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Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Pope's Infallible Interpretation of Isaiah 53 (More Problems with Penal Substitution)

Protestants, as their name suggests, don't recognize the authority of the Pope. So it's not surprising that they don't recognize the Pope's infallible interpretation of Isaiah 53 as not involving Penal Substitution. In this post, I'll show the Papal commentary on this crucial passage, which was actually written quite a few decades back by a prior Pope but is still as valid today.
18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. [Isaiah 53:9] 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten [cf Isaiah 53:7], but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins [Isaiah 53:11] in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. [Isaiah 53:5] 25 For you were straying like sheep [Isaiah 53:6], but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. 
Those are the words of St Peter himself, from the 2nd chapter of his First Epistle. He is speaking directly on Isaiah 53, showing how it's to be understood, giving practical illustrations
 
What the Pope is saying here is that when it comes to suffering, it's clearly a bad thing in itself (being a product of original sin). But enduring unjust suffering has a meritorious quality about it, since you're suffering for the noble purpose of serving God and exemplifying love of neighbor. It is the patient enduring of unjust suffering that is how the Pope describes how "Christ suffered for you" (v21), and that this was to be an example for how we should patiently endure suffering.

For Protestants who see the Cross as a situation where Jesus suffered the Father's wrath in our place, this talk by the Pope makes little sense. In fact, I'm not surprised that every time I bring up this text in context that Protestants ignore the overall message. But this context is precisely how the Pope quotes and interprets Isaiah 53, not as a matter of suffering the Father's wrath, but rather suffering persecution at the hands of wicked men. The only thing Protestants can really do is fixate on an incorrect interpretation of verse 24, thinking that to "bear sins" means to have the Father punish Jesus in our place, but that's not what this phrase means nor does the context support it. 

Since there were no chapters in the original text of the Pope's letter, there's no need to cut off the thought at the end of chapter 2, since the Pope continues on with the same theme: 
3:1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct.
Continuing with the "be subject to" theme, the Pope gives the example of how a woman properly submitting to the unjust treatment of her husband can by her humility win her husband to Christ. The Pope went onto summarize: "Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing ... But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed." (v9,14). Note how the phrase "for this you were called" appears also in 2:21, again teaching that not repaying evil for evil is how you gain God's favor. This is identical to what Our Lord taught on the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake" (Mt 5:10). Jesus Himself was Blessed because we was persecuted for righteousness' sake.

Indeed, this "let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good" (4:19) theme is found throughout the Pope's Letter, since "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (1 Pt 5:5-6). Clearly there is a plain and united theme about meritorious suffering running throughout, none of which involves suffering God's wrath.

So the question is, are Protestants going to listen to the Pope as to what Isaiah 53 really means?

14 comments:

JohnD said...

What makes you think this Pope's letter is infallible?

John W said...

Is it not clear that Nick is speaking about the 1st Pope Peter, and that the letter is 1Peter?

Protestants do accept scripture as inerrant.

So when Peter quotes directly from Isaiah 53, one would think that His interpretation should trump the Reformed speculation about Isaiah 53 being a proof text for PSA and the Father literally taking out His wrath on Jesus.



JohnD said...

Good point!

JohnD said...

Nick,

I am not seeing what exactly in your explanations above is inconsistent with PSA.

Your major point seems to be: But enduring unjust suffering has a meritorious quality about it, since you're suffering for the noble purpose of serving God and exemplifying love of neighbor. It is the patient enduring of unjust suffering that is how the Pope describes how "Christ suffered for you" (v21), and that this was to be an example for how we should patiently endure suffering.

In response:

1. Christ's unjust suffering certainly merits salvation for His elect, but this is true whether one holds to PSA or a satisfaction theory of the atonement.

2. We are called to follow Christ's example and so by enduring unjust suffering we are obedient to God's commands and can find favor in His sight. However, this does not mean we merit salvation or merit salvific grace or merit grace for others by our suffering. At least, the text does not strictly imply such an understanding.

3. Peter's statement that Christ "bore our sins" can be construed as consistent with PSA theory as well as a satisfaction theory.

The main point is that nothing you presented shows how this text is incompatible PSA. If there is, please make the inconsistency clearer.

Peace,
John D.

