Atonement is the Christian doctrine of reconciliation with God through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It lies at the very heart of Christian faith. And yet, surprisingly, doctrinal orthodoxy has never prescribed a particular or exclusive way of answering the question of how, exactly, that state of “at-one-ment” with God—of being made “at one” with him—was brought about. We search in vain through the Creeds of the early church for any definitive statements. Was it thought to be so “obvious” in the first few centuries that no one felt the need to record it for posterity? If so, what was so obvious about it? Perhaps it was simply that Atonement was not a subject of doctrinal dispute and hence required no creedal clarification. Or perhaps Christ’s salvific work was acknowledged to be so multi-faceted that no single account would be adequate on its own.
Atonement has typically been explained through a range of images, metaphors, or “models” reflecting different aspects of Christ’s salvific work in response to the human condition—mostly (but not always) drawn from New Testament themes. Far less clear has been whether, and if so how, those should be ordered and organized. Ought one idea to be understood as central or dominant, and if so, which one, and why? Or is there, perhaps, an overarching theological schema or common nexus that draws them all together?
The Atonement Debate and “Israel-Forgetfulness”
In recent decades, debate about the Atonement has been particularly rife and impassioned within evangelical circles. This has largely focused on whether primacy should be granted to the penal substitutionary theory, as many conservatives would want to insist, over against a multivalent or “kaleidoscopic” understanding that grants freedom to choose our starting point from within the whole range of biblical material.
What often goes unnoticed in the debate, however, is that Christian ways of thinking about the Atonement show an astonishing lack of dependency and continuity with the story of Israel. Although some Atonement themes appropriate cultural imagery from the first-century world—such as sacrifice, or release from slavery—the biblical context of the relationship of Israel and its God appears to have no material impact in understanding Christ’s atoning work. The traditional Christian explanations of the Atonement are dehistoricized, decontextualized, and dejudaized; it seems that Christ could just as well have come at any time and in any place and fulfilled his salvific mission equally effectively. Despite comprising the major part of the canon of Scripture, the story of Israel and its covenant relationship with God appears to have nothing to say in explaining Christ’s atoning work. Surely this should strike us as somewhat odd. Indeed, it would be more logical for the exact opposite to be the case if we recognize the importance of a text-in-context reading.
The formulation of Christian doctrine, Atonement included, has been at best ambivalent toward, and at worst has entirely ignored, Israel’s antecedent relationship with the God who identifies as the God of Israel. It reflects what R. Kendall Soulen has rightly called an “Israel forgetfulness,” rooted in supersessionism (or, “replacement theology”), in which the church is presumed to have taken the place of Israel in the heart and purposes of God. Supersessionism is a sub-set of a wider problem; namely, theological anti-Judaism. This posits a deeply negative reading of the Judaism of the time of Jesus, centered on works-righteousness, and of “the Jews” as hypocritical legalists concerned with outward appearances and ritual ceremony rather than heartfelt inward piety.
Theological anti-Judaism pitches perceived negative features of Judaism against Christianity’s corresponding qualities: law versus grace, flesh versus spirit, darkness versus light, type versus reality, works versus faith, and so on. Everything good about Christianity is seen as corresponding to something bad about Judaism. The Sinaitic covenant centered in Torah is casually denigrated as ineffectual, failed, or flawed, and brusquely cast aside.
Judaism as Christianity’s Antithesis
In short, Christian thinking has taken for granted Judaism’s “calling” to be Christianity’s antithesis, not least concerning soteriology; Christianity is presumed by definition to be everything that Judaism was not. No wonder, then, that the doctrine of Atonement has found no necessary dependence on the antecedent relationship of Israel and its God for grasping either its manner or its efficacy. Theological anti-Judaism flows freely in evangelicalism, at both a popular and academic level, and is at least as problematic as supersessionism in eviscerating the value of Israel’s relationship with its God as a resource for Christian thought. Both find their roots (and, their validation) in the Reformation.
The Reformed doctrines bequeathed to conservative evangelicalism concerning inter alia justification by faith alone, by grace alone, were grounded in the Reformers’ negative reading of the Apostle Paul, specifically in Galatians and Romans, concerning a legalistic Judaism of his day. Grappling with both the excesses of mediæval Catholicism and the burden of his own conscience (“How do I find a gracious God?”), Luther saw direct parallels between his own struggles and those of Paul in passages such as Galatians 2:16–21. Both Apostle and Reformer, he perceived, shared common cause in “confronting a religion of works-righteousness, exemplified in the one case by certain tendencies of late-mediæval Catholicism and in the other by Judaism.”Luther saw himself as called to expose corrupt Catholic legalism in his day, just as he perceived Paul had been called to expose corrupt Jewish legalism in his own day.
Since the Reformation, this deeply negative perception of first-century Judaism has reigned supreme within conservative Reformed evangelicalism. It has been taken to be the “obvious” background to the New Testament—and indeed, to the gospel itself—in both the academy and the church, notwithstanding longstanding complaints from Jewish scholars that this was not a Judaism that they recognized. It is only relatively recently that those Jewish voices have now been heard—perhaps not least because the horror of the Shoah gave cause for deep and profound Christian reflection on the role that the church’s traditional theology had played.
The “New Perspective” on Paul and Second Temple Judaism
Concurrent with that reflection, a new body of scholarly research began to emerge in the latter half of the twentieth century that dramatically changed the landscape. It became known as “The New Perspective on Paul,” and has been likened to a Copernican revolution in Pauline studies. Such is its influence today that it is inconceivable to think of embarking on any serious consideration of Paul’s theology without engaging with it. As Don Garlington says, “Pauline exegesis will never be the same again.”
The New Perspective on Paul is really a new perspective on the world of Second Temple Judaism. Its starting realization—as Jewish scholars had long protested—was that the Reformers had inappropriately read into Paul’s circumstances vis-à-vis first-century Judaism a mirror image of their own circumstances vis-à-vis sixteenth-century Catholicism.
It is easy, when reading Luther, to concentrate on the theological argument with the Roman Catholic Church in which he is so energetically engaged and to miss a subtle hermeneutical impropriety in which the great Reformer and theologian has indulged. . . . Luther assumes that the Jews, against whose view of the Law Paul was arguing, held the same theology of justification as the medieval Roman Catholic Church. This hermeneutical error would be perpetuated over the next four centuries and eventually serve as the organizing principle for mountains of Protestant scholarship on the Old Testament and ancient Judaism.
