Reading Scripture in the Kingdom



That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (Joh 3:6)

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. (Joh 6:63)

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. (1Co 15:50)

The convenience of math is its reliability and predictability. No matter how brilliant or dull one might be, one and one are two. The most evil person on the planet and the greatest saint still have the same sums. If an evil man has one apple and steals another, he has two. If the saint has two apples and gives one away, he has one. This, if you will, is the principle of “flesh and blood.” It requires nothing of us. Math is not an inherently transformative science.

But there are other things out there. Five loaves and two fish, divided by 5,000 should not constitute sufficient meals. But, in the hands of Christ the dinner-math collapses. Five and two equal 5,000 plus. The Kingdom of God has just this transcendent aspect. The disciples, those who witnessed the feeding of the 5,000 were on the cusp of change. They did not yet understand what was taking place, but the contradictions were piling up. The impossibility of what they saw from day-to-day, the blind receiving their sight, the lame walking, Christ walking on the water, speaking to wind and sea and getting results, water becoming wine, were all building to a critical mass that exploded in their lives with the resurrection of Christ and his “opening of their understanding (nous).”

The transformation that took place within the disciples cannot be exaggerated. A band of relatively uneducated fishermen, tax collectors and the like, become the teachers of an utterly seamless garment of Scriptural interpretation that was completely without precedent. The writings of St. Paul and others give clear evidence that within less than 20 years, the full hermeneutic of the paschal reading of Scripture was in place. No evolutionary process can account for such a development. The New Testament itself is evidence of the resurrection of Christ.

But what we see is not a work of dictation. The apostles wrote and taught out of the abundance of their hearts, having been transformed from fishermen into mystical visionaries of the Kingdom of God. They themselves are purposeful contradictions, no less than water becoming wine. Later teachers would bring that vision into dialog with Hellenistic culture, but they would not see deeper into the Kingdom itself.

What was the mind that could see Christ in the Passover Lamb? Indeed, what was the mind that could see Christ’s death and resurrection as a fulfillment of Passover itself? Beneath the letter of the Old Testament, beneath the surface of its poetry, its historical stories, its prophetic works, the primitive Church discerned Christ Himself and the shape of the story which we now know as the gospel.

The shape of the gospel story is not derived from the Old Testament. It is discerned within the Old Testament, after the resurrection of Christ and His subsequent teaching). St. Irenaeus in the 2nd century, specifically references the shape of the gospel story and calls it the “Apostolic Hypothesis.” It is the framework and fundamental understanding of the work of Christ.

For example, that “Christ died for our sins,” is not obvious. It can be discerned in the Old Testament if one comes to understand, for example, that the “Servant Songs” in Isaiah are actually referencing Christ. Again, this was in no way obvious. However, that Christ “died for our sins” is a specific part of the Apostolic Hypothesis. It is cited as a “tradition” in 1 Cor. 15 (“that which was delivered [traditioned] to me”). When that tradition is accepted and “received” (more about this in a moment), then passages like the Servant Songs begin to open up and yield their deeper meaning.

When a gospel writer shares a story about Christ and adds, “This was done that the saying in Isaiah might be fulfilled…,” we are reading the tradition in its operation. But the passages in Isaiah do not themselves give a clue for their interpretation. That clue, the “Apostolic Hypothesis,” must come first before the others can be seen.

The giving of this tradition is described in Luke 24:44-48:

Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding [nous], that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, “and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. “And you are witnesses of these things. (Luk 24:44-48)

It is important to see that this new insight into the Scriptures is described as a noetic event. It is not described as technique or style of interpretation that is taught and learned. It is specifically referred to as a change of the nous. In the same manner, the continued understanding of the gospel is, properly, a noetic exercise.

That noetic perception is the common thread of the liturgical texts and hymns of the Orthodox faith. The liturgical life of the Church has a two-fold purpose: the worship of God and the spiritual formation of the people of God. As cited earlier, there must be a movement from “flesh and blood” to “spirit and life.” It is this spiritual transfiguration that is operative in the life of the Church.

This is the same reason that I have written against popular notions of morality. The Christian life does not consist of flesh and blood struggling to behave better. Rather, it is the transformation of flesh and blood into spirit and life. Only a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17) sees and understands and lives the new life of the resurrected Christ.

This spiritual ability to see beneath the letter and perceive the truth continues in the life of the Church, unabated. It is particularly evident in the dogmatic formulations of subsequent centuries. Only a nous, properly illumined, could learn to profess the Trinity in the fullness of its mystery. The same is true of Christ’s God/Manhood and the nature of our salvation through the Divine Union.

But these habits of the transformed heart have been diminished and replaced over the centuries in many parts of the Christian world. The doctrinal formulations have become dry statements that sound merely antique. The new language of morality and psychology have largely displaced true noetic perception of the truth. The result is a Christianity that, though often using the terms of the Fathers, gives them completely different meanings. It becomes nothing more than a system of interpretation, not actually requiring God Himself at all.

Classical Christianity is not passé, it has simply been replaced by a new religion that borrows its terms and redefines them. It is like the contemporary Christians who take up bread and wine (or their banal substitutes) and engage in some form of ritual partaking, nevertheless professing all the while that, at most, a psychological event has taken place. The language of “Body and Blood,” though invoked in their ceremonies, are (they are quick to tell us) “merely symbolic.” There is no paradox, no contradiction, no depth to be discerned – only the emptiness of modern psychology.

Mere psychology cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.

