Atonement Theories Demonstrated

Atonement Theories Demonstrated May 27, 2012

Here a priest seeks to demonstrate the difference between Protestant/evangelical views of atonement and the Orthodox theory. It takes 9 minutes but is worth your time and a discussion. I am not entirely sure this view is that much different than the Protestant/evangelical view (what do you think?).

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  • I’m not sure that you can really call this a “theory” when it is the Dogmatic teachings of the Eastern Orthodox Church. I apologize if that sounds a little harsh – but the Orthodox Church has existed in an unbroken apostolic line since the very beginning; unaffected by the medieval crusades and reformation movement that struck it’s Roman “brethren” –

    The radical difference in the atonement in Orthodox theology is that Jesus did not die a juridical death at the hand of God as a punishment for our sins – but he chose to die to defeat death, for the restoration of man’s divinity.

    Christ as the 2nd Adam restored our side of the relationship with God. The fruit of Orthodox atonement is not just eternal life but the acquisition of the holy spirit that we become united with God in “Theosis.”

    There’s another version of this video – that I also like – by Pastor Brian John from Missouri – it’s a paraphrase of Deacon Steve Robinson’s version above..

  • JHM

    I’m not super clear on the Orthodox version, is it Universalism? That seemed to me to be the big difference between the two, in the Orthodox version God just keeps chasing people and there was not permanent turning away. Maybe I’m just “reading” that wrong.

  • Steve Sherwood

    It seems to me they paint a pretty significantly different picture of who/how God is toward humanity. In the first, God is primarily defined by Holiness, and given the presumption, “Holiness cannot look upon sin,” God MUST turn away and does, repeatedly. This video gets at an issue related to the Penal view that has bothered me for a long time. Is Jesus less holy than God? If not, how is it that Jesus enters into human experience in the incarnation, and certainly LOOKS UPON sin throughout his life? I’ve increasingly struggled to see how the Penal view avoids pitting the members of the Trinity against each other, or at least has them function differently in response to humanity. The Orthodox view seems to avoid this by arguing that all of the Triune God comes toward humanity to heal, forgive, reconcile.

  • Waylon

    That guys isn’t actually a priest. His name is Steve Robinson and he blogs at He also co-hosted an Orthodox radio show that turned in to a podcast called “Our Life in Christ” at

    While I couldn’t talk my wife into converting to Orthodox Christianity with me, I really learned a lot listening to “Our Life in Christ.” Great stuff!

  • Hmmmmm. I think this video was interesting, though I am not so sure the representations were all that great… though as he said, they were a nutshell presentation.

    The second part, the Orthodox view, seemed like it could lead towards Universalism, but I didn’t take it that way. I thought that most Protestants would probably be fine with all of it 🙂 I mostly was…

  • Eric Brown

    The John Brian version as linked under #1 is a little longer but explicit on the differences. The view that Jesus had to placate the Father, as if they aren’t of one mind has always bothered me as well. Sure there are a few verses one could point to but that shouldn’t be emphasized over God sending his Son to die.

  • The Atonement ca be summed up in the Orthodox Paschal Troparion as Father says:

    Christ is Risen from the dead
    Trampling down death by death
    And upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

    In other words, Atonement begins with the Incarnation. It is the incarnation that redeems Adam.

    Jesus dies to defeat death in order to heal us from sin which is a sickness and something that is not part of our natural state given to us by God.

    Jesus does not “pay God” to clean the balance sheet to satiate God’s requirement for justice. He dies and raises from the dead to restore us to our natural state of immortality.

    As noted above this is not so much a theory as it is a practice. We take the communion, take confession, participate in the Liturgy, follow prayer rules, and so on in order to prepare us for the final judgement where we will know God and God will know us intimately already. Those not prepared will not know God. See Matthew 22 and the man who did not have on wedding clothes.

    I am actually going to start a blog on Patheos hopefully next week where I will talk about my journey from Catholicism, to Reformed, to Orthodoxy. I am being received into Orthodoxy next week during Pentecost and am humbled. I hope my blog will help some folks out with some of these questions and would very much like this kind of dialogue there too!

  • DRT

    Scot, I think the comments have all ready, and will continue to invalidate you hypothesis that it is not that different.

  • scotmcknight

    DRT, I know the differences between Orthodoxy and Protestantism, but I suspect his statement of the Protestant view is overcooked in the direction of a harsher Reformed perception and not as Lutheran or moderate evangelical as many today would affirm. Thoughts?

  • In my discussions with both moderates and liberals I have explained the difference and it seemed new or even refreshing from the Western legacy of substitutionary atonement. These folks are not big fans of substitutionary atonement, but are also unsure of where to go with that criticism. So yes he might be cooking it in the doctrinal direction of of the Western European and specifically the Roman legacy, but not without due justification in my judgment.

    What I want to emphasize is that for Orthodoxy it is part of a liturgical life. If it’s not part of that, then it’s only partially understood. As my Father says, the theology is in the prayers of the church. Now that legacy is very different as you well know.

  • DRT

    I agree with you that you know ( 🙂 ), but feel there is a large population that would resonate with the evangelical position as presented, even here at JC.

  • Steve Sherwood

    Scot, but don’t many within Protestantism (or at least loud reformed voices) posit the view he is describing as the ONLY atonement view that is lowercase orthodox? Even Richard Mouw, writing recently in Christianity Today and arguing for the vitality of keeping substitution in our understanding of the cross, buys into the argument that a “penal” meaning for substitution is the only valid option, it seems to me. The two words penal+substitution seem utterly linked in the minds of many. So much so that “substitution” has no meaning outside of a court room. I think this is unfortunate. Keep “substitution?” Absolutely! Only understand it in terms of legal concepts? No.

