Sunday, March 29, 2009

Affirmative Answer to Question 2

The 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.

- TurretinFan

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