The many meanings of Pentecost

As we come to Pentecost, our main text (in the lectionary and for preaching) is Acts 2. At one level the text is straightforward: the Twelve are completed by the addition of Matthias; they wait with other disciples as Jesus had commanded; the Spirit comes; Peter preaches; and the ‘church’ is born. But it is not quite as simple as that. For one thing, this is not quite the ‘church’ as we known it, since the significance of the completion of the Twelve is that they should be witnesses to Israel of the Jewish messiah Jesus and although there are hints (as we shall see) of the wider gentile mission, that does not happen at Pentecost. In fact, Ben Witherington (in his social scientific commentary on Acts) comments:

No text in Acts has received more scrutiny than Acts 2. Whole theologies and denominations have been built up around the Acts 2 accounts. We must therefore analyse the text carefully. (p 128)

I offer here some (non-exhaustive) observations on some of the implications of the narrative.

Luke’s writing

Luke’s writing style is quite distinctive amongst the four gospels, with more complex sentences (using subordinate clauses rather then e.g. Mark’s parataxis ‘and…and…and…’) and more extensive vocabulary. He summarises Peter’s speech at Pentecost in a way that other ancient authors would recognise (comparing favourably with Plutarch’s Parallel Lives) and we see this in both the introduction (‘Peter stood up…and raised his voice…’ Acts 2.14; note the contrast with Jesus habitually sitting to teach) and the conclusion (‘With many other words he warned them and pleaded with them…’ Acts 2.40) where Luke uses standard terminology in summarising Peter’s speech. We also see in Peter’s speech some quite careful rhetorical developments. He begins by addressing the crowd rather factually as ‘Jews men and residents of Jerusalem’ in Acts 2.14, moves to recognising them as ‘men of Israel’ in Acts 2.22, and by Acts 2.29 is addressing them as ‘brothers’, indicating the growing warmth that leads to the positive response of the crowd at the end.

But Luke is also looking backwards and looking forwards. The pattern of this early section of Acts—the promise of the Spirit, the reception of the Spirit, preaching in the power of the Spirit—matches the early ministry narrative in Luke, where John the Baptist’s promise of the Spirit is following by Jesus’ reception of the Spirit and his preaching at Nazareth. And Luke’s recording of Peter’s speech is followed later in Acts by his summarising of speeches of Paul, part of his careful balancing of the mirrored ministries of Peter and Paul throughout the text. The interest in the connection between the Spirit and power the we find in the gospel continues through into Acts in numerous ways.

Together, these mean that we are not simply reading Peter’s own speech and theology—we are clearly reading Luke’s interpretation of Peter’s speech, just as in the gospels we are reading each gospel writer’s interpretation of Jesus ministry and teaching. That is no reason to doubt the reliability of the accounts, but just to note that we are reading what Luke has understood, and we shouldn’t be surprised to find Lukan themes and concerns showing through.

It is also worth noting that Luke show little interest in questions that developed later. Although he clearly sees Pentecost as foundational, and the Spirit as central to Christian experience, he is not offering us a programmatic account of Christian experience. Later in his narrative, the Spirit sometimes comes prior to water baptism (Acts 8) and at other times comes following water baptism (Acts 10). There is no evidence of the concerns we find quite early in the second century about church order, leadership, or the emergence of monarchical episcopacy (having a single bishop), nor questions of the baptism of infant (the mention of households is rather ambiguous) nor the issue of the forgiveness of serious sin following baptism. All this points to Acts being a ‘primitive’, first-century text.

Fulfilment of OT hope

These early chapters of Acts are striking in their dependence on OT texts. So the motive for the replacement of Judas as one of the Twelve is based on the reading of a passage from the Psalms (though not read in quite the way we might…!), and Peter’s speech explaining what is happening is rooted in various passages from the OT. This is the consistent theme of the apostolic preaching in Acts and elsewhere, and we find exactly this emphasis in Paul’s theology as well. In 1 Cor 15.3, Paul reminds his readers of what was passed to him and he passed on ‘as of first importance’ that Jesus died for our sins and was raised ‘according to the Scriptures’; in our creeds, ‘Scriptures’ is probably taken to mean the NT, but of course for Paul this is a reference to the OT. The consistent distinctive of the gospel accounts of Jesus is that his ministry was the fulfilment of OT hope, something completely absent from the so-called ‘apocryphal gospels’ (which are not gospels at all in terms of their genre).

