MEDIATOR (Gr. mesitēs, a middle man). One who brings about friendly relations between two or more estranged people. He corresponds to the “umpire” (“daysman” kjv) of
I. The Grounds of Mediation. Throughout the Bible the estrangement between man and God is repeatedly set forth. God is the moral ruler; man, his natural subject, has violated his laws, hence has gone away from God. All people are thus alienated (
II. Examples of Mediatorial Work. These can be found in the OT. Jonathan was intercessor for David before Saul (
Bibliography: E. Brunner, The Mediator, 1934; W. Mason, Jesus the Messiah, 1943; G. S. Duncan, Jesus, 1948; A. R. Johnson, Sacral Kingship, 1955; A. Oeoke, TDNT, 4:598-624.——JDF
The word “mediation” does not occur in the Eng. Bible, but “mediator” (μεσίτης, G3542) is found six times in the NT, and the cognate verb (ἑμεσίτευσε) once, with God as the subject. In a general sense it means one who interposes, and in so doing, gives some kind of guarantee. By mediating between two persons, the mediator is also to be representative of both sides. Thus, he can give a guarantee in both directions that some kind of agreement can be reached and that justice will be done.
Such words as mediator and mediation tend to slide over into other words such as reconciliation, ransom, and atonement. Actually the sense of reconciliation is more to the fore in the NT passages where the exact Gr. word appears. The emphasis seems to be on the efficacy of Christ and His work for man’s salvation, and in the Hebrews passages seems to refer more to the initiator of aby which reconciliation is established. In the technical sense, it applies to the finished work of Christ. In it, Christ is mediating between God and man, but not always in the reconciling of differences; frequently it is in the sense of His being a channel of communication.
The use of the terms.
It is still worth noting by way of introduction that mediation can be a word of extreme ambiguity, although it is used technically in religion, and esp. in the Christian religion. There is the general truth that many things are mediated to mankind in some way or another. One readily sees how life itself is mediated through one’s parents; society and culture give intellectual, moral, and religious convictions. “No man is an island,” and as Paul puts it, “What have you that you did not receive?” (
This general understanding of the terms may be seen in an even wider context. In religion there is the necessary distinction between natural and supernatural, human and divine, and if there is to be any relationship between these diverse categories of being, some kind of mediation must be assumed. Mediation in the general sense, therefore, esp. as it gets closer to a religious understanding, has to do with establishing and maintaining some kind of relationship between God and man. It is the assumption of every religion that this gulf, however wide, is bridgeable. Man believes that he can reach up by way of priests or priestcraft, perhaps by magic. There are official acts and rites which bring him into the presence of God. This does not necessarily imply sinfulness; more generally it implies the separation of two different kinds of being. From the other direction, every religion seems to speak of God’s reaching down to man. What communion is possible? How does the high and holy one condescend to His creatures? How does spirit touch flesh?
In the Biblical sense this whole question becomes much more pressing. If man is made in the “image of God,” then there need be no fundamental difference between them. Man “inbreathed with the breath of God,” is not strange to God’s presence. The profound and radical problem seen in Scripture is, therefore, not the nature of man, but the nature of sin. It is here that the great separation takes place. Not only does sin separate from God, because holiness cannot even “look upon” unholiness, but the nature of sin is so radical, so cosmic, that man does not wish to approach God; he no longer wants communion with the Holy One. A change in man’s nature can take place so that part of the problem of mediation becomes a creative one, and this is surely by necessity from God’s side. How then may man have a new nature in order that the previous oneness with God may be restored? There is no question that the Biblical emphasis is on the grace of God; He initiated the process, paid the price, sustained the reconciliation. He alone can give assurance of success; “None is righteous, no not one,” so the psalmist insists, and he is supported by Paul. Not even Israel, the chosen one, makes good. All mankind sins continually in rebellion and disobedience. The appeal of the prophets does not restore them; not only are the actions of the Israelites wrong, but their affections are wrong; “their hearts are far from me” (
Of basic significance, however, is this: covenant in the OT is more than contract. As Israel sinned continually, God’s arm is still strong to save; default by one member of a covenant or a contract should render it null and void. The prophetic word, however, is that God will never utterly cast off His people. God keeps the covenant by showing mercy. Indeed, He sustains the covenant until He can rework it in a new covenant. There must be a mediator who will “give a guarantee” (
By way of setting or context, therefore, the use of mediator or mediation, as generally used, is a “go-between.” In religion in general, man’s reaching up and God’s reaching down are understandable, but impossible because of sin. In the Bible, specifically, it can be seen that man ought to obey and therefore, by nature, does not need a mediator; but as a matter of fact, he sins himself into such a necessity. The solution for his problem, therefore, rests in the act of God, not in the potential in man, so that even Israel, with every support, never made good. Mediator and mediation, therefore, in Biblical usage, become a necessity of operation from God’s position, not man’s. Abraham found a ram in a thicket (
The special Biblical use
A philosophic approach.
It is generally conceded that the approach of the Bible is not philosophic, and this certainly is true as one observes the Gr. development of philosophy in the W. This is not to say that issues raised in Scriptures do not give rise to philosophical problems. There is no question that the Bible presents a “world view” and that this world view is supported by persons, teachings, “the mighty acts of God,” and the interpretation put on those “acts of God” by the writers of the various Biblical books. There is an impressive cohesion and unity in the Bible. What is meant, therefore, is that, whereas there is much philosophic material in the Scriptures, the writers rarely engage in what is strictly called “philosophizing.”