  • JHM, No., I don’t believe that the Orthodox faith believes in Universalism. Note at the end the reference to God’s love as a “consuming fire.”

    One could say that the Orthodox faith sees the gospel message as “How did Jesus defeat death” rather than “How did Jesus turn God’s wrath.” I don’t mean to put words in the mouths of the Orthodox, but perhaps they would respond that “Our version of salvation does not seek an answer to ‘how does Jesus turn away God’s wrath?’ because it deems it an artificial problem manufactured by a gross misreading of Paul’s epistles.”

    It is worth noting that there are many descriptions of the final Judgment (the judgment that comes AFTER Christ’s return and AFTER the second resurrection) and not a single one of them portrays it the way modern evangelicals do, where Christ parachutes in to take the blame. You don’t see that motif in John 5:22-29, you don’t see that motif in Revelation 20:12-21:8, and you don’t see it in Matthew 25:32-46 or Matthew 7:12-27.

  • DRT

    I will quickly get over my head here because i have not been immersed in the evangelical view all my life, but the Lutherans I know also seem to believe that we were bad and god does not like that, but thank god for Jesus who makes it so god does not take it out on us.

    The baptists definitely would not think the evan/prot view presented is slanted in any way. Many times when I talk to them they actually physically stoop and almost duck a bit when thinking about how the wrath of god is out there. It is quite interesting body language.

  • Doug

    Scot: The “harsher Reformed perception?” I mean, I know there are hyper Calvinists out there that would have a view that is severely harsh, but I’m not sure R.C. Sproul fits that category. It may be harsh that God hates sin and in some sense sinners, but I do believe there is something about that in the Bible. It isn’t like its going to go away because we don’t like to talk about it in our sentimental American context.

    There does seem to be some caricature going on with the Protestant view. Is the Protestant view “really” that Jesus doesn’t say any of those things to sinners (the woman at the well, the man in the tree, etc)? It sort of makes it sound like Protestants don’t think Jesus really loves anyone, that God only loves Christ. Orthodox love paradox and mystery, so I wonder, why can’t God have wrath and love towards someone at the same time (but in the western “logical” mind, without doing it in the same respect).

    I, too, am troubled about the implications of universalism as mentioned by a few here. It almost sounds like no one really needs to believe or have faith in Christ at all. “Love wins” after all. I’m not sure that is their belief or not.

    At any rate, it is always interesting to see the Orthodox view of things. Both Rome and Protestantism have so completely ignored the East, and it is having a very significant impact on former Protestants in the West now, we can’t afford to pretend it doesn’t exist. I do appreciate quite a bit of the tradition. But I’m certainly not ready to jump my Reformed Protestant ship any time soon. Thanks for the post.

  • DRT

    But I have to say, [my version of poetry as hommage to Voskamp]

    You can just sense the overwhelming power of his black garb, and yet his melodic and soothing voice provides nuturing support to me in his wisdom. The contrast of how the surroundings are decorated and crafted by man, but the vision of man in those surroundings is clean, simple and speaking directly to me. I wish I could have sat on the white god chair as he was moving it, …

    I think I should stop.

  • Mark Nieweg

    Scot, reading through the comments, I noticed you mention a difference between Lutheran and Reformed views of the Atonement. Have you read any of David Brondos’ books, the most recent of which I am familiar is called “Redeeming the Gospel: The Christian Faith Reconsidered”? He is a Lutheran scholar and minister teaching at Theological Community of Mexico. What he sees as a real distinction in Western ideas of Atonement as compared with others is its emphasis that because man has a sin problem, it also produces a problem in God Himself – the problem between justice and mercy that must be resolved for God to “turn” once again towards us. The Protestant/Evangelical emphasis seems to stress this aspect over all others. I have asked similar questions that Steve Sherwood asks under comment #3 that brings this aspect into question for me.

    What I found fascinating about Brondos’ work was not only how well he explains nuances in the theories of Atonement, but his bringing additional questions to bear upon them that bring out problems with each. In an earlier book, “Paul on the Cross: Reconstructing the Apostle’s Story of Redemption” he works within the narrative of Israel to bring across atonement linked much more closely with that story than the “theories” that had arisen since. I was reading him while also reading your current offering and found much in common.

  • Dana Ames

    For those who are worried about “universalism”, that is not the teaching of the Orthodox Church. But it is a much more nuanced view, because there is no “place” called “hell” and no “place far beyond the stars” that is identified with “heaven”. Much more is left to God’s judgments regarding the “final disposition” of each person, and “salvation” isn’t a matter of intellectual affirmation of doctrine (although we do have doctrine and we affirm it).

    Andrew Tatusko, I’m looking forward to reading your blog.

    I don’t think it’s Orthodox teaching that the work of Christ restores us “to our natural state of immortality”. Only God is “naturally” immortal. Christ has “bestowed on us incorruption”, but I’m not sure I would call that the same thing. See, and do talk with your priest about this. I may be misrepresenting or misunderstanding something, as I was received only 3 years ago…


  • EricW

    I think that to the extent the Orthodox minimize or ignore the propitiatory/substitutionary atonement aspects of Christ’s death, they distort the Gospel and the New Testament. Likewise, to the extent Protestants limit their view of the atonement to PSA, they distort the Gospel and the New Testament. I suspect that “The River of Fire” Steve Robinson mentions likely is connected to this document:

    Having been both Orthodox and Protestant, I think either side’s claim to have the correct doctrine of the Atonement vis-a-vis the other side is a mischaracterization of both the other side and their own.

