Pages

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Does suffering mean you're being punished by God? (Isaiah 53 & Romans 3:25) - More problems with Penal Substitution

The fun continues with my research and apologetics involving the Protestant heresy called Penal Substituion, which I've written about many times before on this blog. I'm excited to say that I've recently come across many great insights which further refute this heresy, which I hope to present in the near future. Today, I'd like to present two that I have recently come across, both which shed astonishing light on two key atonement passages, Isaiah 53 and Romans 3:25. 

I will begin with examining the first passage, Wisdom 3. As all good Catholics should know, Wisdom is an inspired book of Scripture, and it contains one of the most clear prophecies of the suffering and death of Jesus in the whole Bible, even clearer than Isaiah 53. Furthermore, Wisdom 15:7 is quoted by Paul in Romans 9:20, which further attests to it's divine inspiration (HT: Joe for finding this). And now, I quote Wisdom 3:1-10, trimming it back for length only:
1 The souls of those who do what is right are in God’s hand. They won’t feel the pain of torment. 2 To those who don’t know any better, it seems as if they have died. 3 Their leaving us seemed to be their destruction, but in reality they are at peace. 4 It may look to others as if they have been punished, but they have the hope of living forever. 5 They were disciplined a little, but they will be rewarded with abundant good things, because God tested them and found that they deserve to be with him. 6 He tested them like gold in the furnace; he accepted them like an entirely burned offering. 7 Then, when the time comes for judgment, the godly will burst forth and run about like fiery sparks among dry straw. 8 The godly will judge nations and hold power over peoples, even as the Lord will rule over them forever. 9 Those who trust in the Lord will know the truth. Those who are faithful will always be with him in love.
This text sounds a lot like Isaiah 53, with very similar terms and themes going on. Both texts speak of a Lord's Servant who enduring suffering for fidelity to God, but which others mistakenly think is a punishment by God. Instead, God accepts their life as a pleasing sacrifice and rewards them with life and power. Both texts use nearly identical Greek terms like peace, chastise, sacrificial offering, reckoning (falsely), etc. The parallel is impossible to miss, and the grand lesson here is that just because you're suffering, doesn't mean God is mad at you or transferring someone's guilt onto you. Quite the opposite. Let Scripture-Interpret-Scripture and have Protestants stop presuming that the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 must have been suffering a punishment, particularly God's wrath. 

This leads us to the second text, the testimony of Eleazar and the Widow of Seven Sons from the books of Maccabees. In the books of Maccabees we hear of a pagan king who subjects the Jews to torture and forces them to eat pork in violation of the Mosaic Law. The king brutally tortures the woman, her seven sons, and Eleazar, and ultimately kills them all for refusing to apostatize. Their lives are all extolled and they are regarded as martyrs for their heroic virtue for their love of God. While 4 Maccabees isn't considered canonical, it is nonetheless true, tells us what the Jews at the time actually believed, and in this case simply contains further insights on what the canonical 1-2 Maccabees already tell us. In 4 Macc 17:8-24, we see how these heroes were honored:
8 What would be an appropriate message that could be carved on their tomb to remind our nation’s people? Perhaps these words: 9 here lie buried an old priest, an old woman, and seven children because of the violence of a tyrant who wished to destroy the hebrew way of life. 10 they won justice for their nation by fixing their eyes on god and enduring torture to the point of death. 11 The competition in which they were engaged was truly divine. 12 Moral character itself handed out awards that day, having proved their worth through their endurance. Victory brought immortality through an endless life. 13 Eleazar was the first competitor. The mother of the seven children and the brothers competed also. 14 The tyrant was the opponent, and the world and the human race were the audience. 15 Respect for God won the day and crowned its champions. 16 Who wasn’t amazed at the athletes who were competing in the name of the divine Law? Who wasn’t astonished? 17 The tyrant himself, along with all his political advisors, was amazed at their resistance, 18 for which they now stand in front of God’s throne and live a blessed life forever. 19 Moses says, “All those who have set themselves apart for you are in your care.” 20 These people who have dedicated themselves to God are honored, therefore, not only with this privilege but also because they kept our enemies from ruling our nation. 21 The tyrant was punished, and our nation was cleansed through them. They exchanged their lives for the nation’s sin. 22 Divine providence delivered Israel from its former abuse through the blood of those godly people. Their deaths were a sacrifice that finds mercy [Greek: propitiation] from God.
This passage is, quite simply, astonishing. First, when it speaks of athletes "competing" and "enduring," it sounds a lot like St Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Second, some scholars have pointed out that there are many similarities between verses 21-22 in this passage and Romans 3:25, and as such think Paul probably had this passage in mind. In both places there is mention of ransoming/redeeming, saving blood, and propitiation, along with imagery of cleansing and sacrifice. In fact, the Greek term for "propitiation" used here is a unique Greek word that only appears in the New Testament twice, Hebrews 9:5 and Romans 3:25. In this situation, it is undeniable that Eleazar was a righteous man, not being punished by God nor under God's Wrath. Yet God allowed Eleazar to undergo suffering for the sake of righteousness, and from the Blood of Eleazar the Chosen People of God were cleansed, redeemed, and God's Wrath turned away from them (propitiated). It is clear there is a parallel to Christ, with Eleazar being a foreshadowing of Christ. There is really no reason to think Jesus couldn't have suffered and died with a similar motif as Eleazar, though with Jesus we see far greater blessings and merits won. Eleazar won temporal earthly blessings for his people, while Jesus won eternal blessings for us Christians. 

A Protestant might object to such texts by saying "not canonical," but really that is quite a weak objection, for these texts are not random pagan texts, but rather were written by faithful Jews and were included in Jewish collections. It would be absurd to suggest the Jews had no insights on theology or prophecy, and indeed throughout history Christians have always granted a fair hearing to any Christian scholar who worthily shares his insight on theology. 

The notion that a person cannot lay down their life, shed their blood, in sacrificial atoning offering, for cleansing, redemption, and life for others, apart from taking on their guilt and suffering hellfire in their place, is plainly refuted by these two shining examples. Penal Substitution has no basis in Scripture, and in fact is an insult to Scripture and an insult to Christian suffering and martyrdom.

No comments: