What does ‘love’ really mean?

Dr Patrick Mitchel is Director of Learning at the Irish Bible Institute in Dublin, and blogs at Faith in Ireland. He is the author of a new volume in the Bible Speaks Today: Bible Themes series on The Message of LoveI asked him about the book, the theme, and its importance.


Tell us about the book that you have written. Why were you drawn to write it, and would do you hope it will contribute to the its readers?

The genre of the IVP Bible Speaks Today (BST) Themes series is designed to expound the biblical text and relate to contemporary life in an accessible way. I have done my best to do that through discussion of seventeen texts. Each chapter stands on its own but also makes a distinctive contribution to an overall biblical theology of love.

In regard to why this book, it really was a process of being drawn in to where I felt compelled to put pen to paper. There were twenty BST themes volumes published before this one on love – which is remarkable when you think about it given the importance of love within the Bible. It confirmed what others have noticed before me, that there is a curious lack of biblical studies on love, so this book attempts to help fill that gap. My prayer is that it will give individual readers, preachers and anyone interested in Christianity a fresh vision of the love of God and his agenda for his people to be communities of love within the world. There is a study guide which should be particularly useful for groups.


Why do you think that the subject of ‘love’ is an important one for Christians today?

First, a very good case can be made that love is the most important theme in Scripture. At the heart of the entire narrative is the covenant love of God for his chosen people, through whom the Abrahamic promise of blessing will extend outwards. Repeatedly in the OT, crisis points test that love to the very limit, but it remains unbreakable (Moses’ dialogue with Yahweh in Exodus 32-34 is an extraordinary early example, closely followed by Hosea and its picture of God as a betrayed lover). A central claim of the NT is that story of divine love takes a dramatic and unexpected Christological twist in the Father’s sending of his beloved Son. It culminates in the supreme demonstration of God’s love at the cross (Rom. 5:8) and is why John (uniquely) says ‘God is love’ (1 John 4: 8, 16) – his love is revealed in the sending of his Son.

Love also describes the appropriate human response to the one true God as summarised in the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 – no other loves are to stand in the way. While Jesus talks sparingly about love, when he does he stands in full continuity love in the Old Testament – love of God and neighbour fulfils the law (Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:27). What is astonishing however, is how Jesus extends such wholehearted love to himself, demanding complete allegiance from his disciples, above all other loves, even family (e.g., Matt 10:37). Such allegiance means loving as he loves – loving enemies and serving others self-sacrificially.

The high place of love is continued and developed by other NT writers, especially Paul and John. For Paul, God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). The strap-line for the book is ‘the only thing that counts’ which comes from Galatians 5:6 where authentic faith is worked out in love. Add in 1 Corinthians 13 and 16:14 (‘Do everything in love’) and you quickly see how love for Paul is the very purpose of being a Christian. Without it, everything Christians do is an utter waste of time. Love is also central for John, if using different language. Disciples remain in Jesus’ love through obedience – and his command is to love one another (John 5:14, 17, cf. 13:34). To put all this another way, while there are significant developments within a biblical theology of love from Old to New Testament, we can say that love is God’s consistent agenda for his people right through the Bible.

Second, studying love in the Bible inevitably raises big important theological and pastoral questions that all of us will face at some point or other. For example:

Divine loveIs God really loving and utterly good? How can God love if he allows such suffering in the world? How is divine love compatible with divine judgement? Is God’s love unconditional? How does God show his love for the poor and marginalised? How is God’s love revealed at the cross?

Human love for GodCan love be love if it is commanded? How do faith, love and the Spirit connect together? Why is love of money such a danger? If love for God requires humility and submission, is Christian love a denial of life and our full humanity (Nietzsche)? How is love for God costly?

Human love for one anotherWhy does the Bible overwhelmingly concentrate on love within the community of the people of God? Is loving enemies an impossible ideal? What does the Bible have to say about erotic sexual love? What is the relationship between knowing God and loving one another? What does a loving Christian marriage look like? How is love God’s most powerful ‘weapon’ in a conflict with powers opposed to his will? What is the relationship between love and future hope? Where are you and I being called to walk in the difficult yet life-transforming path of love?

Third, now that the protective blanket of Christendom has been unceremoniously removed from the Church in the West, Christianity is under more critical scrutiny than it has experienced for a very long time. In terms of witness and mission today, a key challenge for the Church is to be an authentic community in and through which the transforming love of God is made manifest within the world.


What do you think are the major issues in the way that love is (mis)understood in contemporary culture?

Today love has become virtually a religion in the West – an all-embracing belief system that answers questions of ultimate purpose. The reasons behind love’s exaltation are well described German sociologists Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim:

Love is glorified largely because it represents a sort of refuge in the chilly environment of our affluent, impersonal, uncertain society, stripped of its traditions and scarred by all kinds of risk . . . weighed down by expectations and frustrations, ‘love’ is the new centre round which our detraditionalised life revolves.[1]

So love, in itself becomes what life is all about. The ‘shape’ of that love will tend to be universalist and inclusive, almost a type of liberation theology, freeing people to be themselves. The philosopher Simon May has an incisive analysis of the high expectations that love now carries:

the more individualistic we become the more we expect love to be a secular journey for the soul, a final source of meaning and freedom, a supreme standard of value, a key to the problem of identity, a solace in the face of rootlessness, a desire for the worldly and simultaneously a desire to transcend it, a redemption from suffering, and, a promise of eternity. Or all of these at once.[2]

A key idea here is the anthropological optimism at the heart of much modern love. By this I mean how love is assumed to be within easy reach of anyone with little cost to the self. Yet this is a recent development and is far removed from how love is understood within Scripture and Christian tradition.


How well do you think Christians today understand love as it is expressed and explained in the Bible?

That’s a tough one! I guess the answer is mixed. Hopefully most Christians have personal experience of the redemptive love of triune God. Also well-understood is how Christian spirituality revolves around the imitation of Jesus – other-focused love is at the core of what it means to be a disciple. I’m sure we can all think of inspiring examples of such love being worked out within our own circles.

But I think it would be naïve to think that we are not being shaped by powerful cultural pressures when it comes to love. We downplay the gulf between divine and human love. Some symptoms include when God’s love is sentimentalized, sin and judgement are rarely talked about, we are uncomfortable with sexual ethics, we sing cringe-worthy romantic worship songs, we live privatised lives with carefully limited exposure to those in need and, echoing Marcion, we ignore much of the OT. What is going on here, I think, is that we are losing touch with the paradox at the heart of Christian love: it is by losing our lives that we find them, it is by dying to the self that we are enabled to love. The Christian ‘path’ to love is humility, repentance and obedience, it is anything but easy and automatic. Love is a virtue developed over the long haul at significant cost.

You have posted about this Ian, but I wonder if this is linked to how the gospel is often recast as ‘God loves you’? While true (!) this is not the gospel of the NT. A fascinating fact is that Acts is the only NT book in which love is not mentioned once. Think of all those gospel sermons – love is nowhere to be seen. The response to the gospel in the NT is typically faith, repentance and baptism – a radical change of allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ. All too easily, ‘God loves you’ can be framed in a way that fails to demand such a response but effectively just affirms us where we are at.


What do you think readers might find surprising in your study of love in the Scriptures?

One is that love is the primary weapon in God’s war. Within Paul’s eschatology love is far more than a ‘nice’ idea, it is actually God’s goal for his people and his ‘weapon’ in a spiritual war with forces opposed to his will. Christians are to fight with love in the power of the Spirit, not with the weapons of the world. (This means that when it comes to loving enemies I argue that discipleship entails being non-violent).

For good and ill, Augustine casts a long shadow when it comes to love. On one hand, his insight that we are first and foremost lovers is brilliant and important. A consistent question in the Bible is not if we love, but who or what we love. This shows who we truly are and what we really believe – much more than what we say we believe. This is why the OT, Jesus, Paul and John all have so much to say about the heart. On the other hand, Augustine’s neo-platonic attitude to the body and sex has had all sorts of unfortunate consequences. Biblical love is earthy and embodied, nowhere more so than in the Song of Songs. It has been allegorised to death, I argue, because of deep ambivalence in Christian tradition towards its joyful celebration of erotic love.

There is surprisingly little in the Bible about God’s people loving the world. The overwhelming emphasis all the way through is on love for God and one another within the covenant community (the great majority of love language in the NT belongs here). This has profound implications, I think, for public theology. I am persuaded that the primary call of the church is to be the church, not to try to fix the world – and I recognise that is a much bigger discussion.


What did you learn most from writing this text?

A lot of things that will continue to take time to process. Some at the top of the list include:

I was left with the overwhelming impression of how Christianity is ultimately about God’s relentless commitment to human flourishing.

Theologically, within the narrative of the Bible, it is the identity of Jesus as God’s beloved Son who dies for us that marks a revolution in the understanding of divine love. As Larry Hurtado says, Christianity’s love-ethic marked it out as unique in the ancient world.

It is an unnamed woman who utters not a word who is commended by Jesus more highly than anyone else in the NT for her ‘great love’ (Luke 7:36-50). She taught me that love requires humility and gratitude and leads to joyful worship.

Love has deeply subversive social implications. For example, in Ephesians 5:21-33 husbands are four times commanded to love their wives, including even as their own bodies. This means treating them as equal in identity, status and worth – which was unheard of in the ancient world.

That love is ultimately about loyalty / allegiance means it is a profoundly relevant topic for Christian discipleship within a consumer culture that is relentlessly persuading us to love all sorts of temporary delights provided by the market.

In an age where it tends to be side-lined, we need a robust theology of divine wrath because God would not be loving if he were not also a judge. God’s wrath is a consequence of his love, he acts against all that seeks to destroy his loving purposes.

Finally, love is extremely inconvenient. When I am ranting about something or being generally unloving, my wife reminds me that I’ve written a book on love and should go read it!