  • EricW

    And then, there is of course the “Toll Houses.” I.e., there is more to Orthodox tradition about salvation, death, heaven and hell than “The River of Fire” and God’s eternally cleansing love:

    “Conclusion – The doctrine of the toll-houses, of the particular judgement of souls after death, is indeed a fearful doctrine. But it is a true and salutary and Orthodox one. Let us therefore gather this saving fear into our souls, in accordance with the word: “Remember thine end, and thou shalt never sin” (Sirach 7.36).”

  • Bev Mitchell

    Thanks for bringing this up. The various traditions have so much to learn from each other – once we get beyond simply saying what I just said 🙂

    What the  Incarnation, life of Christ and the Resurrection have accomplished, and what our response to it should be always seem inextricably entangled with our speculations about the mechanism, the western how? Does anyone’s theology effectively disentangle these? Can we be certain about ‘what’ while being a bit less certain of our own version of ‘how’? Has anyone analyzed the NT record in terms of clear What and/or How texts? 

    From another perspective, we all personally know non-theologically inclined brothers and sisters who often show clear evidence that the Holy Spirit is working in and through them. They seem to be too busy following the Lord to worry much about how it all works. So, by observation, it must be possible to disentangle the two questions, without doing much damage. Maybe we should try harder to do this when thinking theologically.

  • William Harris

    Differences such as they are, perhaps turn on two questions, the first being that of the nature of human alienation and in particular whether it possesses metaphysical status. Or should it be seen only as a flaw in our self-understanding? Just how perverse am I?

    And the second, how do we understand God’s action relative to this alienation. Is it moral, a standing along side (parakletos) that woos the human? Or does the alienation require some reweaving of Creation? (That is, does alienation have a metaphysical reality beyond the subjective?) Is God to be understood as so self-contained that we only deal with this One by extension (as seems to be the direction of apophatic spirituality), or do we understand this One engaging, Self-identifying with the human? Rather than an arising by shedding, the latter sees a Divine reaching toward.

    In a word, why isn’t my alienation or the enormities of this Age the final word?

    The strength of the Western understanding lies in its treatment of this alienation as something deadly serious and something inescapable. It is also something dealt with by God’s action. The intimacy and fellowship so ably spoken about in the video is a fruit, a consequence of this action. The end of alienation, the answer to the enormities of mass, industrial death, lies in God’s action of taking that alienation into God’s own life.

    And at a practical level, that strikes me as the difference; while the Anselmic doctrine formally addresses a metaphysical status that very question of human status and change imagines different ordering of this world. The double view of Righteous demands and Restored fellowship underscores the seriousness of Creation and makes possible a politics that is more than the mere exercise of Power. In a time drenched with depravity this possibility can seem tenuous at best. It can be and always has been a path a walked by faith.

  • Percival

    I think the strength of the view presented here (I am reluctant to call it the Orthodox view) is that it does not make Jesus to have a different character than the Father. Does God truly sit with sinners and dine with them? Or is that just what Jesus does? Many Protestants have somehow made the Father into someone who wouldn’t be caught dead at a sinner’s table. Jesus reveals that view to be totally mistaken.

  • Brad Nassif

    We Orthodox have been too eager to distance ourselves from the Christian West by claiming one particular view of the atonement as “the” Orthodox view. As far as I know, “the” Orthodox view has never existed. Rather, there are multiple views expressed in the Church’s patristic and liturgical tradition, none of which have ever been elevated to an official dogmatic status. The late Fr. George Florovsky saw this many years ago in his book “Creation and Redemption” and it bears repeating today. The sacrificial vocabulary of the Church’s eucharistic liturgies do seem to permit some form of substitutionary atonement, especially in light of 2 Cor. 5 and 1 John 2. A fuller discussion of this can be found on pgs. 43-44 of my essay “The Evangelical Theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church” in the book “Three Views of Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism”, ed. James Stamoolis (Zondervan, 2004).

    Scot McKnight’s book “A Community Called Atonement” strikes the balance we’re all looking for: “Jesus dies ‘with us’ — entering into our evil and our sin…; Jesus dies ‘instead of us’ — he enters into ‘our’ sin, ‘our’ wrath, and ‘our death; and Jesus dies ‘for us’ — his death forgives our sin, ‘declares us right,’ absorbs the wrath of God against us, and creates new life where there was once only death.” (p. 69).

  • One of my major seminary papers was on the question of God’s love and God’s wrath and I came to many of the same conclusions as in the Orthodox view presented in the video. And my thinking was heavily influenced by T.F. Torrance.

    So either I unwittingly hold an Orthodox view or the Protestant view presented in the video is one-sided, as Scot says above (#9).

    It is not clear to me, in fact, that there is one Protestant view. It seems more likely that there are multiple Protestant views with some basic commonalities and the video presents the one that gets the most attention (for whatever reason).

  • It’s been a long time since I first saw this video, and it was good to watch it again. I think the protestant view presented is probably best described as an Augustinian view, don’t you think? Luther moved away from Augustine, more towards the Eastern views, but never made it completely. The rest of protestantism seems to have stuck closer to Augustine. At least that’s my sense. Luther saw God as more motivated by his love than by wrath, and I think that’s a major factor in the differences between the penal and the Christus Victor views.

    I’m certainly not an expert, but have been thinking some of these issues through, and have appreciated the comments here.

  • mick

    I’m to tired to review it again but it seemed that in the Orthodox view, God never looks away from man, only man turns away from God. Overall, his presentation indicates a more relational view in the Orthodox way.

  • Dana Ames

    The whole toll-houses thing is a side issue, kind of like “the rapture”. Most contemporary mainstream Orthodox theologians reject it, to my understanding. But also, I have never encountered it in any of the Orthodox services. If something is not found in the services, it is not dogma, no matter how many saintly people and/or theologians describe it or agree on it.

