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The Substitutionary LIFE of Christ

Posted: Wed Feb 08, 2012 10:21 pm
by Paidion
Several years ago, I wrote the following. Comments welcome.

The Substitutionary Life of Christ

Many people believe in the “substitutionary death of Christ”, although there is not a single passage in the New Testament which explicitly states it. A view which has been around at least since the middle ages, is that Jesus was God’s substitute to take our punishment for sin so that we wouldn’t have to be punished. To appropriate this one must “pray the sinner’s prayer” and/or “trusted in the finished work of Christ, which He accomplished on the cross in our place. According to this view, the purpose of Christ’s death is to make it possible to escape hell and get to heaven. Salvation is conceived as being salvation from hell, rather than from sin, and it is thought that when God looks at the “saved” person, He is blinded to that person’s sin, and sees only Christ’s righteousness.

But nowhere in the New Testament do we find this reason for the death of Christ. Rather we find a quite different reason — given by scriptures such as the following:

He himself offered up our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (I Peter 2:24)

And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (II Corinthians 5:15)

For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. (Romans 14:9)

who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds. (Titus 2:14)

...he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:26)

There is no doubt that Jesus died for us. Here are some passages that state this either explicitly or implicitly:

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 NAS95)

“He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 NAS95)

“The one who knew no sin, He made sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE"—” (Galatians 3:13 NAS95)

“who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” (Titus 2:14 NAS95)
“We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John 3:16 NAS95)

Those who believe that Christ’s death was substitutionary, understand the words translated “for us” to mean “instead of us” or “in our place.” When we examine the words in Greek, we find that this is clearly not the case. The phrase translated “for us” is taken from the Greek words ὑπερ ἡμων (“huper hāmōn.) ” The phrase means “on our behalf” or “for our benefit.” If the writers had meant “instead of us” or “in our place” they would have used the phrase ἀντι ἡμων (“anti hāmōn.”) But nowhere do we find this phrase in the entire New Testament!

However, there is one instance in which a different Greek phrase is used in stating that Jesus died for us.

For God has not appointed us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. (1 Thessalonians 5:9)

In this case, the phrase is περι ἡμων (“peri hāmōn”). This phrase means “concerning us” or “about us”. Jesus death concerned us or was about us. In other words, we were the object of His love. We were the reason that He died. He died on our behalf.

So is the Greek word ἀντι (“anti”, in place of) never found in the New Testament concerning what Jesus did for people? Yes, it is! We find it so used in Matthew 20:28 and in Mark 10:45.

...just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:28 NAS95)

The Greek phrase ἀντι παλλον (“anti pallōn”) is translated “for many” in this verse. The meaning is actually “instead of many” or “in the place of many.” Jesus Himself said these words! Does this indicate that Jesus stated He would die in the place of many people?

For years, I was confused about this. The preposition “anti” is used in this way only in Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45. Is it appropriate to base a doctrine on these two passages? Yet, Jesus doubtless meant what he said! If He hadn’t meant “in the place of many”, surely the gospel writers would not have used “anti” in relating what He said. I examined the text carefully, wondering whether I missed something. I realized that sometimes “anti” means “against.” I considered this possibility. But what would it mean for Jesus to say that he would give His life “against many.” Such a translation seems meaningless! So I laid the problem on the shelf. I stopped pondering it.

But about a year ago, I began to read the statement again in its context. The mother of Zebedee’s sons had just requested that Jesus would say that her two sons might sit on each side of Him, in His kingdom. The other ten disciples were indignant. Then I read the following:

But Jesus called them to Himself and said:
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:25-28)

The context of Mark 10:45 is identical.