[1]Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim, The Normal Chaos of Love, tr. Mark Ritter and Jane Wiebel (Cambridge: Polity, 1995), pp. 2–3.

[2]Simon May, Love: A History (London: Yale University Press, 2011), p. 239.


Commendations for the book:

No one will ever offer the final word on what the Bible says about love, but I know of no volume that is as thorough, sensitive to context and contour, as Patrick Mitchel’s sparklingly clear and faithful exposition of how the Bible presents love, how in fact the God of love loves the world and the people of God in Christ. This will become a standard text for my classes on New Testament theology. (Scot McKnight)

There is a reason that Jesus said that the great commandment has to do with love, and Paul said love was greater than even faith and hope. It is because God himself is love, it is the essence of his character, and Mitchel in this book lays out for us how that is a consistent theme throughout the Bible. Highly recommended. (Ben Witherington)

How can one begin to hope to do justice to a topic as broad and misunderstood as ‘love’? Read this book for the answer. Mitchel has not only done it justice but has charted the way Christian thinking on the topic should proceed in our troubled world for the foreseeable future. (Craig Blomberg)


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89 thoughts on “What does ‘love’ really mean?”

  1. A really interesting and insightful discussion that cuts through so many cliches as well as modern mystification. The current climate hysteria needs to hear this, as well.

    • Hi Brian
      Did you mean that the *people* who are currently “hysterical about the climate” need to hear this, and in particular Extinction Rebellion activists and supporters? If no, what did you mean? If yes, then I don’t accept that “hysterical about the climate” is a valid description, and anyway they need to hear it no more and no less than the rest of us.

  2. Well, is it? Is it a difficult doctrine?
    Is it universal salvation?
    Interesting point made about Acts of the Apostles.
    Any mention of the Holiness of God’s love. Of his jealous love?
    Any mention of the contrasts of evil and hate?
    While this is a Reformed categorisation, is there any distinction drawn between, Common/universal grace/love and Saving grace/love.
    It is realised that not everything can be covered in the overview.

    • Whilst the distinction could be slightly artificial, I’d like to mention that the early mentions of love come in the earliest days of the law, and therefore a national behaviour context. God talks about himself as being “Slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” And talks about our expression of love to him and to each other right at the start of the law and as it’s summary.

      Therefore his love can’t be sidelined from the 3 fold safety net for the poor of family responsibility, gleaning for the fit and finally tithe care for the destitute who can’t even glean, for example.

      Ditto and for the same reasons his love can’t be separated out from the at least 24 mentions in the law of how to treat foreigners (a remarkable number given how incredibly short it is and easy to read compared with your average terms and conditions for and insurance policy for example).

      I therefore don’t think that love can just be about “salvation” or “4 walls church” althoug those things are obviously specially correlated with God’s love.

  3. “In an age where it tends to be side-lined, we need a robust theology of divine wrath because God would not be loving if he were not also a judge. God’s wrath is a consequence of his love, he acts against all that seeks to destroy his loving purposes”.
    I don’t think that is right. Rather, God’s wrath and condemnation towards sinners results from his holiness, righteousness and justice.
    Phil Almond

    • Dear Phil,
      I wonder if I could contribute a small experience in reply to your comment.

      Firstly I agree about the additional elements, alongside love, holiness, righteousness and justice.

      I had quite a blockage about the wrath passages because I too couldn’t reconcile them with the key aspect of God’s character which is love. One of my “motivational verses” is God showing himself as the merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
      I decided I had to confront this head on and picked Amos to start with and just read it through with, in the back of my mind all the while, the question “Why?”. Of course, as you’ll well know, it was the ideal place to start it’s so clear in format, the image, the warning and the clear reason. Even though some of the pictures didn’t mean much to me at the time (though they do a bit more now I live in a more rural agricultural setting as opposed to the inner city and run down areas where I spent so long) in fact the message is as inner city as it comes and totally consitent with love and, as was particularly relevant to me, was speaking directly about both the people we’d loved, supported and interceded for and my own current circumstances as a woman alone with children with a father’s support, in poverty, in severe ill health, a foreigner, taken advantage of, neglected. In fact my own circumstances are much relieved by being in a rare society historically speaking, where I’m allowed to have a bank account, have disability social security benefits, have sympathetic and helpful contacts on the internet, and I have a passport in my own name.

      But I get it. When my eyes prick with tears of rage about how unfairly people are treated and the consequences for their lives, how much more so a loving God? When I get so frustrated and furious about what might be loosely called “The Church” ignoring even the most basic Bible instructions about how to treat people, any people, despite all the warnings both OT and new, sheep and goats and all that, how much more so the loving God?

      So yes, I think love has everything to do with it.

      • LizEph
        Please see my reply to David Runcorn. Sorry I am not understanding your point Could you possibly help me to understand. I am not sure which part of my posts, if anything, you are disagreeing with or challenging.
        Phil Almond

        • LizEph
          After reflection on your post (October 11, 2019 at 9:27 am) I may now grasp your view. I think, but I am not sure, you are meaning something like this: you are moved and angry about the unfair treatment of people you love and furious about “the Church” ignoring the Bible commands about how to treat people. How much more must the loving God be angry and furious with those responsible for the unfair treatment and “the Church” for her disobedience. Looking at the love/wrath issue like this has enabled you to ‘reconcile’ wrath and love. Your “So yes, I think love has everything to do with it.” suggests to me that this way of looking at the issue depends on the fact that God loves the people who are being unfairly treated, which leads to his wrath. The fact that your post comes immediately after my post disagreeing with Patrick’s statement “In an age where it tends to be side-lined, we need a robust theology of divine wrath because God would not be loving if he were not also a judge. God’s wrath is a consequence of his love, he acts against all that seeks to destroy his loving purposes” suggest that, although you agree about the additional elements (holiness, righteousness and justice) you are agreeing with Patrick that (God) “acts against all that seeks to destroy his loving purposes”. But 1 John 3:4 speaks of sin thus: “Everyone doing sin does also lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And Romans 5:13 links sin and the law like this “for until law sin was in the world but sin is not reckoned not being law”. And Jesus teaching in the Sermon on the Mount links the sins of lust and anger to breaking the laws forbidding murder and adultery. So defining sin as breaking the law is much wider and includes destroying God’s loving purposes.
          Going back to Romans 5:12-21, I have to challenge David Wilson’ view and the link he provided in another post but just to say in this post that Romans 5:18 is clear that “so therefore as through one offence to all men to condemnation, so also through one righteous act to all men to justification of life” (the second “all men” is qualified by 5:17 – “the ones receiving the abundance of the grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ”). So the people being unfairly treated and whom the Church is not treating properly are condemned because of Original Sin and because of their own sins, for “all sinned” (Romans 3:23). So all face the wrath and condemnation of God from birth onwards.
          Phil Almond

    • Yes, I think you’re right there, Phil.

      God’s wrath comes from his inherent nature (holy, righteous, just) and is not engendered by his love. Indeed if he were not holy, righteous and just, I wonder if he could have that quality of love which caused him to pay the supreme sacrifice which is capable of delivering us from our utter sinfulness? The Garden of Eden story tells us that there was not the slightest doubt that the moment sin entered into the heart of man his relationship with God was instantly destroyed. There’s nothing thereafter in the Bible to soften the incompatibility of sin with the presence of a holy and righteous God but everything to tell us that a God who did what he did to make it possible for that gulf to be bridged must also posses a love which is way beyond our understanding.

      • I agree. It is highly significant that both Isaiah’s & John’s vision of the throne of God is marked by the angelic perpetual acclaiming of the thrice holy God, and not the thrice loving God.

        • Philip Is there a reason why you have not acknowledged or responded to LizEph’s contributions here? (but then nor have any others actually). Thank you Liz for a helpful contributions. I agree – love has everything to do with it.

    • Hi Phil,

      I would be very nervous of separating the attributes of God. Certainly, the proponents of divine simplicity would have a problem with it. A starting point might be that the law is summed up in love of God and neighbour. If we are to be holy even as our father in heaven is holy, then that is shown in our loving. If wrongdoing and evil are an absence or corruption of love, then holiness is purity of love. Holiness is only distinct when there is the contrast of ‘not-love’.

      Love is essentially relational. The God who is love is constituted in relationship from eternity. This connects into righteousness and justice. Not only are these strongly connected in Hebrew thought, they are rooted in relationship. Righteousness is right relationship, and enacting justice is about restoring relationship.

      Barth talked about this when he stressed the primacy of love by emphasising that we must talk about the Father Almighty. The removal of ‘Father’ removes love, and we are left with power unconstrained.

      God created the world in order to have a relationship of love with it. Our sin has broken that relationship. We made ourselves God’s enemies by living in a way which is not loving. This is not a good way of living. Therefore, the right reaction of a loving parent, the Father, is wrath towards these ways of living.

      I think an important observation in this is that in the OT God’s anger is seen as being enacted in history, and is basically there to bring a wayward people* back into right relationship. One specific example giving the sweep of this intention is in Hosea 2.

      *It lacks the high degree of individualism that modern theologies have inherited from the englightenment.

      • David
        I am not ‘separating’ the attributes of God. I am just stating the whole of what the Bible reveals about who God is and what he is like. Your post seems to tend towards privileging God’s love above every other truth about him, which I see as one of the key flaws in modern theological thought. You posted ‘We made ourselves God’s enemies by living in a way which is not loving’. The way I would put it is that Adam disobeyed God and the whole trace has perpetuated that disobedience. Either we are faced from birth onwards by the holy wrath and just condemnation of God or we are not. Either Or. There is no middle way.
        Phil Almond

        • Hi Phil,
          Do you know that it is likely that the doctrine of original sin was formulated by Augustine based upon a poor Latin translation of Romans? The Eastern church (i.e. the Orthodox church) does not hold that doctrine. David Bently Hart has written on this, for instance here:
          https://www.firstthings.com/article/2015/05/traditio-deformis

          His own NT translation has a lengthy footnote on Rom 5.12, and how the Latin confused the issue. The ESV translates:

          “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”

          This clearly states that all men are subject to death because all [men] sinned.