In fact, it is not just Peter’s quotations that come from the OT; so do other parts of his speech. The phrases ‘let it be put in your ears’ (most ETs ‘listen carefully’ Acts 2.14 b) and ‘birth pangs of death’ (ETs ‘agony of death’ Acts 2.24) occur only here in the NT and are phrases from the Greek OT (the Septuagint, ‘LXX’).

Moreover, what has happened here fulfils the final hopes of the OT. Peter is clear that ‘this is that’ (Acts 2.16), that ‘this’ experience of the Spirit poured out is ‘that’ about which Joel prophesied would happen ‘in the last days’. There is no doubt that Peter and Luke both understood the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the outpouring of the Spirit, as theologically indicating that the End has come, that this age is now passing away and the promised new age of the kingdom of God has broken in. So we see in the gospels ‘darkness at noon’ at Jesus’ crucifixion fulfilling the predicted darkness of the sun, and we also find in Paul’s theology that the resurrection life of the believer means that the ‘old has gone and the new has come—new creation’ (2 Cor 5.17). Luke doesn’t appear to think that this means the end of history, but the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem was certainly seen as the turning of the ages.

Part of that end-times hope in the prophets (especially the later parts of Isaiah) was that all nations would be drawn to Zion, and somehow the whole world would be included in the blessings God has for his people. We do not see that immediately in the Pentecost narrative—but we do see hints of what is to come later in Acts. The list of Jews from the Diaspora who here the disciples speaking in tongues is (as Witherington notes) difficult to make any systematic sense of as a list, and seems rather artificially to have distinguished Jews and proselytes from Rome (or perhaps, who are Roman citizens, in keeping with Luke’s interest in people of influence). But perhaps the most important thing in the list is that there are 17 peoples listed, and 153 is the triangle of 17, both numbers signifying the fulfilment of the promise of the Spirit bringing life to the whole world in Ezekiel 47.

Peter also provides a clue to this in his use of the phrase ‘for all who are far off’ in Acts 2.39; in context, this presumably refers to Jews in the Diaspora (who are physically far away) or perhaps the ‘lost sheep of the House of Israel’, those lost ‘sinners’ whom Jesus called to repentance in his ministry. But very soon this phrase comes to be a way of referring to Gentiles, in contrast to the Jews who are ‘those who are near’ (Eph 2.17). Thus Luke and Paul share this bipartite understanding of humanity in the gospel; the two (Jews and Gentiles) are now made one in Christ, returning us to the unity of humanity in the pristine creation as God originally made it. Thus Acts 15 is not an example of the inclusivity of the gospel, which can be reapplied to any contemporary group; it is about the decisive fulfilment of OT hope by means of the outpouring of the Spirit.


There is an extraordinary, powerful and multi-dimensional Christological focus to Peter’s preaching. At a trivial level, Peter’s speech talks about Jesus a lot—but it is worth pausing to see exactly how he understands him. First, it is Jesus, in his death and resurrection, who has brought about the fulfilment of God’s purposes as set out in Scripture. Second, the climax of all that has happened is the ascension—Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Father, and it is to this reality that we must respond. Thirdly, this means that Jesus is now Messiah (the fulfilment of the hope of Israel) and Lord. But earlier, the ‘Lord’ is Yahweh, the God of Israel—now Jesus shares in this title, and he is the Lord whom the people call on to be saved. Again, we find this incorporation of Jesus into the person of the God of Israel, creating a kind of Christological monotheism, all through Paul’s theology, from his adaptation of the Shema in 1 Cor 8.6, through his identical use of Joel 2 in Romans 10.13, to his application of the monotheism of Isaiah to Jesus in his ‘Christ-hymn’ in Phil 2.9–11.

