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Sacrifice (New Testament)

See also Sacrifice




1. Jesus’ Attitude

2. Paul’s Attitude

3. Attitude of the Author of Hebrews


1. Teaching of John the Baptist

2. Teaching of Jesus

3. Teaching of Peter

4. Paul’s Teaching

5. Teaching of Hebrews

6. Johannine Teaching


1. Redemption or Deliverance from Curse of Sin

2. Reconciliation

3. Remission of Sins

4. The Cancellation of Guilt

5. Justification or Right Standing with God

6. Cleansing or Sanctification

7. Sonship


1. Jesus’ Teaching

2. Paul’s Teaching

3. Teaching of Hebrews

4. Petrine and Johannine Teaching


1. Jesus’ Teaching

2. Paul’s Teaching

3. The Teaching in Hebrews


1. Universal in Objective Potentiality

2. Efficacious When Subjectively Applied


1. Consequence of Christ’s Sacrifice

2. Christ’s Death the Appeal for Christian’s Sacrifice

3. Necessary to Fill Out Christ’s Sacrifice

4. Content of the Christian’s Sacrifice

5. The Supper as a Sacrifice


I. Terms of Sacrifice Epitomized.

The word "sacrifice" (thusia in the Septuagint translates 8 different Hebrew words for various kinds of sacrifice, occurring about 350 times) refers to Christ’s death, once in Paul (Eph 5:2) 5 times in Heb (5:1; 9:23,26; 10:12,26). It refers several times to Old Testament sacrifice and 5 times to Christian living or giving (Php 2:17; 4:18; Heb 13:15,16; 1Pe 2:5). The verb "to sacrifice" (thuo) is used once by Paul to describe Christ’s death (1Co 5:7).

(lutron, "ransom," the price paid for redeeming, occurring in Septuagint 19 times, meaning the price paid for redeeming the servant (Le 25:51,52); ransom for first-born (Nu 3:46); ransom for the life of the owner of the goring ox (Ex 21:30, etc.)) occurs in the New Testament only twice (Mt 20:28; Mr 10:45). This word is used by Jesus to signify the culmination of His sacrificial life in His sacrificial death.

(antilutron, "ransom," a word not found in Septuagint, stronger in meaning than the preceding word) occurs only once in the New Testament (1Ti 2:6).

(apolutrosis, "redemption," in Ex 21:8, meaning the ransom paid by a father to redeem his daughter from a cruel master) signifies

(1) deliverance from sin by Christ’s death, 5 times in Paul (Ro 3:24; 1Co 1:30; Eph 1:7,14; Col 1:14); once in Hebrews (9:15);

(2) general deliverance, twice (Lu 21:28; Heb 11:35);

(3) the Christian’s final deliverance, physical and spiritual (Ro 8:23; Eph 4:30).

The simple word (lutrosis, "redemption," 10 times in Septuagint as the translation of 5 Hebrew words) occurs once for spiritual deliverance (Heb 9:12).

(exagorazo, "redeem," only once in Septuagint, Da 2:8) in the New Testament means

(1) to deliver from the curse of the law, twice by Paul (Ga 3:13; 4:5);

(2) to use time wisely, twice by Paul (Eph 5:16; Col 4:5).

The simple verb (agorazo, meaning in Le 27:19 to redeem land) occurs twice in Paul (1Co 6:20; 7:23) and means "to redeem" (in a spiritual sense). katallage, "reconciliation," only twice in the Septuagint) means the relation to God into which men are brought by Christ’s death, 4 times by Paul (Ro 5:11; 11:15; 2Co 5:18,19).

(katallassein, "to reconcile," 4 times in Septuagint (3 times in 2 Maccabees)) means to bring men into the state of reconciliation with God, 5 times in Paul (Ro 5:10 twice; 2Co 5:18,19,20).

The words with the propitiatory idea occur as follows: (hilaskomai, "to propitiate," 12 times in the Septuagint, translated "to forgive") occurs twice (Lu 18:13; Heb 2:17); (hilasmos, 9 times in Septuagint, Nu 5:8; Ps 129 (130):4, etc.; "atonement," "forgiveness") occurs twice in 1 Joh (2:2; 4:10); (hilasterion, 24 times in the Septuagint, translates "mercy-seat," where God was gracious and spake to man) translates in the New Testament "propitiation" (Ro 3:25), "mercy-seat" (Heb 9:5).

Christ is called "the Lamb," amnos, twice by the Baptist (Joh 1:29,36); once by Philip applied to Christ from Isa 53:7 (Ac 8:32); and once by Peter (1Pe 1:19); arnion, 28 times in Re (5:6,8,12,13; 6:1,16; 7:9,10,14; 19:7,9; 21:9,14,22,23,27; 22:1,3).

Though it is not our province in this article to discuss the origin and history of sacrifice in the ethnic religions, it must be noted that sacrifice has been a chief element in almost every religion (Jainism and Buddhism being the principal exceptions). The bloody sacrifice, where the idea of propitiation is prominent, is well-nigh universal in the ethnic religions, being found among even the most enlightened peoples like the Greeks and Romans (see article "Expiation and Atonement" in ERE). Whether or not the system of animal sacrifices would have ceased not only in Judaism but also in all the ethnic religions, had not Jesus lived and taught and died, is a question of pure speculation. It must be conceded that the sect of the Jews (Essenes) attaining to the highest ethical standard and living the most unselfish lives of brotherhood and benevolence did not believe in animal sacrifices. But they exerted small influence over the Jewish nation as compared with the Pharisees. It is also to be noted that the prophets Amos, Hosea, Micah and Isaiah exalted the ethical far above the ceremonial; even denounced the sacrifice of animals if not accompanied by personal devotion to righteousness (Am 5:21 ff; Ho 6:6; Mic 6:6 ff; Isa 1:11 ). The Stoic and Platonic philosophers also attacked the system of animal sacrifices. But these exceptions only accentuate the historical fact that man’s sense of the necessity of sacrifice to Deity is well-nigh universal. Only the sacrifice of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem caused a cessation of the daily, weekly, monthly and annual sacrifices among the Jews, and only the knowledge of Christ’s sacrifice of Himself will finally destroy the last vestige of animal sacrifice.

II. Attitude of Jesus and New Testament Writers to the Old Testament Sacrificial System.

1. Jesus’ Attitude:

2. Paul’s Attitude:

Paul’s estimate of the Jewish sacrifices is easily seen, although he does not often refer to them. Once only (Ac 21:26) after his conversion does he offer the Jewish sacrifice, and then as a matter of expediency for winning the Judaistic wing of Christianity to his universal gospel of grace. He regarded the sacrifices of the Old Testament as types of the true sacrifice which Christ made (1Co 5:7).

3. Attitude of the Author of Hebrews:

The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews discusses the Old Testament sacrifices more fully than other New Testament writers. He regards the bloody sacrifices as superior to the unbloody and the yearly sacririce on the Day of Atonement by the high priest as the climax of the Old Testament system. The high priest under the old covenant was the type of Christ under the new. The sacrifices of the old covenant could not take away sin, or produce moral transformation, because of the frailties of men (10:1-11), shown by the necessity of repeating the offerings (5:2), and because God had appointed another high priest, His Son, to supplant those of the old covenant (5:5; 7:1-28). The heart of this author’s teaching is that animal sacrifices cannot possibly atone for sin or produce moral transformation, since they are divinely-appointed only as a type or shadow of the one great sacrifice by Christ (8:7; 10:1).

To sum up, the New Testament writers, as well as Jesus, regarded the Old Testament sacrificial system as of divine origin and so obligatory in its day, but imperfect and only a type of Christ’s sacrifice, and so to be supplanted by His perfect sacrifice.

III. The Sacrificial Idea in the New Testament.

The one central idea of New Testament writers is that the sacrifice made by Christ on the cross is the final perfect sacrifice for the atonement of sin and the salvation of men, a sacrifice typified in the various sacrifices of the Old Testament, which are in turn abrogated by the operation of the final sacrifice. Only James and Jude among New Testament writers are silent as to the sacrifice of Christ, and they write for practical purposes only.

1. Teaching of John the Baptist:

The Baptist, it is true, presents Jesus as the coming Judge in the Synoptic Gospels, but in Joh 1:29,36 he refers to Him as "the Lamb of God," in the former passage adding "that taketh away the sin of the world." Westcott (Commentary on John, 20) says: "The title as applied to Christ .... conveys the ideas of vicarious suffering, of patient submission, of sacrifice, of redemption, etc." There is scarcely any doubt that the Baptist looked upon the Christ as the one who came to make the great sacrifice for man’s sins. Professor Burton (Biblical Ideas of Atonement, Burton, Smith and Smith, 107) says that John sees Christ "suffering under the load of human sin." 2. Teaching of Jesus:

There are recorded in the Synoptic Gospels two unmistakable references by Jesus to His death as a sacrifice (Mr 10:45 parallel Mt 20:28; Mr 14:24 parallel Mt 26:28 parallel Lu 22:20; compare 1Co 11:25). In the former He declares He came to give His "life a ransom." Thayer (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament) says this word means "the price paid for redeeming." Hence, the idea in ransom must be of sacrificial significance. But if there could be any doubt as to the sacrificial import of this passage, there is a clear case of the sacrificial idea in Mr 14:24. Practically all writers of the New Testament theology, Wendt, Weiss, Stevens, Sheldon and others, hold that Jesus considered the death as the ratification sacrifice of the new covenant, just as the sacrifice offered at Sinai ratified the old covenant (Ex 24:3-8). Ritschl and Beyschlag deny that this passage is sacrificial. But according to most exegetes, Jesus in this reference regarded His death as a sacrifice. The nature of the sacrifice, as Jesus estimated it, is in doubt and is to be discussed later. What we are pressing here is the fact that Jesus regarded His death as a sacrifice. We have to concede the meagerness of material on the sacrificial idea of His death as taught by Jesus. Yet these two references are unquestioned by literary and historical critics. They both occur in Mark, the primitive Gospel (the oldest Gospel record of Jesus’ teachings). The first occurs in two of the Synoptists, the second in all three of them. Luke omits the first for reasons peculiar to his purpose. According to Lu 24:25, Jesus regarded His sufferings and death as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures.

3. Teaching of Peter:

Though the head apostle does not in the early chapters of Ac refer to Christ as the sacrifice for sin, he does imply as much in 2:36 (He is Lord and Christ in spite of His crucifixion); 3:18,19 (He fulfilled the prophecies by suffering, and by means of repentance sins are to be blotted out); 4:10-12 (only in His name is salvation) and in 5:30,31 (through whose death Israel received remission of sins). In his First Epistle (1Pe 1:18,19) he expressly declares that we are redeemed by the blood of the spotless Christ, thus giving the sacrificial significance to His death. The same is implied in 1Pe 1:2; 3:18.

4. Paul’s Teaching:

5. Teaching of Hebrews:

The argument of the author of Hebrews to prove the finality of Christianity is that Christ is superior to the Aaronic high priest, being a royal, eternal high priest, after the order of Melchizedek, and offering Himself as the final sacrifice for sin, and for the moral transformation of men (4:14; 10:18).

6. Johannine Teaching:

In the First Epistle of John (1 Joh 1:7; 2:2; 5:6,8) propitiation for sin and cleansing from sin are ascribed to the blood of Christ. In Re 1:5 John ascribes deliverance (not washing or cleansing, according to best manuscripts) from sin, to the blood of Christ. Several times he calls Christ the Lamb, making the sacrificial idea prominent. Once he speaks of Him as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (13:8).

To sum up, all the New Testament writers, except James and Jude, refer to Christ’s death as the great sacrifice for sin. Jesus Himself regarded His death as such. In the various types of New Testament teaching Christ’s death is presented

(1) as the covenant sacrifice (Mr 14:24 parallel Mt 26:28 parallel Lu 22:20; Heb 9:15-22);

(2) as the sin offering (Ro 8:3; 2Co 5:21; Heb 13:11; 1Pe 3:18);

(3) as the offering of the paschal lamb (1Co 5:7);

(4) as the sacrifice of the Day of Atonement (Heb 2:17; 9:12 ).

IV. Relation of Christ’s Sacrifice to Man’s Salvation.

The saving benefits specified in the New Testament as resulting from the sacrificial death of Christ are as follows:

1. Redemption or Deliverance from Curse of Sin:

The author of Hebrews asserts that Christ by the sacrifice of Himself "obtained eternal redemption" for man (9:12). John says that Christ "loosed (luo) us from our sins by his blood" (Re 1:5). This idea in John is akin to that of redemption or deliverance by ransom. Peter teaches the same truth in 1Pe 1:19. So, we see, Jesus and all the New Testament writers regard Christ’s sacrifice as the procuring cause of human redemption.

2. Reconciliation:

The idea of reconciliation involves a personal difference between two parties. There is estrangement between God and man. Reconciliation is the restoration of favor between the two parties. Jesus does not utter any direct message on reconciliation, but implies God’s repugnance at man’s sin and strained relations between God and the unrepentant sinner (see Lu 18:13). He puts into the mouth of the praying tax-gatherer the words, `God be propitious to me’ (see Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon, hilaskomai), but Jesus nowhere asserts that His death secures the reconciliation of God to the sinner. Paul, however, does. "For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son," etc. (Ro 5:10). There can be no doubt from this passage that Paul thought of the death of Christ as the procuring cause of reconciliation. In Eph 2:13,14,18 Paul makes the cross of Christ the means of reconciliation between the hostile races of men. Paul reaches the climax in his conception of the reconciliation wrought by the cross of Christ when he asserts the unifying results of Christ’s death to be cosmic in extent (Eph 1:10).

The author of Hebrews also implies that Christ’s death secures reconciliation when he regards this death as the ratification of the "better covenant" (8:6 ff), and when he plays on the double meaning of the word (diatheke, 9:15 ff), now "covenant" and now "will," "testament." The death of Christ is necessary to secure the ratification of the new covenant which brings God and man into new relations (8:12). In 2:17 the author uses a word implying propitiation as wrought by the death of Christ. So the doctrine of reconciliation is also in the Epistle to the Hebrews. John teaches reconciliation with God through Christ our Advocate, but does not expressly connect it with His death as the procuring cause (1 Joh 2:1,2). Peter is likewise silent on this point.

3. Remission of Sins:

Reconciliation implies that God can forgive; yea, has forgiven. Jesus and the New Testament writers declare the death of Christ to be the basis of God’s forgiveness. Jesus in instituting the memorial supper said, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins" (Mt 26:28). It is true Mark and Luke do not record this last phrase, "unto remission of sins." But there is no intimation that this phrase is the result of Matthew’s theologizing on the purpose of Christ’s death (see Wendt, Teaching of Jesus, II, 239 ff, who claims this phrase is not from Jesus; also Allen in "Mt," ICC, in the place cited.). But Paul leaves no doubt as to the connection between man’s forgiveness by God and Christ’s sacrifice for him. This idea is rooted in the great passage on justification (Ro 3:21-5:21; see especially 4:7); is positively declared in Eph 1:7; Col 1:14. The author of Heb teaches that the shedding of Christ’s blood under the new covenant is as necessary to secure forgiveness as the shedding of animal’s blood under the old. John also implies that forgiveness is based on the blood (1 Joh 1:7-9).

4. The Cancellation of Guilt:

True reconciliation and forgiveness include the canceling of the offender’s guilt. Jesus has no direct word on the cancellation of guilt. Paul closes his argument for the universality of human sin by asserting that "all the world may be brought under the judgment of God" (the King James Version "guilty before God," Ro 3:19). Thayer (Greek-English Lexicon, in the place cited.) says this word "guilty" means "owing satisfaction to God" (liable to punishment by God). But in Ro 8:1,3 Paul exclaims, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus .... God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin" (the English Revised Version and the American Revised Version margin "as an offering for sin"). The guilt, or exposure of the sinner to God’s wrath and so to punishment, is removed by the sin offering which Christ made. This idea is implied by the author of Hebrews (2:15), but is not expressed in Peter and John.

