Thursday, April 23, 2009

פֶּסַח And The Ransom Theory Of The Atonement *(Continued)

Sorry for the hiatus from my Atonement Post series for awhile but it seems like so much Blog-worthy stuff has been happening lately that it's been hard to keep up with everything. Anyways, continuing from the previous post: TheoPoetic Musings: פֶּסַח And The Ransom Theory Of The Atonement---here are a few other thoughts regarding the Ransom Theory of the Atonement:

First here's a refresher on what the Ransom theory exactly entails:
The ransom view of the atonement, sometimes called the classical view of atonement,[1] is one of several doctrines in Christian theology related to the meaning and effect of the death of Jesus Christ. The first major theory of the atonement, it originated in the early Church, particularly in the work of Origen. The theory teaches that the death of Christ was a ransom, usually said to have been paid to Satan, in satisfaction of his just claim on the souls of humanity as a result of sin. Robin Collins summarized it as follows:

Essentially, this theory claimed that Adam and Eve sold humanity over to the Devil at the time of the Fall; hence, justice required that God pay the Devil a ransom to free us from the Devil's clutches. God, however, tricked the Devil into accepting Christ's death as a ransom, for the Devil did not realize that Christ could not be held in the bonds of death. Once the Devil accepted Christ's death as a ransom, this theory concluded, justice was satisfied and God was able to free us from Satan's grip.[2]

"Redeeming" meaning, literally, "buying back," and the ransoming of war captives from slavery was a common practice in the era. The theory was also based in part on Mark 10:45 ("For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many") and 1 Timothy 2:5-6 ("For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time"). The ransom theory was the main view of atonement through the first thousand years of Christian history, though it was never made a required belief.[2]

Another way of viewing the Ransom theory is that God ransomed us from Himself via Jesus in some way---although, the above definition is the traditional description of the Ransom view of the Atonement. Also, the traditional understanding of the Ransom theory is widely accepted by the Eastern Orthodox Church or some other variation of the Ransom theory:
Today, the ransom view of atonement is not widely accepted in the West, except by a few theologians in the Word of Faith movement. However, it remains the official position of the Eastern Orthodox Church.[1]
I believe that we can view the Ransom theory as God ransoming us from not only sin and death as the Ransom theory mixed with the Christus Victor view of the Atonement suggests but that God also ransomed us from His wrath as well as slavery to the Law---which is what Christian liberty and freedom afforded to us by God's Grace is. In other words, Jesus' victory on the Cross ransomed us from the sting of death, God's wrath and the double burden of sin and the Law.

Anyways, one other way that this motif of liberation appears in the scriptures is within the framework of Palm Sunday. Here in this cry:
When the Jews cried out "Hosanna" they were hoping that Jesus the Messiah would liberate them from slavery to a foreign power as God once had done before during the Exodus---of course, the slavery the Jews were enduring during this period was a different type of slavery than the slavery of the Exilic period, but the same principle was there. Hosanna is basically a Hebrew idiom for "save us" or "deliver us" but it is also related to the theme of liberation, which ties into the Ransom theory well as in:
Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!" (Mark 11:9)

How would you welcome Jesus to the city? What should be our attitude to his coming into our world or into our lives? He is one who comes to meet us. Remember too that he did promise to come again and he warned his followers to be ready to welcome him when they least expected to see him.

(Luke 12:35-36) "Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; {36} be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.
If we are to be ready, what should be our attitude in expecting him? And, at a devotional level, remember how he said, in that vision of the end time in the book of Revelation:

(Revelation 3:20) Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.
Those are perhaps more private ways of welcoming him than the public demonstration which greeted him at the entry to Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday. As we were remembering last week he arrived on an immense wave of popularity, while at the same time trying to prepare himself and his disciples for his death.

As they made a carpet of welcome for him with their cloaks and the branches they carried, they shouted "Hosanna!" The word "Hosanna" is formed from two Hebrew words meaning "Save now", or taken together "Save us" or "O save". We tend to think of the shouts of the crowd welcoming Jesus as shouts of joy; and true it is that the cry of "Hosanna" had been used for centuries in festivals of joyful celebration; yet originally such festivals were also times of remembrance when pain and suffering were brought to mind. To call out "Save us" was to greet a saviour, not in the personal sense in which Christians today might think of it concerning our individual salvation, but more in the sense of a national saviour, like a general leading an army of liberation. That kind of saviour came to deliver them from danger or present suffering under an oppressor who was a ruler of a similar kind. For the people who shouted "Hosanna" to Jesus, it might well have been a joyful in anticipation of being liberated from a foreign power which occupied their country. The same shouts with the waving of branches were sometimes used to celebrate a victory over enemies that had already been won, as when a few generations before Jesus came to Jerusalem the people celebrated the defeat of their enemies in the time of the Maccabees:

They celebrated it for eight days with rejoicing, in the manner of the festival of the booths, remembering how not long before, during the festival of the booths, they had been wandering in the mountains and caves like wild animals. Therefore, carrying ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanks giving to him who had given success to the purifying of his holy place. -- 2 Maccabees 10:6-7.
Note the waving of branches and remember too how Jesus purified the Temple. In another part of those writings that fall between the Old and New Testaments, 1 Maccabees 13:51, we read of an entry to Jerusalem not very different from what happened with Jesus:

It was on the twenty-third day of the second month in the year 171 [about the beginning of June 141 BC] that the Jews entered the city amid a chorus of praise and the waving of palm branches, with lutes, cymbals, and zithers, with hymns and songs, to celebrate Israel's final riddance of a formidable enemy. [REB]
Those celebrations of the life of the nation being saved and the Temple restored are continued today as the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, which comes close to our Christmas -- our celebration of the coming of the Saviour.

So Jesus was welcomed in a traditional manner, and it was with thoughts of deliverance of the kind that one would expect of a king leading an army of liberation. Of course it was quite clearly different. Jesus chose to ride a donkey rather than a war horse and took on the style of a humble servant.
Picture then the Jews asking Jesus to liberate them from their captivity and another view of the Ransom theory emerges for Jesus does liberate/ransom us from our worldly/societal inclinations so that we are free to follow Him by participating in the Kingdom of God and in this way also we find another multifaceted and rich contextual layer to the Ransom Theory of the Atonement. Anyways, so ends my discussion on the Ransom Theory of the Atonement. Next, we'll be look at Implications Of The Incarnation To The Atonement and don't worry if you've missed any of my Atonement or Holy Week posts, I will index them in a single post after I've finished the series.

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