          The Bible is clear that “all have sinned” and that “if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves” (this being the classic liberal self-deception), so there is no need of original sin to say that each of us is in need of God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ (through his incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension).

          As always, our theology should be derived from a careful reading of the text, rather than our reading of the text being filtered by our theology.

          • David
            “As always, our theology should be derived from a careful reading of the text, rather than our reading of the text being filtered by our theology”. I entirely agree. I believe the doctrine of Original Sin is true because of my understanding of what Romans 5:12-21 says and means, not because of what Augustine thought or said or wrote. I am quite willing to defend my view on this thread. If you want to debate it here perhaps I could ask you to point to a readily available English translation that you are happy with and then I will set out my views.
            Phil Almond

        • Your post seems to tend towards privileging God’s love above every other truth about him, which I see as one of the key flaws in modern theological thought.

          Not quite. I am suggesting that love, holiness, righteousness and justice are closely related and really different facets of the one nature of God. But there is a sense in which the latter three are only brought into focus when there is something with which to contrast them. Before there was evil and wrongdoing, the set-apartness and purity of holiness was all there was. Before there was unrighteousness and injustice, all was righteous and just.

          Is it meaningful to speak of holiness, rightousness and justice within the godhead, i.e. within the immanent Trinity? These are more properties of the economic Trinity. It does seem right to speak of love within the immanent Trinity, existing before created time and space, which does give love some priority.

          I should add that at the other end of time it is love which will remain.

    • Surely the point is that ALL of God’s attributes originate from love, because God IS love (not just ‘loving’). Everything about him and his actions stem from that. Thank God.

      • The phrase “God is love” is very misunderstood in media today – very badly misunderstood.
        The New testament is in koine greek. Koine greek contains less than 3% of words in modern English and yet today we only have one word for love in English and rely on adjectives and adverbs to say what we mean. Ancient Hebrew likewise only has one word for love but koine greek has 4 words for love. In any language with so few words you simply don’t have additional words that mean the same. “God is love” comes from 1 John alone and appears nowhere else in the NT and the word there is agape = Caring love.
        The phrase is telling us that God cares for us by loving us, i.e. caring for us. Christians should therefore care for others, just as God cares for us.
        Christianity is the ONLY faith in which GOD dies for us and GOD gives us forgiveness so
        long as we believe in our Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour. That’s just how much God
        cares for us, i.e. loves us, that God even died for us.
        St Paul says in Romans chapter 8 verse 7:
        The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law,
        nor can it do so.
        As St Paul wrote in the letter to the Romans at chapter 5, also at verse 7:
        Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person
        someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in
        this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us…

        This is God who cares about us.

        • Ok, but if Jesus had never come, what would have happened with God’s righteous anger? Would it not have fallen on all of us given our unforgiven sin?

  4. I think this is a reference to Romans 11.22, where Paul admonishes his readers to “note the kindness and severity of God.” God in his love extends the offer of mercy but this cannot be spurned forever. God’s love is not indiscriminate. He does not love what is evil in his rational creation.

  5. Given the very strong emphasis on God’s love in evangelistic preaching today, I was struck recently in my reading of Acts that it is never mentioned in any public proclamation of the gospel there.

    • Can I agree and disagree here?

      Yes, love isn’t mentioned in Acts. But neither are lots of key things. My impression is that Luke beibg a thoughtful, clear and efficient writer, doesn’t waste time on too much doubling up of information. This being a sequel as opposed to a separate and complete history, I feel he focusses on what’s not already “out there”.

      I feel the same as I read John’s account of the good news. The 3 others were explaining the key points, the vital story, all in a shortish space of years to different groups. They’d lived in each others’ pockets for years. They were mates, they shared the info. John got on with other stuff. When it came time for him to fill in the gaps, why repeat the basic info when what you’re writing is FAQ (and all the other things that didn’t seem quite as urgent or was too politically incorrect at first – though it still was later of course). Key thing is they were all bros. They talked to each other. They didn’t need to waste precious paper (not invented for another millenium and a half of course).

      • Hmm, I think the apostles didn’t mention the love of God in their preaching because they majored on the objective, recent and verifiable fact of the resurrection, pointing out that those who had conspired to crucify Jesus got it spectacularly wrong and must urgently repent.

  6. In a world with many human needs, some of them important and harrowing, the supreme eternal need of us all (infinitely more important, relatively speaking, than all other needs), must be to be delivered from the wrath and condemnation of God which, according to the Bible and Article 9 of the 39 Articles, we all deserve and face from birth onwards because of Adam’s sin and our own sins; that we face until and unless God brings us by his grace to salvation.

    I heartily agree with Warfield’s comment on Elijah’s experience in the cave,
    ‘….it is not the Law but the Gospel, not the revelation of wrath but that of love, which saves the world. Wrath may prepare for love; but wrath never did and never will save a soul.’

    But wrath may prepare for love. And an honest, faithful preaching of the gospel has to include at some point that terrible warning about wrath, condemnation and eventual retribution, alongside the proclamation of the wonderful deliverance from those things offered in the sincere and genuine invitation, exhortation, command to all from God and Christ to submit to Christ in his atoning death and life –giving resurrection, to submit in repentance, faith, love, obedience and fear.

    Phil Almond

  7. From the Bill Muehlenberg blog, quoting Terry Johnson’s book The Identity and Attributes of God:
    What the Bible teaches about God’s holiness, his purity and perfection, his love of righteousness and truth, his abhorrence of sin, his rewarding of the good, his wrath and anger against evil, his demand for repentance, and the insistence upon the purified lives of his people, is a much confused, much maligned, and much neglected part of the Christian faith. Until the middle of the nineteenth century, nearly all gospel preaching was of the ‘fire and brimstone’ variety. Preachers proclaimed God’s holiness, God’s law, God’s wrath and anger against sin, the necessity of the new birth, the need for faith and repentance, and the importance of holy living.

    Whatever else might be said about it, such preaching did result in deep repentance, genuine faith, and a deep, deep appreciation of grace.

    About the middle of the nineteenth century a shift occurred under the influence of post-Enlightenment romanticism and liberal theology. The emphasis in Christian preaching shifted from the holiness of God to the love of God. ‘God is love’ became the primary concern of the gospel message, while ‘God is light’ (grammatically identical with the former) slipped into the background…

    This shift suited the ethos of the times and was widely influential on subsequent evangelicalism. Modern people were becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the biblical picture of a God who in judgment would destroy whole nations, men, women, and children. . . . Modern people did not like the ideas of wrath, judgment, vengeance, eternal punishment, and hell. Such notions were considered unpleasant, discouraging, and even primitive. Some moderns even did not like the cross: it was far too violent, far too brutal and bloody, to attribute to God….

    • Hi Trevor,

      Geoff has provided a useful summary of the apostolic kerygma. It does not mention love, as has been noted. But it also does not mention wrath. The need for repentance and forgiveness of sins is explicit, but this need is not presented in relation an the individual’s possible unpleasant eternal destiny. The early church seems, as Geoff draws out, to concentrate on who Jesus is.

      It would be interesting to see historically when the rise of “turn or burn” evangelistic preaching occurred. I don’t know enough about the Fathers to know if was around in the early centuries. I get the impression that the mediaeval Roman church considered all the baptised as ‘born again’ (so no element of that in preaching), and that a hellish destination was reserved for those who died with unconfessed mortal sin. I’m not sure that period was a time of preaching of the kind you refer to. That sounds to me as if it rose perhaps in the 17th century.

      However, I would agree that more needs to be said of our sinfulness. The core problem with modern use of ‘God loves you’ is that the modern mind hears in that ‘God loves me, therefore I must be lovable.’ We need to understand more that God’s love is that for his enemies, which we are by nature.

      • Trevor
        Jesus himself stressed both the need for repentance and forgiveness and the ‘unpleasant eternal destiny’ awaiting those who did not repent and obtain forgiveness. So did the Apostle Paul.
        Phil Almond

  8. The Kerygma of early church in Book of Acts (and other scriptures)
    1. The promises made by God in the OT have been fulfilled in the coming of Jesus the Messiah (Acts 2:30 and more)
    2 Jesus was anointed by God at his Baptism as Messiah (Acts 10:38
    3 Jesus began his ministry in Galilee after his baptism (Acts 10:37)
    4 He conducted a beneficient ministry, doing good and performing mighty works of power of God (Acts 2:22 and more)
    5 The Messiah was crucified according to the purposes of God (Acts 2:23and more)
    6 He was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples. (Acts 2:24 and more)
    7 Jesus was exalted by God and given the name “Lord”. (Acts 2:25-29 and more)
    8 He gave the Holy Spirit to form a new community of God. (Acts1:8 and more)
    9 He will come again for judgement and restoration of all things. (Acts 3:20-21 and more)
    10 All who hear the message should repent and be baptised. (Acts 2:21 and more)
    This schema forms the essential kerygma though different NT authors may leave out a potion or vary emphasis on particular points.
    Taken from Zondervan NIV NT Bible Commentary eds Barker & Kohlenberger 111

  9. Thanks for posting about my book Ian. Picking up on some comments – the relationship between divine wrath and love surfaces in various chapters, not least ones on Exodus 32-34, Hosea 1-3, Romans 5:1-11, Ephesians 2:1-10. There is detailed exposition there save to say here a couple of things:

    God’s wrath and love should not be set against each other, the latter does not somehow overcome the former. His wrath is manifested against anything that seeks to destroy or oppose his good loving purposes. God’s wrath is inseparable from his love.

