An Essay on the Doctrine of Christ
Rev. George Orvick
1969 Synod Convention Essay
The waves of the Sea of Galilee were raging as if they were angrily trying to destroy the little vessel that was caught in their clutches. The wind was roaring with a ferocity that made it seem deliberately determined to rid the world of a little group of men in the water-filled boat. The terror of impending death filled the hearts of the passengers. They were certain that a watery grave would now be their final end. But there was one lying asleep in the rear of the boat. They called Him the Master. And so in their great anxiety they awakened Him from His sleep, crying out, “Master, carest Thou not that we perish?” And then takes place one of those supernatural events that left the disciples standing in awe. “He arose, and rebuked the wind and said unto the sea, ‘Peace, be still.’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said unto them, ‘Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, ‘What manner of man is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” Mark 4,35–41.
The question was asked in utter amazement. How could anyone perform so stupendous a miracle? How could any man speak to such overwhelming forces as the wind of a storm or the waves of a turbulent sea and cause them to be calm? What manner of man could this be?
Ever since our Lord Jesus Christ came to this earth men have been asking this question. More books have been written about Him, more questions have been asked about Him, more controversies have raged about Him than any other person. If you go into a bookstore today you will find numerous volumes on the subject of “Jesus research.” The sad part is this that many such volumes are written from the standpoint of rationalistic liberalism which questions the authority of the Word of God and therefore the person of Christ.
The theme of this Convention is “In the Beginning … the Word was God.” This is a very appropriate theme because it directs us to the very heart and center of the Christian Faith, namely the deity of Christ. It is also a very timely theme because we are living in an age when this fundamental doctrine is being called into question.
We have chosen as the title of this essay the question “What Manner of Man is This?” It is our aim to answer this question from the Holy Scriptures, setting forth the importance of this for our faith; and then to show how modern theology endangers the very doctrine that means our salvation.
Luther has this to say, “The devil has been active and is active to this day in attacking Christ either in His Person or in His work. Now he does not want to allow that He is God; then, again, he does not want to allow that He is man. A third time he does not want to allow Him to perform His office in our behalf and to redeem us from sin through His blood. He labors with might to bring Christ to naught and to lead people away from Christ. What good does it do me, though I do believe and confess that He is God, if I do not at the same time believe and confess that He is man? What good does it do me, though I do believe that He is God and man, if I do not also believe and confess that I have forgiveness of sin through His blood? Every one of these three articles must be believed and confessed; that He is God and man and has redeemed us through His blood from sin, death and the devil. If one of these articles is missing all are missing, and I do not have the whole, true Christ and am lost.”1
Thus it is of utmost importance for the salvation of our immortal souls that we base our faith solidly upon the true Christ as set forth in the Scriptures, that we accept Him as our Lord and Redeemer, that we lay hold of Him and His merits, and that we trust with all our hearts in Him alone.
What the Holy Scriptures Teach About The Person of Christ
In answering the question, “What Manner of Man is This?” let us turn to the source and authority for all our beliefs, the verbally inspired Holy Scriptures. We look first of all at the marvelous circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus. Shortly before His birth the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” Matt. 1,20. And the angel also announced to Mary, “That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” Luke 1,35. And when the blessed night of His birth arrived it was the lowly shepherds that heard the announcement, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2,11. His birth had been similarly foretold by the Prophet Isaiah when he wrote, “Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel,” Is. 7,14, and again “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given; … and his name shall be called … the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the prince of peace.” Is. 9,6. Thus it was that “When the fulness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman.” Gal. 4,4. Thus the Holy Evangelist John writes, “In the beginning was the Word … and the Word was God … And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” John 1, 1,14.
These words of Holy Scripture describe the miraculous event which we call the INCARNATION OF THE SON OF GOD. This event took place at a definite time in history, during the reign of Caesar Augustus at a definite place in the land of Palestine. It was an event which happened only once and will never happen again. Tim eternal Son of God, who was begotten of the Father from eternity, took upon Himself the form of a man by combining Himself with the unfertilized ovum in the womb of Mary, and when the fullness of the time had come He was born in Bethlehem’s stable, a little child, yet also the Lord of glory. Thus Marie Wexelsen of Toten, Norway could write those simple words:
The little child in Bethlehem
He was a king indeed.
He came from His high home in heaven;
Down to our world in need.
The Two Natures
The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus had two natures at His very conception and birth. His divine nature had been present from all eternity, but when it was united in Mary’s womb with the human nature the Son of God was now both God and man in one person. Human reason is completely unable to fathom such an incomprehensible doctrine as the incarnation. But here faith steps forward and simply answers: “With God nothing shall be impossible.” Luke 1,37.
Let us now move forward from the birth of Jesus to His earthly life and ministry that we might find further testimony in answer to the question, “What manner of man is this?”
We confess in the Explanation of the Second Article: “I believe that Jesus Christ is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary.” This concise statement is fully taught by Holy Scripture.
When Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan the Father’s voice from heaven said of Him, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Matt. 3, 16.17. And when Jesus asked His disciples “Whom say ye that I am?” Simon Peter answered in their name, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matt. 16, 16. Christ does not rebuke Peter but approves of his reply, saying, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” Matt. 16, 17.
In connection with the deity of Christ, Scripture ascribes to Him divine attributes, divine works and divine honor. Jesus speaks of His existence from eternity when He says, “Before Abraham was, I am.” John 8, 58. And in His great high priestly prayer He prays, “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” John 17, 5. Christ also had knowledge of all things, as Peter said to Him, “Lord, Thou knowest all things.” John 21, 17. And again His omnipotence is spoken of by Christ Himself when He says, “All power is given unto me in heaven and on earth.” Matt. 28, 18.
Divine works are also attributed to Jesus. In John 1, 3 we read, “All things were made by Him; and without Him Was not any thing made that was made.” And in Col. 1, 16–17 we are told, “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible … all things were created by him, and for him; And he is before all things and by him all things consist.” Christ even had the miraculous power to raise the dead as we see in the case of Lazarus who had lain in the tomb for four days until he heard those mighty words, “Lazarus, come forth.” The Son has equal power in this regard with the Father for He says, “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them, even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.” John 5, 21. To demonstrate His mighty power Christ also performed many miracles. He walked on the Sea of Galilee, fed the 5,000 in the wilderness, healed all diseases, opened the eyes of the man born blind, cleansed the leper, and stilled the storm, in addition to performing many other miracles.
All men are therefore commanded to give honor to Christ as to God the Father. “All men should honor the Son even as they honor the Father.” John 5, 23. Thomas accords Him this honor when, having seen the wounds in His hands and feet, he falls down before Him and exclaims, “My Lord and my God.” John 20, 28. These are only a few of the passages of Scripture which teach that Jesus is true God. Only He could say, “I and my Father are one.” John 10, 30.