The philosophical questions, nevertheless, remain: the nature of God, the move and meaning of history, the hierarchy of values, and basically the necessary relationships between transcendence and immanence. This last is the problem of mediation, and has to be dealt with. How does God touch the world of nature? How does man reach up to God? There is in all this the kind of question which became of crucial importance in the development of the logos in Gr. philosophy. It started with Thales, prob., and reached its peak with the Stoics, and had the kind of later development in philosophy which is reflected in the Johannine writings of the NT.
Any complete interpretation of mediation or mediator must face up to the fact that in spite of what has just been said regarding a lack of philosophy, there must be some recognition of hypostatic mediation treated in a variety of ways in the Scriptures. In discussing the word “mediator,”
A hypostasis (ὑπόστασις, G5712) is a reality between a person and an abstraction, rooted in God’s nature, but distinct from Him. It is clear, therefore, that the OT is necessarily philosophical in the use of such concepts.
Take for example the term “wisdom.” It can be taken in the ordinary sense of understanding, or broad knowledge. It can be thought of as creative also, or understood as a kind of Tao, the “way of things.” It is not so much an attribute of God as it is a clue to God, or something that God has set loose in His world to represent Him (cf.
The term “
The word “Logos” is a complex study in itself, but is relevant for brief treatment here as illustrating a means of God’s reaching out to His creation. The question is the extent to which it is used in the ordinary sense of the word itself, and the extent to which it is understood in the light of its subtlety and sophistication in the philosophic tradition of the Greeks.
The Logos of God is used in Scripture to refer to Christ, and is thus a mediation between God and man. God finds ways of speaking and man finds ways of hearing. In addition to this, it is by God’s command that the world is brought to existence, “by the word of His power.” In mystery and miracle, therefore, God, who is Spirit, crosses the chasm to the world of nature and matter by His creative Word.
The prophet as mediator.
By way of introduction, it must be recognized that in the history of theology the work of Christ has been classically analyzed into that of Prophet, Priest, and King. The device is a useful one as long as it is remembered that any such outline is a point of departure rather than a rigid control. The outline is a simple one which is an advantage. It serves well as a basis of operation. In no area is the outline more useful than in an understanding of mediator and mediation as the concepts find fulfillment in the NT, specifically in Jesus Christ.
An added note of interest and of help, which in turn opens up the classification of Prophet, Priest, and King, is the fact that in each case there is a double use. To make this clear, one observes that as Prophet, Jesus not only spoke the Word of God or the words of God, but was in Himself the living Word. He said what had to be said “officially,” and at the same time manifested what had to be said in terms of life. The same sort of thing is true of the office of Priest. Jesus appears in the gospels as the fulfillment of OT previews and types (this has its classical explanation in Hebrews), because His is the total fulfillment once and for all. He fulfills the office of Priest however, not only as the One who makes the offering, but as the One who is the offering. Kingship illustrates the same double thrust. Christ is King in the normal sense of the word; there is no question that He is to rule and that eschatalogically; His rule will be in power and completeness. At the same time, the evidence is inescapable that Christ the King is also the Suffering Servant, and so, in some sense, He is the King who rules by serving.
From this general introduction, a discussion of Christ as Prophet is now germane. Modern theology has drawn the emphasis on the Living Word as the proper interpretation of Jesus’ ministry. This prob. is due to the fact that 20th-cent. theology in general has been evading the impact of verbal inspiration or plenary inspiration, and this tendency has moved the Church away from an authoritative book, away from propositional theology, and away from rules and laws (“moralisms” and “legalisms”), toward a personal encounter with the living Lord. It is not necessary to criticize this emphasis in order to make plain the fact that the other position has been neglected or even discarded. This is a weakness, and certainly an evasion of much that dominates the gospels, which could and should serve as a guide for life. At the conclusion of the
Jesus apparently did not hesitate to underline “these words of mine,” and makes the astounding declaration that a man’s life stands up or falls down in relation to His words. When Jesus had made the requirements of discipleship entirely too stringent for the multitudes, and indeed for some of His closest followers, many turned away. What He was saying to them was indeed a hard saying; and Jesus refused to soften. The question which He then set for His disciples was not merely a rhetorical one: “Will you also go away?” (
What has been set forth, therefore, by way of these references points up the continuity between the OT and the NT. OT law reaches fulfillment in the teachings of Christ, and the sayings of Christ lay on the Christian the same requirements of obedience; for what He says to man mediates what God says to them. Part of the idea of fulfillment includes, of course, interpretation, and Jesus is apparently more interested in content and motive than the OT appears to be. Nevertheless, He did not hesitate to say, as illustrative of this continuity, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (
It is only in the acceptance of Christ’s revelatory mediating position with regard to the “words” of God that Christ the Living Word, may be properly understood. His life is illustrative of what He had come to say. He revealed in the flesh the revelation of God Himself, but never apart from the authority and interpretation of the words. To state it another way, there is no escape from the control of the words by way of the Living Word. The two ideas are completely interlocked. It is possible to think of any other man as saying one thing and doing another, as set forth idealistically—what a man ought to do as over against what he is willing and capable of doing; not so with Christ. The living words which come from God through Him cannot be divorced from what He showed to be the Word in life.
Nevertheless, the Living Word does mediate God to man. The writer to the Hebrews writes in this fashion: “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son....He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature” (
The other ideas of Spirit and Wisdom as developed in the OT are not here separated from Christ the Logos. Wisdom is evident in what Jesus had to say, and the Spirit is needed to “take of the things of Christ and show them unto us” (
The structure is somewhat like this, although there are limitations in finite means and finite language: the Father is the source and ground of creative and sustaining life. He has spoken in the law, to His OT saints, in the holy nation, in the “mighty acts” of holy history. Thus God “reached” man. “I am who I am” (
The priest as mediator.
