reflections for Good Friday: atonement
“There is no doctrine more dangerous than the Christian doctrine of the atonement, it does indeed make ‘wild and careless folk’, if we do not consider it with this warning in view.” Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/1, p.70So what really happened on Good Friday? I was inspired by this post at Experimental Theology to write my own summary, plagiarizing his tight format. Today we'll look at the first atonement theory, followed by three more over the course of the weekend.
A discussion of atonement begins first, of course, with the Jewish sacrificial system. In Exodus 25, Moses was instructed to build the Ark of the Covenant to house the 10 Commandments. The cover of the Ark was called the mercy seat, or kapporet. Coming from the Hebrew kaphar; to cover, it implies pardoning, like covering a debt. The mercy seat was where the high priest would sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice each year in the temple for the forgiveness of the priest and the nations’ sins. The word entered Greek as “hilasterion”, which we translate as atonement and propitiation as in Romans 3. But how this pardon works, and even what we are pardoned from is debatable and scripture attests to a number of different images. I hope to outline one a day until the resurrection, beginning with the oldest and longest held Christian belief.
For the first millennia of the Christian Church, the dominant theory was in some form the “ransom theory”. The thought is that at the Fall, Adam and Eve sold humanity to the Devil when they first sinned – agreed to the Devil’s terms. Because they sold themselves, the God had to pay “the ruler of this world” in order to reclaim humanity. To do this, God tricked the devil into accepting Christ’s death which was altogether too tempting for such a proud being to claim. But the devil did not realize that Christ was immortal, and after dying, rose again, our debt paid and the devil thwarted, which is why it is also called the “Christus Victor” theory. As originally conceived, you don’t find a lot of folks who hold to this in the US, but it is common way of speaking about the human situation in Pentecostal and charismatic churches of various kin.
saved from: The Devil
verse: Mark 10:45
"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."next up: penal substitution