The Holy Scriptures are just as emphatic in teaching that Jesus was also true man. He is expressly called a man in I Tim. 2, 5, “There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” He shared our human flesh and blood, as we are told in Heb. 2, 14, “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same.” The Scriptures also ascribe to Jesus the essential parts and conditions of man: He was born (Luke 2, 7); He slept (Mark 4, 38); He was hungry (Matt. 4, 2); He was thirsty (John 11, 3.5); and He suffered and died (Matt. 26 and 27). Jesus says of Himself, “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have.” Luke 24, 39.
While Holy Scripture thus testifies that Jesus was a true man, that He possessed a complete human nature, yet there are certain things about this human nature that are different from ours. His conception was different from ours. While all men are conceived in the natural way with a human father and a human mother we know that Jesus was conceived in a supernatural way by the Holy Ghost. Matthew writes that Mary “was found with child of the Holy Ghost.” Matt. 1, 18. And when Mary asked the angel how she could be the mother of a son, seeing she did not know a man, the angel replied, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” Luke 1, 35.
There is another important difference between Christ’s human nature and ours. Since He was conceived in this miraculous way by the Holy Ghost, He was also without sin. While all other men are conceived and born in sin our Lord Jesus Christ was holy and sinless. Paul writes “He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin.” II Cor. 5, 21. And Peter tells us that Christ was as a “lamb without blemish and without spot.” I Peter 1, 19. Again Peter says, “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.” I Peter 2, 22. “He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” Heb. 4, 15.
The Personal Union
We have learned from the Scriptures, then, that the divine nature of the Son of God was united with the human nature in a miraculous way. This joining of the two natures is called the PERSONAL UNION. This does not mean that we have two Christs — one divine and one human. No, we have only one Lord, one Mediator, one Redeemer. Luther writes: “Do not let the two natures in Christ, God and man, be separated, but let them remain together, as the text clearly states: ‘The Word became flesh;’ which does not say: the Deity became one person, and the humanity another person. So God’s and Mary’s Son is one son, not two … God is man, man is God, undivided in one person. God’s child is one child, and all depends on this article; or if this person is divided we are lost.”2
Reason must stand in awe at this remarkable union between the two natures. It is a mystery as Scripture says, “Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh.” I Tim. 3, 16. Our Confessions picture the personal union as fire and iron glowing together, or as body and soul together in one person, but even these are imperfect pictures. The Council of Chalcedon in rejecting the error of Eutyches, who contended that by the mixture of the two natures a new nature was formed, and also the error of Nestorius, who denied the real union by describing the two natures as two boards glued together, declared thus: “We confess one and the same Jesus Christ, the Son and Lord only-begotten, in two natures without mixture, without change, without division, without separation.”
Our Lutheran Confessions also clearly set forth the doctrine of the personal union of the new natures in Christ. Article III of the Augsburg Confession states it thus: “Also they teach that the Word, that is, the Son of God, did take man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, so that there are two natures, the divine and the human, inseparably conjoined in one person, one Christ, true God and true man.” The Formula of Concord, Thor. Decl. Art. VIII also states concerning the personal union: “We believe, teach and confess also that now, since the incarnation, each nature in Christ does not so subsist of itself that each is or constitutes a separate person, but that they are so united that they constitute one single person, in which the divine and assumed human nature are and subsist at the same time.” And again the Formula of Concord declares: “The two natures were united not as two boards which are glued together, so that they realiter, i.e., in deed and truth, have no communion with one another” (against Nestorius and Samosatenus), nor by “a mixing or equalizing of the natures, as when hydromel is made from honey and water, which is no longer pure honey and water, but a mixed drink” (against Eutyches), but as “the soul and body, and fire and iron, which have communion with each other, not by a phrase or mode of speaking or in mere words, but truly and really.”4
Such is the wonderful event which took place in that tiny corner of the earth so many years ago — the very Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made, Being of one substance with the Father; by Whom all things were made; humbled Himself, took upon Himself our flesh and was born a little babe and laid in Bethlehem’s manger.
The Communication of Attributes
Another marvelous and important facet of the personal union of the divine and human natures of Christ, and one that we dare not overlook, is that there is a communication of attributes between the two natures. This means simply that the divine nature participated in all the properties of the human nature, and the human nature participated in all the properties of the divine nature. This may sound like the repetition of mere words, but it is in actuality a matter which concerns the very salvation of our souls. For if there was no sharing of these divine properties it would mean that Christ died on the cross as a mere man, and we know that no mere man could pay the ransom for our sins.
The reason for which it is necessary to define so carefully this communication of attributes is that errors have crept in as a result of men employing human reason to try to fathom this mystery. It is in this particular area that also today questions have arisen concerning how much the human nature of Christ participated in divine attributes. People are asking today: Was Christ really sinless? Was He cognizant of His divine nature? Did He have divine intelligence or omniscience, or was He simply a child of His times, a first century Palestinian Jew, like others?
The communication of attributes is usually defined under three kinds. The first of these, called the Genus Idiomaticium, was necessary because some, like Nestorius and Zwingli, separated the attributes of the Son of God from the human nature. Nestorius said, “I cannot worship a God who was born, put to death, and buried.” He thought it was blasphemous to speak of Christ being born of the Virgin Mary also according to His divine nature. Zwingli followed in his footsteps. He separated the Son of God from His suffering and death and demanded that the suffering and death of Christ be referred only to the human nature. Zwingli maintained that whenever something which could only be said of the human nature was ascribed to Christ, this must be interpreted as referring only to the human nature. For example, if Christ’s suffering and death are spoken of, this must be applied only to the human nature. Calvin also completely separates the Son of God from the suffering and death of the human nature. This is a very serious matter. Did the Son of God die for us on the cross or did He not? Now it is a great mystery how the Son of God could die. This is against the very nature and attributes of God to speak of God dying. And yet this is just what Scripture teaches, that Christ according to both His human nature and His divine nature died on the cross. Peter writes that the people had “killed the Prince of Life,” and Paul writes that they “crucified the Lord of glory,” I Cor. 2, 8. Here Luther condemns Zwingli’s teaching that only the human nature could die, as well as his whole process (called “alloeosis”) of substituting one nature for the other. Luther says, “Beware, beware, I say, of the alloeosis! It is the devil’s mask, for at last it manufactures such a Christ after whom I certainly would not be a Christian; namely, that henceforth Christ should be no more and do no more with His sufferings and life than any other mere saint. For if I believe this, that only the human nature has suffered for me, then Christ is to me a poor Saviour, then He Himself needs a saviour. In a word, it is unspeakable what the devil seeks by the alloesis … If the old weatherwitch, Dame Reason, the grandmother of the alloeosis, would say, Yes, but God cannot suffer or die; you shall reply, That is true; yet, because in Christ deity and humanity are one person, Scripture, on account of the personal union, ascribes also to the deity everything which the humanity experiences, and vice versa.”5 And Luther goes on to assert that God died for our sins in this way: “We Christians must know that if God is not also in the balance, and gives the weight, we sink to the bottom with our scale. By this I mean: If it were not to be said, God has died for us, but only a man, we would be lost. But if God’s death and God died lie in the scale of the balance, then He sinks down, and we rise up as a light, empty scale … For in His nature God cannot die; but now that God and man are united in one person, it is correctly called God’s death, when the man dies who is one thing or one persons with God.”6
Therefore we see how vital this doctrine of the communication of attributes is. If Nestorius and Zwingli were right, then Christ would have died only as a man, and such a death would not redeem us. “None of them can by any means redeem his brother nor give to God a ransom for him,” says Scripture. But they are wrong. The divine-human Christ, the God-man did actually die on the cross for our sins.