In the priestly office, Christ fulfills a double function. He is the “offerer” and is also the offering. When the time came for Him to lay down His life He was perfectly clear at this point; “No one takes my life from me, I lay it down of myself” (
The OT priests were required to be of the tribe of Levi. A relationship to the family of Moses and Aaron is indicated. In addition to proper family relationship, there were complex rules and regulations having to do with the priest’s physical health and also his physical completeness. Special rules and regulations were laid down regarding his preparation for and his training in his calling. Even his economic support and his dwelling place were under special law. In every regard a man was “set aside” for priesthood.
At this point, however, the emphasis was on the priest and not on the offering. The preparation of the priest on this day was significant. In order to mediate he must be “right” and the personal preparation which he made is assumed to “righten” him to stand in God’s presence. He was required to wash his body and to put on clean and fresh garments. So much for the outer man; then he was required to make an offering for his own sins. Cleansed outside and inside, in body and spirit, he was now ready to act as mediator. Only because of his own cleansing might he now make an offering for the cleansing of the people.
The parallel in Jesus to this OT preparation of the high priest is easy to see. On this one thing the gospels are crystal clear. Christ was indeed the sinless One. Personally He challenged His enemies to find sin in Him, and the challenge was not taken. In addition to this, as the writer to the Hebrews makes clear, His identity with His people in His mediating priesthood is much more profound than could have been possible for any priest in the OT dispensation. He “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (
Of deeper significance than Jesus’ personal preparation and purity is the task itself, which gives enormous weight to, and which surely must be the heart and core of mediation. He is the mediator supreme in the offering made.
When Jesus made His offering on the stage of history, the words of
It is evident that any discussion of Christ as the offerer cannot long stay away from Christ as the offering. What is written about Christ is written about a total person, and anything that is separate from Him is separate only for the sake of analysis and clarity. The sinless One is clearly called to act as priest (cf. again
What begins in this simplicity and in the parallels drawn between the OT and the NT becomes a doctrine of profound concern to the NT. There is the necessity of some price to be paid, but a part of the price has to do with the purity of life, perfect obedience, complete commitment; this and much more is required for acceptability in God’s sight. It is impossible to speak of this only in terms of mediation; this idea moves over into such other topics as reconciliation, atonement, and the like (q.v.).
Although Anselm in Cur Deus Homo was writing primarily on the Incarnation and thereby discussing the Atonement by necessity, he was speaking to the point, nevertheless, of this perfection of sacrifice which is acceptable to God. What Anselm established is that there is a necessity for the God-Man. Only man has sinned and cannot pay; only God can pay and He has not sinned. Therefore in the solution of this impasse, a God-Man is required, bearing the debt of man and bearing the power of the forgiving God. When Jesus numbered Himself with the transgressors (“the one who knew no sin became sin for us”), in His death He took on Himself in His humanity what man had done; nevertheless, in His deity, He was capable of bearing what had been done.
Sacrifice organized and required, therefore, is insufficient and incomplete in the OT and the solution is that God had to send His Son in order that what He alone could do would be sufficiently complete. This can be said in a multitude of ways and is said in a multitude of ways in the NT—“Christ died for our sins,” “He gave his life a ransom for many,” “in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”—these and other passages are sufficient in and of themselves, although theological writers are tempted to build arguments on certain texts at the expense of others. Certain definitive ideas, however, seem to run through all the references and must be maintained at all costs: the offering is vicarious, that is, Christ had to do for man what man could not do for himself; He died in man’s place. The offering also must be perfectly holy, for only a perfect sacrifice can answer a sin against God. The offering must, as now suggested, satisfy the demands of God, whether these be the demands of obedience or purity, or in some sense a payment, or in some sense a punishment. And finally, the sacrifice must satisfy man. He must stand in the assurance that he is forgiven. There was great therapy for the OT Jew when he was assured by the priest that his fulfillment of ritual marked him cleansed. The emphasis on belief in the NT has the same therapy available. Where Christianity has been most fruitful and satisfying in the history of man has been where the mediatorial work of Christ has been believed and accepted.
The Jews were people who accepted the laws of God and God’s arrangement for the mediation of the priest as well as the whole complex sacrificial order. In the same sort of simplicity, a Christian is one who “accepts Christ”— so easy to say, so difficult to do. In other words, he finds Christ acceptable. How is this so? Christ as prophet tells him who God is and what God demands. Christ as prophet makes clear how far man is from fulfilling these demands. How then may God and man be brought together? What mediation is possible? When one finds Christ “acceptable,” or when one “accepts Christ,” he simply takes His word for what is accomplished in the priestly act. The chasm between holy God and sinful man is bridged by the God-Man. One believes that this satisfies God, and knowing that it is satisfying to God, it satisfies man’s own heart. It must be said that this can hardly do a man much good unless he accepts it as true. Has it not been clear from the outset that in any religion of the world, from the crudest animism to the highest theism, a man finds his mediation, his bridge to God, only in what he believes God finds acceptable. No price is too great: even children have been sacrificed. A Christian is one who at the outset, regardless of what else his Christianity demands of him otherwise, believes that he is saved once and for all through the finished work of Jesus Christ. There is for him no other way.
One idea closely related to Christ’s priestly office, which is frequently neglected, and needs to be refurbished, is that of intercession. Christ “makes continual intercession for us,” at the right hand of the Father. This, of course, is pictorial language, although it is difficult to see how it can be better said. What needs to be made clear is that Christ’s finished work is constantly a reality in God’s presence. God continuously saves sinful man through Christ’s work. God judges sinful man in the light of Christ’s redemptive act. God even knows man in, and not through, Christ.
