Some of you no doubt will say, “but the Bible says…!” My friend, Jesus is the Word of God, not the Bible. I have come to accept that the whole of the Bible must be understood through the filter of Christ, his teachings, his actions, his love, his compassion, his mercy, his forgiveness, his very being. So if a passage in scripture contradicts the nature of God that Jesus demonstrated, I must examine it closely. I love what I heard Christian writer and speaker, Graham Cooke say once, “the Bible is not the fourth person of the trinity.” Maybe I’ll write more about this later, but probably not…you’ll have to research it yourself. I have researched it, but I don’t have the energy to blog about it. Nothing I write on this blog is off the top of my head. Every word is scrutinized.
I want to remind you and emphasize that Atonement Theories are THEORIES! Not gospel truth. That includes my own atonement theory.
I would like to share with you how one portion of mistranslated scripture has influenced doctrine and atonement theories. Brad Jersak does this perfectly. So I hope he doesn’t mind that I put this long quote about “the wrath” from his book A More Christlike God here:
“We read in Romans 5:8 ‘But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.’ (Rom. 5: 8-9 NASB) Did you notice the [highlighted] phrase ‘of God’ inserted there? Yes, inserted.
The [highlighted] phrase ‘of God’ in the New American Standard Bible is the translators’ way of letting you know they added the phrase. No manuscript includes those words. The verse literally ends, ‘we shall be saved through him from the wrath.’ Translators add ‘God’s wrath,’ or, ‘wrath from God’ or ‘wrath of God,’ because, they say, it is understood. Other translations, like the New International Version, insert ‘of God’ without any indication that they placed it there, either in italics or a marginal note. They assume it belongs.
God’s wrath is understood? Really? By whom? And why? The translators’ assumption is that they can and should insert the words, ‘of God,’ though they are not found in the manuscripts, nor implied by the grammar. We are to accept the translators’ own interpretation, passed on to readers, that Paul meant Jesus saves us from the wrath of God, even though Paul certainly did not say ‘wrath of God.’ Neither, I would suggest, is that his meaning in context.
What Paul actually says is that God through Christ was saving us from the wrath. Period. We are not to believe that Jesus is saving us from God the Father, but from the consequences intrinsic to sin itself, namely death. In the next chapter, the Apostle of Grace could not lay out the contrast more clearly: ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom. 6: 23 NASB). We rattle that verse off from memory too quickly, don’t we?
Let’s double-check: Who is rescuing us? God. What does God rescue us from? The wages (or consequences) of sin. What consequences does God rescue us from? Death. What do we receive not from God? We do not receive the wages or consequences of sin from God. What do we receive from God? We receive a free gift. What free gift do we receive? Salvation. Resurrection. Eternal life. How? Through Jesus Christ.
So yes, God rescues us from ‘the wrath,’ from sin, from death. Wrath then, is not the punishment of God but our experience of the intrinsic and fatal consequences of sin—of rejecting God’s mercy. Yes, the pigpen was the punishment, the wrath, the consequences. Of what? Of the prodigal son’s own selfish choices. And in love, yes, the Father consents and gives him over—gives us over until we are done. Then when we’re done, we come back like the prodigal son and get what? Punishment? No. Wrath? No. When we come back, God welcomes us and gives us a free gift: eternal life!
In Romans 5, who is the agent of salvation? Whose love is at work? Who is forgiving and reconciling sinners? God! God is the agent of salvation through Christ. And what is God saving us from? Himself? No. In Romans 5, does God say or even imply, ‘I love you so much that I will save you from myself?’ No. God saves us from ‘the wrath’—period.”
Brad Jersak has much more to say about “the wrath” in his book A more Christlike God. It’s worth the read.
One last beautiful thing for you, an entry from my husband’s journaling from Psalm 50 that illustrates what I’ve been trying to say… about sacrifice, about salvation, about love and forgiveness and about the Bible:
Psalm 50 (The Passion Translation)
The Psalms can be tricky to truly understand the intricacies that are found woven through them. They are part poem, part worship, part prophesying the future, part telling stories of the past, some of which are more mythic than necessarily totally accurate, like the parables that Jesus told. Sometimes they reflect their culture, they are written for the time and the people who lived during that time. Just as I might talk to a toddler in a certain way, communicating simple things like ‘don’t touch! Hot! It’s OK, don’t cry’ (when for an adult it wouldn’t be OK.) But when that toddler is an adolescent, more is expected, the relationship evolves on toward maturity and adulthood. So I need the Holy Spirit to enlighten and illuminate how to read the Psalms. Which parts do I take literally, which parts are story that I learn from, which parts are prophesying the times I live in, and which parts condescend to the people and times they were written in and for? And the Psalms are beautiful and I love them! Verse 1 tells me that God speaks to us through His creation, through ‘every brilliant sunrise and every beautiful sunset’ saying… ‘LISTEN to me…’ If I am only hearing God through reading the Bible, I am only getting part of the Message! His character is reflected in and through His wondrous, beautiful, perfect creation. Verse 3: If there is a ‘lake’ in heaven and God is in it…it is a ‘lake of fire!’ Verse 4, ‘here he comes to judge his people;’ and He says ‘I judge you to be greatly loved, totally forgiven, washed clean and purified.’ The only sacrifice He desires (verses 14 & 15 & 23) are gratitude and trust (faith.) And choosing ‘to walk…in what is right.’ We have been given free will, the freedom to choose. Choosing to walk in what is right is choosing God. And it pleases Him. Living life in ‘the gratitude of grace’ is another choice that honors God. And when we do these simple things, ‘salvation will unfold for you.’ Wow. Salvation isn’t something that happens once and for all by saying a ‘sinner’s prayer.’ Salvation unfolds. And it unfolds for those who live in gratitude, gratitude for the grace that they have received and continue to receive, and which they extend to others (…and forgive us our sins, as we forgive one another…) Salvation unfolds as I CHOOSE the path of Jesus, the path of ‘what is right.’ I love it. So help me God, I choose You this day. I am supremely grateful. May my salvation continue to unfold this day. Amen.