This is the teaching of Scripture that both divine and human attributes are ascribed to the person of Christ. Thus both kinds of attributes are ascribed to Christ: He was eternal, “Before Abraham was, I am” John 8, 58, and He was born of the Virgin Mary; He was omniscient “Lord, thou knowest all things” John 21, 17, and limited in knowledge “And Jesus increased in wisdom.” He was omnipotent, “By Him were all things created” Col. 1, 16, and yet He was limited in power, “The officers of the Jews took Jesus and bound Him.” John 18, 12. Some of these are divine attributes and some human, but both are assigned to the entire person of Christ. This is the first kind of the communication of attributes known as Genus Idiomaticum.
In the second place it is necessary to point out from Holy Scriptures that the divine nature of Christ personally united with His human nature and has imparted full majesty to the human nature (Genus Majestaticum). This is necessary because some Reformed and Catholic theologians, while granting a union of the two natures, still insisted on separating the divine attributes from the human nature. They maintained that the finite was not capable of containing the infinite. (Finitum non est capax infiniti). Thus they denied that the human nature could also partake in such attributes as omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence. But Scripture clearly teaches that divine attributes are given to the human nature. This means that the human nature has received not merely excellent, unusual finite gifts and qualities, but infinite, uncreated, divine attributes; or as the Formula of Concord expresses it, “Supernatural, inscrutable, ineffable, heavenly prerogatives and excellencies in majesty, glory, power and might above everything that can be named.”7 The Scripture teaches that the Son of God entered into the human nature with the full glory of the Deity, as Col. 2, 9: “In Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” And again “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory os of the Only-Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth,” (John 1, 14). Divine attributes are also ascribed to the human nature; for example, omnipotence: “All power is given unto me in heaven and earth” (Matt. 28, 18); omniscience, “Jesus … knew all men and need not that any should testify of man; for He knew what was in man” (John 2, 24–25); omnipresence, “No man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man, which is in heaven.” (John 3, 13). “He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.” (Eph. 4, 10). Reformed theology and the principle that the “finite is not capable of the infinite” stem from rationalism and deprive Christians of the great comfort that Christ is present with them, not only as God, but also as man, their brother, saying, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Matt. 28, 20) Many questions are being raised by today’s modern theologians concerning this very issue. But as soon as a rationalistic approach is followed a different Christ is set forth, a Christ that was not the God-man of the Scriptures and a Christ that could not be our Saviour. Here reason must remain the captive of faith. We shall deal with questions raised by modernists in the second part of this paper.
A third class of the communication of attributes is necessary because men have denied that Christ performed the deeds of redemption according to both natures in one divine-human action (Genus Apostelesmaticum). Here we need to remember that all the official acts which Christ wrought and still works for the salvation of mankind are performed according to both natures. The Formula of Concord defines this third class as follows: “As to the execution of the office of Christ, the person does not act in, with, through, or according to only one nature, but in, according to, with, and through both natures, or as the Council of Chalcedon expresses it, one nature operates in communion with the other what is a property of each. Hence Christ is our Mediator, Redeemer, King, High Priest, etc. not according to one nature only, whether it be the divine or the human, but according to both natures.”8
Reformed theology also denies this class of the communication of attributes as it does the first two. Hodge asserts, “Omnipresence and omniscience are not attributes of which a creature can be made the organ”; and “The human nature of Christ is no more omniscient or almighty than the worker of a miracle is omnipotent.” Thus Reformed theologians go on to separate the divine nature from the suffering and dying on the cross. But this separation destroys the value of the redemption, because if Christ died only according to His human nature His death could not have paid the ransom for the sins of the world but would be as the death of any other saint. Put Scripture teaches that in all of Christ’s actions as our Prophet, Priest and King He acted as the God-man. As our Prophet Christ taught not as the apostles did, but rather from His own authority as the God-man. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” (John 1, 18) As our High Priest Christ suffered and died on the cross. Now it is true that dying is not one of the attributes of the divine nature but since the human nature is united with the divine nature, and since this divine-human person died it is therefore true that the Son of God died for our sins. As our King the Scriptures teach that He fills and rules the universe and protects His Church as the Lord God over all, and also as our human brother. The divine-human person fills all things and rules over all things for our benefit. “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Matt. 28, 20.)
If any rationalistic principle is allowed to interfere with the clear teaching of Scripture on the communication of attributes it immediately jeopardizes the redemptive work of Christ. This work could only be done by the theanthropic person, the God-man. Only the blood of the Son of God has the power to cleanse the world from sin. Luther writes, “I have no other God either in heaven or in earth; I know of no God separate from the flesh which lies in the lap of the virgin Mary, God without flesh is of no benefit.” Again Luther says, “The order is to believe, not to see, not to measure, not to grasp. And what Jesus said to unbelieving Thomas applies also here: “Blessed are they that do see, ‘see into, comprehend, know’ and yet believe.”9
The States of Christ
From the very moment of its conception the human nature of Christ was in possession of all divine attributes and of all divine majesty and glory. But at the same time Scripture also ascribes to the same Christ during the same earthly life poverty, limited knowledge and limited power. Christ suffered hunger and thirst, fatigue, pain and temptation, lived a human life, was taken prisoner, suffered, died and was buried. We thus learn that while Christ at all times had complete possession of His divine attributes He did not always make full and constant use of them. From the time of His conception until He was made alive in the grave He assumed the role of the humble servant, laying aside the use of His divine powers, in order to be able to redeem us by His holy obedience. The Old Testament speaks of Christ’s role as the humble servant in the well known “Suffering Servant” chapter of Isaiah 53. The New Testament sets this forth especially in Phil. 2, 5–8. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” This condition in the earthly life of Jesus in which He refrained from the full use of the divine glory communicated to His human nature, but assumed the role of the humble servant in order to take our place under the Law and to suffer and die in our stead, is called the State of Humiliation.
It is in this particular area that problems arise for rationalists who refuse humbly to accept the Scriptures. The fact that omnipotence and omniscience should be communicated to the man Jesus during his earthly existence is a source of offense to many. They therefore begin to tamper with the teachings of Scripture so that our Lord and Saviour is transformed either to a God Who has never become man, or something halfway between God and man, or to a mere man. They maintain that Jesus completely divested Himself of some of the attributes of His deity, or even of the deity itself. But here we must always adhere to the teachings of Scripture that Jesus always retained full and constant possession of His deity and His divine attributes, but that He only laid aside the USE of these attributes for a time during His earthly sojourn. Had He always retained the full use of His divine attributes He could not have become our substitute whose obedience is our redemption (Gal. 4, 4-5) and whose death is our propitiation (Rom. 3, 24–25). There were many times whenever it served the interests of our redemption that Christ employed the use of His divine attributes as in the case of His miracles and in His prophetic ministry. But for the most part He laid aside their use in order to suffer and die for us. The several stages of the Humiliation are described in these words of the Apostles’ Creed: “He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried.”