5. Justification or Right Standing with God:

Right standing with God is also implied in the preceding idea. Forgiving sin and canceling guilt are the negative, bringing into right standing with God the positive, aspects of the same transaction. "Him who knew no sin he made to be sin (i.e. the sin offering; so Augustine and other Fathers, Ewald, Ritschl; see Meyer, Commentary, in loc., who denies this meaning) on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him" (2Co 5:21). In this passage Paul makes justification the divine purpose of the sacrificial death of Christ. This thought is elaborated by the apostle in Galatians and Romans, but is not expressed by Jesus, or in Hebrews, in Peter or in John.

6. Cleansing or Sanctification:

Jesus does not connect our cleansing or sanctification with His death, but with His word (Joh 17:17). The substantive "cleansing" (katharismos) is not used by Paul, and the verb "to cleanse" (katharizo) occurs only twice in his later letters (Eph 5:26; Tit 2:14). He does use the idea of sanctification, and in Ro 6-8 teaches that sanctification is a logical consequence of justification which is secured by Christ’s sacrificial death. In Php 3:10,11, he views Christ’s death and resurrection as the dynamic of transformation in the new life. The author of Hebrews (1:3; 9:14,22,23; 10:2), following his Old Testament figures, uses the idea of cleansing for the whole process of putting away sin, from atonement to sanctification (see Westcott, Commentary, in the place cited.). He makes Christ’s death the procuring cause of the cleansing. John does the same (1 Joh 1:7; Re 7:14).

7. Sonship:

Divine sonship of the believer is also traced by Paul to the sacrificial death of Christ (Ro 8:17), though this thought is not found in other New Testament writers.

So, we sum up, the whole process of salvation, from reconciliation with God to the adoption of the saved sinner into heaven’s household, is ascribed, to some extent by Jesus, largely by Paul theologian of the New Testament, and, in varying degrees, by other New Testament writers, to the sacrificial death of Christ. Even Holtzmann (Neutest. Theol., II, 111) admits "It is upon the moment of death that the grounding of salvation is exclusively concentrated."

V. How Christ’s Sacrifice Procures Salvation.

It must be conceded that the New Testament writers, much less Jesus, did not discuss this subject from the philosophical point of view. Jesus never philosophizes except incidentally. Paul, the author of He, and John had a philosophy underlying their theology, the first and second dealing most with the sacrificial work of Christ, the last with His person. But Paul and the author of Heb did not write their letters to produce a philosophical system explaining how Christ’s sacrificial death can and does procure man’s salvation.

1. Jesus’ Teaching:

By some it is claimed that the word "ransom" (Mr 10:45) gives us the key to the philosophy of the atonement as presented by Jesus Himself. But the rules of exegesis are against this supposition. Jesus in the context is teaching His disciples that sacrificial service is greatness. To illustrate the truth He refers to His own example of coming to "minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." That is, Jesus is enforcing a practical principle and not elaborating a theoretical truth. Moreover, the word "ransom" is used metaphorically, and the laws of exegesis forbid us to press the literal meaning of a figure. The figure suggests captivity in sin and deliverance by payment of a price (the death of Christ). But Jesus does not tell us how His sacrificial death can and does pay the price for man’s redemption from sin. The word "ransom" does give the clue to the development of the vicarious sacrifice elaborated later by Paul. Ritschl (Rechtfertigung und Versohnung, II, 85) does not do the word "ransom" justice when he claims that it merely reproduces the meaning of the Hebrew kopher, "covering as a protection," and that Christ’s death, like a covering, delivers us by stimulating us to lead the life of sacrificial service as Christ did. Wendt (Lehre Jesu, II, 237; Teaching of Jesus, II, 226 f) admits the "ransom"-idea in the word, but says Christ delivers us from bondage to suffering and death, not by His death, but by His teaching which is illustrated by His sacrificial death. Beyschlag (Neutest. Theol., I, 153) thinks Christ’s death delivers us from worldly ambitions and such sins by showing us the example of Jesus in sacrifice. Weiss (Biblical Theology of the New Testament, I, 101-3) thinks Christ’s "surrender of His life .... avails as a ransom which He gives instead of the many" who were not able to pay the price themselves. He also adds, "The saying regarding the ransom lays emphasis upon the God-pleasing performance of Jesus which secures the salvation," etc.

Nor does Jesus’ saying at the Last Supper, "This is my blood of the covenant" (Mr 14:24) give us unmistakable evidence of how His death saves men. It does teach that sinners on entering the kingdom come into a new covenant relation with God which implies forgiveness of sin and fellowship with God, and that, as the covenant sacrifices at Mt. Sinai (Ex 24:3-8) ratified the legal covenant between God and His people, so the death of Christ as a covenant sacrifice ratifies the covenant of grace between God and lost sinners, by virtue of which covenant God on His part forgives the penitent sinner, and the surrendering sinner on his part presents himself to God for the life of sacrifice. But this statement fails to tell us how God can forgive sin on the basis of a covenant thus ratified by Christ’s death. Does it mean substitution, that as the animal whose blood ratified the covenant was slain instead of the people, so Christ was slain in the place of sinners? Or does it suggest the immutability of the covenant on the basis of the animal’s (and so Christ’s) representing both God and man, and killing signifying loss of life or will to change the covenant (so Westcott, Commentary on Hebrews, 301)? It could scarcely mean that Christ’s sacrifice was the offering of a perfect, acceptable life to God (Wendt, op. cit., II, 237), or that Christ’s death is viewed merely as the common meal sacrifice, that God and His people thus enter into a kind of union and communion (so some evolutionists in the study of comparative religion; see Menzies. Hist of Religion, 416 ff).

