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Wednesday, May 29th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Vicarious Sacrifice

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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VICARIOUS SACRIFICE.—The word ‘vicarious’ (vicarius from vicis, ‘change,’ ‘alteration’) means acting, or suffering, for another, or in the place of another. The idea of change, transfer, or substitution pertains to the term. It has the same root as ‘vice’ in ‘vicegerent,’ ‘viceroy’ or ‘vicar,’ and other words which signify that one person has assumed the place, position, or office of another. It may mean ‘instead of’ (ἀντί), or ‘in behalf of’ (ὑπέρ). The word ‘sacrifice’ (from sacer, ‘sacred,’ ‘holy,’ and facere, ‘to make’) means something devoted, or offered at a cost; and in the stricter religious sense means something consecrated, or offered to a divinity as an acknowledgment of benefits received, or as a propitiation for favours to be extended. Sacrifice (wh. see) is a somewhat different act in different cults and in different stages of religious development, but has in it the idea of a means of approach to Deity through a material oblation for the purpose of securing His favour. When the service is voluntarily undertaken, or when it is assumed at a cost to the individual and for the sake of another, no personal benefit being expected in return, we have sacrifice which is vicarious. Vicarious sacrifice, therefore, has been appropriately defined as ‘voluntarily assuming the place and entering into the condition of some one for his benefit.’ The two words, ‘vicarious’ and ‘sacrifice,’ add to each other, and together well define a phenomenon which we find occurring in the more advanced religions, and especially in the religion of Christ.

‘Vicarious sacrifice’ is not a Scripture expression, but is used by theologians to represent the meaning of a large number of passages found in the NT, in which the substitutionary character of Jesus’ sufferings are referred to, as, e.g., the one in which Jesus describes the end of His coming as a λύτρον ἀντὶ πολλῶν, a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). These passages have generally been held to teach vicarious sacrifice; but just how the words are to be understood, in what sense the sufferings of Jesus were vicarious, whether we are to consider the terms to mean ‘in behalf of,’ or ‘in the place of,’ whether the vicarious sacrifice was made in the interests of God (Satisfaction theories), or of men (Moral and Sympathy theories), or both (Mediation theories)—these questions have constituted some of the most disputed problems of theology, and have been the ground on which have been developed diverse conceptions which for hundreds of years have agitated the Church. As far as the words ‘Vicarious sacrifice’ are concerned, they can be used in either sense, for Christ’s sacrifice would be vicarious if it were made to propitiate the offended dignity of God, or uphold His justice, or maintain His law, or satisfy the demands of His ethical life, or reveal the content of His ethical nature in a supreme manifestation of saving love. To determine in which sense the words are to be understood, that they may reveal to us the true teachings of Scripture, it is necessary to make a careful study of those passages which they are used to sum up or represent.

In doing this we meet with the following serious difficulties. (1) The lack of unity in the Biblical mode of representation, the view-point of Christ’s work and sufferings being diverse and manifold. (2) The fact that Christ’s work is set forth both by Himself and the Apostles in metaphors and symbols which cannot be given a close logical interpretation. It has been well said, ‘We make a mistake if we take their symbols of thought as equivalents of spiritual realities, or if we treat their sentences as propositions from which we may deduce the uttermost corollaries. Their figures are illustrations, not definitions; their expressions were forced on them by their past thought and experience, and are flung out towards truth as their best means of approximating to it’ (Lewis). (3) While some of the figures are rooted in popular conceptions of religious service and are drawn from the Jewish sacrificial system, others are bold strokes of the imagination, and are capable of various meanings. (4) The different views held of the Jewish sacrificial system from which the NT figures and expressions are drawn constitute a difficulty. Some regard them as close types and symbols of Christ’s work, and give them expiatory value (P. Fairbairn); while others affirm that ‘they disclose no trace of the idea of vicarious substitution, nor of propitiation’ (Westcott). (5) Some texts used singly seem to teach what other texts contradict, showing that they are loose statements, not to be taken with logical exactness; or that they represent phases of a doctrine and not the whole of it, or that they are metaphorical. (6) The fact that there are two ideas of sacrifice in the OT—one of the priests and the other of the prophets; and that Hebrews and Jn. seem to have worked out their ideas on the basis of the Levitical standpoint, while Jesus and St. Paul represent more the ideas of the prophets. (7) The difficulty of freeing ourselves of a priori ideas in our interpretations of Scripture, dogmatic conceptions having been planted in our minds in childhood, and become a part of the religious atmosphere in which we move. (8) Finally, the difficulty of getting at the meaning attached to terms among the Palestine Jews of Jesus’ time, such terms, for example, as ‘ransom,’ redemption,’ ‘propitiation,’ and certain legal expressions. In studying the Scriptures, therefore, to ascertain in what sense we are to understand Christ’s vicarious sacrifice, we are to note the individualism of the expressions, their figurative character, their lack of logical exactness and definition, their relation to their time, and the fact that their authors are concerned with stating facts and results rather than developing theories. We are to interpret the passages in a free and vital rather than in an exact and literal way, note the general impression they make, the essential truth they reveal, and the conception of their meaning which will best harmonize the variant and diverse statements into a consistent unity.