The State of Exaltation
When Christ was made alive in the grave He began the full and unlimited use of all of His divine powers. He demonstrated this to the lower world by His descent into hell, to the world by His resurrection from the grave, and to the highest heavens by His ascension and session at the right hand of God the Father. This full use of His divine, majestic powers is commonly called the State of Exaltation. In Phil. 2, 9–11 we read, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” In Eph. 1, 20–23 we read, “Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and eve1y name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” The several stages of the Exaltation are described in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, “He descended into hell, the third day He rose again from the dead, He ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father almighty, from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”
What Scripture Teaches Concerning The Work of Christ
Jesus Christ was prophesied in the Old Testament as having a three-fold office. In Deuteronomy 18, 15–19 the Lord promises to raise up a Prophet from among the people. In Psalm 110 the coming Messiah is referred to as “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” In Psalm 2, 12 He is portrayed as a Ruler or King and we are warned to “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way.” When Jesus was born He fulfilled these prophecies by assuming the office of Prophet, High Priest and King.
As our Prophet, Christ made known the will of God for our salvation. He is greater than all other prophets because He is God’s Son. Heb. 1, 1 tells us, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son.” And what was the message by which He made known the will of God for our salvation? The message was clearly that through faith in Him man would inherit eternal salvation. “The Bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven and giveth life unto the world … I am the Bread of Life; he that cometh to Me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst.” “This is the will of Him that sent Me, that everyone which seeth the Son and believeth on Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up on the Last Day.” (John 6, 33.35.40.) To believe in Him clearly means to believe in Him as the One who died on the cross and thereby paid for our sins. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3, 14–15)
The Good News of salvation which Christ proclaimed as our Prophet was made possible because of His work as our Great High Priest. As our Priest Christ has reconciled the whole world to God, (II Cor. 5, 19,) “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.” This He has done by offering Himself as a Propitiation to God for the sins of mankind. “Who gave Himself a ransom for all”, (I Tim. 2,6). “He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (I John 2, 2) He differs from the high priests of the Old Testament in that instead of offering up something else as a sacrifice He offered up Himself. “Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s; for this he did once, when he offered up himself.” (Heb. 7, 27.) Christ offered Himself in two ways. First by a holy life (active obedience). “For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.” (Heb. 7, 26.) Secondly by His suffering and death for us (passive obedience). “Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God.” (Eph. 5, 2.) Now God is reconciled to man. Eternal redemption has been won for us. “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” (Heb. 9, 12.)
On account of His work as our High Priest Christ has delivered us from the power of sin death and the devil. He destroyed the power of death. “Jesus Christ hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.” (II Tim. 1, 10.) And of course the great 15th chapter of I Cor. sets this forth. Christ has also abolished the power of the devil. “Forasmuch, then, as the children are pa1takers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same, that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.” (Heb. 2, 14.) Christ also delivered us from the dominion of sin. “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” (Titus 2, 14.)
Having brought the Good News to the world and having won redemption for us as our High Priest Christ also exercises dominion over the whole world as our King. The Bible teaches that Christ has such dominion as follows: “All things are delivered unto Me of My Father”; (Matt. 11, 27.) “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth”, (Matt. 28, 18) “Thou hast put all things under his feet”. (Ps. 8, 6; Eph. 1, 22; I Cor. 15, 27) Jesus therefore rules over the Kingdom of Power, which includes all beings including unbelievers and fallen angels. He rules over the Kingdom of Grace, which includes all the believers. And in the life to come He rules over all those who were in the Kingdom of Grace here in what is called the Kingdom of Glory.
The Vicarious Satisfaction
The cenhtral truths of Scripture concerning the atonement which Christ made for us can be described under the term “Vicarious Satisfaction”. This means that Christ as man’s Substitute “rendered to God, who was wroth over the sins of man, a satisfaction which changed His wrath into grace toward men.”10
Pieper lists three points to show the truths which the term Vicarious Satisfaction presents (Pieper’s Dogmatics, Vol. II, p. 344ff):
1. The immutable justice of God demands of men a perfect obedience to His Law and pronounces eternal damnation on all transgressors. “Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the Book of the Law to do them.” Since every single sinner cannot keep the law perfectly God pronounces the verdict that every one is guilty and lies under God’s wrath, or the curse of the Law. Rom. 3,9–19; Rom. 5, 10; Eph. 2, 3.
2. The term Vicarious Satisfaction brings out the truth of Scripture that God laid upon Christ, and that Christ willingly accepted, the obligation in man’s stead both to keep the Law and to bear the punishment the Law exacts of the transgressors. Christ was “made under the law”. Gal. 4, 4–5; Christ vicariously suffered punishment for us as Scripture says, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us”, Gal. 3, 13; “One died for all”. II Cor. 5, 14.
3. The term Vicarious Satisfaction sets forth the teaching of Scripture that by Christ’s substitutional obedience and His death God’s wrath against men was appeased, in other words, His judgment of condemnation was set aside. “By the righteousness of One the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life”. Rom. 5, 18. “When we wen; enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.” Rom. 5, 10. II Cor. 5, 19 shows us that by the reconciliation of Christ a change took place, not in men, but in the heart of God. God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” II Cor. 5, 19.
The Formula of Concord emphasizes this comforting doctrine: “Since it is the obedience, as above mentioned … of the entire person, it is a complete satisfaction and expiation for the human race, by which the eternal, immutable righteousness of God, revealed in the Law, has been satisfied and is thus our righteousness, which avails before God :and is revealed in the Gospel and upon which faith relies before God, which God imputes to faith, as it is written, Rom. 5, 19; I John 1, 7; Heb. 2, 4; Rom. 1, 17;” Thorough Declaration, III, 57. So also the Apology says: “The Law condemns all men; but Christ, because without sin He has borne the punishment of sin and has been made a victim for us, has removed that right of the Law to accuse and condemn those who believe in Him, because He Himself is the Propitiation for them, for whose sake we now are accounted righteous. But since they are accounted righteous, the Law cannot accuse or condemn them, even though they have not actually satisfied the Law.”11
Luther, also writes very explicitly about the Vicarious Atonement. Christ is no longer “an innocent and sinless Person, but a sinner who has and bears the sin of Paul, the blasphemer and persecutor, and of Peter, the denier of his Master, and of David, the adulterer and murderer; in a word, He bears and has all the sins of all men in His body … He Himself is innocent, but since He bears the sins of the world, His innocency is weighed down by the sins and guilt of the whole world. Whatever sins I and you have done have become the sins of Christ, as though He Himself had committed them. Is. 53, 6 says: ‘The Lord hath laid upon Him the iniquity of us all.’”12
Objective and Subjective Reconciliation
When Christ died on the cross we know that He died for the sins of the whole world, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1, 29.) When He effected the reconciliation between God and man He also reconciled the whole world to God. “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.” (II Cor. 5, 19.) All men were by nature enemies of God. All men came under God’s wrath and condemnation. But a change took place in the heart of God when Jesus Christ suffered and died for man’s sins. God was now reconciled to all men and did not impute their trespasses to them. God forgave the sin of the whole world when He laid them upon Christ. “The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Is. 53.) This was not on account of any change in man or any improvement or better attitude in man. This was solely something that took place in God. This is called universal reconciliation or objective justification, that God has declared all sinners righteous in Christ.
But how does the sinner receive the benefit of this objective reconciliation? How does he make grace his own? ‘The answer is: He receives it through the hand of faith. Faith is like an empty hand which reaches out to accept this gift from God. “By grace are ye saved through faith.” (Eph. 2, 8.) “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Rom. 5, 1.) Faith is not a good work which merits reconciliation with God. Faith is not a condition within man which causes God to look with favor upon man. No, faith is but the receiving organ by which the gift of reconciliation is made our own. The Formula of Concord says, “Faith does not justify because it is so good a work, so illustrious ,a virtue, but because it apprehends and embraces the merits of Christ in the promise of the Gospel.”13 Thus when the sinner has made grace his own through faith this is called subjective reconciliation or justification.
This is a very important distinction that must be maintained at all costs. As soon as reconciliation is made to depend upon something that takes place within man the doctrine of sola gratia is gone. Then the only thing that remains is for man to prescribe just what condition must be present, or what good works must be done, or what penance must be exacted in order to make man worthy of reconciliation. No, we must ever hold that objective reconciliation is something that took place in God completely 1apart from the attitudes, feelings, and good works of man. Only then can the poor sinner whose heart has been driven to despair by the law find comfort, peace and the sure hope of salvation. Luther writes thus: “Faith holds out the hand and opens the bag and wants nothing but benefactions. For as God, the Giver, prompted by His love, bestows such good things, so we are the recipients by faith, which does nothing but accept such gifts. For it is not of our doing and cannot be merited by our work; it is there already, presented, and bestowed; you must simply open your mouth, or rather your heart, hold still, and be filled, Ps. 81, 10.”14
This then is very briefly the summary of Christ’s redemptive work as our Prophet, Priest and King, the Humble Servant Who became incarnate in order to be our substitute in fulfilling the law by His active obedience and in giving His life upon the cross in His passive obedience in order that God might be reconciled to a sinful world that we as poor sinners might have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. All of the treasures that Christ has won for us become ours by accepting Him in humble faith, a faith which knows that He is our Lord and Saviour Who has fully paid for our sins upon the cross, which lays hold on Him and His merits, and which trusts with all the heart in Him alone.
We have, therefore, sought to answer the question, “What manner of man is this?” from the Holy Scriptures. Many volumes, of course, could be written about Him. The Apostle John writes, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.” (John 21, 25.) And he also writes, “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book: But these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” (John 21, 30–31.)
How Modern Theology Answers the Question, “What Manner of Man is This?”
In the first part of this paper we answered the question, “What manner of man is this?”, from the standpoint of certain basic presuppositions. We assumed that God has revealed Himself in the world of time and space through the Holy Scriptures. We assumed that the Holy Scriptures are the divinely inspired Word of God and that they are fully reliable and inerrant in all matters, even in those things which deal with geography, history, and chronology. We assumed that, while ordinarily events in this world are governed by the scientific principle of cause and effect, yet this is still God’s world. It belongs to Him, He upholds it by His power, He created it, and therefore if He wants to cause certain supernatural events to take place in this world, this is entirely within His prerogative and power. We therefore accept the supernatural content of the Bible in humble faith even though human reason is not able to fathom it. These assumptions with which the Christian begins are not merely the result of logic, but are rather the convictions worked in our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit.
To a greater or lesser extent many modem theologians do not start with these assumptions. They rather proceed from the point of view that what we can know about God has not been divinely revealed to us, but must proceed from our own thoughts and the thoughts of others about what God is like. They start with the presupposition that this world is a closed entity in which everything is determined by the laws of nature so that there is no place for divine intervention, and therefore miracles are simply ruled out. They also proceed from the standpoint of trying to win scientifically oriented modern man for the Christian faith by denying all that is supernatural in the Bible. The premise is that the Bible is a human book which is subject to human fallibility and error and must be subjected to the same criticism as any other human literary production. Given these presuppositions it is no wonder that they arrive at a different answer to the question, “What manner of man is this?”, than Bible believing theologians arrive at. Olav Valen Sendstad points out that “It is clear from nearly every single neo-Protestant theological work: Its objective is to win ‘modem man’ for a synthesis of science and faith, philosophy and theology, natural knowledge and divine knowledge. Thus one wins ‘modern man’ by abandoning everything in the Christian tradition which is incompatible with ‘scientific progress’.”15
Let us now look into some of the thinking of today’s modernistic theologians in order that we may see where modern theology is heading and in order that we might be on guard lest we be deceived also.
Modem theology maintains that we really can know very little about the historical person, Jesus of Nazareth. They come to this conclusion because they believe that the Four Gospels do not offer us a straight history, but rather a record of the early Church’s preaching about Jesus, a kind of propaganda set forth by the evangelists to adorn the person of Christ. Therefore many of the events detailed in the Scriptures as taking place in the life of Christ may not have happened at all, but may merely be later interpretations and additions invented by the early Church. Therefore a great deal is written today about the “Quest for the Historical Jesus”. By this it is meant that the task of the modern theologian is to search the Scriptures to find out what is historical fact in the life of Jesus and what is really later interpretation, kerygma or preachment of the Church.
Albert Schweitzer was one of the forerunners of this kind of interpretation of the Bible. In 1906 he published his famous book, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, and in this volume in which he casts aside everything that is miraculous in connection with the life of Christ, and comes to the conclusion, “The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth, and died to give His work its final consecration, never had any existence.”16
But the most influential of modern theologians is the German Rudolph Bultmann. His views have had their effect on theologians everywhere, also in Lutheran schools in America. He believes that the Gospels are so full of legends and myths that we can hardly know anything about the real history behind them. He thus writes, “I do indeed think that we can know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus, since the early Christian sources show no interest in either, are moreover fragmentary and often legendary and other sources about Jesus do not exist.”17 He maintains that the Christ which the Christian Church believes in and confesses in its Creeds is therefore not the historical person, Jesus of Nazareth, but a legendary, mythological figure which he calls the Christ of the kergyma or the preaching of the New Testament Church.
Simply by reading some of the modern works on the person of Christ, It is easy to see how Pultman has influenced other theologians. Let us sight a few examples. In his book the Gospels and the Teachings of Jesus, which is called “An Introduction for Laymen,” Dr. John S. Ruef writes, “The Gospels are not biographies of Jesus. They were not written with this purpose in mind, and they cannot be read and understood as if they were.”18 He goes on to say, “The New Testament writers, for instance, speak of Jesus as driving out demons, walking on the surface of the water, feeding a multitude of people with just a few loaves, and raising dead people to life. All this was meaningful to the people of the New Testament times. It is not meaningful to people of our day and age.”19
Hugh Anderson, professor of New Testament at the University of Edinburgh, sums up the modem liberal view of the historicity of the Gospels in these words, “So the Gospels are a mirror of the collective existence or consciousness of the first Christian congregations. They contain hardly a single trace of the actual history of Jesus.”20
That this influence of Bultmann has also entered into Lutheran circles can be seen from the writing of Prof. Wilfred Bunge of the Religion Department of Luther College. He writes, “For on the face of things the gospels appear to be straight forward records of the life and teachings of Jesus. This they are not. They are not objective chronicles of Jesus of Nazareth. They are filled with theological claims and confessions or interpretations which go far beyond the objective events of the history of Jesus … There is no principal difference between the theologizing represented in the New Testament and the theologizing of the church through the centuries of church history to the present day.”21
We thus wish to demonstrate briefly the view of modern theology over towards Christ and the Scriptures, namely that they hold that the Christ of the Four Gospels is not the historical Jesus, but rather a legendary figure growing up out of the preaching and theologizing of the early Church. We, of course, must recognize this for what it is, namely an outright denial of the inspiration and authority of the Holy Scriptures and a complete yielding to the principle that miracles simply could not take place. It shows what can happen to theology if human reason is made the determining factor and humble faith is relegated to the realm of superstition.
Modern Attempts to do Away With The Deity of Christ
Since it is beyond the realm of human reason to grasp how Jesus could be God and man at the same time there have been certain subtle attempts to explain away His divine nature or to somehow limit His divine powers. The modernist will simply not accept the fact that divine attributes, such as omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence, could be communicated to the human nature. “How could Christ be fully human and yet know all things? How could He learn and develop normally and yet be in possession of divine knowledge? How could He grow up in a particular culture receiving the same social input as His contemporaries and not be a man of His times, a first century Palestinian Jew? How could He share our feelings and emotions and be completely sinless?” These are questions asked by modern theologians who are determined to make Christ more human than divine, first of all because they do not accept the miraculous and secondly because they want a Jesus with Whom they somehow can identify more readily in these troubled times. But in these efforts they are destroying the very doctrine which means our salvation, namely that only the God-man, the divine-human Jesus could pay the ransom for our sins.
Let us look at some of these recent attempts to diminish the divine nature of Christ and make Him more human. Some of these attempts arise in the area of Christ’s humiliation. Here it is held that Christ did not just lay aside the use of His divine powers, but that He laid aside the powers themselves, or even that He laid aside His deity when He became man. Walter H. Bouman, in a paper entitled “Jesus as the Christ,” casts doubt upon the divine omniscience of Jesus when he writes, “Jesus’ unique Sonship is not manifest in terms of perfect knowledge, unique powers, or other trappings of pagan ‘divinity’. He is a man locked in a particular history and culture. He derives his images, parables, similies from his cultural and geographical setting. He is capable of ad hominem argumentation. He lives, speaks and thinks as a first century Palestinian Jew.”22 From this the implication is that first century Palestinian Jews did not have perfect knowledge or unique powers. Jesus was such a man, “Locked in a particular history and culture.” Therefore, how could He speak infallibly on such matters as the authenticity of “Jonah and the Great Fish” or the authorship of the Pentateuch.
Kent S. Knutson in his book about Christ, entitled His only Son Our Lord, also leaves the implication that Jesus laid aside His divine powers when He became man. He writes, “… New Testament evidence appears to substantiate the notion that the emptying of which Paul speaks does involve the giving up of the full powers of the Godhead without changing the essential nature of godhood.”23 It sounds as if Christ no longer possessed, for example the divine quality of omniscience communicated to His human nature by the divine nature.
Roy Harrisville, in his book, The Miracle of Mark, questions what Mark means by designating Jesus as the “Son of God”. Perhaps Mark didn’t really mean that Jesus was “very God of very God” as we confess in the Nicene Creed. We quote, “But perhaps even with Mark that title ‘Son of God’ does not carry the pay-load we usually assign to it in the Nicene Creed ‘Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, Being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made.’ Some assert that for Mark the title ‘Son of God’ is the normal equivalent of ‘Messiah,’ a term which carried no intimations of deity.”24 Harrisville again questions whether or not Mark believed that Jesus was the Son of God as stated in our creeds and confessions in these words: “Thus for Mark, that name which is above every name is not the title ‘Lord,’ but rather ‘Son of God.’ Whether or not we are to supply this name with the content with which later centuries of faith and confession have furnished it-equality with God in essence, partaking of the very ‘stuff’ of deity – or must rather view it as somehow synonymous with the title ‘Christ’ or ‘Messiah’ the fact remains that for Mark ‘Son of God’ is the loftiest title which may be applied to Jesus.”25 Thus we see that Harrisville seriously questions the deity of Christ, but would rather picture a reduced and de-potentiated Christ who was not really of the same “stuff” as the Father.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is another German theologian who has had a great influence on American theology. He has difficulty in accepting the fact that Christ lived a sinless life. In his book, Christ the Center, he writes:
Did Jesus, as the humiliated God-man, fully enter into human sin? Was he a man with sins like ours? If not, was he then man at all? If not can he then help at all? And if he was, how can he help us in our predicament, as he is in the same predicament? It is vital here to understand what the “likeness of flesh” can mean. It means the real image of human flesh. His flesh is our flesh. Liability to sin and self-will are an essential part of our flesh … In his flesh, too, was the law that is contrary to God’s will. He was not the perfectly good man. He was continually engaged in struggle. He did things which outwardly sometimes looked like sin. He was angry, he was harsh to his mother, he evaded his enemies, he broke the law of his people, he stirred up revolt against the rulers and the religious men of his country. He entered man’s sinful existence past recognition … His deeds are done in the likeness of flesh. They are not sinless, but ambiguous. One can and should see good and bad in them.26
Thus we see that Bonhoeffer questions the sinlessness of Christ. Instead of simply taking Scripture as it stands he tries to solve the problem of the two natures by the use of human reason and thus departs from the truth.
Another document recently published by the Division of Theological Studies of the Lutheran Council in the U.S.A. is entitled “Who Can This Be?” Here an attempt is made to emphasize the humanity of Christ to such an extent that the divinity is seriously questioned. Was Jesus really such a “child of His times” that His words must be understood in the thought forms of the first century? This question is set forth on page 10 of the pamphlet.