But mere psychology is indeed the tool of most contemporary treatments of Scripture. Whether the empty historical analysis of biblical criticism, or the various schemes of so-called literalism, all employ discursive reason (hence psychology) to explain what can only be known noetically. The literalist will assert that Isaiah’s Suffering Servant is indeed, Christ. But he has no reason for saying so apart from some reference in the New Testament. He does not see it, nor discern it, but says it like a parrot. And then he will turn his discursive reason away from these divinely revealed mysteries in order to inveigh on how the Old Testament teaches God’s vengeance and His demands of a necessary justice. In neither case has he “seen” anything or “known” anything in the manner of the Apostolic Church, much less in the manner of the noetic fathers. As often as not, the modern literalist will actually disdain “allegory” and its variations when those variations are themselves the very tools of the fundamental dogmas of the faith, used even by Christ Himself.

The noetic life that inherits the Kingdom (that which is birthed in us at Baptism) both hears the wind and sees where it comes from. It enters the gates of hell and walks in paradise. It mines the treasures buried in the field of the Scriptures. Inheriting the Kingdom is a patient work of noetic transformation received through the integral life of the Tradition. This is the true abundant life promised in Christ and given through the Spirit in the Church.



  1. I had not heard this explained before, but this is so true! I’ve been Orthodox for 8 years now. These are the kinds of things I would have liked to have been taught at the beginning of this journey.

  2. I feel that this understanding of Scripture is what I’ve been looking for my entire life. Thanks so much for explaining it so well.

    One thing I would like to understand better is how “allegory” should work in practice today. It’s possible for modern readers to find new allegories in all kinds of places throughout Scripture, though I’m not sure they are of value. I wonder how we should evaluate them?

    Also, I’m not sure I understand exactly what “allegory” is — how does it relate to “parables”, other kinds of figurative language, or “icons”?

  3. KC
    “Allegory,” in patristic usage, was a very broad term and included all forms of “hidden” or “symbolic” meanings: typology, etc. I highly recommend Fr. Andrew Louth’s Discerning the Mystery. The link I’ve provided will take you to a pdf (I’m not sure if it’s the entire text of the book). It’s academic, but quite good.

    The primary way of seeing this is immersion in the hymnography and liturgical texts of the Orthodox faith. The Festal Menaion, which is available for purchase, has the texts for all the major feasts. Reading them and paying attention to how they use Scripture is an excellent introduction.

    If there is an emphasis that I have underlined in all of this, it is suggesting that people stop and think, “How can such a reading possibly be true?” How, for instance, can the Ark of the Covenant be a type of the Mother of God. The answer, I think, is more than mental association (psychology). I believe it is because the reality (the Mother of God) actually dwells beneath and within the image (the Ark of the Covenant) itself. This is, if you will, a “One-Storey” reading of Scripture. It is recognizing that the words and stories themselves are “sacramental” and “iconic” in nature. And just as I reach forward and strain for the reality of the sacrament, so I do the same with Scripture.

    Read and listen to the prayers and hymns of the Church and see how frequently they do this. Then take an image or two and “dwell” with it. Consider it in your heart. Pray about it. Ask for help to “see.” This process of “theoria” was/is an essential part of the devotional life. I not only want to “see” the Mother of God within the stories and image of the Ark – I want to know her as she is hidden there. The same applies to Christ and all the other mysteries within the Scriptures. Such activity, I might add, produces humility and less argument. It astonishes us and produces wonder. As such, it has the possibility for taking us beyond discursive reason and into true noetic perception. Be patient. Don’t expect too much – just enough. Manna doesn’t keep overnight.

  4. “The Christian life does not consist of flesh and blood struggling to behave better. Rather, it is the transformation of flesh and blood into spirit and life. Only a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17) sees and understands and lives the new life of the resurrected Christ.” I was so stung by these words because it shows me how far I have come in Christ but also how far I still have to go. I remind myself how much I have been transformed since years gone by, but I still see how much of the “old man” is still in the depths of my heart. I struggle with “how I have to change myself” versus how much I have to surrender myself to my Lord and allow Him to transform me instead. Ah, so much I have not surrendered to Him. We have “self-improvement” so inculcated into our being in this world that it is difficult to allow ourselves to be transformed by Him. We still want “fulfillment of the Law” to be the means by which we attain salvation.

  5. Fr. Stephen –

    I understand that “nous” does not equal our modern understanding of “heart” – and that “heart” is not the same as emotions or intellect, but it helps for me as a newbie Orthodox to use the word “heart” when I read about the “nous”.

    Reading the scriptures with my heart requires me to be, first “relationally connectable”. Which means a condition where I am open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, lacking fear/anger etc. For example, if I am reading the scriptures to proof text one or another of my dearly held prejudices – I need to put the scriptures down.

    This requires what I interpret “nepsis” to mean: a state of watchfulness over the passions, to be certain that I am living from, and reading scripture with my nous. I would think that this is part of acquiring the Orthodox “phronema” – the way of approaching The Way.

    ***OK finally the question:
    Does anything that I just wrote approximate the correct way of interpreting these weighty terms? (nous, nepsis, phronema etc) if not – please correct me.

  6. Wonderful — thank you! I will read these references, and be patient. I’m also happy to avoid argument (I’m originally from a Baptist background, and am weary of arguments). I’m deeply grateful for your advice.

  7. Jerry,
    Against the Heresies, 1.8.1 But I direct you to Fr. John Behr’s The Mystery of Christ. It is truly magisterial in its treatment of this. He did his dissertation on St. Irenaeus at Oxford and is generally recognized at one of the definitive authorities today. If anyone is interested in the topic I’m writing on – it is a must read.

  8. To all,
    I commend this passage from Fr. Andrew Louth’s Discerning the Mystery. It includes a very apt passage from St. Basil’s On the Holy Spirit. It demonstrates quite clearly the point of the article:

    As for the union of the Spirit with the soul, he manifests his presence not by spatial approach (for how can one speak of space when thinking of the corporeal and the Incorporeal?), but by the exclusion of passions which assail the soul from the love of the flesh and separate it from intimacy with God. To be cleansed therefore from this shame contracted by wickedness, and return to the beauty of one’s nature, and receive through purity one’s pristine form in the royal image, thus is the only way one can approach the Paraclete. And he, like the sun reflected in a clear eye, shows you in himself the image of the Invisible; in the blessed contemplation of the Image, you will see the ineffable beauty of the Archetype.On the Holy Spirit, IX.23

    Basil then goes on to say that as a result souls become spiritual—diaphanous to the Spirit—and become themselves sources of spiritual illumination for other souls. What this means Basil sums up as ‘prevision of the future, understanding of mysteries, comprehension of hidden things, the distribution of spiritual gifts, a heavenly life, fellowship with the angels in their praise, unceasing joy, rest in God, likeness to God, and the summit of their desires: they become God ’ For Basil all this is only possible in the Spirit One of his ways of expressing this is to speak of the Spirit as intelligible light (phos noeton) in which the soul becomes mind or nous. As nous the soul can contemplate: in the Holy Spirit, intelligible light, it is enabled to contemplate the Image of the Archetype, the Son of the Father. Even the angels can see nothing apart from the Holy Spirit, the light of the intelligible realm: for ‘as in the night, if you remove the light from your house, your eyes will be blind, their powers inert, all you value indistinct, so that, through ignorance, gold and iron appear alike. So in the intelligible order it is impossible, apart from the Spirit, to lead a life conformed to the law…’. The same idea is being expressed when he says:

    Since through an illuminating power we reach forth to the beauty of the Image of the Invisible God, and through that come to the surpassing vision of the Archetype, this cannot take place apart from the presence of the Spirit of knowledge, who gives in himself to those who love the vision of truth the power to behold the Image, not doing this as an external act, but receiving us into Himself for this knowledge…as it is written, In thy light shall we see light, that is, in the illumination of the Spirit we shall see the true light, that lightens every man coming into the world.(Ibid.)

  9. I keep coming back to the idea of gratitude. What you say above, Father Stephen, makes it clear that apart from the Spirit we have no illumination.

    I always wondered how we wound up with such literal-minded readings of the bible as a modern phenomenon, when one could read, for instance, Chrysostom and his (relatively early) treatment of Genesis. How did we wind up here? Is it possible that the search for holy wisdom isn’t taken seriously? Does it come down to a failure to have faith in the possibility of that gift? I think this isn’t only about Scripture btw.

  10. Janine,
    The fragmentation of interpretation that flows from the assumptions of Protestantism are certainly a major contributor. They have helped spread wondrously lousy ways of reading the Scriptures and the results speak for themselves.

  11. Excellent post Father. How you also highlight the difficulty that we have explaining our Faith to those who see in deeply secular ways. Being products of this secular world view who have given ourselves over to the Truth, we also struggle to grasp noetic concepts. What really clicked in reading your post is why the Lord said we must approach the Kingdom as a child, that is the only way to break out of the shell of the secular thinking box and in wonder, ;earn a new way of thinking. Thank you.

  12. Father,
    I suppose starting from the very negative understanding of human nature and the Fall, one can trace from there a lack of faith in the possibility of illumination itself? Thank you for your thoughts!

  13. Jerry,
    I think that “hypothesis” is rarely translated as “hypothesis” in our English texts. Grant, writing about Irenaeus, defines Hypothesis as something like the “plot” of a play. Irenaeus’ point in using the term is similar to his use of the “canon of truth.” The “plot” of our salvation, the basic outlines of the story, its point, etc., are required in order to fit the pieces in correctly. The Gnostics don’t know that plot (hypothesis) but use their own self-invented scheme, and so, they come up with an unrecognizable Jesus.

    I am applying this same analogy to Christians who have departed from the Tradition as it has been received in the Church, and have created their own later schemes for reading. A very clear example is the scheme (hypothesis) of the Penal Substitutionary Theory of the Atonement. It is not in the Scripture, nor was it taught by the Apostles or received by the Church. It’s a later, man-made notion that has come to distort the gospel and create a new version of Christianity that is not true. They have become like the Gnostics of whom Irenaeus says: “Such, then, is their system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge.” Adv. Haer. 1:8.1

  14. Thank you for this reference, Fr. Freeman. But I guess the problem I am having is that the term hypothesis in 1,8.1 from Irenaeus is used with the reference to the false hypothesis of the heretics. And, indeed, so far, every usage of this term that I have been able to locate in Irenaeus so far is a pejorative one. I am very familiar with the writings of John Behr, and greatly appreciate them; but I have been unable to find in his writings where in Irenaeus there is actually a use of this term to refer to the teachings of the apostles. For one reference he gives, where he suggests that Irenaeus use the phrase “hypothesis of truth,” it is not actually “hypothesis,” but “economy.” For another one, he relies on a retroverted translation of Rousseau; but, of course, retroversion is a tricky business. So, I am not really aware of any place where Irenaeus uses the term, “apostolic hypothesis.” I am more than willing to be corrected; but it seems to me that Irenaeus is really opposing the “hypothesis” of the heretics versus the regula fidei of the apostles. He could have referred to the hypothesis of the apostles. I realize this term did not carry the same pejorative overtones in ancient times as it does today. But I think it is possible that, having used the term pejoratively to refer to the writings of the heretics, he might have been reticent to use it to refer to apostolic teaching.

