sufficiency and possibly even its necessity),....


While we wait for Nick to explain why Calvinists deny the sufficiency of the Cross, please explain why you think it is Rome which denies it. Especially in view of these verses. These are just a small sampling.

Colossians 1:24
King James Version (KJV)
24 Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church:

1 Peter 4:1
Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin;

Sincerely,

De Maria

Michael Taylor said...

Hello De Maria:

You asked:

>>please explain why you think it is Rome which denies it [the sufficiency and possibly even the necessity of the cross] especially in view of these verses: [Colossians 1:24 and 1 Peter 4:1]<<

Here is why I think Rome denies the "sufficiency" of the cross in a nutshell.

In addition to saving grace, you also need to add your own free-will, cooperation with grace. This follows from the idea of having a universal atonement, but not a substitutionary one. Thus, Christ died for everyone, but actually saved no one. He provided a way for salvation for everyone, but didn't actually save anyone from the cross. In other words, he opened a door, but you have to walk through it. He threw you a rope, but you have to grab it. The idea here is that Christ's atonement made all people "saveable," but didn't actually save any of them.

Something else is required: namely your cooperation with grace as well as your participation in the means of grace: baptism, eucharist, confirmation and confession if/when needed.

The Reformation really was about whether or not grace alone was sufficiency for our salvation. It was never truly a debate about whether it was needed...

...until Vatican II. This is when Rome went even further, arguing that, strictly speaking, one doesn't even have to be a Christian to be saved--that even those who, "through no fault of their own," have not believed the Gospel, can nevertheless be saved if they fulfill the demands of the moral law.

It is very difficult to argue that the cross is in any way necessary for such as these, if God will save them anyway.

At best you might argue that the cross is still functioning in the background as the means to their salvation even though they have not come to the cross explicitly. This is why I said Rome *may* be denying the necessity of the cross, not that it definitely *is" denying its necessity. But even if Rome is not denying it, Vatican II's allowance for non-Christians to be saved comes perilously close to a denial of the the necessity of the cross.

Really, I think Vatican II was simply drawing out the natural implications of the older view. Once you have a universal atonement for all rather than a particular substitutionary atonement for the elect, it's a fairly short step to the idea that all can be saved (even without faith in Christ and his work on the cross).

I predict the next "development" in Roman theology will be the idea that since Christ died for everyone, everyone will be saved (universalism). This is already the de facto position of most liberal theologians since most of them think Hell is only a theoretical option and strongly doubt that anyone will ultimately go there.

As for the verses you cited, I honestly don't see their relevance to the issue I was raising.

By the way, every dissenting voice at Vatican II predicted that the statement on the possible salvation of non-Christians would kill evangelism. They were right. Catholics don't evangelize. Liberal Catholics equate evangelism with social justice and conservative Catholics equate evangelism with getting people to convert to Roman Catholicism. Neither group even remotely resembles the evangelists we see in Scripture.

Of course, it's hard to evangelize when your gospel is faulty to begin with....but I digress.

Blessings to you,

Mike Taylor

De Maria said...

Michael Taylor said...
Hello De Maria:


Hello Michael,

Here is why I think Rome denies the "sufficiency" of the cross in a nutshell.

In addition to saving grace, you also need to add your own free-will, cooperation with grace. This follows from the idea of having a universal atonement, but not a substitutionary one. Thus, Christ died for everyone, but actually saved no one. He provided a way for salvation for everyone, but didn't actually save anyone from the cross. In other words, he opened a door, but you have to walk through it. He threw you a rope, but you have to grab it. The idea here is that Christ's atonement made all people "saveable," but didn't actually save any of them.


I only have one quarrel with your synopsis. We believe the sacrifice of the Cross is sufficient to save all who want to be saved. We can compare the attitudes of the two who were crucified with Christ. One of them repented of his sins because he wanted to be saved. And Christ saved him.

The other also wanted to be saved, but did not want to repent of his sins. And he was lost.

Something else is required: namely your cooperation with grace as well as your participation in the means of grace: baptism, eucharist, confirmation and confession if/when needed.

All true. The sacrifice of Calvary was sufficient to heal every sinner that ever existed, if they were willing to accept the remedy which God provided.

The Reformation really was about whether or not grace alone was sufficiency for our salvation. It was never truly a debate about whether it was needed…

I believe that is why Luther is rumored to have said, "the Reformation stands or falls on the Doctrine of Soteriology".