Luke reinforces this Christological focus in the very way he structures his summary of Peter’s speech. The late Martyn Menken observed:

There are also several instances of isopsephia in Acts, where the number of syllables of an episode or speech is equal to the numerical value of an important name or word occurring in or related to the passage in question (such as we found concerning John 1.1-18, where both the number of syllables and the numerical value of monogenes are 496). Peter’s speech in Acts 2.14-b-36 is made up of two equal halves: 444 syllables in 2.14b-24, and again 444 syllables in 2.25-36. Their sum, 888, is the numerical value of the name Iesous, a number which was famous in this quality in the second century, witness Irenaeus’ Aversus Haereses 1.15.2.

We also need to note that, in a Christian theological context, we consider the Holy Spirit the third ‘person’ of the Trinity. But in Peter’s context, and the understanding of those he is listening to, the Spirit is simply the presence and power of God himself at work amongst his people. If Jesus is the one who is able to dispense the Spirit (as Peter claims), then Jesus is the one who mediates God’s own presence and power, again assuming Jesus is incorporated into the person of God himself.

It is also worth noting in passing that Luke avoids any language of God ‘punishing’ Jesus on the cross; although God allowed it, it is clear that responsibility for Jesus death sits squarely with those who executed him.

We might also want to note the implicit significance of the timing of the gift of the Spirit. Pentecost was the festival of FirstFruits, when the very first of the harvest had come ripe and was offered to God (the weather is better in Israel than it is here!), and this shapes our understanding of both the Spirit as the first fruits of what is to come in the new creation (Rom 8.23) but also therefore those who have the Spirit as the first fruits of the new creation itself (James 1.18, Rev 14.4). In rabbinical Judaism, Pentecost was also celebrated as the time of the giving of the law on Sinai (as we heard this morning on Thought for the Day), and that offers a context for the discussion of the relationship between the law and the Spirit in Paul. If Jesus was born in September, around the Festival of Tabernacles, this makes the language of ‘tabernacling’ in John 1.14 a kind of Jewish festival pun. And given that Jesus died at Passover, so that he is our Passover sacrifice (1 Cor 5.7), then you have the gospel as thoroughly Jewish in shape, rooted in the three major Jewish pilgrim festivals.


Lastly, this speech of Peter’s offers his (or Luke’s) most comprehensive understanding of discipleship, in the sense that it sets out most fully the key issues in Christian faith. There is a central focus on the person of Jesus; he is understood to be the fulfilment of God’s promises; the crucial affirmation is that ‘Jesus is Lord’, which quickly becomes the summary of what it means to be a member of this new movement (compare Rom 10.9 and 1 Cor 12.3); and Peter sets out the three primary markers of Christian initiation in repentance, water baptism, and receiving of the Spirit. Although all these elements are included in various ways later in the narrative, there is nowhere else where they are included so clearly together.

It is no wonder this passage has been so thoroughly explored, and (along with Luke’s summary statement of the nature of the early Christian community in Acts 2.42) no wonder that this passage has been so influential.

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29 thoughts on “The many meanings of Pentecost”

  1. It is interesting how little theological significance Luke places upon the crucifixion of Christ. For the most part, Christ’s atoning/saving role is associated with his exalted status at the right hand of God, not with the cross.

    • Yes, it is. I’ve not done any detailed study on this, but the perhaps the most interesting thing about this is that it is a point of difference in emphasis between Luke and Paul—when on so many other things there is a similarity.

      • Are we talking about Luke’s views in Acts (if so, which) or the views of others quoted in Acts and/or Luke’s gospel?
        Phil Almond

  2. From Ian’s article:
    “It is also worth noting in passing that Luke avoids any language of God ‘punishing’ Jesus on the cross; although God allowed it, it is clear that responsibility for Jesus death sits squarely with those who executed him.”

    ‘although God allowed it’? That does not adequately convey the sense of ‘delivered up by the determinate plan and foreknowledge of God’. Compare Romans 8:32.