    The rub for me in this is that I think there is some needed nuancing in the way you have framed things. The apostles do write “out of the abundance of their hearts,” and I agree with you that it is not by dictation; but I think it is important to emphasize that the tradition the apostles passed down was also one which they received, from Christ and from the Holy Spirit. They did not come up with it; it was delivered to them. Additionally, I think the suggestion that “the shape of the gospel story is not derived from the Old Testament. It is discerned within the Old Testament,” sets up a false dichotomy which Irenaeus himself would not have recognized. In 1.8.1, he expressly denigrates the hypothesis of the heretics by saying that this hypothesis was not “the prophets preached, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles handed down.” And Paul, in Rom 16:26, expressly says that things which were indeed hidden, are “now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God.” I certainly agree with you that these things are not immediately discerned in the text of the Old Testament, without the re-framing provided by the Christ-event, the teaching of Christ, and the illumination of the Holy Spirit. But it is also important to recognize that, both for the purposes of apologetics and spiritual formation, the apostles believed these things are both derived from, and discerned within, the Old Testament. Thanks, again.

  15. Father, is this enlightenment of our nous something we just need to ask God for? I’ve always asked for the Holy Spirit to help me understand the scriptures, but don’t seem to have got very far. Is this something that God wants everyone to have?

  16. Thank you. I will disagree with you on penal atonement. I believe it is in Scripture, was taught by the Apostles, and was also held by many of the church fathers. But I don’t want to get in a side discussion of this point.

    Yes, you are certainly correct that most English translations of Irenaeus don’t translate hypothesis as hypothesis, or if they do, they do so inconsistently. Nevertheless, what I am pointing out is that in the Greek text of Irenaeus, where that is available through the quotations of the church fathers, I have not yet found where hypothesis is used to refer to apostolic teaching.

  17. Jerry,
    I’ll send a note to Fr. John with the question. He is a friend. On the penal substitution – having spent some years on the topic, I stand my ground and what I have said. Every defense I’ve seen otherwise engages in eisogesis – assuming where it does not exist. It is foreign to the Eastern Fathers, even specifically and categorically rejected by St. Gregory the Theologian. Western Fathers begin to be less trustworthy over time.

  18. Thank you for volunteering to contact Fr. Behr on this question. I look forward to seeing his reply to your query. As for penal atonement, again, that is a side issue for the topic of your article, and I don’t want to distract from the main issue. But, if occasion provides, I’ll be more than happy to engage in that discussion, especially with regard to the church fathers. Blessings.

  19. Jerry,
    I’ll, of course, relay whatever FR. John shares. Looking back carefully through his treatment of this passage and its importance for Irenaeus, I can see than Behr never says that Irenaeus uses the term hypothesis for what the Apostles do. Though he does go on to write about the “Christian hypothesis” and equates it with the “Canon of truth.” I think that is correct, at the very least. The term hypothesis, and several others in that context of Irenaeus are well-known literary terms of the time, according to Behr. Hypothesis certainly does not mean, in and of itself, something someone has made up (or the modern meaning of “theory”). It is the “plot,” more or less. That “plot” is certainly a core plot of the Canon of Truth, which Behr says that for Irenaeus is rooted in the Cross. It is Christ “who died for our sins.”

    I don’t think I implied, I certainly didn’t mean to, that the Apostles’ came up with anything. They indeed received it. My point is that they not only received it, but lived by it continually. It was not a single, historical reception, on the basis of which they then began to engage in discursive reasoning and treatment of the Scripture. Though the mystery is “now made known,” it still operates as it did before. It remains hidden from some (cf. 2 Cor. 3:15).

    On the PSA, do you think you see it in any of the Fathers of the East, say from the Cappadocians and earlier? Why is, do you think, that theologians of the Eastern Church to this day think it is not in the Scriptures nor the Fathers? It is simply absent from the liturgical life of the Orthodox Church – which, frankly, is the only continual Christian tradition in existence. It’s absence is striking. It is so absent from Orthodoxy, that JND Kelly, the great Anglican Church historian, actually opined that the East never developed an Atonement Theory (it’s an absurd suggestion – only illustrating how blind Western thought became to the atonement teaching of the early Church).

    Every scan I read of the early Fathers in which passages are cited supporting PSA, they are not PSA. They are typically passages that say Christ suffered for us, bore the curse, etc. That is not strange to Orthodoxy, but in none of these does a Father suggest that what has been done has somehow caused a change in the Father. Nothing is being satisfied. Rather, it is typically the language of union/exchange – He becomes what we are that we might become what He is. “He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God.” In the Orthodox mind, there’s not a hint of PSA in that – rather there is a Divine Union and our salvation. Thus we are baptized into His death and raised in His resurrection, etc.

    But, it is a long conversation, one had more than once around the blog (and elsewhere).

  20. I have observed that the concept of “exchange” is very prevalent in Christ’s teaching, and if you think about it, central to what grace is. Thank you Father. (One example: “you will have treasure in heaven” is an exchange for the material treasure the young rich man would “give up,” and of course in a subsequent life of discipleship, far more is contained in a promise. That is not a payment, it’s an investment – “trust/pistis” – on a promise toward “union” or covenant: action of faith.)