    For example, Hosea is striking in the strength of its emphasis on both divine love and wrath. It has perhaps the most dramatic image of divine love in Hosea’s prophetic task to love Gomer, alongside some of the most severe warnings of divine judgment in the OT. Romans 5:1-11 describes humanity as powerless, ungodly, powerless, sinners deserving of wrath. Yet, the good news is that love is God’s motivation for justification. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (8). As a result believers have God’s love poured out into their hearts by the Holy Spirit. Now justified, they have no fear of God’s wrath (9).

    So any reading of Scripture that minimises, explains away or ignores God’s wrath, or sets love up against wrath, brings to mind H Richard Niebhur’s warning about “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of Christ without a cross”.

    Having said that, there is much more a biblical theology of love than its relationship to wrath. And getting stuck in debates about the relationship between love, wrath and holiness etc within the identity of God can be a distraction from the overwhelming emphasis in both the OT and NT on the moral transformation of the people of God. Love isn’t an abstract idea – it poses profound challenges personally and corporately. If we don’t feel that in our theologising about love then we have missed the point.

    See Romans again. Paul writes to “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people” (1:7). And that holy life has love at its core: ‘Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good (Rom. 12:9); ‘Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore, love is the fulfilment of the law’ (Rom. 13:10); ‘If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died’ (Rom. 14:15).

    Just as the diverse community of Jews and Gentiles in Rome were called to this challenging life of love, so we are in our diverse churches today.

  10. Patrick
    Thanks for your comments. You said:
    ‘God’s wrath and love should not be set against each other, the latter does not somehow overcome the former’.
    That’s just where I think we disagree. Please correct me if I am mistaken in saying that. As I see it, and as the Bible sees it, in my view, God’s love in the atonement of Christ, his penal substitutionary atonement, did deliver all who believe from his wrath and condemnation, by satisfying his wrath and bearing the condemnation and punishment we deserve because of original sin and our own personal sins. So in that sense love did overcome wrath for those who believe.
    But I am happy to agree with most of the other things you said.

    Phil Almond

    • I would view it more as an act of love which satisfied God’s justice and right judgement which resulted in wrath, rather than overcoming His wrath. God’s love did not overcome or remove His wrath, it simply moved it from us to Jesus.

      Peter

      • “… rather than overcoming His wrath. God’s love did not overcome or remove His wrath, it simply moved it from us to Jesus.” Are we sure about this? In other words, are we sure that God’s anger was placed on Jesus, rather than that his righteous anger was satisfied by Jesus’s death on the cross. Perhaps Ian could start a blog post on this if he has not done so previously.

        • Ok, but if Jesus had never come, what would have happened with God’s righteous anger? Would it not have fallen on all of us given our unforgiven sin?

          • Okay. This is not a good analogy. But it is the best I can think of at the moment: A nation is unjustly attacked and rises up in anger against their attacker. A stunningly able general leads troops to defeat the attacker – but in the process loses his life. The nation’s anger subsides. The general has achieved the defeat and has satisfied the nation’s anger. But the nation was never angry with their general?

            But more significantly, can we think of a verse that expressly teaches the fact that God’s anger fell on Jesus?

        • Hi Colin. This was discussed in posts about In Christ Alone some time back.

          I agree with you – the NT does not say Jesus was punished or that God’s wrath fell on him, and the imagery is always of a sacrifice of atonement not a scapegoat. His sacrifice of his life functions like the sacrifice of an animal, where the life of the animal is accepted by God in place of the life of the person on whose behalf the sacrifice is made. The animal is not being punished by God, there is no transfer of wrath like a kind of assuaging of a force or energy. It is simply that the life of a sinner is demanded in justice but God in his mercy has decreed that the life of another may be accepted in its place. In the OT this other is an animal. In the NT this propitiating function is fulfilled by Christ, who does it once for all.

          Wrath transfer imagery, so popular among evangelicals, does not actually have a basis in the NT, and comes with serious theological problems, such as apparently implying universalism and involving God punishing the innocent.

          • I disagree with this post – see our (Will and me) debate (unfinished – the ball is in my court to answer Will’s views on Romans 8:1-4) ‘Did Jesus die to satisfy God’s wrath?’ and ‘On the cross when Jesus died, was ‘the wrath of God satisfied’?
            Phil Almond

          • ‘His sacrifice of his life functions like the sacrifice of an animal, where the life of the animal is accepted by God in place of the life of the person on whose behalf the sacrifice is made.’

            So what you seem to be saying is that if the animal had not been sacrificed, the person would have been justly killed. Is death not the final outworking of God’s wrath against sin?

          • ‘Is death not the final outworking of God’s wrath against sin?’

            Yes, but not every death is a personal punishment. A sacrifice is not a punishment, it is a sacrifice in place of a punishment. A person’s wrath/anger does not transfer to the person or thing making the sacrifice, even if it is taken away by it. To use a financial analogy, if someone kindly pays off someone else’s debt the anger and punishment does not transfer to them, it’s just that they kindly make up what was necessary to take it away. God’s anger wasn’t transferred to the animal, he just decreed in his mercy that he would accept such a sacrifice instead of carrying out the just punishment, as a propitiation to take away (not assuage) the wrath, condemnation and punishment.

          • The converse of Romans 8:1 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

          • Will gave the analogy “To use a financial analogy, if someone kindly pays off someone else’s debt the anger and punishment does not transfer to them, it’s just that they kindly make up what was necessary to take it away.”

            The person who owes the money is faced with financial loss. When the kind person pays the debt he is no longer faced with financial loss. We all face God’s just retribution because of our sins. When Jesus bore that just retribution on the cross those who repent and believe are no longer faced with it. That is the right analogy.

            Phil Almond

          • Hi Phil. Here is my view on Romans 8:3.

            ‘Sin in the flesh’ in Romans 8:3 needs to be understood in the context of chapter 7 (ie the immediately preceding passage) where sin is described as a power at work ‘in the flesh’, using the law to ‘kill’ and ‘work death’ in me (7:14-25). To say that God has done what the law was powerless to do and ‘condemned sin in the flesh’ is to say that God has declared judgement on this power which ‘weakened the law’ and caused it to work ‘death through what is good’. This condemnation of ‘sin in the flesh’ sets free from condemnation under the law those who are in the Spirit and in Christ Jesus because it was the law, weakened and turned to death by sin, which was condemning, killing and enslaving them. Since, then, God has now, by sending his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as a sin offering, condemned sin in the flesh – this power which condemns and enslaves and works death in those in the flesh and under the law – therefore those who are in Christ Jesus are set free from this power, ‘from the law of sin and death’. God has sent Jesus to condemn – to declare God’s judgement against – that which condemns us, and thereby to free us from it.

          • Phil, you haven’t responded to the point that a sacrifice is not a punishment, it is something done in place of and to avert a punishment. Of course the sacrifice can be understood by analogy as being like the punishment (and anger) has been transferred. But that isn’t really what’s going on. God wasn’t angry with Jesus or punishing him. He was accepting his life as an atoning sacrifice on behalf of humanity to take away the penalty (and anger) that stood against humanity. This can be understood by analogy as like Jesus was being punished on our behalf. But that is an analogy – he wasn’t actually being punished, he was offering his life as an atoning sacrifice.

            If your account was correct, don’t you think the NT somewhere would say something like ‘God turned his anger on Jesus and poured it out on him instead of us’? But it doesn’t, and there is no indication anywhere that any NT writer thought that God was ever angry with Jesus. It just says he offered his life as an atoning sacrifice for sin (hilasterion/hilasmos). We need to distinguish between the concept of an atoning sacrifice and the idea of a transfer of anger and punishment, which are different but have become combined in evangelical theology, to much confusion.

          • Will
            Yes, your view of Romans 8:3 stated in your post repeats the view set out in our lengthy disagreement elsewhere. I did draft a reply to that but I have not been able to find it. I will try again to find it.

            In your second post you are not recognising that the doctrine is not saying that God is angry with Jesus. God is angry with us and we all face God’s condemnation. What the doctrine is saying is that God condemned and punished our sins in the flesh of Christ. ‘Christ bore our sins’ must mean that.
            Phil Almond

          • Will,
            The language of “wrath being satisfied” seems to me to be both confused and dangerous. On the latter point, it enables the criticism that the Cross is “cosmic child-abuse” with God being pleased to see the suffering of Jesus. The confusion arises because of the appropriation of the liturgical use of the term ‘satisfaction’. The latter is a fairly technical use and is based, I presume, on Anselm’s ‘Satisfaction’ model of atonement (in Cur Deo Homo, I think). In this it is honour not wrath which is ‘satisfied’. In addition, (I have read that) Anselm specifically states that the satisfaction is not punishment. The satisfaction averts the punishment that would have otherwise ensued.

          • Will
            “So in your view God’s wrath (anger) was not transferred to Jesus? Why then was it ‘satisfied’ by Jesus being punished?”

            Sorry. I don’t see how you conclude that from my post. The fact that Christ bore on the cross the sins of all who have ever or will ever believe and that God condemned and punished those sins in Christ’s flesh delivers those who believe from both wrath and condemnation.
            Phil Almond

          • Will,
            perhaps a little more on sacrifice and ‘transfer’ might help. BTW, I prefer ‘offering’ to ‘sacrifice’ as the meaning of the latter has shifted from its original as ‘something made holy by being offered to God’.

            That the offering is holy is evident in different ways in Leviticus. When the body is not burnt on the alter, or consumed by the priests, it is burned in a holy place outside the camp. The blood of the offering is splashed on the sides of the altar. Sometimes, the blood of the offering is symbolically used to cleanse and make holy.