1. The teachings of Jesus in the Synoptics.—Our first source of information concerning the way we are to understand the vicarious sacrifice of Jesus must be His own teachings. Too many have overlooked this and started with the conceptions of St. Paul, as if the human teacher were a clearer witness than He who was Himself the revelation. If there is any squaring to do, St. Paul must be squared with Jesus, not Jesus with St. Paul, for the Master did not preach a partial gospel. As we study His sayings concerning His sacrifice, we note that He regards it as necessary, voluntary, vicarious, and redemptive, and that He relates it (1) to the establishment of the Kingdom, (2) to the remission of sins, (3) to the ratifying of the covenant. (1) Jesus considers His vicarious sacrifice as necessarily involved in His work of establishing His Kingdom. He opened His ministry with the announcement, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand’ (Mark 1:15, cf. Matthew 4:17). The Kingdom of God was not the ‘politico-ethical commonwealth’ (Pfleiderer) which Jewish prophecy had described, but a spiritual society, established by the grace of God, of righteous men having fellowship with one another and with a common Father. To the founding of His Kingdom He devoted Himself with singleness of heart, understanding well the hazard it involved; for He realized the traditionalism of the age, its formalism, its lack of spiritual vision, its worldly lust and ambition, and He knew full well the opposition He would stimulate and the conflicts He must encounter. The history of the prophets was before Him, and the blood of the martyrs cried to Him from the ground. Even Plato was able to perceive ‘that one perfectly just could not appear among the senseless and wicked without provoking a murderous hatred.’ The law of righteousness, fundamental in His Kingdom, would, He knew, cut across the self-interests of men, as well as the conservatism of the Rabbinical teachers of the day. Consequently He compares Himself to the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, and states the terms of His discipleship as follows: ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’ (Luke 9:23). Nor did He mistake the facts, for early in His career the antagonism developed which increased in intensity until it culminated in the Crucifixion. Only by a denial of His vocation in establishing the Kingdom of God could He have saved His life; only by what was impossible with Him—the forgetting of the will of God and the ceasing to love men. Thus we see that vicarious sacrifice was necessarily involved in His work of establishing His Kingdom, and in this sense was not singular or exceptional, but came under the general law of service. ‘Whatever more is to be said as to the significance of Christ’s death, this at least is certain, that he died as a faithful martyr for truth and love’ (Bruce).

(2) There seems, however, to be something deeper in Jesus’ consciousness than the mere fact that His work of founding His Kingdom will so cross the world-spirit of selfishness and sin that He will develop an antagonism which will end in His vicarious death. He clearly relates it to the fact of remission of sins. In Luke 22:37 there is a deeper thought than Hollmann has in mind when he says: ‘He is only thinking of the dreary fact that His countrymen are going to treat Him as a criminal instead of as the Holy One of God,’ for this passage was associated in the minds of His hearers with a Messianic work of the greatest significance. Stronger statements are found in Mark 10:32-33 ff. Jesus is going with His disciples to Jerusalem, and on the way seeks to impress them with what He has stated very earnestly before, that in Jerusalem He will be delivered to mockery and death, but in three days will rise again. This announcement is followed by the ambitious request of James and John for chief seats in His Kingdom. With His mind filled with the thought of His coming passion, He replies to them, ‘Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink the cup which I drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’ Then follows in an address to the disciples, who are indignant at James’ and John’s request, the notable words, ‘For the Son of Man also came not to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.’ The correct interpretation of this passage is most important, for it is much emphasized by those who seek to find in Jesus’ teaching an expiatory reference.

Dr. Baur and others have questioned its integrity, affirming that there is nothing like it in the Synoptics except Matthew 20:28, which Baur also casts under suspicion, that it is introduced so abruptly as to be questionable, and that it has a Pauline flavour, and it genuine, would not have been omitted by Luke. The criticism, however, seems scarcely valid, for in speaking to the disciples about the nature of greatness—that its value lies in service—it was natural that Jesus should allude to His expected death of which He had previously spoken, using it as an illustration of the point He was enforcing.

The passage has had various interpretations. Usually much weight has been attached to the word λύτρον, ‘ransom,’ and its Heb. equivalents, these being assumed to fix its meaning; but this is unsatisfactory, for the LXX Septuagint has employed λύτρον to translate four different Heb. terms, and besides, since Jesus spoke Aramaic, it is not certain that λύτρον, in the way the LXX Septuagint uses it, exactly represents what Jesus said. If an exact interpretation were required, we should have to know the Aramaic word of which λύτρον is the translation. Hollmann has discussed this term cogently and ably, showing that Jesus probably did not use the Aram, cognate of kôpher, but the equivalent of a Heb. word derived either from פָרָה ‘to ransom,’ נָּאֵל ‘to deliver,’ or פָרֵק ‘to set free.’ Thus λύτρον would mean a, purchase price, or a means of setting free. In this case ἀντί, of which much is made, would not signify ‘in place of’ and establish a thought of substitution, but ‘for,’ and the passage would mean that Jesus would give His life for the freeing or saving of many—an interpretation which would fit in with the context much better than if λύτρον is taken as the equivalent of kôpher. The idea would then be that men of the world find greatness in assuming superiority over others, whereas Jesus finds it in serving others. But if we assume that λύτρον means in this passage what it means in the LXX Septuagint translation of Leviticus, where the main idea of the ransom is that of substituting one thing for another, and if we hold that ἀντί means ‘in place of,’ the most that we can make out of the passage is that Jesus gives His life as a ransom price to liberate many who are in bondage. But what is the bondage? Taking Jesus’ other teachings into account, we cannot doubt that it is bondage to selfishness and sin, such selfishness and world-spirit as James and John had just shown. This would accord with the use of λυτρόω found in 1 Peter 1:18 and Titus 2:14. But even if this is the meaning, the passage does not state the process or manner of the ransom. The thought that because the word is taken from the old sacrificial system we must find there the meaning that is to be attached to it, is not warranted by sound principles of exegesis. That the thought of a vicarious satisfaction offered to God is not intended, is rendered clear by the fact that such an interpretation would contradict the whole tendency of the teachings of Jesus, who constantly emphasized the free grace of God as ready to forgive every repentant sinner. Jesus does not conceive of His work as an offering to God, or for the sake of God, but as performed solely in behalf of men. We conclude, then, that this important passage simply means that Jesus vicariously sacrificed His life in order to save men from the selfishness of sin. How He thought His death would accomplish this is not stated, and is a matter of inference. If anything is implied, it is that a complete surrender to the good of men is such a break with the world spirit which has just revealed itself, even in such good men as the sons of Zebedee, that if men will accept this serving spirit and act from the motive of self-denying love, they will thereby win an inner, moral victory over the world, and thus be freed from its bondage and evil.