    ‘Luke avoids’?. Rather, Luke does not mention penal substitution at this point .

    Phil Almond

      • I have been meditating on this all week – and find 2:23 really key: God’s sovereignty & human responsibility – Peter states: “Jesus was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” Handed over by God, killed by wicked m,en

        • Indeed… “handed over” I’ve always assumed was time – tied to the events immediately leading to the cross..

          Is it also true (but outside this context) that the Son was handed over at the Incarnation?

      • Ian
        What about my first comment in my post re the inadequacy of your ‘God allowed it’? Surely you recognise the interaction of the divine will (for good) using the human will (for evil), without God being the author of evil – here and elsewhere in the Bible – e.g. Genesis 50:20?
        Phil Almond

      • Yet In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus ‘must’ die and His death was ‘for’ people. Then in Acts Luke records Peter saying “(Jesus) was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge”. And Peter, after speaking of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension then pronounces forgiveness of sins in Jesus. So taken together, Luke at least promotes the view that the death of Jesus was planned all along by God, regardless of who executed the act, that His death accomplished something for others not Himself, and that forgiveness of sins was central to it. Paul simply spells it out in more detail.

        • To add (the red-letters) of Luke 22.22: “The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!”

        • Well indeed. Luke, in keeping with all the biblical writers, sees God as sovereign, and nothing happens without at least his permissive will.

          But that is rather a long way from ‘God punished Jesus on the cross’ which is the way Penal Substitution is sometimes expressed.

          • Not really. ‘Punishment’ is something you do to people, not to things. Sinful people can be ‘punished’, but I don’t see how ‘sin’ can be ‘punished’.

          • I think it’s much more than God’s ‘permissive’ will. His death was in the mind of God which is why Jesus rebuked Peter. That is not just permissive.

            My point is that Luke, and indeed the other Gospel writers, all allude to Jesus’ death as being planned, having a specific purpose for the good of mankind (or at least His followers) and it is closely connected with the forgiveness of sins. God then further revealed more explicitly what it achieved.

            The NT teaches Penal Substitution, but also ‘Christus Victor’ and no doubt there is a depth to the death of Christ which none of us can truly fathom.

          • I would agree that there is language of substitution, along with other prominent models. But *penal* substitution means ‘Jesus was punished for us’. Can you point me to NT texts which use this language, or the language of Jesus ‘paying our debt’? (This is an open question.)

  3. Is the Bible clear about the primary meaning of Pentecost, where it is placed in the Biblical theology of our Triune God’s Sovereign plan in the history of redemption and victory over personified Evil.? Acts 2 fits into this trajectory, rather than standing alone.
    Acts 2Peter after drawing out the high Messianic Christology from scripture didn’t pull any punches:
    “36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

    37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
    Do not repentance, forgiveness for sins, baptism have reference to the crucifixion, together with exhortations to be saved?
    The crowds meeting for the Jewish Festival of First fruits, Pentecost, will have been aware of the contrasts in book of Joel, fruitlessness consequences ,”punishments” of God’s judgement and fruit of God’s intervening gracious blessing of redemption, upon returning, turning, rending of heart, crying out.