  21. A difficulty in conversations about things like atonement theory with the non-Orthodox, is the lack of context. All of the Fathers of the early Church were Orthodox Christians. The prayed like the Orthodox and had the same liturgical and ascetical life. The sacraments permeated their lives in the way they still do. It is the same context. People who are not Orthodox lack all of that context. If they’re Evangelical, then they are immersed in PSA and have been for years. They begin to see it when an Orthodox Christian would see nothing of the sort.

    Nothing within our Churchly life is predicated on the PSA. Nothing. Not even Confession. It simply has no place. It has no place because it never had a place. What we do, we have always done. And living that same Churchly life is the only context in which the Fathers can be understood. And even then there are struggles because of the distortions in our surrounding culture.

    I say this as well because, having seen many of the florilegia of quotes supposedly representing PSA in the Fathers, pretty much in every case, it is a quote which an Orthodox Christian would hear in a completely different manner. But this is very difficult to argue. It is, oddly, similar to St. Irenaeus’ take on the Gnostics. They used the words, but lacked the context to understand them.

  22. I just did a cursory search for the word: hupotíthēmi

    I am no theologian, but it seems to have a very rich meaning and brings added depth and immediacy to the meaning of the concept/word “traditioned” that is usually used in Orthodox description of our traditions and Gospel. It seems to suggest lived-action rather than dictation for example.

    Do I understand this correctly?

  23. I didn’t refresh and my last question appears well behind the curve, but for clarity, in my understanding, is the correct word in Greek: “hupotíthēmi “? it is the word I find when I search for the Greek etymology for hypothesis.

  24. I don’t have the time at the moment to make anything like a full reply to your question. But I will mention a couple of things.

    First, you refer to the “florilegia of quotes,” from the church fathers which a number of modern theologians use to support the idea of PSA. To be sure, these quotations can be trotted out quite unsophisticatedly in a kind of proof-text type fashion. Nevertheless, the very fact that such a florilegia exists is, I think, problematic for your position. A couple of years ago, on my blog, for each day of Lent, I provided a citation from a church father with regard to the cross of Christ. They were not all having to do with PSA particularly, but the grand majority of them were. After a while, when there are so many of these quotations, I think it becomes futile after a while to simply chalk them up to misunderstandings on the part of the uninitiated. Even J. N. D. Kelly, whom you referred to earlier, noted the existence of these quotations, which, in his words, “placed the cross in the foreground, and pictured Christ as substituting Himself for sinful men, shouldering the penalty which justice required them to pay, and reconciling them to God by His sacrificial death.” By no means do these citations prove that the church fathers had a full-blown atonement theory. But it does, in my opinion prove that the fathers could walk and chew gum at the same time, and that they were able to hold on to a multi-faceted, “kaleidoscopic” understanding of what Christ accomplished in his sacrificial death.

    Second, to give just one example, pre-Cappadocian, here is a citation from Eusebius’s Demonstatio Evangelica:

    “And the Lamb of God not only did this, but was chastised on our behalf, and suffered a penalty He did not owe, but which we owed because of the multitude of our sins; and so He became the cause of the forgiveness of our sins, because He received death for us, and transferred to Himself the scourging, the insults, and the dishonour, which were due to us, and drew down on Himself the apportioned curse, being made a curse for us. And what is that but the price of our souls? And so the oracle says in our person: “By his stripes we were healed,” and “The Lord delivered him for our sins,” with the result that uniting Himself to us and us to Himself, and appropriating our sufferings, He can say, “I said, Lord, have mercy on me, heal my soul, for I have sinned against thee.”

    Frankly, as a PSA advocate myself, I would be more than happy to let Eusebius’s words serve as practically a definition of what I mean by penal substitutionary atonement. Again, this is by no means the entirety of what Eusebius believed Christ accomplished in his death; but I think it would take a hermeneutical feat of contortionist proportions to rid these words of their penal and substitutionary elements.

    If you reply any time soon, I might not be able to respond as quickly myself, due to other commitments. But I will when I can. Thanks again. Blessings.

  25. Jerry,
    This is a very good example that you’ve cited. Obviously, every Christian of every age accepts and believes that Christ suffered, even that He was punished. But where you go wrong, is to see this as God’s wrath, or God’s justice punishing Him. That is not what Eusebius says, nor is it what the Church has understood.

    Typically, PSA, sees Christ’s atoning death as somehow paying the price, so that we don’t have to, or something like that – including that it is a price paid to God. The “scourging, the insults, the dishonour that were due to us,” were not due to us from God. Our sins might very well bring such things down on us, but not from God. Christ enters into our suffering (which we were already enduring) and makes it His own. He transforms suffering. As we sing in Orthodoxy, He “trampled down death by death.” But in so doing, we are not exempted from death. We still die. And we still suffering. We are still scourged and insulted and dishonoured – but not by God. Rather, however you understand such things, whether by nature, the devil, or by the hands of wicked men, we endure these things – but now these things have been changed. Death has been trampled down by death. The scourging has been trampled down by His bearing the scourging, etc. And now, united together with Him, through Baptism in His death, in Him we, too, trample down death by death. We, too, bear in our bodies the marks of the Lord Jesus. We, too, “make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.” Christ transforms death, suffering, etc. And in Him we can say, “O death, where is your sting?” Christ pulled the stinger out!

    The juridical angle is simply not there. It is not a legal debt to be paid.