Another passage in the Synoptics which has been made to do service in attempts to explain the nature of Jesus’ vicarious sacrifice and its relation to the remission of sins, is His utterance upon the cross. The depth of agony there expressed in the cry, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ is said to indicate that in this dark experience Christ as a substitute was suffering in its fulness the wrath of God against sin; that He was exiled from the joys of God’s presence (Dale), because He was vicariously bearing the consequences of the transgressions of the race. There has been a tendency since asceticism invaded the Church, and the body was made the seat of sin,—and to crucify it was considered a way to please God,—to magnify the importance of the physical sufferings of Christ and make them the supreme sacrifice through which remission of sins has come. This was not the thought of the Apostolic age, which was impressed with His grace rather than by His physical sufferings. Christ’s death had long been before His contemplation, and from it He never shrank. He spoke of it with calmness and dignity, and sometimes with apparent rapture: ‘the Son of Man should be glorified’ (John 12:23). But when He refers to its modes and agents, He assumes another tone. It is the form not the fact of death from which He appears to shrink. He is overcome by the thought that the agents of His suffering are the religious leaders of His time, and that from His own company has arisen a traitor. Evil is using the occasion of His voluntary, vicarious death as an opportunity for more violent manifestation, and the men He is trying to save are at work to put Him to death. The highest revelation of His grace is the occasion for the highest manifestation of wickedness. Being in the midst of it, not thinking about it, but experiencing it, this fact of evil comes upon Him with an overwhelming reality, and for a moment His sensitive soul is clouded, and He lays hold of a sentence found in Psalms 22:1 and utters it as the most suitable words at hand by which to express His agony. The psalm does not mean abandonment by God, but abandonment to suffering, for later it increasingly expresses the confidence of the sufferer that he will be heard and delivered by God, so that he shall yet come to praise Him; nor does Jesus mean that He is abandoned by God and, substitutionally, under the crushing load of His displeasure, for He stays Himself on the fact that in His agony God is His God. As has been said: ‘He who wrestles with death with such pious longing upon His lips has not fully lost His God, but rather presupposes a still abiding relationship with Him (Wendt). We cannot, therefore, believe that the words on the cross are in any sense a consciousness of God’s displeasure.

(3) But not only do the Synoptics relate Christ’s vicarious sacrifice to the remission of sins, they also connect it with the ratification of the New Covenant, especially by the words spoken at the Last Supper. The account is found in all the Synoptics and in 1 Corinthians 11. There has been a good deal of criticism concerning the true text, some holding that εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν and περὶ πολλῶν, ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν are later additions. Some also affirm that ἡ καινὴ διαθήκη of Lk. are words due to the influence of St. Paul. Some of the reasons suggested for this criticism seem to have weight, but nothing that has been said is at all decisive, so that it is best to let the text stand. To interpret its meaning we must remember the occasion with which it is connected—the celebration of the Passover. This feast was regarded as a memorial of the delivery from bondage, and was at the time of Jesus a joyful festival. In the discourse of the Last Supper the symbolism used is not drawn from the Paschal lamb, but rather from Exodus 24, where the sacrifice established to celebrate the new covenant between Jahweh and Israel at Mount Sinai is described. The victim was slain, divided into two parts, and the contracting parties passing between these parts were sprinkled with blood. Thus the covenant was solemnized, and the partaking of the flesh in common indicated communion. As the offering at Sinai sealed the Old Covenant, so Jesus, when about to die, looked upon Himself as the victim whose blood would seal the New Covenant which He had established in inaugurating the Kingdom of God. Says Stevens (Chr. Doct. of Salv. 50):

‘The Supper is, then, the symbolic ratification of the New Covenant, analogous to the solemn rite by which the ancient covenant was confirmed by an offering denoting the establishment of communion with God and participation in the blessings of His grace. If regard be had solely to the language of our Lord at the institution of the Supper, it must be admitted, I think, that it is adapted to carry our thoughts not in the direction of the current Jewish ideas of propitiation by sacrifice, but rather toward the conception of a new relation of fellowship with God and obedience to Him constituted by Jesus’ death.’

We conclude, therefore, that we do not find in the Synoptics any teaching which warrants the theological deduction often made, that the vicarious sacrifice of Christ is an offering made to satisfy the justice of God, propitiate Him in the sense of removing His displeasure, or secure the remission of sins by removing objective obstacles to the free movement of God’s grace.

