Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Rillera’s Myth Busting Busting: 1 Peter 2:24 (4 of 7)

(by Andrew Rillera)

Here we read, “‘he [Jesus] himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’” As Bird observes, Peter is quoting from Isaiah 53:4–5 (the “Suffering Servant” passages) here. Again, what many simply refer to as “substitutionary” turns out on closer examination to really be “solidarity.”

It is less than clear that any use of Isaiah 53 automatically means the author is thinking of the concept of substitution because we have evidence of it being used in a non-substitutionary manner. Matthew, for instance, quotes from Isaiah 53 to explain Jesus’s healing and exorcism ministry (Matt 8:16–17). When Jesus heals or casts out a demon no one conceptualizes that event with the word substitution. Yes, Jesus is doing something for someone else that they cannot do for themselves, but it is obviously not fitting to conceptualize this with substitution. Surgeons do things for patients they cannot do for themselves, but no one ever says, “Thank God for my substitutionary surgeon,” unless they mean that their original scheduled surgeon couldn’t perform the operation for whatever reason and another surgeon had to take their place. This is actually the form of substitution operative in Rom 8:3 discussed above. The “Law” was the first scheduled surgeon, but it couldn’t accomplish one of its goals so God sent Jesus to fulfil that particular goal instead. But Jesus is not substituting for human beings there.

In any case, just because someone may employ Isaiah 53 does not automatically equate to employing the notion of substitution. What is necessary is to see how that author goes on to make use of that materiel and then decide if substitution/replacement best conceptualizes what that author is getting at since perhaps representation or solidarity might better capture and conceptualize the author’s point.

I think it is fairly obvious that Peter views Jesus as the “Suffering Servant” par excellence, but what prevents me from categorizing this as a “substitution” is that he simultaneously says we are called to the same servant lifestyle just as 1 Pet 2:21 explicitly says. Substitution, by definition, precludes any sort of participation as Simon Gathercole argues in Defending Substitution. Gathercole writes: “I am defining substitutionary atonement for the present purposes as Christ’s death in our place, instead of us. The ‘instead of us’ clarifies the point that ‘in our place’ does not, in substitution at least, mean ‘in our place with us’” (15; his emphasis). He later employs the word “replacement” (20) which makes clear that substitution is to be distinguished from representation even if it may be “possible that one can find an even more substitutionary sort of representation” (20n14). In other words, even if “some might argue that substitution is rooted in representation” (111), representation and substitution are to remain logically distinct from one another in the same way rectangles and squares are. A square may be a rectangle, but not all rectangles are squares; likewise, substitution may be a type of representation, but not all types of representation are substitutionary. This precise definition of substitution is important for the purposes of the present discussion and I will return in a later part to discuss more problems with the term “substitution.”

For now, though it is obvious so it seems superfluous to point it out, we need to recognize that the notion of participation and solidary with Jesus as a “pattern” or “example” for Christians to conform to in 2:21 is what immediately precedes and thus informs what comes after when Peter quotes from Isaiah 53 in 2:24. Jesus as the Servant is used to say that now we have a clearer paradigm for how we ought to likewise be servants as well. Jesus isn’t a substitute here on Gathercole’s definition, because what he is doing is not “instead of us” or “in our place” so that we are excluded from doing whatever it is Jesus did as our substitute. Rather, Jesus, and Jesus’s death in particular is held up as a model to be imitated. Whatever that is, “substitute” does not capture what Peter is talking about.

In fact, Clement of Rome in the later first-early second century AD quotes all of Isaiah 53 with reference to Jesus to make this very same point (1 Clement 16:3–16). That is, Clement reads Isaiah 53 in light of Jesus not to make some point about substitution, but to discern the following lesson: “You see, dear friends, the kind of pattern (hypogrammos) that has been given to us; for if the Lord so humbled himself, what should we do, who through him have come under the yoke of his grace? (1 Clement 16:17; Holmes translation). This word for “pattern” (hypogrammos) is the same word used in 1 Pet 2:21 to introduce the use of Isaiah 53 with reference to Jesus and the ethical claims that that has on Christ followers. Like 1 Peter, Clement introduces the quote from Isaiah 53 with an appeal to imitate Jesus: “For Christ is with those who are humble, not with those who exalt themselves over his flock. The majestic sceptre of God, our Lord Christ Jesus, did not come with the pomp of arrogance or pride (though he could have done so), but in humility, just as the Holy Spirit spoke concerning him.” These bookends to quoting Isaiah 53 demonstrate how shallow and insufficient the word “substitution” is to convey the concept being deployed here. The notion is solidarity all the way down. Jesus partook in the sufferings of our condition in order to heal us so that we might be able to do likewise.

1 Peter says that Jesus dies as an “example (hypogrammos) so that you should follow his steps” (2:21; cf. 4:1). In short, Jesus’s death is a participatory reality; it is something we are called to follow and share in experientially ourselves. The logic is not: Jesus died so I don’t have to. Rather it is: Jesus died (redeeming us from slavery and forming us into a kingdom of priests in 2:5, 9) so that we, together, can follow in his steps and die with him and like him; the just for the unjust (3:18) and trusting in God who judges justly (2:23; 4:19). This is what it means to “suffer…for being a ‘Christian’” (4:15–16). It doesn’t particularly matter why a Christian is suffering or being persecuted; it only matters that they bear the injustice of the world in a Christlike manner.