    I think it was Tim Keller who said that in God’s sovereign plan he uses evil to defeat evil, for his ultimate eternal Good purposes.
    In respect of Acts 2:23 Keller says this: “Peter again tells us that Jesus was crucified “according to the definite plan” of God, and yet hands that put him to death were guilty of injustice and “lawlessness”. In other words the death of Jesus was destined to happen by God’s will – it was not possible that it would not happen. Yet no one who betrayed and put Jesus to death was forced to do it. They freely chose did what they did and were fully liable and responsible for their decisions.
    Jesus put these truths together in one sentence: The Son of Man will go (to his death) as it has been decreed, but woe to the man who betrays him” (Luke 22:22)”
    Keller quotes Carson: “It must be the case that God stands behind good and evil in somewhat different ways; that is he stands behind good and evil asymetrically.”
    Keller again, “at the cross, evil is “turned back on itself” Or as John Calvin expressed it on the cross destruction was destroyed, “torment tormented, damnation damned…death dead, mortality made immortal”
    And Keller continues citing Henri Blocher from “Evil and the Cross”:
    “At the cross evil is conquered as evil…Evil is conquered as evil because God turns it back on itself. He make the supreme crime, the murder of the only righteous person, the very operation that abolishes sin. The manoeuvre is utterly unprecedented. No more complete victory could be imagined …God traps the deceiver in his own whiles .”
    Keller- Blocher concludes by rightly claiming that the Christian answer to evil is both more optimistic and more pessimistic than the alternatives – at once.
    Blocher again:
    “We have no other position than at the foot of the cross. After we have been there we are given the answer of the wisdom of God, which incenses the advocates of optimistic theodicies or of tragic philosophies. gad’s answer is evil turned back on itself, conquered by the ultimate decree of love in fulfilment of justice. This answer consoles us and summons us. It allows us to wait for the coming of the crucified conqueror. He will wipe away the tears from ever face soon.”
    And so Keller moves onto sketching from the book of Revelation.
    All quotations from Timothy Keller’s “Walking with God through Pain and Suffering”.

    It is a question. is it not, of looking back and forward in scripture at the same while addressing both the text and the people present before us?

  4. While this may be off the topic of Pentecost, there could be hints in the comments of an unacknowledged, subliminal, influence of the subject/question that exercise some scholars, which is addressed here:
    For anyone interested, here is a 2013 lecture (59 mins) by Tom Schreiner, “Atonement in Luke-Acts”:
    The comments, as much as the article, brought the lecture to mind from some years ago when I came across and downloaded it.

    • (What I am about to say might well be confounded by your link.)
      It is clear that the apostolic preaching as presented in Acts links forgiveness to Jesus, and particularly belief in him. However, I don’t see any explicit link to the death of Jesus in this.

      My first thought from the Synoptics is that a very common metaphor for sin (the most common) is that of debt – the Lord’s prayer, various parables. This seems related to Jesus’ own words (omitted from Luke, of course) of giving his life as a ransom – a picture of release by payment of money. And it seems the word for ‘forgiveness’, aphesis, also can connect to release from debt or obligation.

  5. Ian
    I value your website. I commend your habit of accepting posts with which you disagree (unlike ‘Thinking Anglicans’) and I often heartily agree with you. But we do disagree about the Ordination of Women and the Atonement.

    In your June 11 website you asked
    “But *penal* substitution means ‘Jesus was punished for us’. Can you point me to NT texts which use this language, or the language of Jesus ‘paying our debt’? (This is an open question.)”

    I will try to give what I regard as one of the best (but not the only) answer to that question but first, some background.

    This is my attempt to summarise (from memory, I might have to go into more detail if challenged, and I might have got some things wrong) where we got to in our debates (Will, Oliver and your good self) on two threads in particular, on this important (to put it mildly!) subject. Will and Oliver and I agreed that we all face from birth onwards the wrath and condemnation of God and the atoning death of Christ delivers from that wrath and condemnation those whom God brings in his grace and love to submit to Christ in repentance and faith. However Will and Oliver don’t agree that the doctrine of penal substitution is true. I believe it is true. I think it is clear that you believe in substitution but not in penal substitution (PSA). Article 35 approves the Homilies which, as I see it, explicitly support PSA. This raises the issue of whether you can make the Declaration of Assent in toto. Forgive me and correct if I am wrong, but I don’t remember you ever agreeing that ‘we all face from birth onwards the wrath and condemnation of God and the atoning death of Christ delivers from that wrath and condemnation those whom God brings in his grace and love to submit to Christ in repentance and faith’ (or words to that effect).

    In the lengthy debates on the Atonement I said that we must give weight to what the whole Bible says. In particular, if we believe (as we all do, on the basis of what the NT says) that Isaiah 53 is about Christ, then what Isaiah 53 says applies to Christ whether or not it is quoted in the NT. You, Will and Oliver disagreed with me on that. I will not repeat here all the other arguments for PSA from the OT and NT from that earlier debate but just focus in this post on where the debate was suspended. This was the discussion about how we should understand Romans 8:3. I said that this verse gives the reason why there is no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Will disagreed and set out his view which I thought was mistaken. I sketched out a reply but then could not find it and the discussion suspended with the ball in my court.