Intercession is popularly thought of as prayer, but it is not necessary to read out of this idea that Christ somehow physically or personally stands over against the Father saying prayers. It is not this at all. The writer to the Hebrews lays great emphasis on Christ’s relationship to the Father, and thein its own pictorial way says the same. The Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world is the Lamb of God in the presence of God. In the mystery of the Trinity, all these figures of speech break down. They simply say in a variety of ways, from the time of the cross onward, what Christ did is now a part of the very life and activity of God. This is not to say that God changes, for to repeat the wonder again, the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world. But, it is to say that God by the mediatorial act which He Himself provided, treats sinful man henceforth by way of, or through, or on account of, the sacrifice of Calvary.
This is in a strengthening sense a saving reality. No Christian is alone in his victory or in his defeat in his day by day walk before God, or in his evasion of God because of sin. The presence of Christ’s work is always before God on man’s behalf.
The king as mediator.
Ideas of kingship are so colored and discolored by popular usage, that it is difficult to protect the Biblical idea of kingship from misuse.
It is well to remember the limitations set on kingship in Israel. The prophet Samuel resisted their demands because they were wanting a king like the kings of the surrounding nations who were simply oriental potentates, despots, or tyrants. God, however, allowed through Samuel the anointing of a king. The Biblical idea of kingship is made clear by the limitations placed on the first king. In the first place, he was anointed by God, and one anointed by God is appointed by God (
All this by itself may be too much to take from any man, esp. from an itinerant rabbi from Pal., and, of course, the Jew found this hard to accept. The claims of Christ to kingship without the trappings of a king seemed monstrous to the Jew who was expecting a Messiah who would break the power of Rome and rule for the sake of Israel. For those who became believers, however (and the first Christians were Jews), it was the other side of Christ’s kingly activity which fulfilled for them the true picture of the king as “the Suffering Servant.” Indeed, it is at this point that the gauntlet was thrown down not only for the Jew, but for every man since. This is the true worldliness that stands opposed to Christianity, i.e., the acceptance of worldly ideas of kingship, worldly ideas of power, worldly ideas of success, as opposed to otherworldliness which sees true power in complete self-giving, i.e., the power of the cross, which as Paul says, can be for many a scandal and foolishness (cf.
In the kingship of Christ, therefore, the mediation is clear. God touches His people through the king; the people count on their king to stand for them in God’s presence; the king offers Himself as a servant of God, and the people accept Him in His service. Read in either direction, from man to God, or God to man, Christ the king is Christ the mediator.
The modern emphasis.
The focus on Christ is inescapable, regardless of how the subject of mediator is approached, and there is no question that in the modern emphasis, that focus, by necessity, as well as by choice, remains. There is, however, a shift from the old orthodoxy to a different center of operation. Relating this to the rubric of Prophet, Priest and King, the old orthodoxy emphasizes the priestly act of Christ, whereas modern theology emphasizes the prophetic and somewhat the kingly office.
This is an outgrowth of the modern emphasis on action, and esp. social action. Attention is therefore given to Christ as Prophet in the manner already set forth: the authoritative words and the “Living Word.” There is a modern shift of emphasis away from the authority of the words to the existential relationship to the Living Word. This is not to say that the words of Christ are not given attention, but it is to say that they are not given the kind of attention that was formerly given, which rested on the inspiration of Scripture, and therefore treated the words of Christ as mediating the will of God. There is a heightened appreciation of the ethical question of Christ’s teachings and a recognition of the challenge of His ethic over against the life of His day and the modern world. What is missing, however, is any notion that the Bible, or the NT, or even such specifics as the Sermon on the Mount contain or in any way can be treated to produce a “code of ethics.” An extreme illustration of the code book approach to behavior was in the quasi-military development of Ignatius Loyola and the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). This degenerated in time to casuistry, or more popularly, Jesuitism. It was good to believe that God Almighty had mediated to man a way of life that included every possible facet, but it was soon discovered that this approach eventually ran into the ridiculous.
The counter movement may well have run into the ridiculous at the other extreme, but at least it is understood why the shift of emphasis had to be made, and there is, of course, great truth in the recognition of ethical practice as being in some sense existentialist or “situational.” As this operates, and the approach is, of course, brief, there was the living Christ of NT times, moving in a Judaistic, Hellenistic, Roman environment, moving among men as a revelation of the will of God. The Word had become flesh. It is the function now of the Holy Spirit to mediate directly, albeit, on the basis of the NT, the Word of God, as that Word relates to any given man in any given situation. The words of Christ, or even the life of Christ in ancient Pal., although basic and not irrelevant, nevertheless need the plus factor of the Holy Spirit operating on that Word toward a man’s ethical practice. In OT times God spoke through the prophets and “in these last days,” He spoke through His Son; and in these days He speaks through His Spirit, who mediates the Living Word to a living situation.
Another modern emphasis, although not as strong as that of the prophetic ministry of Christ, accepts the mediation of Christ as King. Mention is made in the 20th cent. of the idea of Christ as Lord, the ruler of all life. This may be said in many ways, but again the emphasis is on relevance, and now the emphasis is on relevance to the totality of life. Men are seeking the Word of God in the broadest possible ways. What does Christ have to say to poverty, war, race, social injustice, international affairs? Christ reiterated in His ministry that He had “come to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” It was only after the coming of the Spirit, Pentecost, and the world vision of Paul, that this original word to the lost sheep of the house of Israel becomes global. It is a constant temptation of the Christian Church to become separatist, and there are good reasons why for the sake of purity there have been constant withdrawal groups in the history of the Church. The modern emphasis, however, is on “mission,” with the new idea that Christianity must lose itself in the needs of man in order to find itself. The conflict in the 20th cent. between so-called conservatives and liberals is clear enough: does God rule in a man’s heart first before He rules in a man’s community, or must the things of God be brought to bear in a community in order to reach a man’s heart. This is a false dichotomy and is brought out here merely to point up that the modern emphasis is on community.