2. Vicarious sacrifice in the writings attributed to St. John.—The writings which are ascribed to St. John present the vicarious sacrifice of Christ in a somewhat different light from the Synoptics. There is much use, in these writings, of the thought that men become free through light, or that salvation is by revelation. If one walks in the light, that is, holds fellowship with God in righteousness and love, he is saved.

It is not necessary here to go into the critical questions concerning authorship and other special difficulties which these writings present. We believe the balance of argument is in favour of their authenticity. One cannot fail, however, to note that the historic reality which characterizes the Synoptic accounts is here invaded by the subjective, mystic type of thought of the author. The parable gives way to the doctrinal discussions. The doctrine of the Kingdom is supplanted by discourses about eternal life. There is also clear evidence that the discourses of Jesus found in Jn. were not delivered in the form there presented, but have been worked over in the contemplations of the Apostle. St. John’s religious consciousness, however, has been developed under the influence of Jesus, and his statements and discourses are built up on the basis of the real sayings of the Master. They are therefore of the highest value.

(a) The Prologue to the Gospel especially draws out the above conception, and makes the object of Christ’s vicarious sacrifice the revelation of the Father. By illuminating the world, Jesus saves the world. He shines in on the darkness of human society and thus gives life. ‘This is life eternal, that they should know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent’ (John 17:3).

But along with this conception of redemption through revelation, there is another line of passages which refer to the sufferings and death of Christ, and which relate these to His saving office. St. John seems to have clearly recognized that sin is a power which excludes the coming in of light, and that therefore it needs in some special sense to be overcome. The first of these passages is the announcement of John the Baptist: ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). Many have questioned the genuineness of a statement so different from those with which the Synoptics begin the ministry of Christ; but admitting it to be authentic, we have the following facts to note concerning it: (1) It is suggested by Isaiah 13:7. (2) The phrase ὁ αἴρων means ‘who removes,’ as the LXX Septuagint uses other terms for bearing sin. (3) While the words ‘the Lamb of God’ go back to the Jewish sacrificial system, as here used they are connected with the conception of prophecy and not of ritual. (4) There is certainly nothing clearly to join this passage to the idea of bearing the consequences, or punishment of sin.

John 3:14-16 is a passage which seems to represent a sentiment of Jesus, probably enlarged and given in the words of the Apostle. It contains the following teaching: (1) That the vicarious sacrifice of Christ originated in the love of God. (2) That acceptance of it by faith secures eternal life. (3) That the lifting up on the cross is an exaltation before men. (4) That it is necessary (δεῖ) in order that men should not perish, but have eternal life. There is no expiatory idea suggested in the passage, but the thought seems to be that the voluntary death of Christ on the cross ‘is the mode in which the love of God asserted itself and became effectual for the salvation of the world’ (Terry).

The vicarious sacrifice of Jesus is taught also in other passages: as John 6:50-51; John 10:11; John 10:15; John 12:24; John 15:13 and in the High-Priestly prayer in ch. 17, John 6:50-51 is not an allusion to the Lord’s Supper, but is connected with the miracle of the loaves, the feeding of the multitude suggesting the idea of spiritual feeding, of Jesus’ mission to bring to men spiritual manna by the partaking of which they would have life. It does not refer to atonement, but to something present and available.

The dominating idea is that of ethical appropriation, which Lightfoot describes as follows: ‘To partake of the Messiah truly is to partake of Himself, His pure nature, His righteousness, His spirit.’ John 10:11; John 10:15 does not speak of an expiatory offering for sin, but rather ‘of an exposure to loss of life consequent upon faithful care of the sheep’ (Terry). John 12:24 states only the general law that to effect results in the moral world one must sacrifice himself, a principle of which the life of Jesus is the supreme illustration. John 15:13 is an important passage, as some have made τιθέναι τὴν ψυχὴν ὑπέρ point to a substitutionary death of judicial significance; but there is no reason to see in it more than a complete consecration of life to the good of others, that witholds not even when it leads to death. The Johannine use of τιθέναι favours this interpretation, as does the relation of this passage to the counsel how men should give themselves to one another’s good. Nor does the word ἁγιάζειν (John 17:19) necessitate a sacrificial or expiatory giving of Himself; for in other passages in Jn. the word is not used in this sense. Moreover, the disciples could not sanctify themselves in this manner. The passage simply means the complete consecration of His life to His work with all that it involved, but it does not give any special interpretation of His death.

(b) In the Epistles of St. John we come upon passages which seem more dogmatic, notably 1 John 1:7; 1 John 2:1 f., 1 John 3:15, 1 John 4:10. In these passages, as in the Fourth Gospel, we have clearly set forth the fact that the work of Christ originates in the love of God, and is ‘a move on His part to provide a covering of sins.’ The word ἱλασμός, which is translation ‘propitiation,’ means covering or blotting out. Westcott says: ‘It contains the notion not of appeasing one often in anger, but of altering the character of that which interposes an inevitable obstacle to fellowship. The propitiation, when it is applied to the sinner, neutralizes the sin.’ Deissmann shows that its strict classical meaning is lost in the NT, and that it is applied to any sacrificial offering. The context in 1 Jn. also is against giving the term a relation to the righteousness of God, since it is deduced from the Divine love (1 John 4:10). Consequently we must see in this word a covering of sin in the sense of cleansing from it, or propitiation. That which separates from the fellowship of God is not any exigency of the Divine government, or any offence to the Divine nature, but it is the fact that man has chosen to walk in darkness, has participated in the works of the devil. His sin must be put away, and this the blood of Jesus is able to accomplish. If we are asked how, we know no better reply than that of Beyschlag in the following passage (NT Theol. ii. 448):