2. Paul’s Teaching:

Ritschl and many modern scholars are disposed to reject all philosophy in religion. They say, "Back to Christ." Paul was only a human interpreter of Jesus. But he was a divinely-guided interpreter, and we need his first-hand interpretations of Jesus. What has he to say as to how Christ’s death saves men?

(1) The Words Expressing the Idea of Redemption.

See above on the terms of sacrifice. The classical passage containing the idea of redemption is Ro 3:24-26: "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God; for the showing, I say, of his righteousness at this present season: that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus." A fair interpretation of this passage gives us the following propositions: (a) The believer obtains right standing with God by means of, through the channel of (see Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon, dia, A, III, 2), redemption which is in Christ. (b) This redemption in Christ involves, or is based upon, the divinely-purposed propitiation which Christ made in His death. (c) The design of God in making such a propitiation was the exhibition of His righteousness; i.e., the vindication of that side of His character which demands the punishment of sin, which had not been shown in former generations when His forbearance passed over men’s sins. See Sanday, Commentary on Romans, in the place cited. The classical passage containing the other word to redeem (exagorazo) is Ga 3:13: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us," etc. Professor E. D. Burton (AJT, October, 1907) thinks:

(a) Law here means "law legalistically understood."

(b) The "curse" was the verdict of the law of pure legalism, "a disclosure to man of his actual status before God on a basis of merit."

(c) The redemption meant is that Christ "brought to an end the regime of law .... rather than deliverance of individuals through release from penalty."

He bases this argument largely on the use of hemas, "us," meaning Jews in antithesis with ethne, the Gentiles (Ga 3:14). Everett (The Gospel of Paul) thinks that Christ was cursed in that He was "crucified" (the manner not the fact of His death being the curse); that is, as Everett sees it, Christ became ceremonially unclean, and so free from the law. So does His follower by being crucified with Christ become ceremonially unclean and so free from the law. The passage seems to give us the following propositions:

(a) Man under law (whether the revealed law of the Old Testament or the moral law) is under a "curse," that is, liable to the penalty which the broken law demands.

(b) Christ by His death on the cross became a "curse for us."

(c) By means of Christ thus becoming a "curse for us" He delivered us, "not the Jews as a nation, but all of us, Jews and Gentiles, who believed," from the curse incurred by the breaking of the law.

Professor Burton admits that the participle genomenos, "becoming," may be a "participle of means" (the article cited above, 643), and so we have "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us." The passage at least suggests, if it does not declare, that Christ saves us by vicariously enduring the penalty to which we were exposed.

(2) The Idea of Reconciliation.

Paul uses the phrase "wrath of God" (Ro 1:18, etc.) to express the attitude of God toward sin, an attitude of displeasure and of grief, of revulsion of holy character which demands the punishment of sin. On the other hand, God loves the sinner; love is the prompting cause of redemption through Christ (Ro 5:8; 8:32). That is, wrath is love grieving and righteousness revolting because of sin, and both phases may act simultaneously (Simon, Redemption of Man, 216, to the contrary). So Paul says, "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses" (2Co 5:19). Now this word "reconcile" (katallassein) means in the active, "to receive into favor," in the passive, "to be restored to favor" (Thayer). See also Revelation and The Expositor, October, 1909, 600 ff, where Professor Estes shows, from Sophocles, Xenophon, Josephus, Septuagint and passages in the New Testament like Mt 5:24, that the word must mean a change in the attitude of God toward men and not merely a change of men toward God. Practically the same is taught by Meyer (Commentary on 2 Corinthians); Lipsius (Handcomm. zum New Testament); Sanday (Commentary on Romans); Denney (Exegetical Greek Testament on Romans); Lietzmann (Handbuch zum New Testament); Holtzmann (Neutest. Theol.); Weiss (Religion of the New Testament); Pfleiderer (Paulinism); Stevens (Christian Doctrine of Salvation), and in nearly all the great commentaries on Romans and 2 Corinthians, and by all the writers on New Testament theology except Beyschlag.


(3) The Idea of Propitiation.

Only once (Ro 3:25) does Paul use the word "propitiation." As saw in (1) above, the redemption in Christ is based upon the propitiation which Christ made in His death. Thayer (Greek-English Lexicon, in the place cited.) says the noun signifies "a means of appeasing, expiating, a propitiation, an expiatory sacrifice." He thinks it has this meaning in Ro 3:25, but refers it to the "mercy-seat" in Heb 9:5. Sanday (Comm. on Rom, 88) regards hilasterion as an adjective meaning "propitiatory." De Wette, Fritzsche, Meyer, Lipsius and many others take it in this sense; Gifford, Vaughan, Liddon, Ritschl think it means "mercy-seat" here as in Hebrews. But with either meaning the blood of Christ is viewed as securing the mercy of God. Propitiation of God is made by the blood of Christ, and because of that men have access to the mercy-seat where shines the glory of God in His forgiveness of man’s sins.

See Epistle to the Romans, 9, (3).

(4) The Prepositions Huper, and Anti.