            The pattern of the burnt offering in Lev 1:1-9 is interesting. The one who brings it lays his hand on it, and it is to be an atonement, yet the blood is not made unclean by this. Rather, it ‘works’ not by punishing the animal, but by being ‘an aroma pleasing to the Lord’.

            Lev 5:1-13 is interesting to me. Firstly, there is a scale of different offerings here. However, this does not depend upon the severity of the offence but the wealth of the offender. This implies to me that the offering is to be a cost – a literal price which is significant to the offender (and this is why you have to use a good animal without defect, rather than conveniently use that grotty lamb). Most interesting is that at the bottom of the scale is that grain is to be offered – a vegetarian offering for the poorest.

            In poking around, I came across another non-animal offering for atonement in Exodus 30:11-16. Literal money is to be used for atonement.

            Perhaps the one place where a transfer model is around is on the Day of Atonement. However, here it is the goat [sic] for which the lot ‘fell to Azazel’ which has the sins of the people confessed over its head. But this goat is not slaughtered (indeed the text explicitly refers to it as alive twice) but led into the wilderness ‘to Azazel’. This is a removal ritual with the goat carrying away the sin from the people, rather than a punishment ritual. Although the goat might not survive in the wilderness (although it could!), its death is not the centre of what is going on here.

          • David Wilson’s
            “On the latter point, it enables the criticism that the Cross is “cosmic child-abuse” with God being pleased to see the suffering of Jesus.” I point out that such criticism is a total misrepresentation of the doctrine I am defending. Also I point out that the doctrine I am defending is clearly stated in the Anglican Homilies of Passion, Nativity and Salvation which, like all the Homilies, contain according to Article 35 ‘godly and wholesome doctrine’. I entirely agree that the Anglican Historic Formularies are subject, like all human creeds, to the challenge of Holy Scripture, but I would be interested to know whether Will and David accept that the Homilies I mention do support the doctrine I am defending.
            Phil Almond

          • Will, given your understanding of the atonement, do you believe a Christian cannot lose their salvation as their sin has already been condemned in Jesus?

            Peter

          • Hi Phil,
            I’m not sure what your intent is in refering to Article 35. The homilies therein are not part of the official ‘historical formularies’ of the CofE which bear witness to the faith (but do not define it). However, I presume that you wish to draw attention to Homily 13 from the second book, “AN HOMILIE FOR good Friday, concerning the death and passion of our Sauiour Iesus Christ.” (I’m looking at
            http://www.anglicanlibrary.org/homilies/bk2hom13.htm).

            It seems to me that the dominant metaphor for our need here is that of debt, from which we are redeemed (another money reference).

            This is an important section, I think (leaving in the old spelling!):

            “For so well pleased is the Father almighty GOD, with Christ his Sonne, that for his sake he fauoureth vs, and will denie vs nothing. So pleasant was this sacrifice and oblation of his Sonnes death, which hee so obediently and innocently suffered, that wee should take it for the onely and full amendes for all the sinnes of the world. And such fauour did he purchase by his death, of his heauenly Father for vs, that for the merite thereof (if we be true Christians indeede, and not in word onely) we be now fully in GODS grace againe, and clearely discharged from our sinne. No tongue surely is able to expresse the worthinesse of this so precious a death.”

            For our discussion, this raises to me this important question:

            Was Christ’s death, this “sacrifice and oblation”, pleasing to God because the suffering of Christ, the pain and death? Or was it because of Christ’s obedience to come and live among us the human life as it should be lived, which led inevitably to his death at the hands of men?

            What think thee?

          • Phil,
            The converse of Romans 8:1 is that those not in Christ Jesus still face condemnation (‘katakrima’).
            That is not quite logical. “If A then B” holds does not imply that “If Not A then Not B” also necessarily holds.

            That aside, the end of that same chapter (Romans 8:31-39) brings us back to the general subject of this discussion: the love of God. It seems hard not to find in this the priority and strength of God’s love for us, undeserving as we are.

          • David – it’s notable that the NT never makes use of scapegoat imagery to refer to Christ. Always a lamb that is sacrificed, never a goat sent away.

            I think Jesus’ offering was acceptable to God because he was a perfect man who was also divine who offered his life on behalf of sinful humanity in place of the life of humankind (as a whole) – the second Adam. I think it was also significant that as divine his death and resurrection did not just deal with the penalty of sin but also its power, as per Romans 6-8, since by being united with Christ and in his death and resurrection the power of sin in us is put to death and we are transformed spiritually and physically by resurrection power.

          • Peter – sorry I don’t understand your question. I think Christians can fall away by failing to persevere in the faith. I think that God has condemned (spoken judgement over) the power of sin in us which he has dealt with in Christ. I’m not sure why the second statement contradicts the first?

          • David
            The extract from the passion Homily I have in mind is not the one you gave but:
            And yet, I say, did Christ put himselfe betweene GODS deserued wrath, and our sinne, and rent that obligation wherein we were in danger to GOD, and payd our debt (Colossians 2.14). Our debt was a great deale too great for vs to haue payd. And without payment, GOD the Father could neuer bee at one with vs. Neither was it possible to bee losed from this debt by our owne ability. It pleased him therefore to be the payer thereof, and to discharge vs quite.

            From the Salvation Homily:
            For the more full understanding hereof, it is our parts and duties ever to remember the great mercy of God, how that (all the world being wrapped in sin by breaking of the Law) God sent his only son our Saviour Christ into this world, to fulfil the Law for us, and by shedding of his most precious blood, to make a sacrifice and satisfaction, or (as it may be called) amends to his Father for our sins, to assuage his wrath and indignation conceived against us for the same.

            From the Nativity Homily:
            ‘And because death, according to S. Paul, is the iust stipende and reward of sinne, therefore to appease the wrath of GOD, and to satisfie his Iustice, it was expedient that our Mediatour should be such a one, as might take vpon him the sins of mankinde and sustaine the due punishment thereof, namely death’.

            Article 35 describes the Homilies as godly and wholesome doctrine. All who make the Declaration of Assent are assenting to that description.

            If a man is in Christ Jesus (A) he is not condemned (B). If a man is not in Christ Jesus (not A) then he is condemned (not not condemned)(not B). Your criticism of what I said is only valid if there are conditions other than being in Christ Jesus which result in the man not being condemned. It is clear from the New Testament that there are no such other conditions.

            Besides Romans 5:18 means that we all face condemnation from birth onwards because of Adam’s sin, and only Christ can deliver us from that condemnation.

            Phil Almond

          • “Phil – sorry I’m still not clear on your view: was God’s wrath/anger transferred to Jesus?”
            Will, I reply as follows:
            My assumptions:
            1 Because of Original Sin and our personal sins we all face from birth onwards the wrath and condemnation, punishment and curse of God
            2 After the day of Judgment God inflicts this wrath and condemnation, punishment and curse on those he has not saved through Christ in his love and mercy and grace. Contra Ian Paul and Stephen Travis.

            As you know I set out my full case in a previous thread about the atonement and in the lengthy debate that followed. I will try to summarise it below.

            Christ bore, offered up, carried up our sins in his body onto the tree.
            ‘God made the one not knowing sin sin on behalf of us in order that we might become the righteousness of God in him’. Substitution.
            ‘Christ redeemed us out of the curse of the law becoming a curse on behalf of us’. Substitution.
            ‘The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all’. Substitution.

            On the cross Christ our substitute and sin-bearer experienced the deserved wrath, condemnation, punishment and curse for the sins of all who have ever or will ever repent and trust in his atoning death and life-giving resurrection, thus saving them from experiencing those terrible judgments on Judgment Day.

            I think that some of you are not willing to accept the doctrine of penal substitution because nowhere in the Bible does it say in so many words something like ‘God punished our sins in Jesus instead of punishing us’. But that is like refusing to believe the doctrine of the two natures of Christ because the Bible does not say in so many words something like
            ‘The Son, who is the Word of the Father, was begotten from eternity of the Father, and is the true and eternal God, of one substance with the Father. He took man’s nature in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary, of her substance, in such a way that two whole and perfect natures, the Godhead and manhood, were joined together in one person, never to be divided. Of these two natures is the one Christ, true God and true man’.

            However in my view the Bible comes close to saying ‘God punished our sins in Jesus instead of punishing us’ in Romans 8:3. I plan to scrutinise our debate, especially the post beginning

            “Will Jones
            April 22, 2017 at 10:36 pm | Reply
            Hi Phil
            You say: ‘I assume that we are agreed (are we?) that the reason why there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (8:1) is because of what the text says in 8:2-8:3.’
            No I don’t agree – the reason there is no condemnation is set out in the whole following passage: it is all an explanation of why there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus….”

            To recapture why I thought at the time that your argument was not sound and then I will post again on this thread.

            Phil Almond

          • Phil – only the Nativity homily seems to be about punishment transfer, the others are about financial and atonement. My view is that punishment transfer is an analogy rather than literal (cf Isaiah 53:5), as Jesus was not actually being punished on the cross. I know that punishment transfer was an idea that gained some prominence during the Reformation, but it is without biblical warrant.

            You now seem to be saying that you do think God’s anger was transferred to Jesus. But as I say, there is no indication anywhere in the NT that they thought God was ever angry with Jesus. Or perhaps you think that his anger was transferred without him actually being angry with Jesus? But then I don’t understand what you mean. How can his anger be transferred to Jesus without him actually being angry with him?

          • Will
            “You now seem to be saying that you do think God’s anger was transferred to Jesus”.

            In my last post I was giving the Biblical case that OUR SIN was ‘transferred’ to Christ and He suffered, in His human nature, the wrath, condemnation, punishment and curse that OUR SIN deserves.

