Atonement as a Type

I am continuing to enjoy my atonement seminar. I will be reading my critique of J. Denny Weaver’s The Nonviolent Atonement in class today, which will be fun.

So far I would describe my theology of atonement as being refined in this process in two ways:

1) I believe more solidly than before in PSA (penal substitutionary atonement). In all my reading, I have not yet come against any argument against PSA that has been convincing to me. In fact, my consistent observation has been that arguments against PSA tend to rely on caricature and false dichotomy. Many fail to understand the Trinitarian structure of PSA, and many fail to deal adequately with many relevant biblical texts (e.g., Leviticus 16, Isaiah 53, Romans 3:21-26). In addition, I am struck by how well PSA accords with a biblical-theological framework of Christ’s entire work as a recapitulation of fallen Adam and failed Israel. Hans Boersma recounts PSA in terms of Christ’s recapitulation of Adam’s banishment from the garden, and Israel’s exile from Jerusalem, which is interesting (see his Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross). All in all, it seems to me that the large-scale reaction against PSA today does not seem to me to be motivated by genuine biblical and theological concerns.

2) At the same time, I have grown in my appreciation for the multifaceted nature of the atonement. While I believe PSA is at the heart of the meaning of the atonement, I don’t think that one image or metaphor can capture its entire meaning, and I think it is a worthwhile and noble exercise to trace out the logical relation of the different images and metaphors portrayed in the New Testament. I do see the other classic motifs – Christus Victor and moral exemplar – as valid themes, but logically dependent upon PSA, at least in its basic contours.

One of the ways I am growing in my understanding of the atonement is that is that I am learning to see Christ’s death and resurrection as a type for the very nature of redemption. In other words, I am learning to see Christ’s atoning work as not merely a mechanism, but as a pattern or archetype. It not only accomplishes; it also images. This is not denigrate the mechanistic significance of the atonement. If anything, it honors it, like a sword which is not merely used for battle but is also hung upon the wall for its beauty and historical value: the very reason its hung upon the wall is because of its prior value in battle. And its mechanistic purpose in battle can explain its nature (its handle, length, sharp edges, etc.) in a way that its decorative function can never do. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, there is value in hanging the sword on the wall.

Specifically, I am learning to see Good Friday —> Easter as a pattern which all of the created order must follow to experience redemption – a sort of hourglass or funnel through which all things must pass in order to make it into the new, resurrected universe. Submission to death and new life in that submission – this is what redemption looks like, for the individual Christian in his or her growth in holiness, and also for the entire creation’s “liberation from its bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21). Easter morning is the “firstfruits” (I Corinthians 15:20) – the first installment of what is to come for all believers, and fallen creation with them. And if there is resurrection, that implies prior death. “It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (I Corinthians 15:44). Nothing – a gifting, a desire, a body, or a universe – can be raised unless it has first died.

This means that the solution to the problem of natural evil – one of my abiding intellectual difficulties – must be nowhere else than the death of Christ. Cosmic death and suffering must be interpreted with reference to the archetype of suffering and death, the cross of Calvary. I don’t know exactly how I’d tease this out yet, but I’d like to think about this more.


  1. Gav,

    and many fail to deal adequately with many relevant biblical texts (e.g., Leviticus 16, Isaiah 53, Romans 3:21-26)

    1) What’s your read of Leviticus 16? It’s not entirely clear to me that PSA is being referenced.

    2) Have you read the Septuagint’s rendering of Isaiah 53? It’s interesting to compare it with the Masoretic text.

    3) From what I can tell, there is no scholarly consensus on the translation and meaning of hilasterion. It’s an ambiguous passage.

    In addition, I am struck by how well PSA accords with a biblical-theological framework of Christ’s entire work as a recapitulation of fallen Adam and failed Israel.

    Could you flesh this out? I haven’t read Boersma.


  2. hey drew!

    I see the day of atonement ritual in Leviticus 16 as a type of christ’s priestly work. I think various aspects of the ritual (e.g., vv. 20-21) symbolize a substitutionary sacrifice which bears the sin and guilt of God’s people. I’m not sure the penal element is clear in this passage alone, although I do think its implicit insofar as the whole Bible affirms that there is penal, legal dimension to sin and guilt. I do think in general the OT sacrificial system supports PSA, in a broad, preliminary way – I think it assumes concepts like propitiation which much of the reaction against PSA butt against. What surprises me is how frequently people of all views on the atonement overlook the Pentateuch! Its such an important part of the bible for understanding atonement.

    I can’t recall if I’ve read the Septuagint’s rendering of Isaiah 53 of the top of my head.

    I agree there is no scholarly consensus on hilasterion in Romans 3:25, though I think Leon Morris’ case still has good evidence behind it. I also think the larger context of Romans (much concerned with God’s wrath) support Morris. My case for PSA in this passage would not depend on that specific word, though (that would come in more directly in discussions of propitiation). I think PSA is unavoidable in Paul insofar as Paul treats sin (and death) as penal realities. If Christ is a substitute for sin, and sin is penal (among other things), then I’m not sure how Christ could die as a sin substitute without there being a penal element to this substitution.

    On Boersma, I will have to flesh that out another time! I have run out of time.


  3. Thanks, Gav. See you Thursday!


  4. Looking forward to it.


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