Again, Jesus’s death is opening up a participatory reality. Yes, Peter says Jesus dies “the just for the unjust” (3:18) but that beneficiary “for” is not as a substitutionary benefit, but is rather a means of opening up the possibility for shared participation in Jesus’s death. The death of Jesus makes it so that we are no longer “unjust,” but rather “just”/“righteous” (same Greek word, 2:24) and this is how we can now follow the example of Jesus’s death as we (now being made “just”) can suffer or die at the hands of the “unjust” (i.e., “suffer for doing what it right” in 3:17).

Also, Jesus’s “bearing our sins” in 1 Pet 2:24 more than likely doesn’t mean “atonement” (kippēr). Rather, bearing our sins means, as Peter goes on to make plain, Jesus handled well being treated unjustly. He responded justly to the injustice and to the sins he suffered (2:23). Then, Peter says that Jesus deals with our inclination to sin and thus we are now able to live righteously/justly (2:24). Atonement is about purging holy objects in the temple, but what Peter is talking about here is healing us of our proclivity to sin/live unjustly and thus enable us to live justly/righteously and follow Jesus’s cruciform example in suffering the injustices of others, which means bearing their sins, bearing their burdens (3:16-18; 4:19 compare w/ 2:23). Even if we want to say that Peter is making a similar move to what Hebrews makes regarding atonement and makes it mean purging humans (I’m not convinced, but this is a possible understanding), what we nevertheless have in 1 Peter (and Revelation 14:5, which quotes from the same bit of Isaiah 53 that Peter does) is a clear application of the theme of “bore our sins” from Isaiah 53 being used to support the theme of participation/union whereby we can now “bear” the sins of others against us in a Christlike/cruciform manner by his power and life within us. That is, at the end of the day, both texts which quote from Isaiah 53 apply it as the pattern/example all Christians are called to imitate/follow since Jesus is the preeminent “Servant.” This is all about solidarity and union with Jesus; not substitution.



At 5/06/2022 3:48 AM, Blogger Tim said...

I like the direction you are going, and I think the aspect of imitation and participation in the way that Jesus pioneers through his response to unjust suffering is mostly overlooked and not factored in to how we understand what Peter is saying. I think you do a great job of highlighting that aspect of 1 Peter 2. Can I offer some reflections on something you aid related to Jesus bearing our sins? You said, "Also, Jesus’s “bearing our sins” in 1 Pet 2:24 more than likely doesn’t mean “atonement” (kippēr). Rather, bearing our sins means, as Peter goes on to make plain, Jesus handled well being treated unjustly. He responded justly to the injustice and to the sins he suffered (2:23)."

The challenge with this interpretation you have offered is that Peter says to people living outside of Jerusalem - in the diaspora - that Jesus carried "our sins" up to the tree. In other words, the sins he is carrying up to the cross are not just the sins of those who sinned against him in his trial and crucifixion. They are said to be the sins of those he is writing to, as well. So this presents a challenge when offering a purely "solidarity" and "participatory" explanation of this passage. I would suggest the way Peter seems to be depicting those "sins" that Jesus carries in his body up to the tree is from a *representative" standpoint. In other words, the sins that were committed against him by those particular people who were present at his trial and crucifixion, and Jesus' subsequent choice to carry those particular sins of those particular people in his particular body (via the physical wounding he received from them, as well as the psychological wounding etc cf Isa 53) were not just done by Jesus for those particular people. The example that he set for those particular people in the way he responded to them also extends beyond those particular people as an example for all people. The exemplary aspect moves from the particular to the universal. In the same way, when Jesus chose to carry the sins of those particular people in his body,he was not just carrying those particular sins of those particular people. He was carrying the sins of all people, representatively, in his body. In other words, what he did for the benefit of those particular people at that moment was also done for the benefit of all, demonstrating a similar movement from the particular to the universal, in stead of it being exemplary, it is representatively. This same kind of reasoning is used by Paul in Romans 5 when he says that sin entered the world through Adam, and therefore death passed upon all, BECAUSE all have sinned. And then to make it more clear, he speaks about those who, although they do not sin in the exact same way as Adam by eating a tree God told us not to eat (assuming someone might say, "Well, if I was there, I would not have eaten the tree) have still sinned nonetheless, and therefore still experience death. (5:14). In other words, Paul sees Adams sin as representative of those who would sin after him, even if there is not a one to one correspondence of their sin with Adams. In the same way, the sins Jesus carries in his body are both those particular people who sinned against him, as well as representatively, the particular sins of those who were not present art those events, even though their sins do not have a one to one correspondence with the particular sins of those particular people present for his trial and crucifixion. In short, not everyone is "guilty" of crucifying Jesus - this much is made plain in the book of Acts when the gospel reaches the Gentiles and no one ever says - your sins killed Jesus. Thoughts?


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