Sociologists have taught us that it is impossible to speak of any man without awareness of the environment in which he stands. Does this also apply to Jesus? Does it mean that our Lord was truly a child of his times and that his utterances can only be understood in terms of the thought forms, the prevailing hopes, the fears of the first century? Does it mean that worshipping groups of which Jesus was a part significantly colored his hopes and expectations for mankind? … We need to ask ourselves whether we can square sociology with some kind of divine invasion from beyond the dimensions of our existence.
Thus the question is raised as to whether Jesus really spoke authoritatively as the Son of God or whether we have to interpret what He says in the light of the fact that He was a “child of his times”.
This little booklet also questions whether or not Jesus was conscious of His divine mission in life or whether He was groping about hying to determine His Father’s will. The question is thus asked on page 10, “Did Jesus know in advance what would happen to him and how he would react? Or did he, like us grope through situations to ascertain almost by trial and error the Father’s will for his life?” Now the very asking of questions such as these in Lutheran circles is to create doubt in the minds of the readers and to go against clear passages of Scripture which indicate fully that Jesus knew what His mission was. He said, “I must be about my Father’s business.” (Luke 2, 49,) and again, “I have not come to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” (John 6, 38.)
We are told that between the ages of 12 and 30 Jesus was no different from other men. We read on page 24, “This is to recognize that Jesus was on the receiving end of the same kind of social input as his contemporaries. His life was formed in the same social matrix as theirs. It differs from ours only to the extent that the 20th century is different from the first century.” This is to emphasize the humanity of Christ to the extent that the implication is that Jesus had no special relationship to His Father during these years, but developed as an ordinary man.
The episode in the Garden of Gethsemane is cited to show that Jesus was groping His way trying to determine the Father’s will. We quote, “So the Gospels clearly give us a picture of one who, like the rest of us, was groping through each new situation to find some clear indication of what the Father’s will might be. Nowhere is this more evident than in the account of the Gethsemane agony, where he prayed: ‘If it be possible, let this cup pass from me … nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.’ If these words are interpreted in their obvious meaning, Jesus at that moment had no divine preview of the necessity of the cross. He shrank from death as we shrink from death in all its lonely terror. Likely he was even unaware of the resurrection that lay beyond the criminal’s death. Like the rest of us, he had to wrestle with the myriad decisions of life.” Now it is simply not true that Jesus entered His death in ignorance. He knew and stated many times that He came to give His life as a ransom and He severely rebuked Peter when Peter tried to prevent Him from going up to Jerusalem to die. Likewise He certainly also knew of the resurrection for He clearly foretold that He would rise again on the third day. What He feared was not so much death, but the terrible agony of the cup of sins which He had to drink on the cross.
Thus we see that certain clever attacks have been directed at the person of Christ to somehow lessen His divine nature, or else to do away with it altogether. The devil will simply not rest but continues to work to overthrow the Christian religion.
Modern Theology Questions the Atonement
It is a sad thing to behold the love of the Father for poor sinners, to observe the tremendous sacrifice that Christ made when He “humbled Himself” and became “obedient unto death” for the world and then to see how man shows his ingratitude for all of this by proclaiming this wonderful fact as a mere “theory of redemption,” by minimizing it, or by detracting from it in any way. And yet this is what is being done today and we ought to be aware of it.
Let us consider first of all the example of Rudolph Bultmann. He openly declares the atonement as being completely mythical in character. We quote:
It (the cross) certainly has a mythical character as far as its objective setting is concerned. The Jesus who was crucified was the pre-existent, incarnate Son of God, and as such he was without sin. He is the victim whose blood atones for our sins. He bears vicariously the sin of the world, and by enduring the punishment for sin on our behalf he delivers us from death. This mythological interpretation is a mixture of sacrificial and juridical analogies, which have ceased to be tenable for us today.27
Another example of declaring the atonement a matter of fiction can be found in a book by Lutheran J. Schoneberg Setzer entitled, What’s Left to Believe?
Throughout much of Christian history Jesus’ crucifixion for us has been understood as a blood payment for the sins of man that was offered up as the penalty to satisfy the offended righteousness of an holy God. But today the Christian churches are reexamining this understanding in the light of new biblical knowledge. And generally the churches are adopting another, and more valid biblical viewpoint. This other biblical viewpoint understands Jesus’ crucifixion for us as the climactic conclusion of a sacrificial life that was so filled with the revelation of God’s love that Jesus was able thereby to persuade sinful men to return to their God and Father.28
These are outright denials of the atonement which destroy the Christian faith. There is another man who has had a great influence over present day theology, especially in regard to the doctrine of the atonement. This man is Gustav Aulen, professor of systematic theology at the University of Lund in Sweden. In his book Christus Victor Dr. Aulen holds that we should not emphasize the sacrificial death of Christ to pay the ransom for our sins, but rather that the main point of Christ’s redemptive work is that He came into the world and won a victory over the devil. He says, “It is precisely the work of salvation wherein Christ breaks the power of evil that constitutes the atonement between God and the world.”29 Now we know that Christ won a great victory over the devil by His redemptive work, and we know that by His coming into the world He revealed the incomparable love of God, but any explanation of the atonement that leaves out the satisfaction which Christ made by offering Himself as a sacrifice to God is not a true and complete picture of the atonement.
This book has, however, had a tremendous influence on present day thinking. Kent S. Knutson in his popular book, His Only Son Our Lord, follows Aulen right down the line. He criticizes the sacrificial idea of the atonement when he writes: “This picture is too often distorted into an uncritical satisfaction idea, with God presented as an angry judge demanding the full measure of the law. The whole contribution of the Reformation as a reassertion of the grace of God seems to be nullified by this emphasis.”30 The idea that God is a judge who is angry against sin and demands that sin be atoned for simply does not appeal to today’s permissive society.
This modern idea about the atonement appears in various places. In the July 23, 1968 issue of the Lutheran Standard someone wrote in to the “Question Box” and asked the question, “To whom did Christ pay the ransom?” In the answer the author follows Aulen and Knutson. He points out that in the “sacrificial view” of the atonement God both offers the sacrifice and receives the payment. But then in the conclusion he states that today the idea of Christ winning a victory is more meaningful than His paying the ransom. We quote, “In view of our experience of the reality and power of sin and evil in today’s world, it might well be that the motif which stresses the victory of Christ, rather than the sacrificial motif, … communicates most significantly to our need.”31 Thus the idea that we should not speak so much about Christ’s sacrificial death is being spread amongst the members of the church through the official organ.