As James Dunn puts it, “Luther’s fundamental distinction between gospel and law was too completely focused on the danger of self-achieved works-righteousness and too quickly transposed into an antithesis between Christianity and Judaism.” Accordingly, Luther was creating theology in his reading of Paul rather than engaging in an authentic historical reconstruction of Paul’s situation. Paul’s Jewish adversaries became coterminous with Luther’s own opponents, the Catholic theologians, in a common struggle against human religious legalism: “We have here the retrojection of the Protestant-Catholic debate into ancient history, with Judaism taking the role of Catholicism and Christianity the role of Lutheranism.” From that time on, the tendency was to read and interpret Paul and the Judaism of his day through the lens of Luther and his view of the Catholicism of his day, with deeply damaging consequences for Jewish-Christian relations.
Subsequent scholarship both built upon and exacerbated the Reformers’ misreadings. In the late nineteenth century Ferdinand Weber published what became a highly influential work for New Testament research: The Theological System of the Ancient Palestinian Synagogue Based on the Targum, Midrash, and Talmud (1880). Weber was attempting to present a systematic “Jewish theology” compiled from the Mishnah and related rabbinic writings from a later era—a collection of materials unfit for such a purpose. Magnus Zetterholm describes the idea as “patently absurd,” predicated upon “a selection of texts, which in many cases were misread.”E. P. Sanders asserted Weber’s view to have been “based on a massive perversion and misunderstanding of the material.” George Foot Moore argued that Weber was working backwards from an entirely false assumption:
[Weber] deceives himself; the necessity is purely apologetic. The motive and method of the volume are in fact apologetic throughout; the author, like so many of his predecessors, sets himself to prove the superiority of Christianity to Judaism.
Unsurprisingly, Weber’s research readily affirmed his a priori conclusion:
Keeping the many and peculiar commands of the Law, said Weber, was the means by which the rabbis believed salvation was earned. The ordinary rabbi, therefore, believed that the goal of rabbinic religion was the search for reward on the basis of merit, that God was a stern judge, and that approaching death brought with it the fear of losing salvation due to a lack of merit.
Weber’s portrayal of Judaism, “now clad in the impressive robes of scholarship,”provided the source material for several subsequent and influential works—notably: W. Sanday and A. C. Headlam’s ICC Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (first published in 1895 and reprinted seventeen times through to 1952); Emil Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Christ, in three volumes (1866–1890); and Wilhelm Bousset, The Judaic Religion in the New Testament Era (1903).
By the end of the nineteenth century, and stretching well into the twentieth, this “distorted picture of Jewish legalism was the standard interpretation among New Testament scholars.”Even today, in sermons and home group Bible studies, words such as “pharisaical” are liberally deployed as terms of disdain, with no one batting an eyelid. The Pharisees, Scribes, Priests and Teachers of the Law are the pantomime villains when the gospel stories are read and expounded.
The Development of the New Perspective
Defining the New Perspective in a short article is somewhat challenging, not least because it has rightly been said that it “does not even exist in the singular.” At risk of some oversimplification, all New Perspective scholarship has in common a starting recognition that the classic assumptions of Reformed theology concerning the circumstances of first-century Jewish religion have been based upon a massive misreading, specifically concerning the nature and function of Torah (usually rendered as “the Law”). In contrast to the “old” perspective it recognises that for a faithful first-century Jew the works of Torah were not about qualifying for God’s favor by human endeavor or “good works;” rather, they were the appropriate heartfelt response to having already received his favor, as a people chosen for covenant relationship by grace alone. E. P. Sanders famously dubbed this grateful response a “covenantal nomism.” Notwithstanding the various streams, branches, and emphases in diverse first-century Judaism, covenantal nomism was, he said, the right way to understand the “normal” or “common Judaism” of the period: namely, “what the priests and the people agreed on.” Israel’s nomism (living in accordance with Torah—from the Greek word nomos, or “law”) was its response to the covenant that God had graciously initiated, wholly unmerited on Israel’s part. To be faithfully following the precepts of Torah was to be “living by faith(fulness),” rather than its antithesis. To be “in Torah,” or “right with Torah,” was to have confident assurance that one was “righteous” in God’s sight within its terms; in other words, to be by definition “right with God” and “right with one another,” reflecting Torah’s twin foci.
It is important to say that there is no reason to think the Reformers were wrong in relation to what they found to be flawed in mediæval Catholicism; nor need we doubt that the Holy Spirit used their readings of Romans and Galatians to reveal that to them.of the texts’ original meaning in Paul’s context.Where they erred was simply in presuming that their own religious environment was pari passu with the Apostle’s. The Holy Spirit spoke meaningfully through those scriptures to reveal truths about the Reformers’ context, but he was not thereby providing an exegesis
Implications for Reformed Theology
The implications of the New Perspective for Reformed theology are profound on numerous levels; not least insofar as a movement that champions sola scriptura is being challenged that its “text-in-context” hermeneutical reading has been deeply flawed. It is self-evidently the case that, as Donald Macleod has observed, “If Stendahl, Dunn and Wright are correct, Luther and Calvin were profoundly wrong.” No wonder that one Reformed critic has lambasted the New Perspective as a “massive amount of literature aimed at destroying two millennia of clarity regarding the relationships of works, righteousness, faith, and salvation.” To restore this so-called “clarity,” Reformed apologists argue that Pauline soteriology must at least be placed in opposition to a universal human tendency towards legalism and works-righteousness, even if the Jews no longer exemplify that tendency as readily as had been thought. For confessional reasons, the traditional Reformed interpretation of Pauline theology requires some version of an “old perspective” to have existed in that first-century context. The Reformers’ universalized reading of a Pauline soteriology contra legalism must still be found to be essentially correct, since it sits at the very heart of the Reformed evangelical understanding of the gospel. Pauline soteriology may not have originated as the direct antithesis to Judaism, but it “had to have” come from somewhere, runs the thinking. Even if it was in a milder or less pervasive form, the Judaism that Paul attacked “must have” existed . . . because he attacked it! Jewish legalism must have been a live issue for Paul that he saw exemplified in at least some Jews of his acquaintance. For the sake of the Reformed gospel, with “justification by faith” at its heart, an essential Pauline contrast between law and grace, faith and works, must somehow be rescued from the ruins.