            Do you acknowledge that the Nativity Homily does support my view? Also the following phrases are in the other two homilies:
            “Christ put himselfe betweene GODS deserued wrath, and our sinne”
            “to make a sacrifice and satisfaction, or (as it may be called) amends to his Father for our sins, to assuage his wrath and indignation conceived against us for the same”.
            Phil Almond

          • Phil – yes I think the Nativity homily appears to take your view, as do some other Reformation sources. That doesn’t make it a view supported by scripture (though I do think the idea can be used analogically).

            The Salvation homily is less clear, but by speaking of sacrifice, satisfaction and amends seems to be speaking mainly in terms of atonement imagery rather than punishment or wrath transfer. Assuage could mean take away rather than satisfy a desire, and since it says it assuaged his indignation as well as his wrath that would be the natural reading.

            I’m aware that it is God’s anger at our sin you mean. But in your view the sin is transferred to Jesus, and God punishes Jesus in order to satisfy his wrath. In order for this to work surely the sin must actually be transferred, and so must the anger and the punishment. So now Jesus actually becomes guilty of my sins and the sins of everyone, and God actually becomes angry with Jesus and actually punishes him? Or is it only as though Jesus has committed the sins, and as though God is angry with him, and as though he punishes him? Which of these things do you think actually happen and which only ‘as though’. But if Jesus doesn’t actually become guilty of my sins, why is he punished for them – is God just pretending? Why is this just?

            If I understand you correctly you seem to be imagining sins as things which can be detached from one person and attached to another, in a way that means the first person is actually no longer guilty of them but the new person doesn’t actually become guilty of them, but nonetheless can actually be punished for them (or their ‘flesh’ can?), but not such that God is actually angry with the person, just with the sins.

            Yet all of this strange metaphysical theorising is wholly unnecessary as the Bible clearly says that Christ’s offering was a sacrifice of atonement, wherein his life is offered up in place of the life of others to remove the need for punishment, not to transfer the punishment (or the wrath) to the innocent party, which would be unjust.

          • Will
            I am studying our previous debate/disagreement to remind myself of the arguments you used to counter my case for PSA. So this is just an interim reply to your October 17 and October 18 posts.

            I must first of all withdraw my statement in my October 16, 2019 at 2:19 pm post “the doctrine is not saying that God is angry with Jesus” because when I say in my October 17, 2019 at 7:00 pm post
            “On the cross Christ our substitute and sin-bearer experienced the deserved wrath, condemnation, punishment and curse for the sins of all who have ever or will ever repent and trust in his atoning death and life-giving resurrection, thus saving them from experiencing those terrible judgments on Judgment Day” – the wrath, condemnation, punishment and curse are from God.

            You have not commented on my assumptions in my post – whether you agree or disagree. I assume, from our earlier debate to establish common ground that you agree, but it would be helpful to have this confirmed. Also you have not commented explicitly on the verses I quoted in that post on ‘sin transfer’ and ‘substitution’. I note your “My view is that punishment transfer is an analogy rather than literal (cf Isaiah 53:5), as Jesus was not actually being punished on the cross. I know that punishment transfer was an idea that gained some prominence during the Reformation, but it is without biblical warrant”. I assume therefore that my verses (I will repeat them here for clarity:
            Christ bore, offered up, carried up our sins in his body onto the tree.
            ‘God made the one not knowing sin sin on behalf of us in order that we might become the righteousness of God in him’. Substitution.
            ‘Christ redeemed us out of the curse of the law becoming a curse on behalf of us’. Substitution.
            ‘The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all’. Substitution) are also in your view analogies rather than literal. Your “as Jesus was not actually being punished on the cross” begs the question because if my verses are literally true and not analogies this is the Biblical warrant for the reality of ‘sin transfer’. My ‘strange metaphysical theorising’ is just me taking the verses I quoted as really (literally if you like) true.

            I am glad you acknowledge that the quote from the Nativity Homily supports my case and I entirely agree that the Homilies, like all statements and confessions of faith, must be judged by the Bible to see if they are true or false. I myself could not make the Declaration of Assent because of what the Prayer Book says about infant regeneration in baptism. But those who have made the Declaration do commit themselves to Article 35 which describes the Homilies as ‘wholesome and godly’ – including what the Homilies say about the atonement. Those who have made the Declaration without believing what the Homilies say and those who did believe them when they made the Declaration but no longer do so surely find themselves in a position within the Church of England which is best described as problematic.

            But now I want to discuss an atonement event which is literally true and not an analogy: the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.
            I comment on your “Bible clearly says that Christ’s offering was a sacrifice of atonement, wherein his life is offered up in place of the life of others to remove the need for punishment, not to transfer the punishment (or the wrath) to the innocent party, which would be unjust” as follows:

            “…his life is offered up…” is by Christ dying on the cross, e.g. Romans 5:6-8. And John 10 tells us that the Father loves Him because He lays down His life that He might take it again; that no man takes it from Him but He lays it down from Himself. He has power to lay it down and power to take it again, in obedience to His father’s command.

            Revelation 13:8 refers to “the scroll of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”. Acts 2:23 says, “this man given up by the having been fixed counsel and foreknowledge of God…”.
            Putting all this together it is clear that the death of Christ was planned by God in eternity, a plan, surely, that all three Persons in the Holy Trinity agreed. And that it has been the will of God from eternity that Christ should suffer and die on the cross So it would be legitimate (do you agree?) to reword your statement to “Bible clearly says that Christ’s offering was a sacrifice of atonement, wherein HE DIED in place of the DEATH of others to remove the need for punishment, not to transfer the punishment (or the wrath) to the innocent party, which would be unjust.” When you say “in place of” (of course if you want to withdraw that phrase you can) you are saying that the death of Christ was in place of our death. But our death is the wages of sin, the punishment for sin. Your view seems to be that the whole terrible experience of Christ’s death on the cross, all His suffering, the cry of dereliction and his death, planned in eternity by the Holy Trinity, somehow enables God to deliver believers from that wrath, condemnation, punishment and curse. But why then had Christ to suffer and die? It makes much more sense if it is the case that God always acts according to all He is, including His justice, and that sin is so terrible in His sight that He must punish sinners and that the sacrifice of atonement consists in Christ bearing that punishment for us in a wonderful act of grace, mercy and love, really bearing our sins and not a mere analogy. ‘That He might be just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus’.

            No doubt there is mystery in all this. But all great Christian doctrines end in mystery, in incomprehensible (in the Athanasian Creed sense) realities.

            The crucifixion is a unique event. There is no injustice or unfairness. The only Persons involved are the Three Blessed Persons of the Holy Trinity; the righteous, just, holy, sovereign, loving, gracious, merciful, compassionate, terrible and wonderful God.

            Phil Almond

          • Phil – thank you for your detailed response.

            I think I must say that the images of Christ bearing sins (or being made sin) are figurative, inasmuch as I don’t think that sins are the kind of thing that can be literally detached from one person and attached to another.

            This seems to be one of the key points of difference between us, so can we explore it a little?

            You say God ‘must punish sinners’. Yet surely this is not, on your account, true, as we are sinners yet he does not punish us. Instead he punishes Christ, yet Christ was not a sinner. Presumably though this is where sin transfer comes in? Is it your view that God literally detaches our sins from us (so we are no longer sinners, hence sparing us) and literally attaches them to Christ, hence punishing him for them? But if our sins have literally been detached from us and literally attached to Jesus, such that in justice God does not punish us but instead punishes Jesus, how can you avoid the implication that this makes Jesus literally a sinner, literally culpable for all the sins of humanity, and thus justly punished by God for them? Indeed, since you take ‘made sin’ literally, and agree that God was literally angry with Jesus, and punishes Jesus because he ‘must punish sinners’, is that not your view? If not, how do you avoid it, given all that you think is literally true about sin and punishment transfer? These are genuine not rhetorical questions of course.

            PS: It’s interesting you were initially reticent to say God was angry with Jesus. You probably know that Calvin was also hesitant on this point, and indeed actually asserted that God was not angry with Jesus:
            Yet it is not to be understood that the Father was ever angry toward him. For how could he be angry toward his beloved Son, “in whom he was well pleased”? Or how could he appease the Father by his intercession, if the Father regarded him as an enemy? But it is in this sense that he is said to have borne the weight of divine severity, since he was “stricken and afflicted” by God’s hand, and experienced all the signs of a wrathful and avenging God, so as to be compelled to cry out in deep anguish: “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
            While I don’t think I agree with all Calvin says on this, his move here to more figurative way of speaking of the outpouring of divine wrath (‘experienced all the sign of a wrathful and avenging God’) is similar to the points I am making.

          • Will

            Thank you for your October 21 2019 post which is a response to my October 20 post. I apologise for delay in replying to your October 21 post. Our disagreement has the advantage for me that it forces me to be as precise as possible in what I say. This post does not say all I want to say but makes a number of points on the road to saying all I want to say.

            First point: My assumptions:
            1 Because of Original Sin and our personal sins we all face from birth onwards the wrath and condemnation, punishment and curse of God
            2 After the day of Judgment God inflicts this wrath and condemnation, punishment and curse on those he has not saved through Christ in his love and mercy and grace. Contra Ian Paul and Stephen Travis.
            In your posts on this thread I don’t think you have explicitly agreed with those assumptions although I think you agreed with them in our debate on other threads. It would clarify the common ground for our debate if you could indicate whether or not you fully agree that these assumptions about divine retribution are true. As I have said before, the conviction that motivates my involvement in this debate is the prayer and wish that the terrible warning of that retribution should be faithfully proclaimed by the Church as a whole, alongside God’s wonderful sincere invitation to all to submit to Christ in his atoning death and life-giving resurrection, to submit in repentance, faith, love, obedience and fear, and I consider the link between that retribution and the truth of penal substitution to be indissoluble.

