Sunday, February 20, 2022

Rillera’s Myth Busting Busting: Romans 8:3 (2 of 7)

(By Andrew Rillera)

Here’s the text: “For God has done what the Law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin [peri hamartias], he condemned [katakrinō] sin in the flesh.”

First, I want to acknowledge that the concept of substitution is used here, but not at all in the way Bird thinks. The substitution taking place is between Jesus and the Law; not Jesus for other human beings. This is therefore not about “substitution” in the way it is construed by the terms of PSA. Jesus is not being substituted in the place of humans, but in the place of a particular function of the Law.

Second, this passage has been interpreted, as Bird does, as Jesus being a “sin offering,” which is one of the kippēr sacrifices in Leviticus, because of Paul’s use of the phrase peri hamartias. This is how the LXX translates the hattat sacrifice from Leviticus, which OT scholars like Jacob Milgrom, Liane Feldman, and Baruch Levine argue is to be translated as a “purgation” or “decontamination” sacrifice. The function of this sacrifice is to purge holy objects within the tabernacle (like the outer altar) from the pollution caused by sin that gets attracted to these holy objects, but do not adhere to the sinner. So, peri hamartias here in Rom 8:3 just might be an echo of atonement. But this ultimately fails to convince.

For one, throughout Rom 5–8 Paul uses hamartia repeatedly. Paul says throughout that “Sin” is “reigning” (5:21; 6:12), “ruling” (6:14), “enslaving” (7:14; 6:14–22), “deceiving” (7:11), and “killing” (7:11). That is, “Sin” is the personal subject of active verbs. So Paul would have to go from consistently using hamartia as a personified agent doing all these actions, to suddenly using hamartia to mean an impersonal “purgation sacrifice.”

The most natural interpretation, however, is how the NRSV translates it. Paul is basically saying “and to deal with this tyrant ruler, Sin, God condemned it in the flesh, the domain where Sin rules.”

Another reason peri hamartias is unlikely to be a sacrificial reference is because when this phrase is used in Leviticus (LXX) to mean “sin/purgation sacrifice” it never is the means of “condemning” (katakrinō) sin, but rather of “making atonement” (exilaskomai) (e.g., Lev 5:6; 12:8; 16:9, 15–16). Also, the peri hamartias is always “offered” (prospherō) (9:2; 12:7) or “slayed” (sphazō) (14:13; 16:15).

And it is worth noting here that in the LXX, while atoning sacrifices are always said to be “offered” (prospherō) (9:2; 12:7) or “slayed” (sphazō), the non-atoning well-being sacrifices only use the verb thyō (“to sacrifice”). None of these verbs appear here and in fact, Paul never uses the verbs prospherō or sphazō. But, Paul demonstrates he is familiar with the nuances of sacrificial verbs because when he says Christ our Paschal lamb was sacrificed, he correctly uses the verb thyō because he is referring to a non-atoning well-being sacrifice, which only takes that verb in the LXX.

In any case, Paul’s personification of Sin as an agent in Rom 5–8 and his use of the non-sacrificial verb katakrinō is a strong case against any sacrificial interpretation.

So what is Paul saying here in Rom 8:3 if it’s neither about human substitution or kippēr? Paul is first saying that God sent Jesus as a substitute for something the Law aimed at doing but ultimately couldn’t do. Then Paul says that it is sin being condemned, not atoned for. In this way Paul is saying that despite what a Roman crucifixion might imply, it was sin, not Jesus, that was condemned. Again, it is sin that is condemned; not Jesus, not human beings, and thus not Jesus instead of human beings. The only thing being condemned is sin. Therefore, there is no concept here of substitution being used where Jesus is being condemned instead of humans.

The remedy for Sin in Romans is deliverance and rescue. And this is because Paul conceptualizes Sin as a personified power and agent that deceives, enslaves, and kills and so needs to be conquered, subdued, and condemned. Sin for Paul is not conceptualized as a contamination that needs to be disinfected from holy objects through cultic atonement. Other NT authors such as 1 John and Hebrews go this route, but there is no evidence Paul himself does here. Paul is using another conceptual framework than kippēr because the verbs he uses don’t match any sacrificial, let alone, atoning verbs.



At 5/06/2022 2:18 AM, Blogger Tim said...

Excellent observations on the different language being used in Levitucus per the well being vs atoning sacrifices.


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