Implications for the Doctrine of Atonement
If, despite Reformed objections, we take the general precepts of the New Perspective to be broadly correct, the implications for how we think about the doctrine of Atonement begin with the recognition that Paul’s view of his prior life within Judaism was an essentially positive one, rather than the negative view that the Reformers assumed. Paul never thought he left something called Judaism for something called Christianity. On the road to Damascus, he was not “converted” from the former to the latter in the modern sense of the term, as a change of religion. For Paul, following Christ was simply a continuation of authentic Judaism.
The difficult question for Paul and the early Jewish Jesus-followers had nothing to do with an ineffectual and discredited Torah from whose burdens Christ had rescued them. Rather, the question was how God’s already wonderful gift of Torah should be understood to “fit” with his wonderful new gift of Christ. The uncertainty was how God intended that Torah and Christ—the “glorious” and the “even-more-glorious”—should align in believers’ lives, not least for gentiles, to whom a new basis for covenantal relationship had clearly been extended, unexpectedly circumventing Torah. This, rather than some timeless universal opposition between oppressive law and liberating grace, would appear to be the background to Galatians. On this reading, the “agitators” were not Jewish opponents of Jesus trying to impose “Jewish legalism” but faithful Jewish Jesus-followers who had simply reached different conclusions to Paul on the continuing place of Torah in this new Messianic era. That the dilemma was a significant live issue in the New Testament period—with a range of views leading to anguished debate—is evident in the account of the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 (cf. Galatians 2).
While Jewish Messianic believers would inevitably face an understandable dilemma in how to relate God’s wonderful gift of Torah to his wonderful gift of Christ (and perhaps especially converts to Judaism, who had already endured the literal pain of adopting circumcision), there would be no reason for new gentile Jesus-followers to share such concerns had the “agitators” not raised them. Although the gospel Paul had preached to the Galatian gentiles contained no expectation of Torah-compliance, we have no reason to assume he was thereby disaffirming Torah for Jews; rather, he was simply following what appeared to be the Holy Spirit’s lead in not requiring Torah to be part of a gentile relationship with God in Christ.The nature of Paul’s appeal to the Galatian Gentiles might be summed up as not taking needlessly upon themselves a distinctly Jewish problem—namely, the continuing place of Torah in this newly-unveiled Messianic era—which was for him and his fellow Jews to grapple with.
The next implication is that we should not simply eliminate theological anti-Judaism from our presuppositions about the nature of the Atonement but also reverse the polarity, by asking ourselves, “If one were to start from the perspective of an affirming rather than denigrating view of the relationship between God and Israel into which Christ came and within which his work was situated, how might this influence the way in which his atoning significance should be understood?” In other words, rather than a negative presumption in which the failings of the old explain the qualities of the new, we would adopt a positive presumption in which it is the qualities of the old that perform the explanatory role.
- Rather than starting with a negative presupposition toward the covenant in Torah, we start with a positive presupposition.
- Rather than omitting Israel’s story from the Christian account of God’s redemptive purposes, we anticipate an overarching salvific narrative that materially depends on it for understanding it.
- Rather than assuming substantial dissimilarities and contrast between how old and new covenants operate in determining and defining relationship with God, we assume substantial similarities and agreement.
Atonement Framed Within Covenant Relationship
Since throughout the Hebrew Scriptures the historic framework for Israel’s relationship with God is covenant-shaped, this should naturally lead us to a covenant-shaped framework for understanding the relationship with God in Christ, broadly modeled on analogous features and precepts. It would seem entirely consonant from the perspective of a faithful first-century Jew encountering Jesus as Israel’s Messiah to expect the basis of God’s work in the new covenant “in Christ” to be in harmony and continuity with the covenant that Israel already knew and loved “in Torah.” This is not, of course, to suggest that the covenants should be identical in all respects; a Messianic form of covenantal relationship, with eschatological end-times significance, would inevitably be offering something “more than” its preceding Mosaic form (not least, since its scope was now extending to all nations rather than just one nation, again in line with end-times expectations).
A covenantal framing brings fresh relevance and priority to those Scriptures and narrative contexts which present Christ’s work in covenantal settings and covenant vocabulary. The death of Christ can be seen to be the ultimate sacrifice to seal, affirm, and ratify the ultimate covenant. The manner and function of Atonement would be integrated within the covenant’s framework and terms, as was the case with the current Mosaic covenant.
This is not for one moment to say that scriptural references to other aspects of Christ’s atoning work have no ongoing place—for example, release from the slavery of sin and death, the defeat of cosmic foes, and his sacrificial death framed in sin-offering terms. However, these would now be seen as amongst the many benefits emanating from the covenant relationship, rather than stand-alone explanations (still less, competing with one another to be the “right” or “best” explanation).
Miroslav Volf has suggested that if we seek to understand the Christian Atonement in Jewish terms, we should look to a universalized and radicalized version of the Jewish notion of election. There is a synchronicity between election into covenant and coming into an atoned relationship. Thus conceived, Atonement proceeds from a grace-based decision in the heart of God firstly to covenant with a people and then secondly to bring that covenant into being. This covenantal history began with an invitation into a covenant relationship extended to one nation, inviting a response; in its final eschatological form, it is an invitation into a covenant relationship extended to all nations, inviting a response.
The Nature of Ancient-World Covenants
Since the concept and meaning of covenant is as good as lost to us in today’s world, we need to say a little more about its ancient world context. Without that understanding, Christ’s atoning significance seen in covenantal terms will not readily be grasped.
Covenants were in use throughout the ancient world for creating and defining social and political relationships, including alliances of friendship between individuals and alliances of marriage. They are a form of binding contractual commitment, entered with the utmost seriousness, typically between a greater king (the “suzerain”) and a lesser king (the “vassal”). Covenants involved pledges and benefits, with adverse consequences for breaches. The vassal promised loyalty and obedience, and the suzerain promised care and protection. The terms of the covenant were set by the suzerain. In relation to the Mosaic covenant, we may summarize those terms as to be in good standing “in Torah.” In relation to the new covenant, we may summarize them as to be in good standing “in Christ” (in Paul’s famous phrase).
Since the suzerain’s treaty obligations involved care and protection, the vassal’s enemies would now be the suzerain’s enemies. If the vassal was attacked by hostile forces, the suzerain would respond in his defense; if taken into captivity, the suzerain would act to secure his release and freedom. For the vassal to enter into a covenant relationship was to pledge exclusive loyalty; hence it would be an act of infidelity and betrayal to also enter into covenant relationship with the suzerain’s enemies or rivals.