If it is by the Grace of God with the cooperation of man, then the Reformation falls.

If it is by grace alone, then Catholicism folds.

...until Vatican II. This is when Rome went even further, arguing that, strictly speaking, one doesn't even have to be a Christian to be saved--that even those who, "through no fault of their own," have not believed the Gospel, can nevertheless be saved if they fulfill the demands of the moral law.

That doctrine was always there. But let's crack one nut at a time.

It is very difficult to argue that the cross is in any way necessary for such as these, if God will save them anyway.

Without the Cross, they would not be saved either. Christ saved many who were ill without ever setting eyes on them. As the Centurion said, "Only say the Word and my servant shall be healed."

At best you might argue that the cross is still functioning in the background as the means to their salvation even though they have not come to the cross explicitly.

Scripture says:
1 Timothy 2:4
Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

Who are these men to which St. Paul refers? Only Christians?

1 Timothy 2
King James Version (KJV)
1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; 2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; 4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; 6 Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

cont'd

De Maria said...

cont'd

This is why I said Rome *may* be denying the necessity of the cross, not that it definitely *is" denying its necessity. But even if Rome is not denying it, Vatican II's allowance for non-Christians to be saved comes perilously close to a denial of the the necessity of the cross.

It is neither denying the necessity nor the sufficiency. As for sufficiency, you interpret that differently than we do.

Really, I think Vatican II was simply drawing out the natural implications of the older view. Once you have a universal atonement for all rather than a particular substitutionary atonement for the elect, it's a fairly short step to the idea that all can be saved (even without faith in Christ and his work on the cross).

So, you're saying that Christ did not die for all, but only for the elect. But if Christ only died for the elect, why does Scripture say:
Romans 5:6
For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.

It doesn't say that Christ died for the elect. Nor does it say that Christ died for only some of the ungodly. But simply for the ungodly.

Do you have Scripture to which you refer saying that God died only for the elect?

I predict the next "development" in Roman theology will be the idea that since Christ died for everyone, everyone will be saved (universalism). This is already the de facto position of most liberal theologians since most of them think Hell is only a theoretical option and strongly doubt that anyone will ultimately go there.

That might become the Protestant doctrine. But Catholic Doctrine does not contradicts itself.

As for the verses you cited, I honestly don't see their relevance to the issue I was raising.

Really? They say that we must suffer with Christ. That we must "fill up" the suffering which was lacking in Christ.

In other words, it speaks to the ALL sufficiency which you claim Christ provided on the Cross. A sufficiency such that we are excluded from participating and cooperating with it.

Those verses alone, without any others being mentioned, bring your theories to ruin.

By the way, every dissenting voice at Vatican II predicted that the statement on the possible salvation of non-Christians would kill evangelism. They were right. Catholics don't evangelize. Liberal Catholics equate evangelism with social justice and conservative Catholics equate evangelism with getting people to convert to Roman Catholicism. Neither group even remotely resembles the evangelists we see in Scripture.

That is besides the point being discussed. Let's stick to the Doctrinal question we are discussing. What you are doing is speculating.

Of course, it's hard to evangelize when your gospel is faulty to begin with....but I digress.

It is Calvinist doctrine which is in error. But it is a branch of the Protestants which was faulty to begin with.

Blessings to you,

Mike Taylor


and to you,

De Maria

Vincent VAN DER WEERDEN said...

Nick what is the rc view of the atonement vis-a-vis penal substitution? How did Jesus accomplish salvation on the cross? Is the RC view of the atonement that of Aquinas? I am aware there is more than just one view in Rome.

Michael Taylor said...

Hello De,

You said>> So, you're saying that Christ did not die for all, but only for the elect. But if Christ only died for the elect, why does Scripture say: [Romans 5:6]

It doesn't say that Christ died for the elect. Nor does it say that Christ died for only some of the ungodly. But simply for the ungodly.

Do you have Scripture to which you refer saying that God died only for the elect?<<

This is an entirely different topic, and a com-box isn't enough room to give you the kind of answer your question deserves. I'll blog my response at my own blog ("Fallibility") and you can respond to it there if you're so inclined.

Michael Taylor said...

De Maria,

I've blogged my response as to why Romans 5:6 does not prove universal atonement.