The Scriptural doctrine of the Vicarious Atonement in which Christ is offered as a sacrifice for our sins is also called into question in the aforementioned booklet, “Who Can This Be?” The suggestion is made that perhaps we have misunderstood God, that perhaps such terms as ransom, propitiation, expiation, blood of Christ, sacrifice, etc. “may actually reflect some misunderstanding of the nature of God, focusing too much upon his being a petty and wrathful deity whose offended disposition toward man somehow has to be appeased and transformed.”32 And then the question is asked, “What difference would it make, e.g., if we saw Christ’s work as aimed toward man rather than toward God?” And the book goes on to state, “When Christ came to reveal the Father, it was not to provide a picture that reflected some change in God, but to reconcile men to God on the basis of what God always had been. God does not hold men, nor his created world, in contempt. He does not take pleasure from the destruction of the wicked. So the reconciliation was affected by demonstrating before men in specific acts the true character of God.”33
Now this statement sounds rather innocent, but upon deeper investigation it presents a false picture of the reconciliation wrought by Christ. What this statement says is this: God never was angry with man. His justice did not need to be satisfied. His wrath against sin did not need to be placated by a substitute offering. God was always reconciled to men. Nothing had to be done to change man’s relationship to God. The problem was simply that man did not believe that God was this friendly and forgiving. Man was alienated from God and wouldn’t accept the forgiveness which God had to offer. Therefore Jesus came not to pay any penalty but to demonstrate by His loving kindness and His willingness even to give up His life that God was good and merciful and that the sinner should return to Him. Now it is true that Jesus’ life and death did demonstrate the great mercy of God, but it in not true that this constitutes the reconciliation. The aforementioned view is false doctrine. It is a complete departure from the central doctrine of the vicarious atonement. It is a doctrine that deprives sinners of the comfort that their sins were actually paid for, not simply overlooked, but paid for. Whether the modernist likes it or not the Bible does teach that God was angry against sin. God’s Word pronounces the curse upon everyone who does not keep the law perfectly. “Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the Book of the Law to do them.” (Gal. 3, 10.) It speaks of God’s wrath and anger against sin and that if this justice of God were not satisfied man would have been forever lost. Therefore the glorious news of the Gospel is this: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” (Gal. 3, 13.) II Cor. 5, 19 tells us “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself not imputing their trespasses unto them.” It was God Who gave His Son to be the offering for our sins, so that they were paid for and would not be counted ‘against us. The new theology which no longer wishes to speak of a sacrifice for sin, or a ransom, or a substitutionary offering is destroying the very central doctrine of the Christian religion, the vicarious atonement itself.
We have thus cited a few examples of what modern theology has to say about the person and work of Christ. Many more instances could be cited but perhaps these will suffice to show what happens to the very heart of our faith when man begins to deviate from the Scripture and to sit as a judge over the Scriptures to determine what is the Word of God and what is myth. When one begins to “demythologize” the Word of God, as Bultmann calls it, one ends up with a Christ Who is not the God-Man whose death on the cross paid the ransom for our sins, but a mythical figure about whom we actually know very little, but around Whom there has grown up a host of legends and myths.
Franz Pieper calls it the “saddest chapter in the whole history of mankind” that man, who is unable to bring about his reconciliation with God, but is graciously delivered by the sacrifice of God’s own Son and “justified by His blood,” should “instead of praising the compassion and love of God, … has criticized and keeps on criticizing the divine method of reconciliation as unnecessary, as unworthy of God, as self-contradictory and unjust, as utterly unsuitable, as too juridical.”34
Olav Valen-Sendstad provides us with a fitting remark to close this portion of our essay. vVe quote, “It is better for the true congregation of Christ to be a small unpretentious, and despised flock in the eyes of the neo-orthodox corrupters of Christianity, and to be true to the incarnate and inspired Word of God, than to win honor and thanks by extending the hand of fellowship to theologians and churchmen who betray and ravage the love-giving truth concerning the historical incarnation of God’s Son and the revelation of God’s nature on earth.”35
In our Synod’s old Explanation of the Catechism at the end of the Second Article the question was asked: “Is it enough for salvation that I have knowledge of these things concerning Jesus Christ?” And the answer was: “It is not enough for salvation that I have knowledge concerning Jesus Christ but the Holy Ghost must reveal Him in my heart through a living faith.” And so, being thoroughly acquainted with the facts concerning the person and work of Christ is not enough. It is necessary that we also believe in Him and accept Him as our personal Saviour.
Arnold Bennett wrote a novel about the pottery towns of England. In this book he tells a story of how a young man and woman are watching a Sunday School pageant in the street. The cynical, skeptical young man said, “There is no virtue in believing.” His girl friend, Hilda, is also looking on with a heart full of doubt. But then the children and the crowd begin to sing:
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Then Hilda, who had been hitherto unaffected by religion, was deeply moved and turned her face away in emotion. Edwin then asked, “What’s the matter?” And the embarrassed girl cried out, “It would be worth anything on earth to sing those words and mean them.”36
So it is worth anything on earth to sing about the Lord Jesus Christ and to mean it! May the Holy Spirit so help and strengthen us that we may never be led astray on the hopeless and meaningless paths of rationalistic liberalism, but ever guided by the sacred Scriptures, may continue to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (II Peter 3, 18.) And then finally we shall enter that land where all trials are like a dream that is passed and we shall join those blessed saints of whom it is written: “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou a1t worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on earth.” (Rev. 5, 9–10.) And in that holy place the ears of the saints shall no longer have to listen to the critics and philosophers of this world detracting from the glory of Christ’s person, but will hear the thrilling cry of ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands of angels, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory and blessings.” (Rev. 5, 12.) Hallelujah! Amen.
1. Plass, Ewald, What Luther Says, Vol. I, p. 146.
2. Erl. 46, p. 41.
3. Concordia Trig., p. 1019.
4. Art. VIII 13 ff, Formula of Concord.
5. The Abiding Word, Vol. I, p. 31.
6. The Formula of Concord, Con. Trig., pp. 1030–1031.
7. The Formula of Concord, Triglot, p. 1003.
8. The Formula of Concord, Triglot, p. 1031.
9. The Abiding Word, Vol. I, p. 38.
10. Pieper, p. 344.
11. Thorough Declaration, Art. III, p. 58.
12. St. L. IX: 369 f.
13. Thor. Decl., III, 13.
14. St. L. XI: 1103 f.
15. The Word That Can Never Die, Valen-Sendstad, p. 18.
16. Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, p. 398.
17. Bultmann, Rudolph; Jesus and the Word, p. 8.
18. Ruef, John S.; The Gospels and the Teachings of Jesus, p. 9.
19. Ibid, p. 26.
20. Anderson; Jesus — Great Lives Observed, p. 19.
21. Bunge, Wilfred; Theological Perspectives, p. 42.
22. Montgomery, Crisis in Lutheran Theology, Vol. I, p. 91.
23. Ibid, p. 48.
24. Harrisville, The Miracle of Mark, pp. 24–25.
25. Ibid, pp. 69–70.
26, Bonhoeffer, Christ the Center, pp. 112–113.
27. Bultmann, Kerygma and Myth, p. 35.
28. Setzer, What’s Left to Believe, p. 120.
29. Aulen, Gustav; Christus Victor, p. 71.
30. Knutson, op. cit. p. 78.
31. Lutheran Standard, Vol. 8, No. 15, July 23, 1968, p. 35.
32. Ibid, p. 29.
33. Op. cit., p. 29.
34. Pieper, op. cit., p. 351.
35. Valen-Sendstad, op. cit., p. 67.
36. Luccock, Halford; Never Forget to Live, p. 58.