Ancient world covenants were ratified (or, brought into effect) in a ceremony in which a covenant sacrifice “cut,” “sealed,” or affirmed the covenant relationship.The sacrifice then became the centerpiece of a covenant meal shared by the parties. Eating together—breaking bread together—had great significance in its ancient world setting. The meal was not incidental to the covenant ceremony (“Shall we have dinner afterwards?”) but integral to it.
The historic explanation of the covenant meal is quite simple. It is based on the function of the meal to bring a stranger into the family circle through participating in the meal.
For the suzerain to enter into a covenant relationship was to extend his family circle to include the vassal and his household, tribe, or clan. The sense was of adoption, a bringing into the family, with the same benefits. Scott Hahn suggests it is the “familial understanding of covenant relations and obligations” that “integrates and binds together the other dimensions of the covenant that scholars over the past century have identified.” Frank Moore Cross sees covenant as the “means by which the duties and privileges of kinship may be extended to another individual or group, including aliens.” The purpose of a kinship covenant “is to draw others who are potentially at enmity into a family circle where amity might prevail.”
The failure to recognise the rootage of the institution of covenant and covenant obligations in the structures of kinship societies has led to confusion and even gross distortion in the scholarly discussion of the term berit, “covenant,” and in the description of early Israelite religion.
God’s relationship with Israel at Sinai was a kinship-type covenant, with an emphasis on mutuality and familial relationship. Within the matrix of the family, Hahn sees the “father-son relationship” as a basic category for interpreting the covenants between God and his people: “The Sinai covenant represents a crucial theological adaptation of the kinship covenant, whereby a familial bond between God and Israel is established on the basis of a father-son relationship.” We see this imagery in Exodus 4:22, “Israel is my firstborn son,” in a context where God is clearly acting for Israel against Pharaoh, as the suzerain on behalf of the vassal. This critically important familial dimension takes us to a new level in our framework for understanding the obligations that the suzerain assumes vis-à-vis the other covenant party.
In tribal societies there were legal mechanisms or devices—we might even say legal fictions—by which outsiders, non-kin, might be incorporated into the kinship group. Those incorporated, an individual or a group, gained fictive kinship and shared the mutual obligations and privileges of real kinsmen. . . . In a word, kinship-in-law became kinship-in-flesh.
The Divine Kinsman . . . leads in battle, redeems from slavery, loves his family, shares the land of his heritage, provides and protects. He blesses those who bless his kindred, curses those who curse his kindred.
Christ’s Atoning Work Viewed through the Lens of Covenant
Already it will be evident that the foregoing passages bear close reference to some of the customary Atonement metaphors, as well as making sense of both “father-son” and “marriage” imagery applied to the divine-human relationship throughout Scripture, placing that relationship firmly within a covenantal framework that can best be understood in terms of familial kinship.
The God of Israel adopts Israel as a “son” and is called “father,” enters a marriage contract with Israel and is designated “husband,” swears fealty oaths together with Israel and enters into covenant, assuming the mutual obligations of kinship, taking vengeance on Israel’s enemies, going to war at the head of Israel’s militia.
Thomas Torrance draws attention to important aspects of the covenant with Israel that contribute to an understanding of how the New Testament thinks about the cross of Christ in covenantal terms. In particular, the blood of the covenant as it relates to circumcision and Passover, “the two sacraments of the Old Testament,” in which it functions as the divinely given sign that “marked out the covenant and sealed it in the actual lives and homes of the people of the covenant.” “In both of them, the blood of the covenant sealed the covenant, cutting it into the flesh of Israel in circumcision, and in the Passover sealing the promise of redemption in the life of Israel and its seed from generation to generation.” The blood shed in the slaying of the Passover lamb was of covenantal significance in “signifying the renewal and establishment of the covenant through a mighty act of redemption.”
Torrance explores more deeply what the Old Testament means by “covenant sacrifice.” Although the Hebrew word for covenant (berit) is of uncertain derivation, there are three main views. The first is that it originates from the word “to cut.” He notes some 86 instances in the Old Testament where “cut” is used in connection with a covenant; for example, Psalm 50:5, “Gather to me my faithful ones, those that have cut (karat) a covenant with me by sacrifice.” It seems evident that the same derivation is bound up with the original conception of circumcision as a seal to the covenant cut into the flesh of God’s people, and so a seal of initiation into the covenant.
The second view is that it derives from “to eat” or “to give to eat.” This would give rise to the sense of covenant as the establishing of a bond through a fellowship meal. Torrance says that to set a meal before someone, or to partake of a meal with them, is equivalent to entering into a covenant with them. He cites Old Testament examples, especially Melchizedek and Abraham (Genesis 14:18) and the covenant meal at Sinai when the covenant was established, with which the Passover meal came to be assimilated in the annual celebration of the renewal of the covenant in the homes of the people.
The third view comes from the concept of “binding.” “When the term covenant is found in the Old Testament it always or at least very frequently carries with it conceptions of the oath of the covenant, of a binding bond with its covenant promise.” For example, “I will bring you into the bond of the covenant” (Ezekiel 20:37).
Torrance believes all three views have much to say for them, since “it must be evident that the ideas involved in these various derivations are not contradictory to one another, and certainly that they all had a part to play in the Old Testament concept of the covenant, if not through derivation at least through association.” Indeed it is in the coming together of the sacrifice and the covenant meal that covenant engagement and “bonding” takes place.
Take the simplest form of covenant relation, the breaking of a piece of bread and the passing of it to the right and the left for participation. That was regarded as creating a bond of loyalty and kindness, and as involving “mercy and truth”, concepts associated so many times with the covenant between God and Israel. Here the three meanings associated with the three suggested derivations are all present and are brought together into one rite. The root idea may well be to “cut” a covenant or to break into two parts, but that has just as clear a reference to a meal, to the breaking of bread as the Hebrew idiom puts it, as to the cutting of sacrifice, and both involve the conception of covenant engagement. All these elements are undoubtedly combined in the full conception of the Old Testament notion of covenant by covenant sacrifice. That is, the particular covenant rite is the breaking and dividing of a lamb or calf, the eating of it in covenant fellowship, and the cementing of a lasting bond.
