Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Isaiah 53:4 and Penal Substitutionary Atonement

It's been a while since my last post, I've been doing research for a novel I hope to someday write. I know, I have weird hobbies, I spend my time going back and forth between amateur theologian and amateur, aspiring novelist, but it keeps me busy.

I've also been reading a new blog, The Rebel God, Derek Flood has been doing a pretty good job struggling with the atonement.

Now on to today's brief observation.

Matthew 8:16-17 quotes from Isaiah 53:4
16When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick:

17That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.

Penal substitutionary atonement states that God the Father laid the sins on Jesus, but I think what the Gospel of Matthew is saying here in it's quotation of Isaiah 53:4 contradicts this. The people brought their sicknesses, sins and infirmities to Jesus and Jesus took them and absorbed them. He bore/forgave their sins. God the father doesn't seem involved with any kind of laying on of sins here.

Luke 5:21 says:
21And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?

If penal substitution is the law, how can sins be forgiven before the penalty has been paid. How can Jesus forgive sins anyway, if it is God the Father who needs to be paid?

Jesus removed ritual impurites from the people. He restored the outcasts to the community. The cleansing of lepers, and the bleeding woman are examples. As Margaret Barker says, "the miracles were not general acts of healing; Jesus did not mend broken bones. The miracles all have a ritual significance and present Jesus as the restoring high priest. Paul presents the same ideas in a different way; the work of Christ brings sinners back into the community (he uses the term 'justification') and then no supernatural powers are ever again able to separate them and cut them off."

Again you must read Margaret Barker's essay on the atonement. She writes:
Third, there is additional information about the scapegoat in the Mishnah; people pulled out the goat’s hair as it was led away (m.Yoma 6.4). In the Epistle of Barnabas42 there is a quotation from an unknown source about the scapegoat: ‘Spit on it, all of you, thrust your goads into it, wreathe its head with scarlet wool and let it be driven into the desert’ (Barn.7). The goat suffered the fate of the Servant: ‘I gave my back to the smiters and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard. I hid not my face from shame and spitting (Isa.50.6); and ‘He was pierced for our transgressions’ (Isa.53.5). Barnabas continues: ‘When they see him (Jesus) coming on the Day, they are going to be struck with terror at the manifest parallel
between him and the goat.’ The reference is to the future coming of the LORD to his people. This is another Servant motif; the recognition of who the Servant is43. Barnabas, too, associates the scapegoat with the Day of the LORD: ‘They shall see him on that Day, clad to the ankles in his red woollen robe, and will say, ‘Is this not he whom we once crucified and mocked and pierced and spat upon?’ (Barn.7).

On Isaiah 53 she writes this:
Second, we see that Isaiah 53 could have been inspired by the Day of Atonement ritual. A few points must suffice.
1. ‘He shall startle many nations’ (Isai.52.15); yazzeh, the apparently untranslatable verb means ‘sprinkle’ in the atonement ritual (Lev.16.19). The Servant figure does not ‘startle’ many peoples; the original Hebrew says he ‘sprinkles’36.
2. The Servant ‘carries’ the people’s sicknesses or weaknesses (Isa.53.4).
3. The Servant has been wounded for their transgressions. Wounded, hll, is a word which carries both the meanings required by Mary Douglas’s theory of atonement, viz. to pierce or to defile.
4. ‘Upon him was the chastisement that made us whole’ (Isa.53.5b) can also be translated ‘The covenant bond of our peace was his responsibility’37. ‘With his stripes, hbrt, 38we are healed’ would then become ‘By his joining us together we are healed’, forming a parallel to mwsr, covenant bond. The primary meaning of hbr is to unite, join together.
5. The Servant pours out his soul/life as a sin offering, `sm (Isa.53.19). The `sm is,
according to Milgrom, the sacrifice which redresses the m`l, which is either sacrilege
against holy things or violation of the covenant.39 The soul/life was in the blood of the sacrifice, hence it was poured out.
All this suggests that the Servant figure was modelled on the one who performed the
atonement rites in the first temple40. This figure appears in Enoch’s Similitudes in his heavenly aspect as the Man, the Anointed, the Chosen One. In the ritual of the second temple, the figure became two goats: one bearing the sins away and the life/blood of the other being taken into the holy of holies where the ark, the throne had been41.
In pagan/primitive religion the people always believed that the god/person they just lynched restored peace and unity to the community through his beneficence and foreknowledge. It was his plan to be killed by the lynch mob so that the community could be united. This is how the lynch mob saw things. It wasn't the person that was brutally murdered that united them, it was their own collective violence directed toward the scapegoat.

I think it was Nietzsche that said Christianity is structurally the same as pagan religion. In Christianity the lynchers hear the cock crow. Jesus is not turned into a minor deity because people realize what they have done. They killed him, they were responsible for His death. Jesus poured his blood and soul out to them. He becomes the God of Love and Forgiveness who has bore/forgave their sins. So unlike pagan religions, where the people have to constantly reenact the original lynching by finding new scapegoats, Christians must follow Jesus and bear/forgive the sins of others and no longer give into violence and make more scapegoats.

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