Summing up Paul’s teaching as to how Christ’s sacrifice saves:

(a) The propitiatory sacrifice does not "soften God, or assuage the anger of God" (as Bushnell claims the advocates of the satisfaction theories assert, Vicarious Sacrifice, 486). God is already willing to save men, His love makes the propitiatory sacrifice (Ro 5:8). God’s love makes the sacrifice, not the sacrifice His willingness to save.

(b) But man by breaking God’s law had come under the curse, the penalty of the broken law (Ga 3:13), and so was under God’s wrath (Ro 1:18), i.e. man’s sin exposed him to punishment, while at the same time God’s love for the sinner was grieved.

(c) Christ by His sacrificial death made it possible for God to show His righteousness and love at the same time; i.e. that He did punish sin, but did love the sinner and wish to save him (Ro 3:25,26; 5:8).

(d) Christ, who was sinless, suffered vicariously for sinful men. His death was not due to His sins but those of men (2Co 5:21).

(e) His death, followed by His resurrection which marked Him off as the sinless Son of God, and so appointed the Saviour of men (Ro 1:4), was designed by God to bring men into right relation with God (Ro 3:26; 2Co 5:21).

So, we may say, Paul explained the relation of Christ’s death to the sinner’s spiritual life by thinking of a transfer of the sinner’s "curse" to Christ, which He bore on the cross, and of God’s righteousness through Christ (Php 3:9) to the sinner by faith in Christ. But we must not press this vicarious idea too far into a system of philosophy of the atonement and claim that the system is the teaching of Paul. The quantitative, commercial idea of transfer is not in Paul’s mind. The language of redemption, propitiation, ransom, is largely figurative. We must feel the spiritual truth of a qualitative transfer of sin from man to Christ and of righteousness from Christ to man, and rest the matter there, so far as Paul’s teaching goes. Beyond this our conclusions as to substitution as the method of atonement are results of philosophizing on Paul’s teaching.

3. Teaching of Hebrews:

The author of Hebrews adds nothing to Paul’s teaching respecting the method whereby Christ’s sacrifice operates in saving men. His purpose to produce an apology showing forth the superior efficacy of Christ’s high-priestly sacrifice over that of the Aaronic priesthood fixes his first thought on the efficacy of the sacrifice rather than on its mode of operation. He does use the words "redemption" (9:12; compare 9:15), "propitiate" (2:17), and emphasizes the opening up of the heavenly holy of holies by the high-priestly sacrifice of Christ (the way of access to the very presence of God by Christ’s death, 10:19,20), which gives us data for forming a system based on a real propitiation for sin and reconciliation of God similar to the Pauline teaching formulated above.

4. Petrine and Johannine Teaching:

Peter asserts that Christ suffered vicariously (1Pe 2:22-24), who, although He "did no sin," "his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree"; who "suffered for sins once, the righteous for (huper, not anti) the unrighteous" (1Pe 3:18). But Peter goes no farther than Paul (perhaps not so far) in elaborating how Jesus’ vicarious suffering saves the sinner. The Johannine writings contain the propitiatory idea (1 Joh 2:2; 4:10), although John writes to emphasize the incarnation and not the work of the Incarnate One (Joh 1:1-18; 1; Joh 4:2,3).

To sum up the New Testament teachings on the mode or operation: Jesus asserts His vicarious suffering (Mr 10:45; compare Joh 10:11) and hints at the mode of its operation by using the "ransom" figure. Paul, Peter and John teach that Christ’s sacrifice was vicarious, and all but Peter suggest the idea of propitiation as to the mode of its operation. There is no direct discussion of what propitiation means.

VI. Rationale of the Efficacy of Christ’s Sacrifice.

1. Jesus’ Teaching:

Jesus emphasizes His voluntary spirit in making the sacrifice. "The Son of man also came .... to give his life a ransom." The sacrifice was voluntary, not compulsory. God did not force Him to lay down His life; He chose to do so (compare Joh 10:11). But Jesus gives us no philosophy on this or any other element in His sacrifice as being the ground of its efficacy.

2. Paul’s Teaching:

3. The Teaching in Hebrews:

The author of Hebrews, most of all New Testament writers, elaborates the grounds of efficacy in Christ’s sacrifice.

(1) It was a personal not an animal sacrifice (9:12-14; 9:26, "sacrifice of himself"; 10:4).

(2) It was the sacrifice of the Son of God (3:5).

(3) It was a royal person who made the sacrifice (6:20b; 7:1, "after the order of Melchizedek .... king of Salem").

(4) It was a sinless person (7:26,27; 9:14; 10:10,12). Westcott, Commentary on Hebrews, 298, well says, "It becomes necessary, therefore, in order to gain a complete view of the Sacrifice of Christ, to combine with the crowning act upon the Cross His fulfillment of the will of God from first to last, the Sacrifice of Life with the Sacrifice of Death."

(5) It was an eternal person (6:20, "for ever"; 7:16, "after the power of an endless (margin "indissoluble") life").

The author of Hebrews reaches the climax of his argument for the superior efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice when he represents Him as entering the holy of holies in the very presence of God to complete the offering for man’s sin (8:1,2; 9:11,12,24).

Peter and John do not discuss the ground of efficacy, and so add nothing to our conclusions above. The efficacy of the sacrifice is suggested by describing the glory of the person (1Pe 1:19; 2:22,23; 1; Joh 1:7; 2:2).