What is lacking in the modern emphasis on mediation is an understanding, or an appreciation, or perhaps even better, an acceptance, of the basic transaction that occurred preeminently on the cross of Christ. Christ sacrificed for all eternity His self-giving life. His preaching and healing, His cleansing power, His subsequent Resurrection, His continual intercession and His coming again, are all of a piece, and are illustrative of His priestly, prophetic and kingly ministry. (P. T. Forsyth’s book title, The Cruciality of the Cross is not merely a neat play on words.) The cross is the crux, and something had to happen there in the most profound understanding of the word “mediation.” Nearly all views of the cross have in them some merit. Christ’s death was an example of how men ought to stand for their principles. It was an illustration of the love of God; it was surely a victory over sin in the flesh (cf. Aulén’s Christus Victor). John Bailey is correct here, as elsewhere, when he says that theology must insist on the words “at least.” The cross meant “at least all these things,” and at some level, did mediate light, and truth, and power. But there is still the question of what was done. An offering had to be made, but it had to be an offering acceptable to God. The understanding of the offering is related to the understanding of the offense against God, and no interpretation of Christ’s death is complete that does not insist on an offering of life sufficient to satisfy the demands of God; sufficient to pay the price of sin (however this is construed); sufficient to turn away wrath upon the guilt of man; and happily, sufficient to satisfy man that God Himself has provided a way of salvation.
There has to be some acceptance of the theme set forth in 1 Timothy, “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (
Without expecting to plumb the mystery of the godhead, another emphasis must still be made which answers this apparent mechanism in the offering and the receiving of the offering, and which answers this apparent split in the godhead—Christ over against the Father. After Paul has said, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself,” he goes on to say, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (
The story of the whole Bible is the story of redemption, and redemption rests on the mediatorial work of Jesus Christ. The plot begins with
From that point onward, judgment and grace go hand in hand. Man in his sin is not acceptable to God, but God in His grace provides a way of acceptance. The whole sacrificial system of the OT is God-initiated. All the “mighty acts” interrelated with the life of the chosen people speak God’s word of judgment and promise, and the words of Scripture accompany the acts for interpretation and understanding. Law and covenant are set in motion, but provision is made for those who break the law and do not keep the covenant. By Word, Wisdom, and Spirit, through law, nation, prophet, or king, God still comes seeking, and men are called to accept and respond in obedience.
All this is climaxed in Jesus Christ, who is by definition, “the full revelation of God,” and however He is approached in study or in personal response, He is the mediator of the new covenant, the arrangement by which God and man at last are one. The act of atonement is the supreme mediatorial act initiated by God, sustained by His power, accepted in its completion and let loose, finally, as a new force and a new hope in the life of man.
The vast lit. on the subject is necessarily related to every work on Christology and is therefore found in any major work on theology: G. F. Moore, Judaism (1927); E. Brunner, The Mediator (1934); C. H. Dodd, The Bible and the Greeks (1935); V. Taylor, Jesus and His Sacrifice (1937); D. M. Edwards, ISBE, Vol. III (1939), 2018-2026; V. Taylor, The Atonement inTeaching (1940); W. Manson, Jesus the Messiah (1943); G. S. Duncan, Jesus (1948); W. Manson, The (1948); A. R. Johnson, Sacral Kingship (1955); H. H. Rowley, The Faith of Israel (1956); J. Denney, HERE, Vol. VIII (1962), 320-331; E. C. Blackman, IDB, Vol. III (1962), 320-331.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
1. The Terms
2. The Principle of Mediation
II. MEDIATION IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
1. Negative Teaching in the
2. The Positive Teaching: Early Period
3. Prophetic Mediation
4. Priestly Mediation
5. The Theocratic King: the Messiah
6. The Suffering Servant
7. Superhuman Agents of Mediation
(1) Angelic Mediation
(2) Divine Wisdom
III. IN SEMI-CANONICAL AND NON-CANONICAL JEWISH LITERATURE
IV. MEDIATION AND MEDIATOR IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
(1) Christ as Prophet
(2) Christ as King
(3) Christ as Priest (Redeemer)
2. Primitive Apostolic Teachings
(1) The Early Speeches in Acts
(2) Epistles of James and Jude
(3) 1 Peter
3. Epistles of Paul
(1) The Need of a Mediator
(2) The Qualifications
(3) The Means, the
(4) The Resurrection and Exaltation
(5) The Cosmic Aspect of Christ’s Mediatorship
5. The Johannine Writings
(1) The Fourth Gospel
(2) The Epistles
(3) The Apocalypse
1. The Terms:
"Mediation" in its broadest sense may be defined as the act of intervening between parties at variance for the purpose of reconciling them, or between parties not necessarily hostile for the purpose of leading them into an agreement or covenant. Theologically, it has reference to the method by which God and man are reconciled through the instrumentality of some intervening process, act or person, and especially through the atoning work of. The term itself does not occur in Biblical literature.