    Long before I had any notions of becoming Orthodox, Robert Webber convinced me that Christus Victor was the dominant understanding of the early Church, along with some idea of ransom secondarily. Again, if anyone wants to know what Orthodoxy teaches, you have to look for it in the services. Those 2 understandings are there. PSA is not.

    Please forgive me if I sound short (well, I am only 5’1″ tall…). I’m tired and I’m going to bed now.


  • Steve Sherwood

    #24 Marc, T.F. Torrance has also been an important figure for me. I read “The Mediation of Christ” (his shortest, most accessible book) on a long cross country flight while in seminary and thought, “well, nothing will be the same after this.”

  • I do not find anything in this presentation that I have not learned from my Evangelical tradition, chastened as it has been by overdone judicialism. Even with penal substitutionary atonement, the Second Adam model of salvation is sufficiently expressed, I think particularly for those of us who see prevenient grace as a universal renewal of our race to restore us to the dignity of choice. This reminds me of Tim Keller’s warning that we do not have to change our theology in order to change our tone.

  • Bev Mitchell

    It is good to see T.F. Torrance mentioned here.(Marc #24; Steve #29). I’m no expert but have read “The Mediation of Christ”, Paul D. Molnar’s excellent “T.F. Torrance: Theologian of the Trinity” and Elmer M. Colyer’s partly biographical and very helpful “How to Read T.F. Torrance: Understanding His Trinitarian and Scientific Theology”. There is also a site put up by the T.F. Torrance Theological Fellowship at 

    Torrance has certainly become my go-to guy when the need arises, often, to re-connect with the centre. His insistence that we always focus on the Trinity, always working outward from there, is much needed counsel for today’s wandering evangelical. It’s a pity he is not better known. BTW, he is highly recognized in the east for making outstanding contributions to a much better understanding between reform and Orthodox positions. As a life-long Arminian leaning toward open-theist, I benefit greatly from just about anything I can understand from Torrance.

  • Steve #29 – “well, nothing will be the same after this.”

    Exactly. “Mediation of Christ” was a formative book for me, too.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    Doug, #15, my brother just got back from a preaching conference where he heard David Platts say that God both hates sin and hates the sinner. In what sense or what biblical texts does some of this come from? I do understand that the Orthodox conception of God’s wrath comes under God’s love. I’m just trying to understand where some of the Reformed folks are coming from?

    Dana Ames #18, I think you are right, immoratality of the soul is a Greek idea and not neccesarily a biblical one. The scriptures teach that only God is immortal!

    Brad Nassif #24, says there have been multiple atonement views throughout the history of the church. If the Bible gives multiple images for atonement, I simply don’t get the insistence by some of the Reformed folks that not only can substitionary atonement not take on different nuances, but it HAS to be elevated above all other atonement views. Why?

    Steve and Mark,
    I have been reading Torrence’s book “The Mediation of Christ,” and I am humbled by the sheer simplicity, brilliance, and broad historical perspective Torrence brings to so many issues.

    And Bev, your insights and remarks are always excellent (thanks so very much!).

  • Patrick

    There was an Orthodox lady here once who explained they do think all humanity in some form or status will have eternal life. I am seriously looking at that view myself. Maybe she mis represented them inadvertently?

    The idea that God “turned away” from man after sin is just anti textual, so I think the Orthodox have a point there. Yahweh dealt directly with Adam &Eve after sin as well as Cain who apparently never believed. Yahweh deals or at least did deal with Lucifer in Divine council meetings ( i.e. Job chapter 1) after his revolt.

    As the gentleman stated, Jesus prayed for His Father to forgive all those present who were involved in His murder. Tad off topic, but, consider this:

    IF God wants us to forgive w/o restrictions and I think He does, is HE going to do less? Was Jesus’ prayer on the cross not fulfilled entirely?

  • Scott, Brad (#24) and all, Thanks for linking the video. This is exactly the kind of discussion I hoped it would create. Having broadcast on an evangelical Christian Radio station for 7 years I synopsized the “gospel” as it is preached to the masses by 98% of the mainstream evangelical voices out there. I’ve been evangelical and I know there are nuances, but I tried my best to not mock nor parody pen-sub, the predominant message in “evangelical Christian media”. Regarding “THE Orthodox view”… it is also nuanced and, as Brad pointed out, our prayers and liturgies include forgiveness, the wrath of God and elements of substitution, however they are not the predominant theme and do not take on the dogmatic framework that surrounds mainstream juridicalism. I read “The Shape of Soteriology” (John McIntryre) years ago and he does an excellent job (IMHO) of presenting the idea that there are “THEORIES” of atonement (unfortunately he only gives about 2 pages to the “Eastern view”) that are, at best, useful metaphors in certain contexts, but are not equivalent to “the Gospel” as they are often presented in preaching. The issue that is brought to the forefront in the video is the one referenced in the comments here: Pen-sub, if pressed to its logical end pits the Trinity against one another. That bugged me as a Protestant and I had no escape from pen-sub. I fully realized the dangers of trying to distill two historical views of soteriology down to 5 minutes each and knowing there were tons of nuance left out of each view, but I fully hoped the presentation would be respectful so the viewers would focus on the issues and not the “presenter’s crappy attitude” kind of thing. Thanks for the link and discussion!

  • Patrick (#34), Your question gets to the heart of why some think the video is teaching universalism when it is just teaching I Cor. 15: ALL will be raised to eternal life in the power of the resurrection. There WILL be a universal resurrection. “Eternal life” will be the state of ALL. “Eternal life” has taken on the connotation of “salvation” in Evangelicalese. However the scriptures teach that some will be raised to “eternal life” to salvation and some to condemnation. The question is, “How does one who is raised to eternal life by the power of God who IS life experience God?” One cannot truly be “separated from God” because even in eternity he will exist eternally “alive” by the power of the resurrection through Christ. True “separation from God” would mean annihilation, so we must then define how someone can both be alive in/through God and yet experience the “fire and brimstone” which is the metaphor for the PRESENCE of the Lamb for those who reject Him (Rev. 14:10). If one posits that God keeps people alive merely to eternally torment them juridically for their sins/rejection welll….. that’s pretty monstrous too…. which is another whole discussion.