    The many florilegia do not add up to a case. Zero plus zero added any number of times does not add up to more than zero.

    Again, I think Evangelicals, etc., have a “tin ear” on this matter. You hear what you want to hear because you’re immersed in it. Had you been immersed in the life of the Church as it was given us by the Apostles and the fullness of the Tradition, your ear would not be so distorted. Literally, if you had done Holy Week/Pascha even a few times, in the hours and hours of liturgical hymns and texts that are the fullness of the Fathers’ legacy – you might have a chance of reading or hearing the Fathers in their own context.

    I well understand that my treatment might seem contorted to you – but, I assure you, it seems as plain as day to me and to centuries of Orthodox faithful. I’ve had this conversation any number of times. All I can say is that you’re lecturing a man about a language that is foreign to you – you can’t hear your own accent. You describe the grammar when you’ve never heard a native speaker. The Reformed tradition is foreign to the Christian fathers, no matter how well-intentioned.

  26. Thank you Father. I have read one of your similar dialogues on this blog, but it is helpful to me to hear it put into words again. At that time, I remember a discussion of “ransom” as well, and that is also pertinent to what you are saying. Even how people hear the word and understand it. (And it would include “redeem.”) From death, the evil oppressor, o poneiros, the one who enslaves, not God. The Redeemer liberates. God bless.

  27. As a cradle Orthodox I instinctively and absolutely harmonize with what Father Stephen is saying here. It’s intolerably awkward when any of the words of the Fathers are interpreted as containing any notion of ‘necessity’ for ‘satisfaction’ of [something higher than God, namely] ‘justice’, as understood in the PSA theory.
    It also vilifies Him.

  28. I have a questions; The Saints who championed the articulation of the Trinity, and the Nature of Christ did so due to their illumined nouses (not sure how to spell nous in the plural). So, the Nicene Creed is a matter of the heart/nous. Well, I don’t know much about what the Gnostics were preaching, but I gather from what I stated above that it must have threatened the path of illumination for the faithful. Any brief explanation as to how they were impeding the salvation of the faithful, i.e. preventing illumination of the nous?

    And yet, keeping all this in mind, I can imagine myself, an Orthodox Christian, mentally assenting to the truth of the Trinity, Nature of Christ, and Nicene Creed, all the while harboring a nous darkened by a self-love and pride that denies the sacrificial, ascetic life of love.
    While simultaneously I can imagine a young mother in Venezuela, lost in some heterodox or occult delusion, making the ultimate ascetical sacrifice, watching her children starve to death in the hands of a oppressive government, lifting them up in prayer, humility, and thanksgiving to her Creator, all to the glory of God. And all this being done without a stitch of knowledge of the Nicene creed, Trinity, or any other Orthodox Tradition that happens to be a matter of the nous/salvation.

  29. Michelle,
    Well, for one, they were distorting the meaning of who Christ was and what He did. Lies and delusion darken the nous. Bad theology always has bad consequences, though it may take a long time for it to reveal itself. The grace of God is a wonderful and mysterious thing. Since God wills the salvation of us all, He clearly works everywhere and at all times for our salvation. I can easily believe in the Venezuelan scenario you describe, and have seen plenty of the other. We work in a long range, patient way, towards the transformation that is gifted to us in Christ. Trust in God’s mercy for all. The heterodox, occult delusion does not produce heroes – grace does.

  30. Fr. Freeman. Two things.

    (1) I sincerely believe your interpretation of the citation I provided from Eusebius amounts to a case of special pleading. You are simply not reading it in context. Scripture is extremely clear that God is a God who will punish the wicked. When Eusebius says that Christ paid a debt for us that we cannot pay, and that forgiveness was the result of his paying this debt, it is very certain that Eusebius meant that we owed this debt to God. To argue that the punishment due to us for our sins is not from God simply ignores mountains and mountains of Scriptural testimony. God alone is the one who can forgive sins. If Christ’s paying our debt becomes the cause of our forgiveness, then it is clear that God is the one who forgives, that he was the one to whom we owed this debt, and that Christ paid the debt in our place. This is Scripture, this is the teaching of the church fathers. Furthermore, Eusebius says that the Father was the one who delivered Christ over for our sins. Again, this is the clear teaching of Scripture, that God did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all and for our sins. He set forth his own Son as a propitiation for our sins. This was a Trinitarian act. God delivered his Son, laying our iniquities on him. The Son willingly offered himself to the Father, and he did so through the Eternal Spirit. The Son’s death was in fact, within the Trinitarian action, a self-propitiation that God enacted in Christ, out of his great love for us.

    To be sure, you are certainly correct that Christ has entered into our sufferings. So you are right in what you affirm, but you are incorrect in what you deny. Christ suffered with us, but he also suffered in place of us. Again, as Eusebius says, Christ paid a debt which we could not pay; he paid it in our place, and the result was the forgiveness of our sins.

    Again, to be sure, with regard to this life, what Christ did on our behalf is to pay a “mitigated” penalty. He died for us, and yet we still die. But the Christ-event in its totality–incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension–does in fact assure that we will not die the second death. Also, to be sure, we suffer with Christ, we “make up what is lacking” with regard to Christ’s death, but those sufferings are not atoning; they do not provide our own redemption. Christ has done that alone.

    (2) PSA does not teach, as you suggested in another post, that Christ’s death caused a “change in the Father.” Christ’s death did procure our forgiveness, as the Apostle Paul says, “in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Eph 1:7). But Christ’s death did not cause a change in the Father. The Father was already lovingly and kindly disposed toward us; he gave his Son, not because he despised us, but because he loved us.