2. The Principle of Mediation:
Though the actual terms are thus very rare, the principle of mediation is one of great significance in Biblical theology, as well as in the Jewish-Alexandrian philosophy. It corresponds to a profound human instinct or need which finds expression in some form or other in most religions. It is an attempt to solve the problem raised by (1) the idea of the infinite distance which separates God from man and the universe, and (2) the deeply felt want of bringing them into a harmonious relation. The conception of mediation will differ, therefore, according to whether the distance to be surmounted is understood ethically or metaphysically. If it be thought of in an ethical or religious sense, that is, if the emphasis be laid on the fact of human sin as standing in the way of man’s fellowship with God, then mediation will be the mode by which peaceful relations are established between sinful man and the absolutely righteous God. But if the antithesis of God and the world be conceived of metaphysically, i.e. be based on the ultimate nature of God and of the world conceived as essentially opposed to each other, then mediation will be the mode by which the transcendent God, without Himself coming into direct contact with the world, is able to produce effects in it through an intermediate agent (or agents). The latter conception (largely the result of an exaggerated Platonic dualism) exerted an important influence on later Jewish thought, and even on Christian theology, and will come briefly under our consideration. But in the main we shall be concerned with the former view, as more in harmony with the development of Biblical theology which culminates in the New Testament doctrine of atonement. Mediation between God and man as presented in the Scriptures has 3 main aspects, represented respectively by the functions of the prophet, the priest, and theocratic king. Here and there in the Old Testament these tend to meet, as in Melchizedek the priest-king, and in the Suffering Servant of Deutero-Isaiah, who unites the priestly function of sacrifice with the prophetic function of revealing the Divine will. But on the whole, these aspects of mediation in the Old Testament run along lines which have no meeting-point in one person adequate to all the demands. In the New Testament they intersect in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who realizes in Himself the full meaning of the prophetic, priestly, and kingly ideals.
II. Mediation in the Old Testament.
1. Negative Teaching in the Old Testament:
We do not find in the Old Testament a fixed and final doctrine of mediation universally accepted as an axiom of religious thought, but only a gradual movement toward such a doctrine, under the growing sense of God’s exaltation and of man’s frailty and sinfulness. Such a passage as
2. The Positive Teaching: Early Period:
(1) Mediatory Sacrifice.
(2) Intercessory Prayer.
Intercession is in all stages of thought an essential element in mediation. We have striking examples of it in
(3) The Mosaic Covenant.
In Moses we have for the first time a recognized national representative who acted both as God’s spokesman to the people, and the people’s spokesman before God. He alone was allowed to "come near unto Yahweh," and to him Yahweh spake "face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend" (
(4) Intercessory Mediation.
Samuel is by Jeremiah classed with Moses as the chief representative of intercessory mediation (
3. Prophetic Mediation:
Samuel represents the transition from the ancient seer or soothsayer to the prophetic order. The prophet was regarded as the organ of Divine revelation, to consult whom was equivalent to "inquiring of God" (
4. Priestly Mediation:
Mediation is in a peculiar sense the function of the priest. In the main he stands for the principle in its God-ward aspect. Yet in the early period it was the man-ward aspect that was most apparent; i.e. the priest was at first regarded as the medium through which Yahweh delivered His oracles to men, the human mouthpiece of supernatural revelation, giving advice in difficult emergencies by casting the sacred lot. Before the time of the first literary prophets, the association of the priests with the ephod and the lot had receded into the background (though the high priest theoretically retained the gift of interpreting the Divine will through the
(1) Out of the sacred nation as a whole, the priestly tribe of Levi is elected and invested with a special sanctity to perform all the subordinate acts of service within the tabernacle (
(2) Within this sacred tribe, the members of the house of Aaron are set apart and invested with a still higher sanctity; they alone officiate at the altar in theand expiate the guilt of the people by sacrifice and prayer, thus representing the people before God. Yet even they are only admitted to the proximate nearness of the Holy Place.
(3) The gradation of the hierarchy is completed by the recognition of a single, supreme head of the priesthood--the high priest. He alone can enter the
5. The Theocratic King: the Messiah:
6. The Suffering Servant:
The substitution of voluntary, deliberate, human sacrifice for that of unwilling beasts elevates the sacrificial idea to a new ethical plane, and brings it into far more vital and organic relation to human life. The basis of the mediatorship of the Servant seems to be the principle of the solidarity or organic unity of the people, involving the ideal unity of the Servant and the people he represents. In the earlier servant-passages the Servant is identical with the whole nation (
See Servant of Jehovah.
7. Superhuman Agents of Mediation:
In later Judaism, the growing sense of God’s transcendence favored the tendency to introduce supernatural intermediaries between God and the world.
(1) Angelic Mediation.
Not until post-exilic times did angels come to have theological significance. Previously, when God was anthropomorphically conceived as appearing periodically on earth in visible form, the need of angelic mediation was not felt. The "angel" in early narrative (e.g.
(2) Divine Wisdom.
Of more importance as a preparation for theology of the New Testament is the doctrine of Wisdom, in which the Jews found "a middle term between the religion of Israel and the philosophy of Greece." In
III. In Semi-and Non-canonical Jewish Literature.
In the Apocrypha, the idea of mediation is for the most part absent. We have one or two references to angelic intercession (Tobit 12:12,15), a function not attributed to angels in the Old Testament, but prominent in later apocalyptic literature (e.g. Enoch 9:10; 15:2; 40:6). The tradition of the agency of angels in the promulgation of the law is first found in the Septuagint of
See Judaeus Philo.
IV. Mediation and Mediator in the New Testament.
The relatively independent lines of development which the conception of mediation has hitherto taken now meet and coalesce in Jesus Christ.
1. The Synoptic Gospels:
The traditional division of Christ’s mediatorial work into that of prophet, priest and king (very common since Calvin, but now often discarded) offers a convenient method of treating the subject, though we must avoid making the division absolute, as if Christ’s work fell apart into three separate and independent functions. The unity of the work of salvation is preserved by the fact that "no one of the offices fills up a moment of time alone, but the others are always cooperative," although "Christ’s mediatorial work puts now this, now that side in the foreground." "The triple division is of special value, because it sets in a vivid light the continuity between the Old Testament theocracy and Christianity" (Dorner, System of Christian Doctrine, English translation, III, 385 ff). These three aspects of Christ’s mediatorship can be distinguished in the Synoptics, although the formal distinction is the work of later analysis.