    Romans 8:3 is my answer to your question. The converse of Romans 8:I is that those not in Christ Jesus still face condemnation (‘katakrima’). According to Strong, the usage of ‘katakrima’ is ‘punishment following condemnation’ and the word origin is given as ‘katakrino’. According to STEP ‘katakrima’ means ‘punishment, condemnation, condemning sentence’. A pause is appropriate at this point. No disagreement is more important than this. Will we all, unless God saves us, be punished by God following the Day of Judgment, or not? To put it another way, is God’s punishment the default option which will certainly occur unless God saves us? Of course, among those who answer ‘yes’ to this question there is a further disagreement about whether that punishment is eternal or not. But, setting aside this further disagreement in this discussion, a ‘yes’ answer has a big bearing on the Atonement doctrine. In the phrase from 8:3 (Nestle Text – Marshall) ‘…God sending the Son of himself in likeness of flesh of sin and for sin condemned sin in the flesh…’ the word translated ‘condemned’ is ‘katekrinen’ which is a tense of ‘katakrino’ and the Strong usage is ‘I condemn, judge worthy of punishment’. According to STEP ‘katakrino’ means ‘to give judgment against, condemn’. The fact that the word origin of ‘katakrima’ is ‘katakrino’ and ‘katekrinen’ is a tense of ‘katakrino’ convinces me that the ‘katekrinen’ of 8:3 is the reason why there is no ‘katakrima’ in 8:1 to those in Christ Jesus, which in turn convinces me that the sin condemned in 8:3 is our sin in the flesh of Christ as he died on the cross, the sin which he bore, carried up. I note that Moo and Schreiner in their commentaries and Wright in ‘Cross and Caricatures’ (I know he probably has changed his mind since then?) agree with me on 8:3.

    Phil Almond

    • I am probably straying outside my territory – however,

      (1) I think it highly likely that the whole of Isa 53 was implicitly or implicitly understood by the early Christians to refer to Jesus, including the punishment that should have been ours etc..

      (2) ‘I will smite the shepherd’ fits well into such a framework; moreover, it is not clear which other framework it might fit into.

      (3) On this third one we will doubtless agree. The 10 or 12 aspects of ‘divine exchange’ highlighted by Paul (and by Derek Prince) undeniably exhibit substitution, and substitution as a macrostructure and metanarrative. However, a lot of these seem to portray Jesus losing out in a really big way (becoming poor, becoming nothing, becoming sin, etc.), that being the mechanism whereby believers gain in a really big way. God engineers this; Jesus takes the brunt of it.

      Distinctions are notoriously fine when it comes to this topic – too fine for me.

      • It’s an interesting one. On Jesus being a different individual from God – both Paul and the Gospels of course effectively treat them as two distinct persons/subjects (however much inseparable), so I wonder if the distinction is too fine.

        Secondly I wonder whether the idea that some parts of Isa 53 were thought applicable to Jesus and some were not – whether this idea is either likely or evidenced. It certainly seems complicated.

        Thirdly, Isa 53 was regarded as possibly Jesus’s chief scriptural identity. If he was taken to have fulfilled only bits of even this central passage (and not other bits), then the central claim that he fulfilled scripture in a decisive way becomes diluted.

        Fourth – a whole lot of parts of Isa 53 appear in the NT. The fact that not every individual verse is cited (and of course the verses are closely interconnected and speak of the same individual) does not mean that those not cited are neutral vis-à-vis connection to Jesus, let alone that they are unconnected to him. After all, it is pretty unheard-of for so many different parts of a single OT passage to be cited in the NT at all. And also, this is probably the single passage that has the most *different* NT echoes / allusions / citations.

    • Ok, so the net result of all this is that, in answer to my question ‘Can you point me to NT texts which use the language of ‘Jesus was punished for us’, or the language of Jesus ‘paying our debt’?’ you cannot in fact cite a single text that uses this language!