Torrance then applies these ideas to the new covenant in Christ: “God himself steps into the place of the sacrifice required in the making of a covenant, and offers himself in Jesus Christ as the sacrificial lamb.” The Last Supper is expressly spoken of as “the (new) covenant in my blood,” and along with the cup Jesus distributes the bread broken in covenant enactment, as they eat in fellowship together. This is “distinctly a covenant sacrifice involving a) the breaking of the bread and the shedding of the blood, b) communion in a covenant meal, and c) commitment and solemn obligation.” In relation to circumcision—drawing upon its “original conception … as a seal to the covenant cut into the flesh of God’s people, and so a seal of initiation into the covenant”—“the blood of the covenant is shed and the covenant is for ever cut into our human flesh” in the “total circumcision that is the crucifixion of the body of Christ on the cross.” This is a reference to Colossians 2:11: “In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off in the circumcision of Christ.”
We see a covenantal significance in Christ’s sacrifice taking place at Passover, a festival which commemorates the liberation of the Exodus, rather than on the Day of Atonement (which would seem more natural, if a focus on “sin” per se were the dominant divine concern). As Paul Williamson notes:
The hermeneutical key to the exodus event and its sequel (the Sinaitic covenant) is found in Exodus 2:23–25. From this text it is clear that God’s intervention on behalf of the Israelites in Egypt was prompted by the covenant promises he had made to the patriarchs. Thus the deliverance from Egypt and God’s revelation at Sinai must be interpreted in the light of the programmatic agenda set out in Genesis.
The first-century Pesah was fundamentally a national celebration designed to keep fresh the memory of the Exodus and reassure the people that God “would smite all future tyrants as he had Pharaoh”—celebrating God’s past liberation and anticipating his future liberation. Rather than having anything to do with sin offerings, it was “a God-given covenant meal that identified his people as exempt from judgement and ready for deliverance.” This fits well with the meaning of pesah as “protection.”
Williamson has observed how the inauguration of the Sinaitic covenant continues after the sacrificial ritual in another ceremony associated with the ratification: a covenant meal (Exod 24:9–11). Stephen Finlan sees a direct correspondence between the remembrance of the Last Supper in the Eucharist and “the covenant-creating function of a covenant sacrifice.” He notes that the context envisaged in the Eucharist is one of covenant-making, not of sin offerings or the Day of Atonement.
It has often been overlooked that the Eucharist could easily be intended as a new covenant ceremony, yet without any appeasing or substitutionary significance. If this is true, then he [Jesus] was intending to build on the covenant sacrifice of Exodus 24:8 but not on the sin offering. A covenant sacrifice is used to seal a treaty or agreement between groups or between a king and a subject group; it was very common in the ancient world. Abraham performs a covenant sacrifice in Genesis 15:8–18. The “blood of the covenant” in Exodus 24:8 occurs within a ceremony of covenant between YHWH and the people of Israel.
This broader covenantal context with direct reference to Passover throws fresh light on the significance of the Eucharist in the early church and New Testament thought (1 Cor 11:25). Instead of a repetition of covenant sacrifices in the Mosaic covenant, the new covenant is marked by a repetition of the remembrance of the ultimate and final covenant sacrifice.
A covenantal framework for the Atonement takes us well beyond conceiving it simply in terms of a reparative mechanism to enable individuals to be forgiven for their personal sins. The new covenant in Christ follows the pattern of its predecessors in establishing a broader kinship relationship within which the Divine Kinsman suzerain/Father acts to defend, redeem, love, bless, provide and protect in accordance with the covenantal commitments he has graciously entered into. The reliability and certainty of those promises is marked by the ultimate covenant sacrifice to “seal” this ultimate covenant. The cross as a covenant-ratifying event is birthing something altogether more substantive within God’s consummative purposes than simply a transaction to repair something that has gone wrong.
The Continuing Place of the Traditional Metaphors of Atonement
Atonement conceived in covenantal terms serves as far more than an additional illustrative trope, just one more metaphor alongside others. In fact, it fails to fit the definition of metaphor at all. In the texts that address God’s covenantal relationship with Israel there is no suggestion that covenant functioned as something being likened to something else, nor that, if applied literally, it would be obviously untrue. The same can therefore be said of the new covenant in Christ—it speaks of a reality, not merely metaphorically.
A covenant-centered reading does not replace the traditional biblical Atonement models and metaphors but repositions them as secondary actions within a covenantal relationship sealed at the cross. Seen in this way, these traditional motifs are speaking of God’s actions in fulfilling his covenantal commitment rather than one or more actions in isolation. The benefits of the atoning work of Christ that they describe come as a consequence of—as part and parcel of—the covenantal commitment. In Old Testament perspective, these actions can be described as characteristics of the Divine Kinsman suzerain who leads in battle, redeems from slavery, loves, blesses, provides, and protects. Since God in Christ has entered into the ultimate covenantal commitment to humanity and to his wider creation, he acts under the covenant to defend and rescue us from the alien powers and forces that have invaded and damaged our world, including that which we know as “sin” and the ultimate enemy, death. He invites us into a familial relationship with God as our Father and Jesus as our brother that is characterized by love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness, all of which is remembered and celebrated afresh in the Eucharist. The defeat of death, exemplified in Jesus, enables the continuation of that covenantal familial relationship beyond the grave. The significance of the role of the incarnation in delivering God’s covenantal commitments is referenced in the words of Athanasius, echoing Irenaeus, that “He (Christ) became as we are, that we might become as he is.”
The actions of the Holy Spirit in this world are actions under the covenant. All of the customary models and metaphors of Atonement are describing the benefits of being in a covenantal relationship rather than simply a mechanism to achieve a one-off “putting-right.” No single benefit of being in an atoned relationship within the new covenant need be given priority or hegemony, though clearly a Christus Victor understanding will offer the best fit as an overarching idea.
The benefits of Atonement reflect a decision in the heart of God that antecedes them, located in election and given effect in covenant. The various Atonement models and metaphors reflect the obligations that the divine covenant maker gladly and willingly assumes, to act to protect, defend, rescue, and restore the covenanted party, not simply now but into eternity. They speak of individual elements of Christ’s work as much as they ever did, yet now repositioned within a grander covenantal narrative.