  • Dana Ames

    Patrick, I might be that lady. If I said anything about that, it would have been that though God is the only immortal one, he graciously chooses to give live to his creation. That is not the same as humans being inherently immortal.

    It was good of Brad to come over to his friend’s blog and give us the word 🙂 The Orthodox understanding has been nuanced and takes into account everything he mentions. Things are viewed much more holistically, and substitution is a part of that in a very nuanced way as he indicates. I have not heard anything yet in the services about what happened on the cross deflecting God’s wrath or being a punishment that Christ had to bear in our stead.


  • EricW

    Could one say that perhaps the Orthodox view of the atonement is more Johannine and the Protestant view more Pauline? I.e., if you took all that GJohn and 1,2,3 John say about Christ’s death and resurrection and its effect/meaning for Christians and compared it to all that Romans-Philemon say about the same, would the distinctions/differences/different emphases that might appear support such a suggestion?

  • Dianne P

    I deeply appreciate the posts about the Orthodox. It substantially expands the conversation beyond the usual Mainline -Evangelical-Catholic lines.

    The appreciation I feel is personally as well as simply intellectually of interest. After being raised Eastern/Byzantine Catholic, then journeying over the years through Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Evangelical/non-denom (you know the excellent non-denom church in Chicago that I attended), and Lutheran ELCA, I am currently attending a Greek Orthodox church and seriously considering pursuing that. Wow – I guess that sounds like a lot of churches, but I am getting old… Sigh.

    This video pretty accurately sums up the difference that I experienced in the evangelical non-denom church regarding the total embrace of pen-sub and in the Eastern church of my youth that was totally absent pen-sub. Could not begin to count how many times in the non-denom that I heard pen-sub was a LEGAL term, as if that automatically conferred some sort of super-legitimacy.

    Along the way, I never really could put my finger on it, but I was very uncomfortable with the whole pen-sub thing for all the reasons that others here have so clearly put forth. It’s also painful to hear friends in these churches suffer with the fear that their loved ones are doomed to hell because they have not said “THE prayer”, or heaven forbid, go to mainline churches that do not preach “the truth”. That seems to go hand-in-hand with the pen-sub atonement. It’s all legal (yes, LEGAL!) and transactional.

    Anyway, these conversations come at a very interesting place on my walk, and I greatly appreciate the helpful comments from those who have taken the Eastern path.

  • Hi Dana,

    By the natural state of immortality *before* the fall what I mean is the difference between image bearers and growing into likeness after the fall. When the fall occurred the image remained but the likeness faded. This is where the restoration of humanity to likeness of God through Christ steps in. It is then our discipline in the Liturgy and through the life of the church that we are to attain to the likeness of God to prepare us for our immortality.

    I asked Fr. Deacon about hell and the afterlife one day. He succinctly said first there is no death. There is only a different kind of life that we can choose to lead in response to God’s grace. One leads us away from that likeness and the other towards that likeness. I forget which saint in the Philokalia said it, but the image is is like the seed and the likeness is the tree that grows from it. This way of living or not living is in response to the grace that makes it possible.

    To those discussing universalism,
    That is a direct apostasy in the Orthodox church. In fact the true stance, especially if you speak with Russian priests and bishops, is that the rest of Christianity is apostate and have no assurance of salvation. As with any communion in Christianity, there are differences here too. God wants to see everyone to be united with him. Some will elect not to do so. Others will seek that union. That’s not universalism. But it has absolutely nothing to do with Calvinism which is a more overt heresy than even Catholic understanding of atonement.

    To all,
    Atonement and other doctrines are not theories. They are practices as I’ve said above. Understanding these mysteries can only come through the life of the church and becoming a communicant. This happens over a lifetime of dedicated spiritual discipline. As a former evangelical Calvinist I have no reason to disagree with my spiritual Father or with the saints who have written about this in the writings of the Philokalia. One more thing: I recommend reading through the prayers and Liturgies of the Orthodox especially with regard to the Paschal season. Second, I recommend a little compilation to understand the nuances in the Orthodox way here Finally, for those who want heavier sledding, find The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church by Vladimir Lossky.


  • EricW

    @40. Andrew Tatusko wrote:

    By the natural state of immortality *before* the fall what I mean is the difference between image bearers and growing into likeness after the fall. When the fall occurred the image remained but the likeness faded. This is where the restoration of humanity to likeness of God through Christ steps in. It is then our discipline in the Liturgy and through the life of the church that we are to attain to the likeness of God to prepare us for our immortality.

    ISTM that the Orthodox distinction between “image” and “likeness” and the doctrine’s place in the Orthodox scheme of salvation may, despite its importance, rest on shaky linguistic and Biblical grounds due to reading into tselem and d’mut (via the LXX?) a distinction that Hebrew scholars might take issue with. E.g., if one studies all the Biblical occurrences of these words as well as how their Greek equivalents are used (including NT uses), Hebrew’s style of using similar words to convey the same meaning, etc., one would probably be inclined to reject the distinction and the subsequent soteriology built upon it. I’m not the only one to suspect that a measure of Greek philosophy entered Orthodoxy partly due to the use of the Septuagint and the Eastern Fathers’ familiarity with Greek which caused some ideas to develop that would be foreign to the authors of the books of the Tanakh.

  • Patrick


    I don’t believe we have immortal souls at first birth myself. I think that’s a pagan idea we’ve bought from Plato honestly.

