Saturday, June 12, 2010

Theological Terminology: Pt. 3

For those of you reading this, I broke up my original very, very long post into three parts.  This is the third and last one.  I figured it would make it easier to read and comment on.

2. Just because a word is not present, does not mean the concept isn't there.  So, our critics say "show us where the word "Justification" is applied to atonement" and when we can't, they say "HA, HA!  Then the concept clearly isn't there either."

But this doesn't work either.  Remember, many Radical Reformers made this argument against the magisterial Reformation.  One common argument was that because the word "Trinity" is not in the Bible, that there's no Trinity.  But obvious there is.  The Bible says the Father is God, the Son is God and so is the Holy Ghost.  It defines their relationships (begetting, procession, etc.), they address each other as other subjects or "thous" (we might say).  And lastly, we're told there's only one God.  So, there you go, we've got the Trinity.  One could also use the same argument for the word in the creed Homoousia, which is, of course not Biblical, but conveys a Biblical concept, that is, the unity of the deity.

Saying that we can only use Biblical words remember was an argument of the Arians and the Semi-Arians.  

The Church must invent its own language and sometimes modify Biblical language so that the concepts are understood.  This is because heretics frequently mask their heresy by using the same words to convey different concepts.

So, Luther insert "alone" into Paul's statement "we are justified by faith apart from the works of the law."  Though the word "alone" is clearly not there- "works of the law" means anything good we do.  If it's all excluded, then clearly faith is the only thing.  In the same manner, my pastors insert into the words of institution (which are reported differently by the different gospels, but convey the same meaning) "the true body of Christ" "the true blood of Christ" because we live in a Reformed dominated country where those words are in danger of being taken as metaphors.

3. For this reason, when we read "Jesus atoned for the sins of the whole world" we are not on shaky ground saying "Jesus forgave the whole world by his death" or "justified" it either.

Again, can we find a passage that applies the words "forgive" or "justified" regarding Jesus' death?  Not precisely.  But that's fairly irrelevant, because as we have shown, the word "justification" doesn't have a uniform meaning in the Bible.  If we did, then it wouldn't mean very much without examining the context.

Consequently, we need to look what atonement means in the Bible.  When in Leviticus 16 and 17 atonement are discussed, the word "kuppur" is used.  Kuppur means to "atone for" "to pay for" "to smear" or "wipe away."

All these terms, especially the last, convey that atonement is forgiveness, because it wipes away sins.  If a sin is wiped away, it is forgiven.  Just sit down and read Leviticus 17 when it talks about blood making atonement for your soul.  If the blood pays for the sin and "works atonement" thereby "wiping away" the sin then there can be no other meaning than this forgives sins.  In other words, atonement makes sin a non-entity, since it is "wiped away."  If sin has become a non-entity, it is clearly forgiven.  Leviticus has absolutely no sense that there are two separate events, one of forgiveness and one of atonement.  They are in fact one single event.

Now, of course, this does mean that if a person didn't trust in the promises connected with the atonement, that they would receive the forgiveness.  Nevertheless, sins are objectively forgiven.  The high priest admits all the sins of Israel over the scapegoat.  God is quite clear that he bears their sins and that they are atoned for.  So, forgiven wrought and received are clearly different things in the sense that if one does not have faith, one is not incorporated into the event of forgiveness.  This doesn't mean that the words of absolution brought about by the atonement are not objectively valid.

Another example of atonement comes in Numbers 25, when atonement is made for the camp after the apostasy with the Baals.  Again, the people of Israel are objectively forgiven by this event since they (unlike their parents) enter into the promised land.  If the atonement was a separate event from the forgiveness, the plague (the punishment for their sins) would have continued, but instead it stops.

Lastly, Jesus' death is prefigured by the Biblical jubilee (I have made argument in the past about Isaiah 61 and Daniel 9-other exegetes have as well).  In the Jubilee, all debts were objectively forgiven every 49 years.  Jesus says he's come to give a year of the Lord's favor in Luke, referring to Isaiah and the practice of Jubilee in Leviticus 25.

So, if Jesus' death is described as atoning for sin and being like a universal Jubilee, where all debts are objectively forgiven, then why can't we apply the concept of universal forgiveness or universal justification?

Making a conceptual distinction between atonement and justification can work if by it you mean that though sins are objectively done away with by Christ's death, you still have to receive that forgiveness.  But saying that atonement doesn't=forgiveness is a groundless argument Biblically.  It clearly does.  

Otherwise, what would atonement do?  It "wipes away" sin, but then doesn't?

Also, why would Jesus and the OT prophecies compare his work of redemption to the universal remission of debts?  

Lastly, why would Luther and the Confessions say that we are forgiven before we pray for it or that Christ bore all sins, so that he is the "only sinner" if the whole world was not forgiven?

All these things need to be answer regarding the conceptuality at work here, not simply piling up quotations.

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