‘Now what can “cover” the sin of the world in the eyes of God? Only a personality and a deed which contain the power of actually delivering the world from sin. For the sin which allows itself to be broken, and to disappear—that only can God forgive and consider extinct. This is the general view of the OT and the NT. Christ in His death has gained a power to thus deliver the world from sin. By His union with God and His love to God and the brethren in the conflict, even to blood and death, with the spirit of the world, He has overcome the spirit of selfishness and evil which rules the world, and in consequence of that He is able to overcome it in every heart into which He finds entrance. He has thus become to the Father the Surety for the purification of humanity, and for His sake the Father can offer forgiveness, if men will receive and obey Him.’

(c) The ideas found in the Apocalypse are practically the same as those found in the Fourth Gospel and the Johannine Epistles. They have been summarized as follows: ‘(1) That death is regarded as a great demonstration of love (Revelation 1:5). (2) It is a death which once for all has achieved something. There is a finished work in it (Revelation 1:5). (3) It is a death which has an abiding power (Revelation 1:6). (4) This abiding power is exercised in this, that it enables men to be faithful to Christ under persecution, to suffer with Him rather than sin, finally, rather to die than to sin (Revelation 12:11). (5) Hence the blood of Christ both does something once for all, in breaking the bond which sin holds us by, and bringing us into such a relation to God that we are a people of priests; and does something progressively, in assuring our gradual assimilation to Jesus Christ the faithful witness’ (Denney, Death of Christ, p. 250).

3. The doctrine of vicarious sacrifice in the writings of St. Paul.—St. Paul’s doctrine of vicarious sacrifice is very difficult to interpret, although strongly emphasized; and consequently opinions have varied more concerning his meaning than concerning the thought of any other Biblical writer.

The reasons for this are: (1) The unsystematic form in which he often presents his ideas. (2) The use of diverse figures. (3) His considering the subject from different standpoints. (4) His frequent use of abstract and ideal rather than historic conceptions. (5) The failure to realize that St. Paul is controlled by a practical rather than a theoretical motive, that he is not consciously developing a systematic statement, but is writing out of his experience, and trying to adjust his own religious conceptions, (6) His large use of Pharisaical phrases and forms of thought in describing his new experiences, making it difficult to decide how literally they are to be taken. (7) His evident desire to find a harmony between certain incongruities between his old beliefs and his present conceptions and experience. (8) His rhetorical temper, leading to extravagant emphasis in the midst of logical discussion. (9) The necessity he felt of dwelling on some conceptions, as the sufferings and death of Christ, because they were so contrary to current thoughts and expectations. (10) The confusing way in which the doctrinal and the historical are sometimes mixed, and his taking Adam and the Fall as literal historic facts. (11) The little use he makes of the Christian tradition, seldom referring to the life or teachings of Jesus—‘I neither received it from man, neither was I taught it’ (Galatians 1:12). (12) The fact that Christ with him is the Christ of his spiritual intuition rather than of historic knowledge and observation.

Because of these characteristics, we are, in interpreting St. Paul, to observe the following principles: (1) Not to be too literal or exact in method, or to crowd his figures. (2) To understand that we have to do not simply with the revelation of Christ, but with the reflexion of a man of deep religious feeling, ‘fiery fancy,’ and extraordinary logical power, who is developing facts into doctrines. (3) That he is doing this for practical purposes rather than to give the Church a theology, and aims to meet needs and special points of view characteristic of his day. (4) That the inner religious experience of the man. out of which he wrote, is not fully dissociated from Rabbinical dialectics and Pharisaical conceptions, which had been well wrought into the framework of his religious thinking. He had to express himself by means of ‘the ideas and association of ideas lying ready in his consciousness,’ which bore a decided Jewish stamp. (5) That he is sufficiently tinctured with Alexandrian methods of interpreting Scripture to use Biblical citations in accommodated senses. (6) That the Alexandrian ideas about the opposition of flesh and spirit, the earthly man and the heavenly man, have determined the direction of some of his reflexions. (7) That the Pharisaical theology had much to do in determining the form of his presentation of the doctrine of vicarious sacrifice. This theology construed the relations between man and God from the legal standpoint. Men who do not fulfil the Law are responsible and involved in guilt. This guilt must be recompensed, or punishment must be visited on the offender. Good deeds, meritorious performances, voluntary mortifications are availing, but with most men the guilt of misdoing is so great that such compensations are not sufficient to balance accounts and avert deserved punishment. Hence it is necessary to look to the superfiuous merits of some eminently just or holy person to be imputed to sinners for the covering of their deficiencies. (8) While the husk of St. Paul’s thought is at times Jewish, there is in him a kernel of his own, a spiritual and inner side which we must grasp to understand his real teachings. Most of the theories of vicarious sacrifice which do not accord with our modern ethical spirit and with the principles of our modern thought, arise from making too much of the ‘earthen vessels’ into which Paul’s real beliefs are cast, and it is clear that we must get rid of these to find the ‘heavenly treasures.’