Potential Implications for Messianic Judaism
At some risk of impertinence as a gentile looking in, I should like to close with some brief thoughts on potential implications for Messianic Judaism, beginning with the implications for familial relations with what have been its two principal conversation partners: contemporary Judaism and evangelical Protestantism. Already Gabriela Reason has observed that
One of the central challenges Messianic Judaism faces is how to orient itself against modern Evangelical Protestantism and mainstream American Judaism. . . . Messianic Judaism is historically rooted chiefly in the evangelical movements of the twentieth century . . . the further Messianic Jews move from evangelicalism, the more closely they identify with the Jewish community.
And vice versa, no doubt. In principle, embracing the New Perspective offers Messianic Judaism a fresh opportunity for enhanced relations with mainstream Judaism. However, opportunity and threat are two sides of one New Perspective coin: to the extent that a stream of Messianic Judaism has closely identified itself with Reformed evangelicalism, the opposite would likely be the case. Embracing the New Perspective may be a significant positive vis-à-vis relations with mainstream Judaism, but it has every chance of being a significant negative vis-à-vis relations with evangelicalism!
In short, whether a stream of Messianic Judaism identifies itself primarily with the mainstream Jewish community over evangelicalism or with evangelicalism over the mainstream Jewish community will be brought into sharp relief by its response to the New Perspective. It would not be surprising if Messianic Judaism were to find good cause to reconsider the extent to which it hitches its wagon to the distinctively evangelical brand of Christianity, at least in its Reformed streams.
Messianic Judaism should already be extremely well-positioned to offer a distinctive contribution to Christian doctrinal thought, of course. The movement should have a unique place in fulfilling Jesus’ assertion that “every Torah-teacher who has been made into a talmid for the Kingdom of Heaven is like the owner of a home who brings out of his storage room both new things and old.” Once the theological anti-Judaism that has long characterized the evangelicalism within which Messianic Judaism was born is stripped away, this potential can surely be realized. The doctrine of Atonement would seem to offer a perfect starting point.
However, it is notable that the Statements of Faith of the two main streams within Messianic Judaism largely echo standard evangelical language. It is also notable that, whether by accident or design, they avoid becoming embroiled in the “Atonement wars” of the past quarter century by remaining non-committal on the manner of Atonement.
First off, the MJAA Statement of Faith says: “Our only hope for redemption (salvation) is through the Atonement made by the Messiah.” “The [Messiah’s] initial coming’s purpose was to make Atonement (covering) for sin.” Interestingly—and perhaps this is a reflection of the degree of attention the subject is receiving nowadays in conservative evangelical circles—the MJAA devotes far more words, with far greater specificity, to denouncing sexual immorality than to affirming the basis of Atonement. A critical observer might consider the MJAA Statement of Faith, generally, somewhat “clumsy” or “unsophisticated” in contrast to its stablemate discussed below.
Overall, the MJAA Statement of Faith contains little that could be said to be distinctly Jewish aside from a smattering of interspersed Hebrew words (with English translations), and much that could be said to be boilerplate conservative evangelical with a light dusting of fundamentalism.
The UMJC Statement of Faith, meanwhile, comes across as refreshingly Jewish, locating the Messiah within a well-crafted, theologically articulate rendering of the story of Israel and the nations in Jewish terms. It is generous towards Judaism and nuanced in its theology and language. While the UMJC appears to position itself as a friend and partner to conservative evangelicalism, the MJAA comes across more like a wholly-owned subsidiary. There is much in the UMJC Statement that evangelical organizations could learn from and indeed, adopt as their own; not least to help correct a shameful silence concerning the story of Israel.
All that said, the UMJC leaves something of a lacuna as regards the Atonement—just one explicit reference: “Yeshua died as an Atonement for the sins of Israel and of the entire world.” As with the MJAA, the manner by which Atonement is brought about is unspecified.
It would be wonderful to see Messianic Jewish theologians directing their attention to a theological rendering of a doctrine of Atonement that reflects the covenantal relationship upon which Israel’s relationship with its God is founded and sits in direct continuity with it. This would be an exciting collaborative project that could make a distinctive contribution to mainstream Christian theology.
None of this discussion touches yet on the “elephant in the room” so far as soteriology is concerned. Namely, the extent to which biblical Israel may have a distinct everlasting covenantal relationship with God which does not demand explicit acceptance of Jesus as its Messiah, and, how that relationship would then fit with traditional Christian understandings (not least concerning the uniqueness and centrality of Christ). It is one thing to reject theological anti-Judaism and its supersessionist progeny; it is quite another to work through the doctrinal implications. Pertinent though these questions may be in any discussion of soteriology, they are beyond the scope of this article. Ironically, insofar as it sits so centrally within the so-called “parting of the ways,” classic trinitarian theology may offer the starting point for an answer.
Stephen Burnhope received his PhD in systematic theology from King’s College London following a Masters’ degree in biblical interpretation (with distinction) at the London School of Theology. He is the author of Atonement and the New Perspective: The God of Israel, Covenant and the Cross (Eugene: Pickwick, 2018), which was his PhD thesis, and How to Read the Bible Well: What It Is, What It Isn’t, and How to Love It (Again) (Eugene: Cascade, 2021). Stephen and his wife Lyn were previously the Senior Pastors of Aylesbury Vineyard Church in the UK. They have four adult children and three grandchildren and live in Great Missenden, UK. This article draws from Atonement and the New Perspective.
1 Gustaf Aulén observes that neither the New Testament nor the teachings of the early church provide a developed theological doctrine of the Atonement. What we find instead is “an idea or motif expressed with many variations of outward form.” Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement, trans. A.G. Herbert (London: SPCK, 1931; republished, Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2003), 78. J.N.D. Kelly notes that “the redemption did not become a battle-ground for rival schools until the twelfth century, when Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo? (c. 1097) focused attention on it.” Early Christian Doctrines (Peabody: Prince Press, 2003, revised edition), 375.
2 Namely, that Christ on the cross took the punishment that we are due for our sins (the penal element), standing in our place (the substitutionary element). Note that while the best Atonement theories are substitutionary in nature (that Christ did for us, on our behalf, what we could not do for ourselves) they need not also be penal; the two terms are not synonymous.
3 And especially so, when that mission is reduced to simply “coming to die,” calling to mind Martin Kähler’s description of Mark’s Gospel as “a passion narrative with an extended introduction,” in The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic Biblical Christ (1896).
4 And indeed, in more personal terms as “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” (Exodus 3.6). Cf. Acts 3:13.