            Second point: I quote part of what you said in our earlier discussion on another thread:
            “That’s a very thorough response, and I agree that I have misconstrued ransom/redemption imagery. I had spotted this myself, but am grateful for the overview of biblical usage of the terms. Yes, their meaning is not restricted to what I had said, and indeed do generally mean making something good/right/free through paying the necessary price. So construed they are of course not metaphors but literal terms. On sin/merit imputation. I’m afraid I do take this as metaphorical because I do regard it as logically incoherent to speak of literally transferring bad and good actions from an agent to another agent….”
            I put it to you that in describing “ransom/redemption imagery” in the way you have you are agreeing that they are instances of substitution.

            Third point: In the quote I have just quoted you reject “literally transferring bad and good actions from an agent to another agent” and in your October 21 post you challenge me that my view makes Jesus literally a sinner because I am saying that our sins have “literally been detached from us and literally attached to Jesus”. This is where I realise the need for greater precision in what I have previously said. Does it help to persuade you (I quite see that it may not help) if we speak not of sin transfer but punishment transfer. This is “making something good/right/free through paying the necessary price” which you agree is what ransom and redemption are about. Why do you accept that ‘ransom/redemption’ is literal but deny that punishment transfer is literal? This does not ‘make Jesus literally a sinner’. The sin is ours. He bore the punishment for those sins in our place.

            Fourth point: In your October 21 post you did not comment on the following point I made in October 20 post, which I repeat here:
            ‘I comment on your “Bible clearly says that Christ’s offering was a sacrifice of atonement, wherein his life is offered up in place of the life of others to remove the need for punishment, not to transfer the punishment (or the wrath) to the innocent party, which would be unjust” as follows:

            “…his life is offered up…” is by Christ dying on the cross, e.g. Romans 5:6-8. And John 10 tells us that the Father loves Him because He lays down His life that He might take it again; that no man takes it from Him but He lays it down from Himself. He has power to lay it down and power to take it again, in obedience to His father’s command.

            Revelation 13:8 refers to “the scroll of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”. Acts 2:23 says, “this man given up by the having been fixed counsel and foreknowledge of God…”.
            Putting all this together it is clear that the death of Christ was planned by God in eternity, a plan, surely, that all three Persons in the Holy Trinity agreed. And that it has been the will of God from eternity that Christ should suffer and die on the cross So it would be legitimate (do you agree?) to reword your statement to “Bible clearly says that Christ’s offering was a sacrifice of atonement, wherein HE DIED in place of the DEATH of others to remove the need for punishment, not to transfer the punishment (or the wrath) to the innocent party, which would be unjust.” When you say “in place of” (of course if you want to withdraw that phrase you can) you are saying that the death of Christ was in place of our death. But our death is the wages of sin, the punishment for sin.’
            I ask again: do you agree with my rewording of your “Bible clearly says……..unjust” where I replace ‘life’ with ‘death’? And do you still hold to your phrase “in place of”. And I further challenge your ‘not to transfer the punishment (or the wrath) to the innocent party, which would be unjust”’ as follows: It is not unjust because it was the plan that all Persons of the Holy Trinity agreed before the foundation of the world; they decide what is just and unjust. ‘For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit’.

            Fifth point: Your quote from Calvin is interesting. You probably remember that this whole debate started with Ian Paul referring to an article by Derek Rishmawy (who does believe that Penal Substitution is true) in which he mentioned that quote from Calvin in one of the 3 points we should note when preaching about the Atonement – ‘Don’t break up the Trinity’. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/3-mistakes-to-avoid-in-your-good-friday-sermon/. You are no doubt aware of other things Calvin says such as: “Another principal part of our reconciliation with God was, that man, who had lost himself by his disobedience, should, by way of remedy, oppose to it obedience, satisfy the justice of God, and pay the penalty of sin. Therefore, our Lord came forth very man, adopted the person of Adam, and assumed his name, that he might in his stead obey the Father; that he might present our flesh as the price of satisfaction to the just judgment of God, and in the same flesh pay the penalty which we had incurred. Finally, since as God only he could not suffer, and as man only could not overcome death, he united the human nature with the divine, that he might subject the weakness of the one to death as an expiation of sin, and by the power of the other, maintaining a struggle with death, might gain us the victory. Those, therefore, who rob Christ of divinity or humanity either detract from his majesty and glory, or obscure his goodness. On the other hand, they are no less injurious to men, undermining and subverting their faith, which, unless it rest on this foundation, cannot stand.” I am not convinced that Calvin in the quote you give is moving to a more figurative way of speaking: after all, Christ’s cry of dereliction was literal and must indicate a literal dereliction. But Calvin does here raise the question of the Trinity which I hope to comment on in another post.

            Sixth point: I wonder if you have read J.I. Packers article “What Did the Cross Achieve?: The Logic of Penal Substitution” https://www.9marks.org/article/what-did-the-cross-achieve-the-logic-of-penal-substitution/ and what you thought of it. He considers Substitution and Retribution, Substitution and Solidarity, Substitution and Mystery, Substitution and Salvation. Substitution and Divine Love. I just quote here part of Substitution and Solidarity:
            Anticipating the rationalistic criticism that guilt is not transferable and the substitution described, if real, would be immoral, our model now invokes Paul’s description of the Lord Jesus Christ as the second man and last Adam, who involved us in his sin-bearing as truly as Adam involved us in his sinning (cf. 1 Cor 15:45 ff.; Rom 5:12 ff.). Penal substitution was seen by Luther, the pioneer in stating it, and by those who came after as grounded in this ontological solidarity, and as being one ‘moment’ in the larger mystery of what Luther called ‘a wonderful exchange’ and Dr. Morna Hooker designates ‘interchange in Christ’. In this mystery there are four ‘moments’ to be distinguished. The first is the incarnation when the Son of God came into the human situation, ‘born of a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem them which were under the law’ (Gal 4:4 f.). The second ‘moment’ was the cross, where Jesus, as Luther and Calvin put it, carried our identity and effectively involved us all in his dying – as Paul says, ‘one died for all, therefore all died’ ( 2 Cor 5:14). Nor is this sharing in Christ’s death a legal fiction, a form of words to which no reality corresponds; it is part of the objective fact of Christ, the mystery that is ‘there’ whether we grasp it or not. So now Christ’s substitution for us, which is exclusive in the sense of making the work of atonement wholly his and allowing us no share in performing it, is seen to be from another standpoint inclusive of us, inasmuch as ontologically and objectively, in a manner transcending bounds of space and time, Christ has taken us with him into his death and through his death into his resurrection. Thus knowledge of Christ’s death for us as our sin-bearing substitute requires us to see ourselves as dead, risen and alive for evermore in him. We who believe have died – painlessly and invisibly, we might say – in solidarity with him because he died, painfully and publicly, in substitution for us. His death for us brought remission of sins committed ‘in’ Adam so that ‘in’ him we might enjoy God’s acceptance; our death ‘in’ him brings release from the existence we knew ‘in’ Adam, so that ‘in’ him we are raised to new life and become new creatures (cf. Rom 5–6; 2 Cor 5:17, 21; Col 2:6–3:4).
            Does this Solidarity ease some of your concerns about penal substitution?

            Seventh point: The doctrine of the Two Natures of Christ has to be integrated into a precise understanding of the Atonement. It is linked to the question of the Trinity. Rishmawy alludes to this in his piece but perhaps does not develop it fully.

            Phil Almond

        • Colin
          There are two threads where tis issue of ‘satisfaction’ is extensively debated: ‘Did Jesus die to satisfy God’s wrath?’ and ‘On the cross when Jesus died, was ‘the wrath of God satisfied’? I should say this is one of the issues where I strongly disagree with Ian. The other is the ordination of women. I value and admire his site – he posts views he disagrees with – unlike ‘Thinking Anglicans’ and I support his patient defence of the Church’s present doctrine on Marriage. I mostly agree with his posts on other subjects.
          Phil Almond

  11. Really excellent interview. Not sure, though, about seeing the Song of Songs as a ‘joyful celebration of erotic love’, or in Ian’s words, ‘a quite explicit and detailed celebration of intimate bodily pleasure between the lover and the beloved.’ Pleasure is expressed inasmuch as there is explicit admiration of the body, but it needs also to be stressed that the man and the woman are not yet married, their love is not yet consummated (though she longs for it) and one important message is that we should not seek (stir up or awaken) erotic love as an end in itself. The couple do appear to have kissed!

    It is surely a mistake to suppose that there is no ‘allegorical’ (sensu lato) meaning in the Song. (You say it has been ‘allegorised to death’ – meaning that you disapprove of the allegorising tout court or that you are just fed up with it?) And likewise a mistake to insist that one has to choose between the evidently non-allegorical meaning of the work as originally written and an interpretation which sees a subliminal reference to Christ and his Bride. Perhaps we should really be arguing that the future consummation of his marriage will be every bit as climactic as a human couple’s wedding night.

    Regarding Rom 1:7, the Greek says ‘To all in Rome [who are] beloved by God, [and] called saints [or: holy]’. By virtue of the gospel we are called holy now, not called to be what we not yet are. The same point applies to Rom 1:6 – God says that we already are now ‘of Christ’, not that we are called to become part of him. Also I Cor 1:2. In other letters Paul explicitly addresses his readers as the ‘saints’ (e.g. II Cor 1:1). Other teaching of course emphasises the need to strive for holiness (to become what God declares we already are).

    • Steven

      The Songs, being poems with no clear narrative structure, are not straightforward to interpret. However it does seem that the couple are married. See esp ch 4 and multiple refs to his bride. Many commentators see 5:1 as the consummation of their relationship and a centre of the Songs. Within that relationship there is no hint of restraint about stirring up erotic desire!