Rulers among the nations lord it over the people they rule. But among God’s people, the leaders are servants. Jesus Himself was the supreme example of servanthood. He stated that He did not come to be served, but to serve. And in the same sentence, stated that He came to “give His life as a ransom for many.” Did He refer to the death He would die on the cross? That seems to be what we all take for granted. I have always done so, myself. But how would that relate to Christ’s words that leaders among His disciples would be their servants? When I reread the passage, it occurred to me that He may have meant the giving of His life, in the sense of the surrendering of Himself while He yet lived! Did He not give His very life for the benefit of those whom He served? Paul urged the brethren at Rome to present their bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, this being their true spiritual service of worship. Was not our Lord Jesus the very paradigm of giving up one’s very soul or self for the sake of others? The Greek word translated as “life” is neither βιος (“bios”) nor ζωη (“zōā”) but ψυχη (“psuchā”), that is, “soul” or “self.” It is the same word that was used for “life” in Mark 8:35 in recording the words of Jesus:

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.

Jesus was probably not speaking here of physical life, but rather of a person wanting to save his life for his own purposes instead of giving it up for the sake of Jesus and the gospel. As the supreme example, Jesus Himself never tried to save his life for Himself. Rather He lost it for the sake of those whom He served. For His life was not lived for His own benefit, but for the benefit of those whom He served. In that sense His life here on earth was substituted.

But what about the word “ransom”? How is our Lord’s service to His people a “ransom in place of many”? Greek lexicons state that the word λυτρον (“lutron”) comes from the verb λυω (“luō”) – “to loose” or “set free” or “liberate” or “deliver”. The word “lutron” is not limited to “ransom” in meaning. It often refers to other means of deliverance. Beginning with the Strong’s number, here are the various forms of the word which occur in the New Testament, and their wider meaning:

3083 λυτρον lutron (noun) means of deliverance
3084 λυτροω lutroō (verb) to deliver
3085 λυτρωσις lutrōsis (noun) deliverance
3086 λυτρωτας lutrōtās (noun) deliverer

As an example of the word lutrōtās being translated as “deliverer”, let’s consider Acts 7:35

Acts 7:35 "This Moses whom they refused, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ God sent as both ruler and deliverer by the hand of the angel that appeared to him in the bush. RSV

The translators of nearly all bible versions translated the word as “deliverer” in this passage. Here are a few of those versions: AV, ASV, BBE, TRC, Darby, Douay, ERV, ESV, KJ21, NAS95, NIVUS, NKJV, RSV, Rwebster, WEY, Williams, WTNT. The translators of the NRSV also recognized the broader meaning, translating the word as “liberator.” I have been able to discover only three versions in which the word is translated as “redeemer”, Rotherham, JB2000, and YLT.

In the Septuagint, the various forms of “lutron” sometimes refers to ransom, but other times clearly do not. Consider the following passage in which the English translation of “lutron” is in error:

Go, speak to the children of Israel, saying, I am the Lord; and I will lead you forth from the tyranny of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from bondage, and I will ransom you with a high arm, and great judgment. And I will take you to me a people for myself, and will be your God; and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from the tyranny of the Egyptians. And I will bring you into the land concerning which I stretched out my hand to give it to Abraam and Isaac and Jacob, and I will give it you for an inheritance: I am the Lord. (Exodus 6:6-8 LXXE)

Clearly God didn’t ransom or redeem the Israelites in the sense of paying a price to the Egyptians for them. Indeed, the Egyptians lost at every step. They lost their crops to locusts; they lost their herds to plagues;they lost the first-born of their animals and of their children; they lost gold, silver, and clothing which the Israelites had taken from them, and finally many of them lost their lives in the Red Sea. No, God didn’t redeem the Israelites from the Egyptians (unless the word is used in the sense of “deliver” or “rescue” or "liberate; For God liberated them from the Egyptians.

Now let’s examine the words of our Lord in the light of what we have learned:

... the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His whole life as a liberator in place of many.

The whole sentence is a statement concerning the completeness of Christ’s service to people. His life here on earth was not spent in serving Himself, but in serving others. He gave His life on earth to deliver them from their sin and their sicknesses.

The sick man who had waited so long at the pool of Bethesda, no longer had to compete with others to get into the pool while the waters were stirring. Jesus delivered him from his illness. There were many people who no longer had to struggle with their illness, seek physicians, and try various remedies in an attempt to be healed. Jesus delivered them.