(1) Christ as Prophet.
It was in the character of Prophet that He mainly impressed the common mind, which was moved to inquire "Whence hath this man this wisdom?" and by His reply, "A prophet is not without honor," etc., He virtually accepts that title (
(2) Christ as King.
(3) Christ as Priest (Redeemer).
The Synoptics give special prominence to those historical events which are most intimately associated with Christ’s mediatorship--not only the agony in the garden and the crucifixion, but also the resurrection and ascension (which make possible His intercessory mediation in heaven).
2. Primitive Apostolic Teachings:
(1) The Early Speeches in Acts.
(2) Epistles of James and Jude.
In these epistles the doctrine of Christ’s mediation does not occupy a prominent place. To James, Christianity is the culmination of Judaism. Christ’s mediatorial functions are set forth more by way of presupposition than by explicit statement, and the whole weight is laid on the kingly and prophetic offices. The Messiahship of Jesus is assumed to such an extent that the title "Christ" has become part of the proper name, and His Lordship is also implied (1:1; 2:1). Nothing definite is said of His function in salvation; it is God Himself who regenerates, but the medium of regeneration is "the word of truth," "the implanted word" (1:18,21), which
refer to the word which Jesus had preached. This implies that Jesus as prophetic teacher is the Mediator of salvation. Nothing is said of the death on the cross or its saving significance.assumes the Lordship of Christ, through whom God’s Saviourhood works, and whose mercy results in eternal life (1:4,21,25).
(3) 1 Peter.
In 1 Peter we have the early apostolic teaching touched with Paulinism. The fact that salvation is mediated through the sufferings and death of Christ is now explicitly stated. Christ has suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous (3:18). The suffering has significance both God-ward and man-ward. Relatively to God it is a sacrificial offering which opens up a way of access to Him; He suffered "that he might bring us to God" (3:18), and that through His representative priesthood the ideal "holy priesthood" of all God’s people might be realized, for it is "through Jesus Christ" that men’s "spiritual sacrifices" become "acceptable to God" (2:5). So the elect are sprinkled with the blood of Christ, i.e. brought into communion with God by His sacrifice (1:2). Relatively to man, it is a means of ransoming or liberating man from the bondage compare sin. "Knowing that ye were redeemed (elutrothete, literally, "ransomed," from lutron, "ransom," an echo of
3. Epistles of Paul:
Christ’s mediatorship stands at the very center of Paul’s gospel; this in spite of the fact that only once does he apply the term "mediator" to Christ (
This passage has had to undergo about 300 different interpretations. The view that the "mediator" here is Christ (Origen, Augustine and most of the Fathers, Calvin, etc.) is clearly untenable. Modern exegetes agree that the reference is to Moses (compare
What, then, is Paul’s positive teaching on Christ’s Mediatorship?
(1) The Need of a Mediator:
(2) The Qualifications:
The qualification of Christ to be the Mediator depends on His intimate relation to both parties at variance.
(a) Christ’s Relation to Man:
(b) His Relation to God:
(3) The Means, the Death of Christ:
The means of effecting the reconciliation was mainly the death on the cross. Paul emphasizes the mediating value of the death both on its objective (God-ward) side and on its subjective (man-ward) side. First, it is the objective ground of forgiveness and favor with God. On the basis of what Christ has done, God ceases to reckon to men their sins (
(a) It is an act of reconciliation. This involves a change of attitude, not only in man, but in God, a relinquishing of the Divine wrath without which there can be no restoration of peaceful relations (though this is disputed by many, e.g. Ritschl, Lightfoot, Westcott, Beyschlag), but not a change of nature or of intention, for the Divine wrath is but a mode of the eternal love, and moreover it is the Father Himself who provides the means of reconciliation and undertakes to accomplish it (
(b) It is an act of propitiation (
(d) Strong substitutionary language is sometimes used, notably in
(e) Sacrificial language is used, as in
(4) The Resurrection and Exaltation:
The resurrection and exaltation of Christ are essential to His mediatorial work (
(5) The Cosmic Aspect of Christ’s Mediatorship:
In his later epistles (especially Colossians and Ephesians), Paul lays stress on Christ’s mediatorial activity in creation and providence, though the germs of his later teaching are found in the earlier epistles (
4. Epistle to the Hebrews:
The main thesis of Hebrews is the absoluteness and finality of the gospel and its superiority over Judaism. The finality of Christianity depends on the fact that it has a perfect Mediator, who is the substance of which the various Jewish forms of mediation were types and shadows. He illustrates this by a series of contrasts between Christ and the mediators of the old system (by the application of principles and exegetical methods which reveal the influence of the school of Philo). In each contrast, Christ’s superiority is based on His Sonship.
(1) Christ is superior to the prophets as Mediator of revelation. The Old Testament revelation was fragmentary and multiform, while now God speaks, not through many agents, but through One, and that one a Son. As Son He is the perfectly adequate expression of the Father. The author takes us at once to the high transcendental sphere of Christ’s relations to God and the universe, in virtue of which He is God’s Mediator in creation, providence, revelation and redemption (
(2) He is superior to the angels, through whose mediation the law was given (
(3) He is superior to Moses, the human agent in the giving of the law (
(1) Christ’s Qualification for the High-Priesthood Is Twofold:
(a) His participation in all human experience (except sin), which guarantees His power of sympathy. Every high priest, as men’s representative before God, must be "taken from among men" (
(2) The Nature of His Priesthood, Its Superiority to the Levitical Priesthood.