      On allegory, I suspect it became an inevitable approach in light of the church’s ambivalent attitude to sex and the body, much influenced by Augustine. Compare his description of the first sex scene between Adam and Eve in The City of God (no passion, calmness of mind and no corruption of the integrity of the body) with the Songs. It shows that something has gone seriously awry. My problem with allegory is that it arbitrarily puts the ‘hidden’ meaning of the text in the hands of the allegorizer.

      • Yes, the Song is difficult to interpret, to be sure. I take ‘bride’ to mean a woman who is betrothed but has not yet consummated the marriage, much as Mary was Joseph’s bride at the time of the annunciation but not fully married.

        5:1. Yes, one could read it this way. However, the predominant sense of the poem is that the bride is longing for a union that has not yet happened, the man being absent. They both speak as if present to each other, but it is not really a dialogue. A few lines later she thinks he is knocking on her door, but she wakes to find it was only a dream. In 6:2, she observes that he has gone down to his garden to the beds of spices – as in 5:1 – but she does not appear to be with him; the garden is not there a metaphor for her body. The Lord is in paradise, his garden of delights, while we his bride remain on earth, longing for that paradise.

        I don’t see much ‘ambivalence’ towards sex and the body in today’s Christianity. Would that there were. Few people read Augustine these days, and his influence is even smaller.

        I think the bride is urging the daughters of Jerusalem not to actively stir up erotic love precisely because she knows how powerful it can be.

        Allegory puts the ‘hidden’ meaning of the text in the allegory, not the allegoriser. If it is a true allegory, then it is there, just as it is there in the parables, hidden from the wise and understanding. If the allegoriser mistakes the meaning, then his interpretation is open to the charge of being ‘arbitrary’. But then even without the allegorical dimension there is scope for different readings, as our discussion illustrates.

  12. I expect that we are all broadly in agreement here except that perhaps we put our emphasis in slightly different places.
    The actual word ‘wrath’ is not mentioned in the simple summaries of the preached message in Acts, but since they probably spoke at greater length than these summaries we can hardly say with certainty that the concept of judgement was not included. Besides repent/repentance is mentioned 11 times, and that surely implies a judgement that will otherwise be incurred, and Paul explicitly states this in Acts 17:30, 31: “He commands all men everywhere to repent because he has fixed a day on which he will judge world.” In Acts 24:25 “he argued about justice and self-control and future judgement.”
    Modern day preaching rarely mentions repentance, and since there is no widespread feeling of guilt as there was in the ancient world, the stress on God’s love is probably misplaced.
    In his excellent little book, “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God”, Don Carson writes:
    “In generations when almost everyone believed in the justice of God, people sometimes found it difficult to believe in the love of God. Nowadays if you tell people that God loves them, they are unlikely to be surprised. Of course God loves me, he’s like that isn’t he? Besides, why shouldn’t he love me? I’m kind of cute, or as least as nice as the next person. I’m okay, you’re okay, and God loves you and me.”
    Because it is so readily misunderstood, perhaps we should leave love to be implied rather than stated as we show how, all undeservedly, God has provided a Saviour at immense cost to himself. Once people are in the kingdom we can then teach them more readily about God’s love.

  13. Hi Patrick, just one comment:’ “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (8). As a result believers have God’s love poured out into their hearts by the Holy Spirit. Now justified, they have no fear of God’s wrath (9).’

    Given this, do you agree that Christians cannot lose their salvation? That justification is a specific act on God’s part towards the sinner, not at the end of his life (as NT Wright would have us believe) but when he accepts Christ? And the results from then on are eternal?

    If the answers to these questions are ‘yes’, how do you understand, for example, the experiences of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts? Did they not suffer the wrath of God in being struck down?

    Thanks, Peter

    • Peter, that’s a big question, I am not sure it is possible to answer it in a blog conversation box. There is a tension that Christians have struggled for centuries to resolve. A major theme that came out in the expositions and which I then discuss in the concluding reflections is how God’s love is unconditioned (not conditioned on anything humans bring to the table) but is NOT unconditional (love calls for, and even commands, a response of obedience). The necessary human response to divine love is everywhere, OT to NT. This is a point John Barclay makes in his big book on grace, Paul and the Gift. Those two aspects are inseparable. It seems to me that the Bible does not tend to get into theoretical debates about ‘What happens if I do x?’, rather God’s initiatory saving love is objectively and subjectively transformative. Take John 15 – only because of divine love can disciples become ‘friends’, but that friendship love entails obedience if they are to remain (abide) in Jesus’ love. It results in ‘fruit’ – disciples are to love one another. Such love is an indispensable sign of being loved by God and loving God.

    • Patrick
      PC1 asked you whether you would answer ‘yes’ to the statements he made about justification and final perseverance. It would be good if you could give him an answer – yes or no to each of his statements, please. I answer his question about Ananias and Sapphira as follows: One possible answer is that they were not ‘born from above’ Christians. Another answer – we should distinguish between penal retributive wrath (towards the unsaved) and chastening wrath towards ‘born from above’ Christians, even when that chastening wrath is fatal.
      Phil Almond

      • Thanks, Patrick.

        I dont disagree with you re fruit and love. But my question is more about the objective reality of salvation.

        Does God ‘save’ an individual when they repent and ask Jesus for forgiveness, and begin to follow Him? If yes, can that salvation ever be lost due to that individual? If the answer to that question is yes, then to my mind that seems to indicate our initial salvation is down to God, but our continued salvation, on into eternity, is down to us. It
        seems to me it removes any real sense of security as it would then appear your security depends on you, and quite frankly I dont want to depend on myself!

        I’ll be honest, Ive had doubts about myself for a very long time – am I really accepted? Forgiven? Not just of past sins, but of recent? Will my future sins be forgiven? Perhaps I want someone to give an ‘easy’ answer. Which I know is not appropriate.

        But as you say, perhaps not for a blog.

        Peter

        • Peter
          “not for a blog”? In my view a blog is just the right place to debate and disagree on these vital matters, so that the strongest arguments from all sides can be set out and weighed by us all. As you might guess I hold a definite view on the issues you raise but perhaps I should not post until Patrick has had the chance to give his view.
          Phil Almond

  14. OK,
    Pre – creation within the loving Triune God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, where was wrath.
    So far as I can see from scripture, it is seen in response to eating forbidden fruit, from the embedded idea that God is not good and generous, a response of contrast, of curse of judgement, death, along with a promise Seed, Christ, the last Adam, who ultimately, would bear that curse for those who believe, who completed both sides (God’s and humanities) of all Covenants, but Holy Judgement remains to the end.
    I’d suggest that the key passage if for God’s ultimate purposes is John 17, that the love Of the Father has for the Son and vice versa, be in us.

  15. Class – right on the money, Patrick!
    ‘And the word of the Lord was rare in those days’ – how refreshing to hear prophetic clarity regarding the gospel of the Kingdom.

    “we sing cringe-worthy romantic worship songs” – indeed! If Acts is our guide to effective preaching of the Kingdom of God and doesn’t mention the love of God (but does mention their love for one another); then maybe the Psalms give us an idea of how worship should be pitched. God’s love towards the Psalmist (as opposed to the Psalmist’s love for God – fulfilling the first great commandment) is mentioned just once. Seeing that mention is Psalm 91, which is a Messianic psalm, it is arguable that this is a prophecy regarding God’s BELOVED Son. And Jesus, in revealing the individual nature of a relationship with God, makes it conditional:
    “He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father”.
    The expressions of love in the Psalms, especially Ps 119, are mostly connected with obedience to God’s will and word and do not convey any sense of romance or God being ‘besotted’ with us.

    The overarching covenant message of the OT is God’s love for his chosen people as a whole, rather than individuals; this is fulfilled in Revelation 21 where the perfect love of God is revealed in that anonymised, redeemed, chosen people.

  16. I am reminded of how broadly John’s “God is love” statement is applied in our modern context. It is interesting that in the epistles of John the only form of love Christians are commanded to exhibit is love of one’s Christian brother. And the highest form of love exhibited by God and Christ in the Johannine literature is love for one’s friends and for the elect. I wonder if this should color our understanding of “God is love”—i.e. God is love not in a general sense but in the sense that he is undying hesed, steadfast love for those with whom he is in covenant.

  17. Patrick
    I think (but I can’t just find it) that a post has already referred to Carson’s essay “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God”.
    If you have time it would be interesting if you could indicate where (if anywhere) you agree with Carson and where (if anywhere) you disagree with him.
    Phil Almond

  18. Peter

    “PC1
    October 16, 2019 at 4:56 pm
    Will, given your understanding of the atonement, do you believe a Christian cannot lose their salvation as their sin has already been condemned in Jesus?
    Peter”

    Would you like me to give an answer to this question? And comment on Will’s reply

    “Will Jones
    October 16, 2019 at 10:34 pm
    Peter – sorry I don’t understand your question. I think Christians can fall away by failing to persevere in the faith. I think that God has condemned (spoken judgement over) the power of sin in us which he has dealt with in Christ. I’m not sure why the second statement contradicts the first?”

    Phil Almond

    • yes Phil, I would appreciate that. Being unable to respond directly is rather irritating, but I suppose it’s Ian’s way of limiting comments, which is fair enough.

      My point to Will (if he is still reading this!) is that given his view of the atonement, that for the Christian God has dealt with sin/power of sin/law, then to me logically such a person could never be condemned in the future because God has already removed the reason for that condemnation. So I dont understand his response that a Christian can still ultimately be condemned. But I may be wrong.

      Peter

  19. Peter
    As I see it salvation is a process punctuated by events and declarations. Quite a good summary of that process is set out in Article 17 of the Church of England 39 Articles:
    If you google
    Article 17 — Of Predestination and Election | Church Society

    You will get the Article and good commentary on it with some comments about a careful application of this doctrine. One of the main Bible passages on this subject is Romans 8:28-39.

    As you will realise I am debating with Will about the atonement and I don’t understand his whole position at the moment.

    Phil Almond

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