Most interpreters see in St. Paul a twofold representation of Christ’s vicarious sacrifice, a juridical, based on his Pharisaical conceptions, and an ethico-mystical, a product of his vital religious experience. A. B. Bruce thinks they indicate different stages of the development of the doctrine of reconciliation in the Apostle’s thinking, but one can scarcely consider them as ‘two doctrines,’ for (1) They are wrought out in the same Epistles; (2) They interpenetrate. Pfleiderer explains them psychologically, making them the expression of ‘two souls which always struggled with each other in the breast of the Pharisee and the Apostle Paul, namely, the legal Jewish soul and the evangelical Christian soul.’ As the juridical conception arises in his discussion with the Jews and has reference to Jewish ideas only, it may be that the juridical element is adopted as a form of argument which will be most convincing to a special class, and that it is not intended for a universal form in which to put the doctrine. We shall, therefore, not depend so much on the form as on the reality which seems to lie behind it—the spiritual idea—in trying to set forth Paul’s view. The main positions of the Apostle which bear on his conception of Jesus’ vicarious sacrifice can be stated under the following heads:

(1) Man is separated from God by the fact of sin.—This is due (a) to the attitude of God toward sin. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who, light having been given them, are without excuse and are treasuring up for themselves wrath in the day of wrath (Romans 1:18 ff., Ephesians 5:6, Colossians 3:6). (b) Man because of sin is at enmity with God, minding the things of the flesh and not the things of the spirit, nor being subject to the law of God (Romans 8:6-9). For men to be brought back to God they must be led to renounce sin, for God can never allow it or harmonize with it.

(2) God wants to save men from sin and reconcile them to Himself.—(a) The work of reconciliation, St. Paul says, is begun by God, who was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-19), who sent Him forth (Romans 3:25, Galatians 4:4) to redeem them which were under the Law; and since He ‘spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things?’ (Romans 8:32). In view of these explicit statements, there is no place for the idea that Jesus’ vicarious sacrifice was to reconcile God to us. The word καταλλάσσω, ‘reconcile,’ is used three times in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20, and in each case the reconciliation is to God, and not of God to the world. The noun καταλλαγή is twice used in this passage to indicate something given to us, and reinforces the affirmation of the verb. The peace the sinner receives through this reconciliation is a peace πρὸς τὸν θεόν, toward God, and not a peace of God toward men. Christ, therefore, in seeking the salvation of man, is the expression of God; it is God’s action, God’s kindness, God’s sacrifice. Whatever Christ meant in His life and work God meant, (b) This idea is further enforced by the passages which speak of Christ’s work as one of grace (Romans 3:24): those who would be justified by the Law are fallen away from grace (Galatians 5:4), for salvation is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:7-8).

(3) There are certain obstacles to God’s free forgiving grace which must be overcome.—(a) Such an obstacle is not the ethical nature of God, or His justice, which demands a propitiatory offering or substitute in punishment to make it possible for Him consistently to forgive. This idea is entirely out of harmony with the passages just referred to, which make God originate the vicarious sacrifice of Christ, and which make Christ’s act God’s own. If God is Himself acting in Christ, St. Paul cannot anywhere mean that Jesus is seeking in His sacrifice to obtain something from God which He is not willing to give. It has been well said, ‘since God was working in Christ there was nothing in God to overcome’ (Clarke). Certain passages, however, are said to teach a theory of expiation which has objective reference, and show the necessity of removing obstacles to forgiveness in the nature of God. Some of these are Romans 3:26, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Galatians 3:13, and Colossians 2:14. St. Paul, it is held, in these passages teaches that sin is an offence to the righteousness of God, and this righteousness must be vindicated and compensated before forgiveness is possible. Bearing in His death the punishment due to us, Christ has satisfied the Divine righteousness, so that God can consistently exercise His grace toward sinners. This makes Christ’s vicarious sacrifice penal.

The interpretation is objectionable for the following reasons:—(a) Judicial punishment and forgiveness are incompatible, for forgiveness means the withdrawal and not the infliction of such punishment. The disapproval of God is the soul of the punishment of sin, but this is withdrawn when forgiveness is extended. If it is the purpose of God to reconcile man to Himself, and if He is in the world in Christ seeking to bring this about, the attitude of disapproval of the sinner which makes the penalty of the sin has been cancelled by His own act, and there can be no moral necessity in God which demands a judicial rather than an ethical vindication of His righteousness. (β) Punishment is non-transferable, and any infliction of it on a substitute is not punishment but something else. (γ) When St. Paul speaks of Christ’s sacrifice in relation to us, he always uses ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ‘in our behalf,’ not ἀντὶ ἡμῶν, ‘instead of us.’ (δ) St. Paul’s conception of the righteousness of God is not judicial but ethical, and it is not satisfied by something offered to it, but by such an expression of it as destroys sin in man. (ε) It is difficult to see how, if our sins have been atoned for by a substitutionary sacrifice, faith in Christ is necessary to salvation. When a debt is paid the obligation is released, (ζ) The idea does not do full justice to God’s antagonism to sin, as the extinction of it is more to be desired than the punishment of it.