James Jordan said...

The Jewish interpretation is more infallible. Start reading from Isaiah 40 on and keep going.

How many times from Isaiah 40 to Isaiah 53 do we encounter "Israel my servant, Jacob my chosen" and "Israel my chosen, Jacob my servant" -- seriously, count them!

So by the time we arrive at the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 we know who the servant is.

Israel is often spoke of as singular "he" in Scripture. If you don't know that, you're biblically illiterate. So that is no objection.

Furthermore, what does the end of Isaiah 52 say? The Gentile kings have all of the sudden realized a great truth, and it is they who speak in Isaiah 53. What did they realize?

They realized that Israel was not being beaten for its own sins, but for theirs. As its said in another place in the prophets, Israel has paid DOUBLE for its sins. Why double? Because it has borne the sins of the nations as well. It was bruised for our sins, and by its stripes we are healed. It was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers, it opened not its mouth.

Anonymous said...

If Peter is a pope does that mean that the pope is an apostle to? Is the current pope considered an apostle like the 12 and Paul?

John W said...

The pope's role differs mainly in that He does not present any new public revelation. That ended with the death of the last apostle.

His charism along with the full magisterium of the church (the teaching office) is to protect and defend that public revelation against error and to clarify it when heresies arise.

Without this divine protection, Christian faith and morals would reduce to the competing opinions of men. Something that is already rampant in non-Catholic communities.

Nick said...

James,

If Jesus isn't the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, then you must throw out at least Matthew, Luke, and Acts, since these explicitly quote Isaiah 53 in regards to Jesus.

The idea that Israel fulfills Isaiah 53 better than Jesus is inconceivable. The Jews as a whole have basically been silent for 2,000 years, doing almost nothing to be the Light to the Nations. There was certainly a shift 2,000 years ago, and the razing of Jerusalem in 70AD is not something insignificant.

Nick said...

JohnD,

You said: "Christ's unjust suffering certainly merits salvation for His elect, but this is true whether one holds to PSA or a satisfaction theory of the atonement."

This comment doesn't work because you're forced to either suggest PSA involved unjust suffering, which is a contradiction, or that this unjust suffering happened alongside PSA, at which point PSA and unjust suffering are distinct and thus Peter could only have been referring to unjust suffering and ignored the PSA aspect. If you say Peter ignored the PSA aspect, then there goes yet another proof-text for proving PSA, leaving PSA scrambling to find Biblical proof elsewhere.

James Jordan said...

The text of Isaiah specifically identifies the Servant as Israel, so you are arguing with real scripture not me. The fake scriptures do need to go: all they do is lead to idolatry, to worshiping a dead rabbi as part of an amalgamated abomination of a schizophrenic multiple personality pagan deity.

Anonymous said...

*The text of Isaiah specifically identifies the Servant as Israel,*

But certainly is not the same Israel as the national descendency of Abraham - because Israel isn't as saint and pure as the description of Is 53. In fact, Jerusalem was a 'prophet killer' nation.

James Jordan said...

Go back a few chapters, "Who is as blind as my servant?" That's Jesus? Yes, its the same Israel.

"because Israel isn't as saint and pure" -- what is their sin? Generally its been idolatry, but that was left behind after the Babylonian captivity, so you're just an antisemite.

Anonymous said...

*Go back a few chapters, "Who is as blind as my servant?" That's Jesus? Yes, its the same Israel.*

It would have some relevance IF all chapters were all from the same sentence and hold some semantic revelance.

Saying that Is 42 is just a continuation of Is 53 is a bit baseless!


*Generally its been idolatry,*

Among many others, like the killing of prophets...

*but that was left behind after the Babylonian captivity, so you're just an antisemite.*

It doesn't affect the argument.

And 53:8 says 'for the transgression of my people he was punished'. The servant and the people aren't the same thing?

Also, what about the 'no deceit in your mouth'?

Also: There are many Jewish sources who identify the Servant of Is 53 to a man, not an entity like a nation.

JohnD said...

@Nick,

Sorry for the sloppy language. I meant "unjust suffering" in terms of unearned or unmerited suffering. Even those affirming PSA believe that Christ did nothing in himself to deserve the punishment He took on.

Peace,
John D.