    What I thought I read( whether it was you I don’t recall) was that eastern Orthodox felt eventually all humanity would be reconciled to Christ . In a post physical death way, maybe at the resurrection day seeing Christ in glory like Paul did, I don’t recall.

    I like that thought even if it wasn’t what was posted.

  • DRT

    I like and want to comment on what Andrew#40 said

    Atonement and other doctrines are not theories. They are practices as I’ve said above. Understanding these mysteries can only come through the life of the church and becoming a communicant. This happens over a lifetime of dedicated spiritual discipline.

    This is a troublesome idea for evangelicalism if you ask me. I agree with Andrew, but will extend it to my own words so I can make my point.

    This is a “I don’t care what you say, what do the people think and do” kind of thing. This is a very big problem with Calvinism that seems to nuance words beyond their meanings and the people lose context and agreement. They end up with a god that is mean, if you ask me.

    The rest of evangelicalism is not far behind. The good news is that god chose to not burn us like we deserve, hallelujah! God did not smite us!

    I feel the chairs are a fair representation of what the practice is like. Even if they church in particular says god loves you and that is the most important thing, there is an aura of slipping into the “I hope god has mercy on me meaning that he does not fry my butt for eternity because I am repulsive to him”.

  • Dana Ames

    Andrew, thanks, I understand what you mean. I just think using the word “immortality” to describe what A&E had at the beginning isn’t quite what is meant. Yes, we continue on in life as you say, and it is because God grants it in his goodness, ultimately through the Incarnation, Cross and Resurrection of Christ. We can bear immortality, if you will, because God created us with the possibility of union with himself, but again, that’s not the same thing as being inherently immortal. The Philokalia, like Scripture, needs interpretation, and that is difficult especially if someone is looking at it “from the outside”, as you say, not immersed in the life of the church. It’s tempting to point to the Fathers and the Philokalia and other writings, including Scripture, to substantiate what we’re saying because that’s what we were used to doing as Protestants. The Liturgy and Services is the expression by and in the church of the meaning of Christ’s person and work, and scripture and everything else. Email me if you like: ldames at pacific dot net (first letter is L).

    Eric, if the two views (johannine vs pauline) were saying “about the same thing”, the Lutherans and the Orthodox would have merged in the 16th century. I thought this was helpful for my understanding: Also re “Greek philosophy”, this from Fr. Stephen Freeman, who did his undergrad in Classics:
    “Every work in the NT uses the LXX rather than Hebrew text of Scripture. Thus, apparently, St. Paul studied the OT in Greek at least as much, and probably more than in Hebrew. He was born in Tarsus. He was not a Palestinian. St. John’s gospel shows very little evidence of Palestinian thought (if I can use such a phrase). Perhaps the largest Jewish community, and by far the most influential intellectually at the time of the NT, was in Alexandria, not particularly in Jerusalem. It’s where the LXX comes from. I’m not arguing for a Platonic New Testament – I’m simply noting that it is a Greek New Testament and that Hellenistic culture, which dominated Palestine as much as anywhere else, (who do you think the Hellenists were? they are clearly a major part of the Jerusalem Church at the time of the 12 apostles – Acts 6:1), had a world-view and vocabulary that were ‘Platonic’… It is very clear that the fathers do not import Platonism – they are its loudest critics. But they do not reject its idiom – they employ it as it had been employed from the very beginning. ” Full text is here, in comments: Again, I found it very helpful.

    Patrick, there have been a few Orthodox theologian-saints who have held out for the possibility of eventual reconciliation of all to God (I’m not talking about Origen here). Their teachings have never been declared heretical. I’m parked with them at a very small corner of “the table of eternal destiny” 🙂 Even St Silouan of Mt Athos, a Russian monk whose life straddled the turn of the 19th/20th centuries and who was rather stern in general, believed that we should pray for God to have mercy on all, because it would be a very wicked-hearted and unmerciful person who would rejoice in the eternal torment of others.


  • Steve Sherwood

    CGC, Platt is hardly the only Reformed camp person to say that. Mark Driscoll has a sermon that came out on the net over the last year where he spends several minutes extolling the depth of the revulsion God feels toward us.

  • Eric W.,

    To this point: “partly due to the use of the Septuagint and the Eastern Fathers’ familiarity with Greek”

    That might be a fair statement. However, what text were the New Testament Gospel writers using? What was the text to which Paul referred? Was it the Masoretic text? Even if the Septuagint incorporates Hellenistic thought of the time, which is likely does, missing how that text works in the writings of the New Testament misses a lot. My question has always been, since I took that summer of Hebrew, why I was taking Hebrew when a study of the LXX might help me in my preaching just a bit better. Then I found that not only did Paul refer to the LXX but that the church fathers and mothers did as well. This is significant in the history of the church from the 1st century onward. That I had no training in the LXX though 4 years at a solid seminary bothers me…. a lot.

    So why are we (meaning Protestants since I technically still am Presbyterian) insistent on a text that is actually newer than the LXX, that Paul and the Gospel writers did not use, and that is quoted substantially more in the NT than the Masoretic text?

    A side note is that it always seemed to me that in my training we basically went from Paul, to Augustine, to the 95 theses and onward with a brief brush past Athanasius and the Cappadocian fathers with no mention of the Philokalia. To miss what is going on there is to miss centuries of what was happening in the early church. I’m just not convinced that there is a real problem with the LXX here or the prayers of the early church fathers and mothers in how we should commune with each other and with God.

    IMO I now think that we have rested far too much on the interpretation of these texts from Jewish scholarship and have missed out on significant data on how the early church understood these texts…with an influence of Greek thought or not. I am now more apt to disagree with a modern scholar here than with the words of the ascetics and saints who had direct, and rare, experiences with our Lord. Including Paul.