      I agree with you that the image of Is 53 is really important to the NT, and some of its language surfaces explicitly. But since the ‘servant’ was a separate individual from God, and Jesus isn’t, then it is striking that the ‘God punished him’ element has disappeared from NT uses.

      And of course I agree that ‘there is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ’ and that ‘God condemned sin in the flesh’, but neither of these say that ‘God punished Jesus’.

      • I know a little knowledge is a dangerous thing… but today I looked up Isaiah 53 using the STEP bible. I was interested to note that the word translated ‘punishment’ in the NIV (‘chastisement’ in KJV and ESV), is the word musar in Hebrew and the word paideia in LXX. Both seem to have meaning in the area of discipline and correction. I don’t think there is any sense of retributive punishment.

      • Hi Ian, perhaps you could spell out your own view of what the New and Old Testaments do teach regarding what happened in the death of Jesus on the cross. If you’ve already done so elsewhere, Id appreciate if you could point me to the article. But Ill make the following comments:

        ‘But since the ‘servant’ was a separate individual from God, and Jesus isn’t, then it is striking that the ‘God punished him’ element has disappeared from NT uses.’

        – that comes down to the complexities of the Trinity. In my view, only the Son became a physical human being (and remains so), not the Father nor the Holy Spirit. Yet they are all one ‘Being’ in 3 ‘persons’. Dont ask me to explain it (personally I love that we cant) but I dont think you can argue we cant use the ‘servant’ analogy for Jesus of Nazareth. At least whilst He was on earth, the Son lived as Jesus of Nazareth but neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit did. In that sense, He was ‘separate’.

        ‘And of course I agree that ‘there is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ’ and that ‘God condemned sin in the flesh’, but neither of these say that ‘God punished Jesus’.’

        – perhaps ‘punished’ is the wrong word to use, but certainly ‘condemned’ is used, with the clear implication He was condemned in our place, because of our sin. And condemned by God. And of course the very logical reason why those who have placed their faith in Jesus are not condemned (by God) is precisely because He was condemned in our place.

        ‘Can you point me to NT texts which use the language of ‘Jesus was punished for us’, or the language of Jesus ‘paying our debt’?’

        – see above re punishment. As for debts, Jesus Himself linked sin with debt, for example in the Lord’s Prayer. In Luke’s version it is: “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us (or as per the footnote ‘everyone who is indebted to us’). And Matthew uses only ‘debts’ – I understand the Greek word he uses means that which is legally owed.

        Colossians 2: 13 & 14 then makes this more explicit: “…He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.”

        It is interesting that Paul says ‘nailing it to the cross’. Surely that purposefully brings to mind the image of Jesus being literally nailed to the cross. Why? Because of our sin debt.

        Even John links sin with the law – ‘Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.’

        I think like the Trinity, it might be difficult to point to a single verse that proves it, rather taking all of the evidence together penal substitutionary atonement is the inevitable conclusion. Not the only conclusion regarding the death of the Son of God, but certainly one of the main ones.

        So it was our sin and indebtedness to God that sent Jesus to the cross. Indeed he became the sin offering, though being sinless Himself, and ‘bore our sins in his body’ as Peter put it. And as Peter and Paul both say, He was hung on a ‘tree’ because He was accursed of God. And Jesus quoted Deuteronomy just before His death regarding the striking of the Shepherd. And it was God who was doing the striking.

        I probably havent been too coherent here, but it’s late!