    (3) I think this will probably be my last post on this discussion (other than a real quick reply to Dino). It’s hard to carry on a conversation with someone who repeatedly replies that the other person is uninitiated, has a tin ear, doesn’t know the language, and therefore could not possibly understand. The church fathers, in my opinion, are not the possession of any one church or tradition. Indeed, one of the watchwords of the Reformation was, “ad fontes,” back to the sources. They believed, and in my opinion correctly so, that they were recovering teaching that had been either distorted or suppressed over the course of several centuries. And it is good to hear from voices outside our own tradition in order that we might be self-critical. So, I don’t think it is helpful to argue that the outsider could not possibly provide a different perspective and show where one might have misread even one’s own tradition. Such a stance actually has more in common with Gnosticism more than it does with Christian orthodoxy. So, while I would love to continue the conversation, it would be perhaps best to drop it if the continual response is going to be that the conversation partner is one who could not possibly understand.

    Thanks, and Blessings.

  31. Dino, just a very quick reply to correct two things in your post. First, In no way does PSA teach that a satisfaction is being rendered to some principle higher than God. God is absolutely sovereign and free, and he is not subservient to some principle. The only justice being dealt with here is God’s justice. There is no justice or some standard external to God to which God is subservient. But God is indeed a self-determined just God. And as an absolutely free just God, he does demand satisfaction for sin. And then he provided that satisfaction himself in the person of his Son. And then, second, in no way does this teaching villify God. What God in Christ was an act of extravagant love and mercy. God was in Christ, in his death, reconciling sinners to himself. There is no vilification in this teaching. Thanks, and Blessings.

  32. An Infinitely Just Person demanding the very same Infinite Justness from finite beings who possess no Infinite Justness of themselves whatsoever, due to their being dust, and to dust shall they return, under the threat of being eternally punished, is not just in the least. In fact, its unjust. So, this infinitely just person is breaking his own rules.

  33. Jerry
    In your last post you stated: “The only justice being dealt with here is God’s justice. There is no justice or some standard external to God to which God is subservient. But God is indeed a self-determined just God. And as an absolutely free just God, he does demand satisfaction for sin.” What is your Scriptural source for the this last statement of the quote? I do not find any such direct statement in all of Scripture.
    Explain also how sin affects God as He is immutable and Dispassionate. The effects of sin are on the sinner and those touched by his sin not on God. Adam’s sin was a self inflicted wound unto death for he broke communion with the Way the Truth and the Life. His sin did not affect God, only himself and his descendants, not by inherited guilt but by the inherited seed of corruption. Ezekiel Chapter 18 has many statements by God that the son does not die for the sins of the father. The son lives or dies in accordance with his own sin or innocence. The revealed words in this chapter are repeated in many other places in both the Old and New Testaments.
    I would also disagree with your statement because I can find plenty of places in Scripture where God has forgiven sin without demanding satisfaction in both the Old and New Testaments. An example of God forgiving sin without condition of satisfaction is found in John Chapter 8 verses 3-11. Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery and asked for no satisfaction. He said: “Go and sin no more.” She offered nothing before He forgave her.
    Jesus had not yet ascended the cross so no satisfaction to justice had been given, yet He forgave sin. He forgave the sins of the man lowered through the roof without conditions as well. The problem with Western thinking in terms of the cross is that it is forensic and that line of thinking comes from not understanding what the Judgment of God really means. The Hebrew word for judgment is not a legal term; it does not mean weighing evidence and deciding guilt or innocence. The word means to set things right, to correct and to return things to a right state. It is a word of healing not of condemnation and implies mercy. The Year of the Jubilee is what Jesus came to declare.

  34. Jerry,
    “And as an absolutely free just God, he does demand satisfaction for sin.”

    I am also a cradle Orthodox and what you are saying here just simply does not even sound right, in the mind or in the heart….

    I am so looking forward to Dino’s reply to your comment…

  35. Agata, thank you very much for expressing your sentiments on this. But, just to clarify, what exactly doesn’t sound right–that God is absolutely free, or that God is just, or that he demands satisfaction for sin, i.e., that he will punish those who do evil? These three things are affirmed over and over again Scripture and in the church fathers. Blessings.

  36. Jerry,
    Please forgive me if my comment felt too strong…
    I guess what does not “feel right” is that last part, that “He demands satisfaction for sin”… When He forgives our sins, He also forgets them, the Church Fathers affirm that for us (even if this is difficult for us to accept, but we must accept that). Those who do evil separate themselves from Him willingly (so they take a risk with their eternal destiny, good luck to them on this path!). When we keep close to God, He will help us avoid sin and that’s good enough assurance for me… The mental gymnastics about “just, free, demanding satisfaction” just don’t feel like the way the Saints tell us to think about God… He is Good and Loves Mankind…. We are safest when we love Him back….

  37. Hi Nicholas, thanks for the question. Without going into a long involved reply to your question, I would simply direct you to Rom 3:21-26. The context here in which Paul is working is very much a judicial one. God set forth his own Son as propitiation for sin. In doing so, he was both just (in punishing sin), and justifier (declaring us to be just). All acts of forgiveness, even the ones you mention in the Gospels, are ultimately grounded in the death of Christ. This is exactly what Paul means when he says that it is in the death of Christ that we have our redemption and our forgiveness (Eph 1:7). So, it is very much a forensic context. It is also what Christ meant when he said that his blood was poured out for the forgiveness of sins (Matt 26:27). It is what Chrysostom meant when he said that we are not only forgiven but declared just on the basis of the death of Christ (Homily on Rom 8:28ff). There is a definite forensic element to this. Blessings.

