“For Our Sins”

“For Our Sins” January 30, 2018

jussara-romao-345671In one of the New Testament’s definitive statements on the gospel, 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, we read that Christ died “for our sins” (hyper ton hamartion hemon). In Simon Gathercole’s Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul, we encounter a robust defense of the view that the expression “for” is substitutionary.

His primary opponents are Morna Hooker and Harmut Gese, but he focuses most on the German scholarship.

First, Gathercole contends 1 Cor 15:3-5 is a central gospel statement and that “for our sins,” which he takes to be substitutionary, is central to the gospel statement, and that means that substitutionary atonement is central to the gospel.

Yes, I want to say, but it is unfortunate that Gathercole has ignored (1) the gospel preaching of the Book of Acts, which is apostolic gospeling unless he thinks it is non-historical, and he has ignored (2) 2 Tim 2:8, which to remind our readers says, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel.” There we have the gospel defined — unless he does not think Paul wrote 2 Timothy — and there is not a word here about substitution. In fact, there is resurrection. The death of Jesus appears in 2 Tim 2:11, and there is is every bit as much inclusive as exclusive substitutionary theory at work.

This does not detract from the importance of 1 Cor 15. I agree. It is the pristine gospel statement.

Second, what does “according to the Scriptures” mean? He lays aside a no text approach and or a general thematic approach and prefers echoes, allusions and explicit and conscious connection to Isaiah 53, and he has a wonderful chart on p. 65, that makes connection to Isa 53 reasonable.

Furthermore he draws out these words: death, alone, consequence of sins, caused by others and in the place of others. In spite of the Jewish pattern that people die because of their own sins — that strong sense of personal responsibility, there is a clear connection for Gathercole between Zimri and Paul (cf. 1 Kings 16:18-19 and 1 Cor 15:3).

Third, then, we get this:

There are two stages in the logic here: (1) Jesus died because of the sins of others, and (2) because he has done that, he thereby saves others from the consequence of sin.

Clearly the sins in question are not Christ’s own but those of others. As a result, his death is clearly one that comes through his standing in the place of others. This comes out again in the alternation of the third-person singular with the first-person plural: “he died for our sins.” The default Old Testament position would be ‘he died for his sins” or “we died for our sins.” The miracle of the gospel, however, is that he died for our sins.

In sum, the death that is the theological consequence of sins came to him in our place. And it is precisely in his death in consequence of our sins that he takes them in our place and thereby deals with them. “For sins,” then, means both as a result of sins and—therefore also—to deal with those sins. Because he has borne sins, we will not; because he has carried our sins and their theological consequence, we will not.

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