The statement in Romans 3:25 that God sent forth Christ to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to show His righteousness, cannot mean that Christ’s vicarious sacrifice is intended to make it righteous for God to forgive sin. εἰς ἔνδειξιν means to show, or demonstrate. Now, as Tymms has said: ‘Before the righteousness of an act can be shown, or proved, or demonstrated, it must actually be righteous in itself. To say that a demonstration of a thing or a quality can produce a thing, or confer the quality demonstrated, is absurd.’ If God is in Christ, this whole line of interpretation must be cut out. The passage is contradictory and incapable of being understood, if with Sanday (‘Romans’ in ICC [Note: CC International Critical Commentary.] ) we reply to the question, Who is propitiated?, ‘the answer can only be “God.” ’ The word ἱλαστήριον has been given four interpretations, of which we prefer the translation ‘mercy-seat,’ since this is its accredited meaning in Biblical Greek, and since the symbolic significance of the mercy-seat made it a fitting figure for the Apostle to use. This interpretation also best explains the phrase ‘in his blood,’ and the middle voice employed in the Gr. verb προέθετο, ‘set forth for himself.’ The thought, therefore, is that God sent forth His Son ‘as the reality and fulfilment of all that was symbolized in the mercy-seat.’ God will no longer look upon sin, or consider it, in the case of those who by faith in the blood of Christ accept His provision. Thus God’s righteousness will be revealed in His grace.

(b) Nor is the obstacle to God’s forgiveness ‘the Law,’ of which St. Paul makes so much, considered as a judicial principle, having rights which must be met. It is often said that Christ suffered vicariously to satisfy the claims of the Law, and sometimes this idea of law is developed into a system of moral government which must be vindicated. Galatians 3:13 says, ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law.’ ‘The law’ here is manifestly the Mosaic law, and the ‘us’ cannot mean those who never lived under this law, but must refer to Hebrew Christians. The Jews who were under this discipline were freed from it when they believed in Christ, for He established a new covenant. St. Paul’s language must not here be made universal, for it applies only to a limited class of people. St. Paul clearly tells us that we are justified, not by anything done to or for law, but ‘apart from law,’ as a pure act of grace. All thought of justification on the principle of law is in Romans 3:20 ruled out. As has been said, Christ’s gospel is not a ‘veiled legalism,’ and He did not work out for men a ‘law-righteousness which they could not have obtained for themselves.’ Says W. N. Clarke (Outline of Theol. p. 336): ‘If grace comes simple and whole-hearted into the world, it does not come to satisfy legal demands or win law-righteousness.… God does not deal with men through Christ in the character of lawgiver, or judge, or in any special character, but in His real character as God, His own very self, in personal relations with His creatures as their very selves.’ Indeed, what is the Law in any true sense but God revealing to men His nature as righteous? It is not an abstract thing apart from God that has rights, or can make demands, or needs vindication. Our relations are with a person and not with a system.

There is, however, according to St. Paul, one thing necessary in order to make it possible for God to forgive, and that is, His opposition to sin must be shown. He must be Himself revealed as One who wants men to leave off sinning and become righteous. God could not be satisfied without providing some adequate revelation of this fact, and He has provided it in Christ.

(4) The reconciliation which God desires to effect is accomplished by the vicarious sacrifice of Christ; for this Christ was sent into the world; for this He lived, suffered, and died. St. Paul makes much of the cross. It is the heart of his theology, because it is God’s supreme self-expression in sacrifice to sinful man. In 2 Corinthians 5:15 we read: ‘He died for all, that they which live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again.’ No clearer passage is needed to show that God’s forgiving grace is mediated through the vicarious sacrifice of Christ, and that His inmost heart is thus made manifest. Christ became man’s Saviour (a) by His absolute obedience. ‘For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous’ (Romans 5:19). Christ has resisted sin unto suffering, sacrificed the creature will to the will of God, become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:8), and so has conquered sin by breaking through its general dominion. To those who join themselves to Him, He imparts the same power through the influence of the Spirit. (b) He has also vicariously borne our sins. St. Paul does not say that He has borne the consequences of them, or the punishment of them, but He has taken our sins on Himself in such a way that they have been a burden to His heart and caused Him to suffer. He has borne them in the sense that He has borne with them. To God incarnate in Christ, sin, as the despoiler of those whom He loves and wishes good, must be offensive, must be an affliction, a source of suffering and pain. God’s sympathy is always being taxed by the evil of the world, His holiness is always being offended, and His heart is ever being grieved. In a real and vital way this is sin-bearing—this enduring it in patience, this carrying it upon the heart. Another way in which Christ bears our sins is in labouring to overcome them. Sin puts on God a great task, that of suffering and labouring to save the world. This sin-bearing is what St. Paul refers to when he says, ‘Him who knew not sin he made sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). This does not mean that He made Him a sinner, for God was in Christ; but in His work of expressing God’s love for men, Christ so identifies Himself with humanity that He feels its sin as a personal burden. It is an utter mistake to interpret this passage, as many have done, to mean that Christ was made to suffer the punishment of sin, or that guilt was imputed, or transferred to Him, which is an ethical impossibility. The bold figure simply refers to such an identification with men as to make their burden of sin Christ’s own. The much quoted passage in Gal. (Galatians 3:13), ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree,’ is to be explained in a similar manner. This is a strong expression based on Deuteronomy 21:22-23. Christ’s death on the cross had the outward appearance of His being an accursed criminal, and by metonymy expresses the humiliation and sin-bearing of Christ in ‘His vicarious identification with man under the curse of the law.’ Says Terry: ‘He entered into the depths of human suffering, and felt most keenly the bitter exposure of sinful man to the curse of violated law; and, being Himself personally without sin and without any condemnation from law, He was the more capable of becoming “greatly amazed and sore troubled” over the desperate situation of sin-cursed humanity under the curse of holy law.’ (c) In bearing sin, Christ condemns it and establishes God’s righteousness, establishes it by manifesting it. The punishment of sin is not the strongest way of expressing one’s condemnation of it; a stronger way is to be willing to endure sacrifice to save one from it. It must be an awful thing, if God will go to such lengths of suffering to rescue men from its evil (John 3:16). Men risk their lives only to save their fellows from calamitous dangers. God suffers in Christ, only because He looks at sin as an awful, destructive fact. Nowhere is the righteousness of God, as over against sin, seen so clearly as in the death of Jesus. (d) The vicarious sacrifice of Christ also expresses God’s willingness to save. ‘God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8-11). It is a voluntary expression of interest in us that withholds not at the greatest possible cost; and wins gratitude and response if anything can awaken them. Love can go no farther. In such a work God does His utmost to bring men to Himself. The vicarious element in Christ’s life satisfies God, for it is God’s highest effort for man’s recovery; and it satisfies man, for it shows Jesus as his personal Saviour.