  • EricW

    The Hebrew text is NOT newer than the LXX. The DSS texts predate many of the Old Greek texts, IIRC, and they largely support the Masoretic Hebrew text, though not completely, of course. Why are we [Protestants] using it? Because the Old Greek, LXX, what have you, is a translation, and even if it may reflect older and at times more accurate or original readings than the extant Hebrew text, there was still a Hebrew text behind the LXX that largely corresponds to the Masoretic Text. Plus, there are instances of obvious mistranslations in the LXX of the Hebrew. Where it gets interesting for Christians is when a NT argument is based on a LXX rendering of a verse that is a mistranslation or possibly based on a different vorlage than the Hebrew text. In my experience, while Protestant do not give enough attention to the Old Greek/LXX, some Orthodox have elevated it to a status greater than it should have, even at times suggesting that the “mistakes”/”differences” from the Hebrew text are just as inspired as the original. In fact, it may have been the “Western” Augustine who first said/suggested that. From Hengel, M., Deines, R., & Biddle, M. E. (2002). The Septuagint as Christian scripture : Its prehistory and the problem of its canon (pp. 47–54). Edinburgh: T&T Clark:

    “The difficult problem of the revealed text can be resolved by making God’s Spirit alone responsible for all these differences, whether marked additions and omissions or variants in wording established through comparison: ‘That which appears in the Hebrew codices but not in the seventy translators, God did not want to say through the Seventy but through the prophets themselves’; conversely, ‘In this manner he demonstrated that both were prophets.’87 Basically, the only difference between prophets and translators consists in the fact that the former prophesied earlier: ‘for just as the one Spirit of peace was in the true and consistent witness of the former, so the same Spirit was evidently active in the latter who did not converse with one another and nonetheless translated everything in agreement’. The problem that had concerned Origen, and, in a different way, Jerome, seemed to have been resolved in the most elegant and harmonious manner: both the Hebrew original and the Greek translation of the Seventy are correct; both texts are similarly inspired and to be taken seriously in the church.”

  • EricW

    And besides, accepting “the Septuagint” as one’s official, canonical, sanctified, baptized, chrismated, signed, sealed and delivered, etc., text has its own problems, i.e.: WHICH Greek text(s), and why? I have the (so far published) Göttingen Septuagint volumes in Logos Bible Software. Have you looked at the critical apparatus? Have you looked at how many “Septuagint” readings and texts there are? Any person’s fealty to the “Septuagint” as being the one true or truest inspired text of the Old Testament can only be ascribed IMO to misplaced loyalty or ignorance, whether willful or not.

  • Eric#48 and Andrew #46, As with most NT variants the issue 99% of the time isn’t the text itself it is the arguments over the interpretation of the texts that divide people. Virtually all “doctrinal differences” whether based on OT or NT texts are about how one interprets perhaps a single verse but also how it fits into a larger doctrinal framework, so a single verse or word isn’t really the issue it is usually whether or not the “system” works. If it stands or falls based on a single verse or word it is pretty simple to say it is flawed. The LXX was obviously good enough for the NT writers who were inspired however that doesn’t make the LXX inspired. There are “textual fundies” just like there are KJV fundies. One can argue textual traditions all day but what really matters is how one interprets the texts in a grander scheme ISTM.

  • Eric,

    “Old Greek, LXX, what have you, is a translation, and even if it may reflect older and at times more accurate or original readings than the extant Hebrew text, there was still a Hebrew text behind the LXX that largely corresponds to the Masoretic Text.”

    Again, that may be a fair statement. But at this point we are working with some sticky logic. The LXX is a translation of older Hebrew texts that are simply gone. If the Hebrew text from which we get the Septuagint corresponds to the Masoretic text (which is dated newer LXX from 3rd century BCE for the Torah, oldest Masoretic text from 9 CE) then there seem to be less of an issue here than we have been discussing. All of this is fun to discuss, but really beside the point.

    The point that all of this came from was how the Fathers used the terms “image” and “likeness” from Genesis 2. Image is something that God gives us by grace when we are conceived and remains in us as those who have come from our true source in God (through love and grace not a Neo-Platonist “overflowing” of necessity). We then grow into the likeness of God which leads to theosis. Theosis is likened to the the Holy Spirit who bears witness to Christ feeding that image so that it grows into the likeness of God. The image is fed through the Liturgical life of the church and literally so through the Eucharist. How all of this “works” is a mystery and the Orthodox are comfortable with leaving it there and trusting the witness of the saints. Thus I agree with Steve #49 that this is a hermeneutic issue and not a textual one. If Greek influence is the real issue here then I refer to Dana #44 above.


  • EricW

    Andrew: I still tend to agree with those who assert that the Orthodox distinction between “image” and “likeness” in Genesis 1:26 that is the basis for some Orthodox doctrines about salvation, theosis, sanctification, etc., is derived from supposed distinctions in meaning between tselem and d’mut that can be shown from examining the uses of the words in the Hebrew OT as well as the uses of their Greek equivalents in the LXX and the NT to be forced or false. I also suspect that some of this supposed “distinction” was a result of the influence of Greek philosophy or mythology related to the terms eikôn and homoiôsis, but not being a student of Greek philosophy I can only go by what others suggest or say. That it’s become part of Orthodox liturgical life, etc., is irrelevant to whether or not its basis or establishment was erroneous. It wouldn’t be the first or only time that the church misunderstood something and created a false or flawed doctrine or practice as a consequence.

  • EricW

    Dana Ames wrote (quoting Fr. Stephen Freeman):

    It is very clear that the fathers do not import Platonism – they are its loudest critics.