The priests of the Old Testament themselves needed atonement, for they were not sinless; Christ is holy, guileless, undefiled, and need not make atonement for His own sins. They were priests only for a time, and were many in number, for they were mortal; but He abideth forever, and His priesthood is eternal. They were dependent on the law of physical descent; He was a priest after the order of Melchizedek, whose priesthood did not depend on genealogy or pedigree, and who combined the functions of king with those of priest. In a word, their order was transient, temporary, shadowy; His belonged to the world of unchanging reality (
(3) The Realization of His High-Priesthood.
A high priest implies a sacrifice; hence, Christ must "have somewhat to offer" (
(a) Christ’s death was a sin offering. He has offered one final sacrifice for sins (
(b) The Sinaitic covenant (
(c) The ritual of the Day of Atonement furnishes another analogy. As the high priest once a year entered the most holy place of the earthly people, so Christ has entered once for all the true spiritual sanctuary in heaven, and there He presents Himself to God as the Mediator able to make intercession for us with the Father (
(4) The Man-ward Efficacy of His Mediatorship.
The effect of Christ’s death on man is described by the words "cleanse," "sanctify," "perfect" (
5. The Johannine Writings:
(1) The Fourth Gospel.
Aspects of our Lord’s teaching unassimilated by the other disciples, and therefore but meagerly touched on in the Synoptics, find prominence in the, but colored by his own meditations. Great emphasis is laid on the idea of salvation by revelation mediated through Jesus Christ. The historical revelation of God in the person and teaching of Jesus is the main subject of the Gospel. But in the Prologue we have the eternal background of the historical manifestation in the doctrine of the Logos, who, as Son in eternal fellowship with the Father, His mediator in creation, and the immanent principle of revelation in the world, is fitted to become God’s Revealer in history (1:11-18). His work on earth is to dispense light and life, knowledge of God and salvation. Through Him God gives to the world eternal life (3:16). He is the Water of Life (4:14; 7:37), the Bread of Life (6:48 ff), the Light of the World (8:12); it is by inward appropriation of Him that salvation is mediated to men (6:52 ff). He is the perfect revealer of God, hence, the only means of access to the Father (14:6,9). It is on salvation by illumination and communion, rather than on salvation by reconciliation and atonement that chief stress is laid. Sacrificial or propitiatory language is not used of Christ’s death. Yet emphasis is laid on the voluntary and vicarious character of His death. He lays down His life of Himself (10:18); "The good shepherd layeth down his life for (equals on behalf of) the sheep" (10:11; compare 15:13). Christ’s death was the supreme example of the law that self-sacrifice is necessary to the highest and most fruitful life (12:23 ff). In John 17 we have a unique instance of our Lord’s intercessory prayer.
(2) The Epistles.
In 1 John we find more explicit statements with regard to the connection between the death of Christ and sin. "The blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1:7); "He was manifested to take away sins" (3:5); "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father," i.e. a pleader who will mediate with God on our behalf, the ground of His intercessory efficacy being that He is the "propitiation for our sins" (2:2; 4:10, a term which links the Johannine doctrine to that of Paul, though 1 John represents Christ Himself, and not merely His death on the cross, as the propitiation). This latter term shows that an objective value is attached to the atonement, as in some way neutralizing or making amends for sin in the eyes of God, yet in such a way as not to contradict the principles of righteousness (compare "Jesus Christ the righteous," 2:1).
(3) The Apocalypse.
Our inquiry will have shown how central and prominent is the idea of mediation throughout the Scriptures. We might even say it supplies the key to the unity of the Bible. In the Old Testament the principle is given "in divers portions and in divers manners," but in the New Testament it converges in the doctrine of the person and work of the One final Mediator, the Son of God. Amid all the rich diversity of the various parts of the New Testament, there is one fundamental conception common to all, that of Christ as at once the interpreter of God to men and the door of access for men to God. Especially is Christ’s self-sacrifice presented as the effective cause of our salvation, as a means of removing the guilt and sin which stand as a barrier in the way of God’s purpose concerning man and of man’s fellowship with God. There is a tendency in some influential writers of today to speak disparagingly of the doctrine of the one Mediator, on the ground that it injures the direct relationship of man with God (e.g. R. Eucken, Truth of Religion, 583 ff). Here we can reply only that the doctrine properly defined is attested in universal Christian experience, and that, so far from standing in the way of our personal approach to God, it is a simple historical fact that apart from the work of Jesus we would not enjoy that free access to Him which is now our privilege.
Besides the commentaries, such works on Old Testament Theology as those of Oehler, Schultz, A.B. Davidson, and onby B. Weiss, Beyschlag, Holtzmann, W.B. Stevens, Weinel; Wendt, The Teaching of Jesus; A.B. Bruce, Paul’s Conception of Christianity and The Epistle to the Hebrews; J. Denney, The Death of Christ; Du Bose, The Gospel in the Gospels, The Gospel according to Paul, High-Priesthood and Sacrifice. For the idea of mediation in Jewish religion, Oesterley, The Jewish Doctrine of Mediation; Toy, Judaism and Christianity. Much material on the Biblical doctrine may be found in such works as Dorner, System of Christian Doctrine; Ritschl, Die christliche Lehre von der Rechtfertigung und Versohnung, 3 volumes (Volumes I and III, English translation); Dale, The Atonement; McLeod Campbell, The Nature of the Atonement; F.D. Maurice, The Doctrine of Sacrifice; Moberly, Atonement and Personality; J. Scott Lidgett, The Spiritual Principle of the Atonement; G.B. Stevens, Christian Doctrine of Salvation; articles in HDB, DCG, and in this Encyclopedia on "Mediation"; "Mediator"; "Atonement"; "Messiah"; "Propitiation"; "Prophets"; "Priests"; "Ransom"; "Reconciliation"; "Sacrifice"; Salvation," etc.
D. Miall Edwards