Even Isaiah 53:3, regarded by many as an indication that Jesus “took our sicknesses upon Himself as well as our sins when He died on the cross” is given quite a different explanation by Matthew:

And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother‑in‑law lying sick with a fever;
he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and served him. That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases." (Matthew 8:14-17 RSV)

It was while here on earth, when Jesus took away infirmities and Jesus delivered people from diseases — not on the cross.

We may well ask, “In what sense did Jesus give Himself as a liberator or means of deliverance in place of many? In the sense that He healed or delivered from sin those who were unable to heal or deliver themselves. Jesus poured out His life, while here on earth in place of the many whose efforts to take care of themselves was ineffective.

It occurred to me that our Lord’s service to His disciples did not cease with His death. He still ministers to His people. He still gives Himself for the sake of the people of God. A scriptural statement of this occurs in the book of Hebrews:

... Jesus, ... because He continues permanently, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save permanently those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:24,25)

So it appears that Jesus still benefits His people through His substitutionary life!

Re: The Substitutionary LIFE of Christ

Posted: Thu Feb 09, 2012 12:32 am
by look2jesus

I'm not really sure what the problem would be with the substitutionary view of the atonement? When I consider that Jesus took my sins upon Himself and died, I wonder how that is any different than the picture of old testament sacrifices where the hand of the sinner was placed on the head of an animal (presumably transferring their sins to the animal) and then the animal was killed, atoning for the sins of the person. Wasn't the animal in these cases a substitute? Likewise, if Jesus took my sins upon Himself and shed His blood to atone for those sins, can't He be said to be my substitute? I'm not clear as to what the issue is. Care to elaborate? Thanks.


Re: The Substitutionary LIFE of Christ

Posted: Thu Feb 09, 2012 2:03 pm
by Paidion
There is no issue.

I have only attempted to explained that that the gospels speak of Christ giving his life, that is, His SELF, as a deliver IN PLACE OF many, whereas nowhere do the gospels, or any other NT passage, teach Christ's death as being substitutionary, the pronoun "αντι" (in place of) used only in connection with His giving Himself to serve others, but never with the idea that He gave His physical life on the cross as a substitute for anyone.

I am willing to discuss with you the idea of Christ's death being a substitute for others, but not on this thread. In fact, I think such a thread already exists, but if not, you could start one.

I think discussion on this thread should be limited to what I have said about the life which Christ lived, being substitutionary through His service to others. Do you agree with my position concerning Christ's LIFE being substitutionary?

Re: The Substitutionary LIFE of Christ

Posted: Thu Feb 09, 2012 5:03 pm
by darinhouston
Certainly, one does not deny the other.

Re: The Substitutionary LIFE of Christ

Posted: Sun Feb 12, 2012 6:30 pm
I've found it bizarre that penal substitution was never discussed or taught until Anselm in the 12th century. Why is that? Was it hard for the Church to notice it before then?

Re: The Substitutionary LIFE of Christ

Posted: Sun Feb 12, 2012 11:08 pm
by Homer
Rich wrote:
I've found it bizarre that penal substitution was never discussed or taught until Anselm in the 12th century. Why is that? Was it hard for the Church to notice it before then?
From Athanasius (4th century) in his "On the Incarnation", Chapter 2:
Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to
the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to
the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the
law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was
appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. This He did that He might turn
again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through
death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection.
Athanasius clearly believed in Christ's substitutionary death.

Re: The Substitutionary LIFE of Christ

Posted: Mon Feb 13, 2012 12:16 am
by Paidion
It is not at all clear to me, Homer, from your quote from Athanasius that he believed in penal substitution. I also believe that "This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die," but I do not believe in penal substitution.

Many statements can be interpreted as teaching penal substitution, if our minds have already been conditioned to think in these terms.

Here's one that possibly has Athanasius beat in that respect, and was written much earlier — the Letter to Diognetus 130 A.D., chapter VIII. (near the end).

He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities. He gave His Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sin that His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! — that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!