    You don’t think there were Platonic influences behind translating Exodus 3:14 the way the LXX does and/or how the Fathers and the Orthodox have come to understand God based on this? The LXX “Ego eimi ho ôn” is not a very literal or accurate translation of the Hebrew. From The Christian Tradition, 1 The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), by Jaroslav Pelikan:

    Although the axiom of the impassibility of God did not require conventional biblical proof, one passage from the Old Testament served as the proof text for Christian discussions of ontology: “I am who I am” – the word from the burning bush. To Clement of Alexandria it means that “God is one, and beyond the one and above the monad itself”; to Origen, that “all things, whatever they are, participate in him who truly is”; to Hilary it was “an indication concerning God so exact that it expressed in the terms best adapted to human understanding an unattainable insight into the mystery of the divine nature”; to Gregory of Nazianzus it proved that “he who is” was the most appropriate designation for God; to Theodore of Mopsuestia it was the mark of distinction between the Creator and all his creatures; to Philoxenus of Mabbug it was the divine way of “expelling the tradition of polytheism”; to Augustine it proved that “essence” could be used of God with strict propriety, while “substance” could not. From these and other sources, such as On Divine Names of Dionysius the Areopagite, the ontological understanding of the passage passed into authoritative summaries of Christian doctrine, namely, the Orthodox Faith of John of Damascus in the East and the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas in the West. It is no exaggeration, therefore, to speak of “a metaphysics of Exodus,” with which a church father such as Clement of Alexandria sought to harmonize his Christian Platonism. – p. 54

  • Dana Ames

    Well Eric, we would have to have Pelikan’s definition of “Christian Platonism” and how he would compare it to “Greek philosophic Platonism”. But beyond that and overarching all, the Pelikan quote makes Steve Robinson’s point exactly: It’s all a matter of interpretation, variously expressed by those various theologians P. referenced.

    I’m not interested in becoming a “textual junkie”, but I do think there are historical and linguistic/thought process reasons why the LXX would be considered first, with help from the Masoretic. That’s pretty much Fr Tom Hopko’s view; in one of his podcasts, he even gave a few examples of why he thought the Mas. was better. But again, all these discussions are about interpretation.

    It seems from your writing you have studied languages besides English, I assume to fluency. When we “operate” in a different language, our brains work differently; we think and reason in terms of that language with all its connotations, etc. The language/thought process connection is very symbiotic. The LXX was written by Jews who were thinking in both Greek *and* Hebrew, for Jews who likely were doing the same. Related to what Fr Stephen wrote, those Greek-speakers’ brains were “awash” with the Greek language, in which words that expressed ideas from Plato were floating. So Christians borrowed some Greek philosophical vocabulary that was floating in the “language stew”; people do that all the time. That doesn’t mean the definitions or mental connections made when using those words remain static across the board. That’s part of why supple languages, like Greek and English, remain supple. It’s also why so many Truly Reformed folk have such a hard time with N.T. Wright: they are “cogitating” in “Calvinese” with all its definitions and connections, and have resisted “acquiring a second language” so they can actually understand what Wright is saying.

    Speaking of Wright, I can’t remember if you’ve read his Big Books (Christian Origins series). What is in them – largely regarding Jewish background, interpretations of scripture, expectations, etc., all informed by their situation in C1 Greco-Roman culture – is what led me to the doors of Orthodoxy. Couldn’t lead me through, but took me by the hand and deposited me squarely there. He told me others have expressed seeing many connections between his thought and the aggregate interpretations of the Greek fathers, which mystified him, because that’s “not his field”.

    And don’t forget C.S. Lewis’ words from the mouth of Prof. D. Kirk: “It’s all there in Plato…” I’ve always wondered why he would have said that; I’m getting a little bit of an inkling now. (Pun not intended, but happy to see it dredged up from my brain.)


  • EricW


    I recently acquired Wright’s 3 books in Logos, but haven’t really read any of them yet. Re: languages, I have some fluency/proficiency in NT Greek (2 years of classes plus many years of reading on my own, as well as teaching 1st-year NT Greek in churches at various times), but my Hebrew is fossilized, though with the right tools I can navigate commentaries and lexicons. I’ve been all over the map religiously – Jewish, Protestant, Orthodox, Charismatic – so my theological thought process isn’t stuck anywhere in particular.

    I have heard that some of the stuff Hatch wrote or taught or said in this book is dated or invalid, but it might still be worth a read (I first read it several years ago, and don’t recall any of it):

    reader in ecclesiastical histroy in the university of oxford.
    principal of mansfield college, oxford.

  • Eric,

    One thing we have to keep in mind with this is that the early church looked at the texts in a way that the West has long since abandoned. Not that Western modes of interpretation aren’t valid or used by the Eastern church. The difference is the symbolic structure of the Early church which is very Hellenistic is still part of the Eastern tradition. This includes allegorical understandings of texts. Origen was brought back to the surface by Maximos and there was Philo as a contemporary of Paul whose biblical interpretations give a great insight into the “methods” of the time. I’m not belaboring the point so much as to say the very structure of thinking for the early church is very different from anything that I received either as a Catholic or a Presbyterian (both Calvinist and liberal). It’s hard to wrap my head around such a mystical and spiritual understanding of the text, but that’s exactly what’s going on even in the commentary in the Orthodox Study bible. Sure my seminary wouldn’t teach that way of reading other than given it a nod of passing interest, maybe for good reason. But balance is good nonetheless.

  • EricW


    Yes, the Orthodox way of reading and using and regarding the Scriptures can be different from what most Protestants/Westerners learn and do. The question then becomes the legitimacy of some of those ways and the validity of some of the resulting interpretations and applications; and the same applies to Western/Protestant readings and interpretations and applications of Scripture.