To sum up our conclusion as to the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice: Jesus and the leading New Testament writers intimate that the efficacy of His sacrifice centers in His personality. Jesus, Peter and John do not discuss the subject directly. Paul, though discussing it more extensively, does not do so fully, but the author of Heb centers and culminates his argument for the finality of Christianity, in the superior efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice, which is grounded in His personality, divine, royal, sinless, eternal (see Menegoz, Theol. de l’Ep. aux Hebreux). It is easy to see, from the position taken by the author of He, how Anselm in Cur Deus Homo developed his theory of satisfaction, according to which the Divinity in Christ gave His atoning sacrifice its priceless worth in God’s eyes.

VII. The Human Conditions of Application.

1. Universal in Objective Potentiality:

The sacrificial death of Christ is universal in its objective potentiality, according to Jesus (Lu 24:47, "unto all the nations"); according to Paul (Ro 1:5; 5:18; 11:32; 2Co 5:14,15; Ga 3:14); according to the author of Hebrews (2:9, "taste of death for every man"); according to John (1 Joh 2:2, "propitiation .... for the whole world").

2. Efficacious When Subjectively Applied:

But the objective redemption to be efficacious must be subjectively applied. The blood of Christ is the universally efficacious remedy for the sin-sick souls of men, but each man must make the subjective application. How is the application made? And the threefold answer is, by repentance, by faith, and by obedience.

(1) By Repentance.

The Baptist and Jesus emphasized repentance (change of mind first of all, then change of relation and of life) as the condition of entrance into the kingdom and of enjoyment of the Messianic salvation (Mt 3:2; Mr 1:15). Peter preached repentance at Pentecost and immediately after as a means of obtaining forgiveness (Ac 2:38; 3:19, etc.). Paul, although emphasizing faith, also stressed repentance as an element in the human condition of salvation (Ac 20:21; Ro 2:4, etc.). John (Re 2; 3, passim) emphasizes repentance, though not stressing it as a means of receiving the benefits of redemption.

(2) By Faith.

(3) By Obedience in Sacrificial Service.

Jesus said, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Mr 8:34). Here He lays down two elements in the conditions of discipleship, denying one’s self and taking up his cross. The former means the renunciation of self as the center of thought, faith, hope and life. The latter means the life of sacrifice. Jesus was stressing this truth when He uttered that incomparable saying, "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mr 10:45 parallel Mt 20:28). Paul also emphasizes this phase of the human condition of salvation when he shows how sanctification grows spontaneously out of justification (Ro 6:8) and when he says that what "avails" is "faith working through love" (Ga 5:6). The author of Hebrews says, "He became unto all them that obey him the author (Greek aitios, "cause") of eternal salvation" (5:9). Peter and John, the latter especially, emphasize the keeping of His commandments, the life of service, as the means of appropriating to the fullest the saving benefits of Christ’s death. The theologians in classrooms and preachers in the pulpits have failed to emphasize this aspect of "saving faith" as did Jesus, Paul, the author of He, and John. in the New Testament salvation is a process as well as an instantaneous act on the part of God, and the process is carried on by means of obedience, the life of service, which appropriates by faith the dynamic of Christ’s sacrifice.

VIII. The Christian’s Life the Life of Sacrifice.

This discussion of the faith that "obeys" leads to the consideration of that climactic thought of New Testament writers, namely, that the Christian’s life is sacrificial living based on Christ’s sacrifice for him. We note in outline the following:

The Christian’s life of sacrifice is the logical consequence of Christ’s sacrificial death. The Christ who sacrificed Himself for the believer is now continuing the sacrifice in the believer’s life (Ga 1:20; Php 1:21).

1. Consequence of Christ’s Sacrifice:

Paul was crucified when Christ was crucified (in a bold mystic figure), and the life of Christ which sacrificed itself on the cross and perpetuates itself in resurrection power now operates as a mighty dynamic for the apostle’s moral and spiritual transformation (Php 3:10,11). It is to be noted, Jesus also emphasized this kind of living, though not so expressly connecting the believer’s sacrificial life with His sacrificial death (see Mr 8:34 f).

2. Christ’s Death the Appeal for a Christian’s Sacrifice:

3. Necessary to Fill Out Christ’s Sacrifice:

The Christian’s sacrifice is necessary to fill out Christ’s sacrifice. "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church" (Col 1:24). Roman Catholic exegetes have made the apostle teach that the sufferings of the saints, along with Christ’s sufferings, have atoning efficacy. But Paul nowhere intimates that his sufferings avail for putting away sins. We may hold with Weiss (Comm. on the New Testament) that Paul longed to experience in his life the perfect sacrificial spirit as Christ did; or with Alford (in loc.) that he wished to suffer his part of Christ’s sufferings to be endured by him through His church; or, as it seems to us, he longed to make effective by his ministry of sacrificial service to as many others as possible the sacrificial death of Christ. Christ’s sacrifice avails in saving men only when Christians sacrifice their lives in making known this sacrifice of Christ.

4. Content of the Christian’s Sacrifice:

(1) The Christian is to present his personality (Ro 15:16). Paul commends the Macedonians for "first" giving "their own selves to the Lord" (2Co 8:5).

(2) Christians must present their "bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God" (Ro 12:1). In the old system of sacrifices the animals were offered as dead; Christians are to offer their bodies, all their members with their powers, to God a "living sacrifice," i.e. a sacrifice which operates in lives of holiness and service (see also Ro 6:13,19).

(3) Christians must offer their money or earthly possessions to God. Paul speaks of the gift from the church at Philippi as "a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God" (Php 4:18). This gift was to the apostle a beautiful expression of the sacrificial spirit imparted to them because they had the "mind" of Christ who "emptied himself, .... becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross" (Php 2:5-8). The author of Hebrews (13:16) exhorts his readers, "But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."