(5) The vicarious sacrifice of Christ becomes available through faith.—Men cannot maintain a passive relation to Christ and be saved from sin; they must join themselves to Him by a living faith. They must die with Him on the cross, and rise with Him to newness of life. They must be one with Him in the fellowship of His sufferings. Christ must be in them their hope of glory. ‘I live no longer,’ cries the Apostle, ‘but Christ liveth in me; and the life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God’ (Galatians 2:20). By fellowship with Christ the old man is put off and dies. The Christ living in us becomes the power by which we break absolutely with the sin of the world, and win a victory over it. This is being saved—being delivered from sin and brought to righteousness. A man who in the obedience of faith—faith being not the intellectual principle of belief, but the act of trust—joins himself to Christ, brings himself thereby into fellowship and moral unity with Him, and becomes possessed of the mind of Christ—the mind of hostility to sin and love of the good (Galatians 3:26). Christ who has ascended in the Resurrection, descends into the heart of the believer in order to assist and complete the freeing, saving work. It is because of this that St. Paul lays such emphasis on the Resurrection in connexion with his doctrine of salvation. He ‘was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification’ (Romans 4:25). Having been reconciled to God, the believer lives the new life of righteousness by faith, which becomes a continuous experience, and will be consummated in an eternal salvation.

(6) St. Paul also has a doctrine of a new humanity obtained through Christ’s vicarious sacrifice, which grows out of the importance he attaches to human solidarity. Salvation is not only individual, but also social. This feature of St. Paul’s thought has recently been worked out in an interesting way by Dr. Olin A, Curtis in The Christian Faith (pp. 317–337). The end of God in redemption is ‘to obtain a race of holy men.’ ‘God wanted an entangled race.’ While Christ is the source of help and strength, the social solidarity of men makes it essential that the social organism be redeemed, for men must help to complete one another. The new humanity built up in Christ becomes a body of which He is the living head, and for which He ever makes intercession.

4. The doctrine of vicarious sacrifice in Hebrews.—The doctrine of vicarious sacrifice as set forth in Hebrews, although elaborate, need not be especially considered here, as this Epistle gives us no new information of importance. The subject is extensively discussed with special reference to the symbolism of the OT, the doctrine being set forth largely in terms of sacrifice. We do not hear anything about ‘the law,’ or about satisfaction to it or to God’s righteousness. Here Christ is a pure offering in sacrifice to God, but His death is not received as a substitutionary expiation. The absence of this idea is the more remarkable that the author so closely approximates it. Had he shared this conception, it is not easy to see why he did not bring it forward in connexion with such assertions as that Christ made propitiation (ἱλάσκεσθαι) for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:17), tasted death for every man (Hebrews 2:9), and was offered to bear away the sins of many (Hebrews 9:28).

‘Not the satisfaction of the law, the removal of the curse, the endurance of the penalty of sin, but a Divine fitness, or decorum, is assigned as the reason why the Author of salvation should be made perfect through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10). Elsewhere he deduces the necessity of Jesus’ death from the very fact that He is a priest. It is the calling of a priest to offer sacrifice, hence “this high priest must also have somewhat to offer” (Hebrews 8:3), and that “somewhat” can only be His own life. In another place this necessity is derived from the import of the word διαθἠχη. This word has two meanings—“covenant” and “testament.” Our author passes from one meaning to the other in the elaboration of his argument. The first covenant was sealed by a death; in fact, wherever a testament or will goes into effect, it does so in consequence of a death: therefore it was needful that the establishment of the New Covenant should be ratified by a death, that is, by the death of Christ’ (Stevens, op. cit. 76 f.).

One interesting fact concerning this Epistle is the ethical meaning the author attaches to the whole conception of sacrifice, making it, as applied to Christ, an entirely different thing from what it is in the Levitical ritual and ceremonies.

The Epistles of St. Peter will not be considered, for they shed no new light on the problem under discussion.

5. Summary of results.—In concluding our investigation of vicarious sacrifice in the NT, we summarize our results as follows: (1) The doctrine of vicarious sacrifice is the very heart of the Scriptures. It is the harmonious note of all the Biblical writers, finding expression in the OT sacrifices, in the life and teachings of Jesus, and in the writings of the Apostles. God is seeking to develop a righteous people, a holy race, and the process or method is by vicarious sacrifice.

(2) In the Scriptures the doctrine is largely expressed in figures, and symbols, and current conceptions which make its interpretation difficult, and have led to much misunderstanding. Many theories have been built up on what close analysis shows to be only a metaphor, or Jewish sacrificial term. We must not strain popular language to give exact scientific statement.

(3) While Biblical writers assert their individuality in s

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Vicarious Sacrifice'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​v/vicarious-sacrifice.html. 1906-1918.
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