This entry is part 2 of 15 in the series: ‘Pierced For Our Transgressions’ (Ovey et al)
- Biblical foundations of penal substitution 1 – Exodus 12
- Biblical Foundations of Penal Substitution 2 – Leviticus 16
- Biblical foundations of penal substitution 3 – Isaiah 53
- Biblical foundations of penal substitution 4 – Mark
- Biblical Foundations of Penal Substitution 5 – John’s Gospel
- Biblical foundations of penal substitution 6 – Romans
- Biblical Foundations of Penal Substitution 7 – Galatians
- Biblical Foundations of Penal Substitution 8 – 1 Peter
- Objections to Penal Substitution 1 – Bible
- Objections to Penal Substitution 2 – Culture
- Objections to penal substitution 3 – violence
- Objections to penal substitution 4 – justice
- Objections to penal substitution 5 – God
- Objections to penal substitution 6 – the Christian life
- Substutionary atonement: a note to preachers
The Book of Exodus raises the question, ‘How can a holy God dwell in the midst of a sinful people?’ The Book of Leviticus answers this by saying that the divine/human relationship can been maintained only by sacrifice.
The rituals of the Day of Atonement, Lev 16, are central, and foreshadow Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice (Heb 9-10). These rituals involved two goats, one of which was sacrificed to the Lord, while the other was driven into the wilderness. The purpose of these rituals was to make atonement.
The word kipper (‘atonement’) can mean ‘to forgive’, ‘to cleanse’, ‘to ransom’, or ‘to avert (God’s) wrath’. For an illustration of the last meaning, see Num 25 (esp. Num 25:10, 13).
All four meanings are present in Lev 16. The incident involving Nadab and Abihu, Lev 10:1ff, underlines the problem of approaching God in an unauthorised way. Only by sacrifice, correctly administered, can God’s wrath be averted.
Goldingay claims that
the question of propitiating God’s wrath…has little place in Leviticus itself. The word ‘anger’ hardly appears. The languages of atonement-propitiation-expiation and of anger do not come together…Sacrifice does not directly relate to anger.’
But this argument is flawed, because the language of anger would appear much more frequently in Leviticus if the sacrificial system had not been implemented to deal with it. After all, we do not infer from the fact that our drinking water is usually kept pure that dirty drinking water is not dangerous.
See Lev 16:20-22. The sins of the people were symbolically transferred to the goat: this act of identification clearly implies substitution, for the goat dies (is sent to a place of ‘cutting off’) in order that the people may not die. The very word ‘Azazael’ (‘scapegoat’) probably means ‘a rocky precipice’ or ‘complete destruction’.
The goat carries on itself all the people’s sins, Lev 16:22; they are released from both their guilt and punishment.
The sacrificial system in the Psalms and Prophets
It is sometimes claimed that the Psalms and Prophets speak of sacrifices as unnecessary. But no: what these writings reject are the abuses of the sacrificial system. These abuses included
(a) Presumption – the notion that so long as the sacrifices were offered, the peope could break God’s law with impunity. See Isa 1:11-17; Jer 7:21-24.
(b) Syncretism – the combination of worshp prescribed by the Lord with elements of paganism. See Amos 5:21-26.
Psa 51:16, far from signalling an end to the sacrificial system, probably does not refer to atoning sacrifices at all, but to sacrifices of thanksgiving, which would have been clearly inappropriate in the circumstances of a woman made pregnant through adultery and a family grieving due to murder.
The OT sacrifices were never intended to be God’s final word on atonement. Hebrews (e.g. 10:11) draws attention to the shortcomings of the old sacrificial system and points to Christ as the fulfilment of it, Heb 9:15.
Based on Jeffrey et al, Pierced for our Transgressions, 42-52.