5 R. Kendall Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 49.
6 Soulen identifies three “distinct yet mutually reinforcing forms” of supersessionism—economic, punitive and structural—which collectively capture something broader than simply a “replacement theology.” Economic supersessionism “holds that from the beginning, God’s purpose for carnal Israel in the economy of salvation was destined to be fulfilled and completed by Christ’s coming, after which its place was taken by the church.” Thus, “everything characteristic of the economy in its [carnal] Israelite form is fulfilled and rendered obsolete by its ecclesial [spiritual] equivalent.” Christ’s coming means that Israel’s carnal existence is “theologically obsolete.” Punitive supersessionism “holds that God has angrily abrogated the covenant with Israel because of Israel’s de facto rejection of the gospel. Generally, punitive supersessionism is an addition to economic supersessionism, not an alternative to it.” Structural supersessionism, meanwhile, is the tendency to “render the Hebrew Scriptures largely indecisive for shaping doctrinal conclusions about how God engages creation in universal and enduring ways.” R. Kendall Soulen, “Karl Barth and the Future of the God of Israel,” Pro Ecclesia Volume VI, No. 4 (1997), 415–17. Italics original.
7 In the New Testament period, it is historically incorrect to speak of one singular “Judaism.” Rather, what we see is “Judaisms,” plural; a variety of expressions amongst which early “Christianity” should be classified (the term itself is, of course, anachronistic).
8 Brendan Byrne, “Interpreting Romans Theologically in a Post–‘New Perspective’ Perspective,” Harvard Theological Review, 94:3 (2001), 227.
9 Donald Hagner, “Paul and Judaism—The Jewish Matrix of Early Christianity: Issues in the Current Debate,” Bulletin for Biblical Research, 3 (1993), 111–30. Terence Donaldson and Magnus Zetterholm are among those who recognize it as a “paradigm shift” of worldview, in the idea developed by Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962).
10 Don Garlington, In Defense of the New Perspective on Paul: Essays and Reviews (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2005), 19.
11 Frank Thielman, “Law,” in Gerald Hawthorne, Ralph Martin and Daniel Reid (eds.), Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove: IVP, 1993), 530.
12 J.D.G. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008, revised edition), 22.
13 E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (London: SCM, 1977), 57.
14 Magnus Zetterholm, Approaches to Paul: A Student’s Guide to Recent Scholarship (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2009), 64–65. As George Foot Moore put it, “Jewish law, ritual, and observance, were ordered and codified in the Mishna and kindred works; but the Jews did nothing of the kind for the religious and moral teaching of the school and synagogue. No one even thought of extracting a theology from the utterances of the Rabbis in Midrash and Haggada, to say nothing of organizing the theology in a system. . . . The fundamental criticism to be made of Weber’s ‘System’ is precisely that it is a system of theology, and not an ancient Jewish system but a modern German system.” George Foot Moore, “Christian Writers on Judaism,” Harvard Theological Review, 14 (1921), 230.
15 Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 59.
16 Moore, “Christian Writers,” 230.
17 Thielman, “Law,” 530.
18 Thielman, “Law,” 530.
19 Described by Cranfield in his successor ICC publication as “this most distinguished work.” “[A]nyone who has worked with it for many years is likely to have become more and more grateful for its thoroughness and exactness, its massive learning and sound judgment.” C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans: Volume 1 (Edinburgh: T& T Clark, 1975), 41.
20 Bousset is of no little interest because “Bousset’s view, which depended on Weber, was … appropriated and disseminated to generations of New Testament scholars by his student, Rudolph Bultmann.” In turn, Bultmann supervised the doctoral thesis of Ernst Käsemann. “Bultmann is significant because he lent his enormous prestige to Bousset’s work in particular and thus made it acceptable for New Testament scholarship to overlook, for example, [George Foot] Moore’s evaluation of Bousset.” Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 39; 47.
21 Zetterholm, Approaches to Paul, 65.
22 The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines pharisaical as “marked by hypocritical censorious self-righteousness.”
23 Chris Tilling, “Introduction,” in Beyond Old and New Perspectives on Paul: Reflections on the Work of Douglas Campbell, ed. Chris Tilling (Eugene: Cascade, 2014), 1. The contributions of Jewish scholars have been particularly notable in recent decades. For more on the development of the New Perspective from its “early” period through to the present-day, including the more-recent emergence of a “radical” New Perspective, see Stephen Burnhope, Atonement and the New Perspective: The God of Israel, Covenant and the Cross (Eugene: Pickwick, Wipf & Stock, 2018). The New Perspective is often now spoken of as the “Paul within Judaism” movement.
24 E. P. Sanders, Judaism: Practice and Belief, 63 bce–66 ce (London: SCM, 1992), 47. Sanders conceded that the phrase owes much to Morton Smith, who was his “strongest single influence” on how to define common Judaism. Smith had said that “normative Judaism should be defined as whatever the Pentateuch, the ordinary priests, and the common people agreed upon.” Sanders thought of this as a “lowest common denominator” of the many types of Judaism but chose not to use that phrase. See “Comparing Judaism and Christianity,” in Redefining First-Century Jewish and Christian Identities: Essays in Honor of Ed Parish Sanders, ed. Fabian Udoh (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008), 22; 37.
25 E.g., “If we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness” (Deut 6:25 NIV).
26 Cf. Matthew 22:36–40.
27 Morna Hooker has proposed it as an “interpretation of the Spirit” in which the Spirit “takes the words of scripture and reapplies them to new circumstances.” Morna Hooker, From Adam to Christ: Essays on Paul (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 1990), 10.
28 My own characterization of Hooker’s insight centers in distinguishing between a text’s original meaning and the Spirit speaking meaningfully through that text in ways that may not directly correspond but can nonetheless be theologically valid. See Stephen Burnhope, How to Read the Bible Well: What It Is, What It Isn’t, and How to Love It (Again) (Eugene: Cascade, Wipf & Stock, 2021), 207–212. Whether this level of affirmation of the Reformers’ Spirit-led insights is enough for contemporary Reformed evangelicals, when they see their theological foundations under threat, is another matter.
29 Reformed theology has in theory always promoted the principle of semper reformanda (namely, that the church should keep on reforming itself in accordance with new and better readings of Scripture) but in practice the core understandings of the Reformers seem to have been off-limits!