(4) The general exercise of all our gifts and graces is viewed by Peter as sacrificial living (1Pe 2:5): "Ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices" etc. All Christians are priests and daily offer up their burnt offerings acceptable to God, if they `suffer as Christians’ (1Pe 2:20; 3:18) in the exercise of their graces and powers.

But how do these sacrifices of the Christian affect him and God? The New Testament writers never hint that our sacrifices propitiate God, or so win His favor that He will or can on account of our sacrifices forgive our sins. They are "well-pleasing" to Him a "sweet odor"; that is, they win His approval of our lives thus lived according to the standard which Christ gives us. Their influence on us is the increase of our spiritual efficiency and power and finally a greater capacity for enjoying spiritual blessings in heaven (1Co 3:14).

5. The Supper as a Sacrifice:

Some scholars (Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, etc.) regard the memorial supper as a kind of sacrifice which the Christian offers in worship. Neither Jesus, Paul, the author of Hebrews, Peter, or John, ever hints that in eating the bread and drinking the wine the Christian offers a sacrifice to God in Christ. Paul teaches that in partaking of the Supper we "proclaim the Lord’s death till he come" (1Co 11:26). That is, instead of offering a sacrifice ourselves to God, in partaking of the Supper we proclaim the offering of Christ’s sacrifice for us. Milligan argues that as Christ in heaven perpetually offers Himself for us, so we on earth, in the Supper, offer ourselves to Him (Heavenly Priesthood, 266). Even Cave (Spiritual Doctrine of Sacrifice, 439) maintains, "In a certain loose sense the Lord’s Supper may be called a sacrifice." See the above books for the argument supporting this position.

To sum up our conclusions on sacrifice in the New Testament:

(1) Jesus and New Testament writers regard the Old Testament sacrificial system as from God, but imperfect, the various sacrifices serving only as types of the one great sacrifice which Christ made.

(2) All the writers, except James and Jude, with Jesus, emphasize the sacrificial idea, Jesus less, giving only two hints of His sacrificial death (in the Synoptic Gospels), the author of Heb putting the climactic emphasis on Christ’s sacrifice as the sacrifice of atonement.

(3) As to the relation of Christ’s sacrifice to man’s salvation, the latter is the achievement of the former, so expressed only twice by Jesus, but emphatically so declared by Paul, the author of Heb, Peter, and John (Paul and Heb laying most emphasis on this point).

(4) As to how Christ’s sacrifice saves men, Jesus, the author of He, Peter and John suggest the idea of propitiation, while Paul emphatically teaches that man is under a curse, exposed to the displeasure of God, and that Christ’s sacrifice secured the reconciliation of God by vindicating His righteousness in punishing sin and His love in saving sinners. Jesus and the leading New Testament writers agree that Christ saves men through His vicarious suffering.

(5) As to the rational basis of efficacy in Christ’s sacrifice, there is no direct discussion in the New Testament except by the author of Hebrews who grounds its final, eternal efficacy in Christ’s personality, divine, royal, sinless and eternal.

(6) As to the conditions of applying Christ’s sacrifice, repentance and faith, which lives and fruits in obedience and sacrificial living, are recognized by Jesus and all the leading New Testament writers as the means of appropriating the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice.

(7) By Jesus, Paul, the author of He, Peter and John the Christian life is viewed as the life of sacrifice. Christ’s death is at once the cause, motive, measure, and the dynamic of the Christian’s sacrificial life.


In addition to the great comms.--ICC, Allen on "Mt," Gould on "Mk," Sanday-Headlam on "Rom"; Westcott on the Gospel and Epistles of John, and on the Hebrews; Davidson, Delitzsch and Meyer on Hebrews; Meyer on 2 Corinthians; Lightfoot and Abbott on Colossians; and the standard authors of the Biblical Theology of the New Testament, Weiss, Beyschlag, Bovon, Stevens, Sheldon--see the following special works: Cave, Scriptural Doctrine of Sacrifice, Edinburgh, 1890; Simon, Redemption of Man, 1886; G. Milligan, The Theology of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Edinburgh, 1899; Milligan, The Ascension and Heavenly Priesthood of our Lord, London, 1908; W.P. Du Bose, High-Priesthood and Sacrifice; Everett, The Gospel of Paul, Boston, 1893; Burton, Smith, and Smith, Biblical Ideas of Atonement, Chicago, 1909; Denney, The Death of Christ: Its Place and Interpretation in the New Testament, London, 1902; Denney, The Atonement and the Modern Mind, London, 1903; Ritschl, Rechtfertigung und Versohnung (Justification and Reconciliation), Bonn, 1895-1902, English translations of the Bible, 1900; Menegoz, Theol. del’Ep. aux Hebreux; article "Blood," Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, by H. Wheeler Robinson; article "Communion with Deity," ibid., by Nathan Soderblom; article "Communion with Deity" (Christian), ibid., by Darwell Stone and D. C. Simpson; article "Expiation and Atonement," ibid., by W. A. Brown (Christian viewpoint), S. R. Driver (Hebrew), H. Loewe (Jewish); article "Redemption from the Curse of the Law," in AJT, October, 1907, by Professor E. D. Burton; article "Some Thoughts as to the Effects of the Death of Christ," in Revelation and The Expositor, October, 1909.

C. B. Williams

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