  6. Rather than engage in a discussion, which is beyond me without reference to a couple of books on the penal substitution, I’d ask Ian Paul to review two books I have before me, which:
    1 Pierced for our transgressions – Rediscovering the glory of penal substitution: Jeffrey, Ovey and Sach
    2 Christ Crucified, Understanding the Atonement: Donald MacLeod. He considers, inter alia, expiation, propitiation, Romans 3:25(Christ as the Atonement cover of the mercy set) 1 John 2:2, 1 John 4:10, Acts 20:28
    Drawing a distinction but arguing against unnecessary polarisation between expiation an propitiation he says this: “Expiation highlights the effect of atonement on sin, whereas propitiation highlights the effect on God. Sin is expiated, God is propitiated and as Bushel points out, these can not be separated. God can be propitiated only if sin is expiated and sin is expiated only in order that God may be propitiated.”
    In connection with Romans 3:25 RC Joseph A Fitzmyer (from his book on Romans) is quoted, “hilasterion is better understood against the background of the LXX usage of the Day of Atonement rite, so it would depict Christ as the new “mercy seat”, presented or dislayed by the Father as a means of expiating and wiping away the sins of humanity> indeed as the place of the presence of God, of his revelation, and of his expiatory power.”
    A covering of mercy indeed. Christ – THE Atonement Cover
    I consider this to be more than a theory, or model, or metaphor but a glorious reality and reflection of the Glory of God in Christ Jesus bound up as it is in the universality of the Fall, or rather removal of the curse, blessings and curses, in the fulfilment of sacrificial systems,festivals, Passover, Day of Atonement, laws, temple, covenants, prophets, wisdom, by, in and through Christ, the last Adam,High Priest, (passover) Lamb of God, scapegoat, (Heb. 9:12 typology).reconciliation of us as enemies to God, and new covenant in his blood. his incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension.
    It is a reality realised in our Union with Christ.
    I know it is said that the CoE is a broad church, whatever that means in theory and reality, I don’t know, but I do recall my first Good Friday as a Christian a 3:00 pm service in my local CoE, meditations (meaning) of the cross, when the last point to weigh heavily, ponder was who killed Jesus, who were the parties. We’d already looked at the those presented to us in scripture, then the penultimate point/characters to ponder was ourselves, our role as Christians. Last, you’ve guessed it, is God, an infinite but glorious weightiness . That was a mere 21 or so years.ago.
    Sadly how things seem to have changed in the CoE ship without the ballast of the Cross, blown every which way not only by breathless exhalations but by theologian scholars who seems to seek to jettison the past as their rocket rises. (I recall one eminent CoE theologian NT scholar saying during a three day conference -it may have been during a Q+A session- that the Bible (or rather God’s revelation in ) was like a rocket, where sections were jettisoned as progress was made. If that is really how he saw all of the OT and that was his big picture of the Bible I have cause to query what the NT really says. I don’t seek to do a disservice to all his learning, but I don’t recall any idea being floated that Christ is a fulfilment. From memory, it wasn’t an outworking of :
    ” The new is in the old concealed; the old is in the new revealed.” – a famous statement by Saint Augustine that expresses the remarkable way in which the two testaments of the Bible are so closely interrelated with each other.
    There wasn’t any mention of Union with Christ, something which Mike Reeves emphasises, along with others of the reformed school. I have the cassette tapes somewhere.

    This is far too much from me, an amateur,and it is only by grace that it will be permitted . but there does seem to to have been a watering down and weakening of any reformed position (sometimes from what seems to be a strategy of ambiguity) the CoE had or thinks it continues to hold.

  7. Ian
    As a Bible believing Christian you of course do agree that ‘there is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ’ and that ‘God condemned sin in the flesh’, because that is what the text says. But to engage fully with my post you need to say what you see as Paul’s line of thought in Romans 8:1-4. In particular what does he mean in 8:3 (does ‘in the flesh’ mean in the flesh of Christ, or something else) and do 8:2 and 8:3 give the reason why there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus (8:1).

    Do the unsaved face deserved retributive punishment from God after the Day of Judgment? Stephen Travis argues in ‘Christ and the Judgment of God’ that the answer is ‘no’. I started and then suspended a detailed analysis (refutation) of his case. I need to resume and complete that task (unless someone has already done such an analysis – does anyone know?).

    Ian has said, “I would agree that there is language of substitution, along with other prominent models.”

    The answer to the question about final retribution determines what substitution meant for Christ. If, unlike Travis, we answer ‘yes’, his substitution must have been penal.

    Phil Almond


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