30 Donald Macleod, “The New Perspective: Paul, Luther and Judaism,” in The Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology, 22.1 (2004), 4–31 (citation, 4–5). Krister Stendhal in many ways “set the ball rolling” in his short but influential Harvard Theological Review essay of 1963, “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West,” now available as the second essay in Krister Stendahl, Paul Among Jews and Gentiles and Other Essays (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1976). James Dunn and Tom Wright are well-known as early pioneers of the New Perspective (the term itself is credited to Dunn).
31 William Barrick, “The New Perspective and ‘Works of the Law’ (Gal 2:16 and Rom 3:20),” in The Master’s Seminary Journal 16/2 (Fall 2005), 277–92.
32 The circularity of the argument here will be obvious.
33 E.g., Philippians 3:4–7.
34 Philippians 3:8: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish . . .” If Paul’s previous life as a Pharisee centered on Torah had been truly “rubbish” (lit. “dung”), then the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ” would have amounted to very faint praise indeed. It was the incredible worth of Torah that made the analogy so meaningful.
35 Galatians 3:2, 5: “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of Torah, or by believing what you heard?”; “Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of Torah, or by your believing what you heard?” The outpouring of the Spirit on the Gentiles was consonant with Jewish eschatological expectations for the end times (cf. Acts 2); but what had “put the cat amongst the pigeons,” so to speak, was God unexpectedly (yet, quite clearly) bypassing Torah in the process.
36 See Acts 15, especially vss. 28–29.
37 It is important to note that this is a quite different understanding from Reformed covenant theology, or “federal theology,” within which supersessionism and theological anti-Judaism are ingrained. See Burnhope, Atonement and the New Perspective, 162-70.
38 The idea that Israel could have had a “doctrine” of the Atonement independent of its covenant (with no dependency upon the covenant relationship for understanding the manner and function of Atonement) is patently absurd, even though that is effectively the case in contemporary Christianity. Everything pertaining to Israel’s relationship with God was embedded within and bounded by the covenant relationship; for Christianity, covenant is more of a sidebar.
39 “The Lamb of God and the Sin of the World,” in Christianity in Jewish Terms, eds. Frymer-Kensky and others (New York: Basic Books, 2002), 316–17.
40 The marriage covenant is perhaps the closest illustration we have in everyday usage today, notwithstanding that its standing in society has diminished. Modern treaties between sovereign nations that have the force of international law behind them may be technically the closest.
41 The Hebrew word generally translated as “made” a covenant is ka–rat–, meaning, “cut.”
42 According to Strong’s Definitions, the root etymology of the Hebrew word for “covenant,” bᵊrît– (Strong’s H1285), is from ba–râ (Strong’s H1262), meaning “to eat,” or to “eat bread (together).” Cf. 2 Samuel 12:17. Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon suggests (citing Samuel Lee’s Lexicon) that bᵊrît– is “an eating together, banquet,” “since among Orientals, to eat together is almost the same as to make a covenant of friendship. The Hebrews too were accustomed to eat together when entering into a covenant, see Gen 31:54.” Italics original.
43 A. Viberg, Symbols of Law: A Contextual Analysis of Legal Symbolic Acts in the Old Testament (Stockholm: Almqvist & Viksell, 1992), 76, as cited by Scott Hahn, in Kinship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 352, n.5.
44 Hahn, Kinship by Covenant, 31.
45 Frank Moore Cross, “Kinship and Covenant in Ancient Israel,” in From Epic to Canon: History and Literature in Ancient Israel (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1998), 8.
46 Hahn, Kinship by Covenant, 37.
47 Cross, “Kinship and Covenant,” 15.
48 Cross, “Kinship and Covenant,” 31.
49 Hahn, Kinship by Covenant, 31–32; 48.
50 Cross, “Kinship and Covenant,” 7. Emphasis added.
51 Cross, “Kinship and Covenant,” 7.
52 Cross, “Kinship and Covenant,” 13.
53 Thomas Torrance, Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2009) is the fruit of the editorial labours of his nephew and student, Robert Walker, who compiled the book from notes of Torrance’s lectures between 1952 and 1978.
54 Torrance, Atonement, 11–15.
55 Torrance, Atonement, 10.
56 Torrance, Atonement, 10.
57 Torrance, Atonement, 11.
58 Torrance, Atonement, 12.
59 Torrance, Atonement, 13.
60 Torrance, Atonement, 13.
61 Torrance, Atonement, 13.
62 Torrance, Atonement, 14. Interestingly, Torrance notes that before the Passover sacrifice became institutionalized as a priestly role in the Temple it was originally the responsibility of the head of the household.
63 Torrance cites Matthew 26:28 and Mark 14:24; the word “new” appears in some ancient versions of both gospels. Torrance, Atonement, 13–14.
64 Torrance, Atonement, 14.
65 Torrance, Atonement, 10.
66 The italicized language reflects the alternative reading offered by the NIV for “put off when you were circumcised by Christ.”
67 Paul R. Williamson, “Covenant,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, eds. T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker, (Downers Grove: IVP, 2003), 149.
68 Scott McKnight, Jesus and His Death (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2005), 253–54; 273.
69 Brad Jersak, “Introductory Concerns,” in Stricken by God? Nonviolent Identification and the Victory of Christ, eds. Brad Jersak and Michael Hardin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 40.
70 Williamson, “Covenant,” 151.
71 Stephen Finlan, Options on Atonement in Christian Thought (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2007), 39.
72 Finlan, Options on Atonement, 39. In Exodus 24:8, the covenantal ceremony in which the sacrifice takes place has nothing to do with a sin offering. God offers his covenant, the people bind themselves to the terms of it and the covenant is affirmed in the shed blood. “Then he [Moses] took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, ‘We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.’ Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.’”
73 Gabriela M. Reason, “Competing Trends in Messianic Judaism: The Debate Over Evangelicalism,” in Kesher, Issue 17, Spring 2004.
74 Matthew 13:52 (CJB).
75 We note, however, an interesting passing reference to “He is our Passover, the Lamb of God (I Corinthians 5:7; Revelation 5; John 1:29).”
76 “We believe any form of sexual immorality or perversion, including adultery, fornication, homosexual or bisexual behavior, transgender association, transsexual orientation, bestiality, incest, or use of pornography is sinful and offensive to God.”
77 E.g., “the Christian theological tradition offers riches of insight into the revelation of the Messiah and His will, and Messianic Jews need to draw upon this wealth.”