You can read about that here:

http://fallibility.blogspot.com/2013/03/does-romans-56-prove-universal-atonement.html

Cheers,

Mike Taylor

De Maria said...

Michael Taylor said...
Hello De,


Hi Michael,

I asked:
Do you have Scripture to which you refer saying that God died only for the elect?

You responded:
This is an entirely different topic, and a com-box isn't enough room to give you the kind of answer your question deserves. I'll blog my response at my own blog ("Fallibility") and you can respond to it there if you're so inclined.

I'll take that as a no. If you had a verse, you would have posted it.

Sure, I'll check out your blog. I've already started debunking your articles there anyway.

Nick said...

Hello Mike,

The "paid in full" argument comes from sources like Matt Slick of CARM who are either desperate to come up with a slam-dunk argument or simply don't realize how facil and naive their interpretation is.

So I do understand how someone can say it was 'found on buisness documents', but the fact is that's not how the Bible employs the term either in it's common usage nor in the context. So it's good that we agree on that point.

As for your question, I don't see the earthquake and split curtain as pertaining to God's wrath, except maybe to show God's displeasure at the monstrous injustice of His Son being murdered.

Anonymous said...

The ESV Bible translation is truly corrupted by Satan. Below is the KJV version:

John 19:28-30 KJV
28 After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.

29 Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth.

30 When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.

Michael Taylor said...

Nick>>The "paid in full" argument comes from sources like Matt Slick of CARM who are either desperate to come up with a slam-dunk argument or simply don't realize how facil and naive their interpretation is.<<

You go too far Nick. It's one thing to say "tetelestai" can mean "paid in full." It's quite another to say "it's facile and naive." I for one am not certain that it does not mean "paid in full," as certainly there seems to be enough evidence from the ancient world to support that as one possible meaning--a meaning that ancient readers would have known from their everyday experience.

There doesn't seem to be much about "redemption" or "ransom" in John's Gospel, which is why the "paid in full" idea seems unlikely to me. But don't overlook Revelation 5:9: "for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation."

That's Calvinism, bro. John is speaking of a particular ransom of the many, not a general or objective ransom of the entire human race. So given the terms being used, i.e., "ransom," I wouldn't say its unthinkable that "tetelestai" could mean "paid in full" in John given that John 1:29 says he is the lamb who takes a way the "sin of the world." Surely you would agree that the concept of the the shed blood of the lamb is connected to redemption and ransom, no? If so, then "paid in full" isn't as far-fetched as you make it out to be.

>>As for your question, I don't see the earthquake and split curtain as pertaining to God's wrath, except maybe to show God's displeasure at the monstrous injustice of His Son being murdered.<<

Really? Here is John in Revelation: "It is done" followed by massive earthquake. Here is the cross: "It is finished" followed by a massive earthquake that splits the temple (though you have to go to Matthew to get that detail). And you see no connection at all? Or is it that the idea that the Son bore the wrath of God on the cross simply child abuse in your eyes?

Steve Finnell said...

HAS GOD'S GRACE BEEN OFFERED TO ALL MEN?

According to Calvinists, God has only offered grace to a select few who were individually predetermined for salvation before man was created. Is this what the Scriptures proclaim? No, they do not.

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God..(NKJV)
The words of John Calvin are not Scripture.
The words of the apostle Paul are Scripture.(SEE: 2 Peter 3:15-16)

The apostle Paul wrote the letter to Titus. Titus is Scripture. John Calvin did not pen one single verse of Scripture. Calvin's words were not Scripture. If John Calvin's writings were inspired by God, then they should be included in the Bible.

THE BIBLE PROCLAIMS THAT GRACE IS OFFERED TO ALL MANKIND UNDER THE NEW COVENANT TERMS FOR PARDON.

Titus 2:11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. (NKJV)

Titus 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. (New International Version)

Titus 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people. (English Standard Version)

Titus 2:11 For the all saving grace of God has been revealed to all men; (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

Titus 2:11 For the grace of God that brings salvation hath appeared to all men, (King James Bible)

The free gift of salvation has been offered to all men who will accept God's terms for pardon.

THE TERMS FOR PARDON.
1. Faith: John 3:16
2. Confession: Romans 10:9
3. Repentance: Acts 3:19
4. Water Baptism: Acts 2:38


YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY CHRISTIAN BLOG> http://steve-finnell.blogspot.com