  38. Jerry,
    There are things, such as the notion of a justice that makes demands, or that there must be a satisfaction for sin, that are simply not Biblical. No OT sacrifice is seen as a payment for sin, indeed, such thought is condemned. God doesn’t need the blood of bulls, etc. This is a make-believe narrative that is placed on the Scriptures and produces a distortion of what sin is, how it is forgiven, the nature of punishment, wrath, etc. I’m fully familiar with the Reform take on all of this, and, like a host of Orthodox thinkers, find it not present in Scripture and to be a distortion that sometimes borders on heresy.

    Back to the point of my article (and earlier ones), you cannot take the OT narrative as it stands and make Bibilical narrative of salvation. It turns Christ upside down. While it is Christ who turns the OT upside down (which is why the Jews did not understand what He was doing). The OT must be read through the lens of Pascha and in that, much is changed. I always come away from Reform conversations rather sad. I do not recognize the God I hear described. I’ve heard about that God most of my life, but I do not find Him in Christ. But, I’ve also seen that these conversations are like two trains meeting, but on different tracks.

    I’m sorry that Orthodoxy sounds so exclusive – that you have a tin ear – or such things. But, I really think that you lack the context for reading the Fathers or the Scriptures and coming to a right reading. The context matters. The fullness of the Tradition in the Church is, indeed, that context (as it was for Irenaeus). Irenaeus was not Reform, He was Orthodox. I find it interesting that the Fathers, who universally believed the Eucharist to be the Body and Blood of Christ, who venerated the relics of the saints and prayed to them, and gave proper veneration to the Mother of God and icons, etc., are rejected for all of those things – which are of the most primitive origin – but the very same Fathers are quoted (out of context) when they seem convenient. They would not recognize the worship within a Reform Church and would be surprised to be repudiated on the very practices that were at the core of their life. And you cannot separate their view of the Scripture, doctrine, etc., from their view on these other matters.

    It’s an incredible act of compartmentalization. But, I understand that this is not a productive conversation.

  39. Agata, no need at all to apologize; I did not feel that your statement was too strong. I think I agree with just about everything you said in this last response. But I also think that the New Testament tells us that God’s love for us is demonstrated in sending his Son to die for us and to be the propitiation for our sins (Rom 5:8; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). So, yes, God loves us, but he does not forgive us by simply saying “I forgive you,” but he forgives us at the cost of his own Son. Blessings.

  40. Thank you, Fr. Freeman. Maybe we should just leave things at that. I do want to say that I have a great appreciation for the various Orthodox churches, and, indeed, I believe Reformed and Orthodox can learn and mutually bless each other. Blessings on your ministry.

  41. Jerry,

    The ontological understanding of punishment is that when we read that “God hardens Pharaoh’s heart” [to choose a highly anthropopathic expression of the OT], what actually takes place is that a creature’s free inclination is respectfully “allowed” to go against its maker. Furthermore, the consequential punishments of a hardened heart, as do all punishments (due to God’s loving providence), always retain as their ultimate objective the salvific repentance of the one being ‘punished’. The Holy Fathers go to great lengths to make this clear as it is obviously a potential issue.

    I think we would do well to have a much more in depth look at the ‘ontological’ explanation of God’s union with us – a union unto death and even unto hell– as a far better reading of the Cross than PSA though.
    Christ is our ‘ontological’ propitiation [ἱλαστήριον] because, despite our disunity from Him, He is our virtue to be had, our justice at hand, our mercy, our life, our salvation, He unites Himself to us and we ourselves to Him and this ontological union is our redemption/mercy/atonement (ἱλασμός).
    Besides, it would be wise to remember that the language of Romans 3 –juridically understood– cannot be elevated to the pedestal of the ‘lens for all Scripture’ without falling into severe one-sidedness… …Don’t forget that for every bit of scripture that says one thing you can find another saying the other if you want.
    [If something could be elevated to such a pedestal, -and still not without some danger– that would be the first-hand experience of those who behold God as He is in His Paschal Light.]
    We must then grow to be a little more healthily suspicious, or just mindful of the anthropomorphic, juridical language PSA bases its extreme hypothesis on, which hypothesis ultimately results in some formidable mental gymnastics as formulated in reform theology, especially as it tries to maintain a simultaneously angry/demanding/punisher and forgiving/unconditionally loving, all-powerful God. It does, alas, vilify God in this, by positing a punishing deity – in the name of ‘justice’, (Who needs to even substitute one convict for another to ‘satisfy’ some cosmic need for justice that even the Almighty’s Love must has as a ‘condition’…[?!]) and not the true God who was revealed to us first-hand in Christ as unconditional Love.

  42. Its true, St John Chrysostom does talk about satisfaction, namely that God does not need any:

    “For if the wrath of God were a passion, one might well despair as being unable to quench the flame which he had kindled by so many evil doings; but since the Divine nature is passionless, even if He punishes, even if He takes vengeance, he does this not with wrath, but with tender care, and much loving-kindness; wherefore it behooves us to be of much good courage, and to trust in the power of repentance. For even those who have sinned against Him He is not wont to visit with punishment for His own sake; for no harm can traverse that divine nature; but He acts with a view to our advantage, and to prevent our perverseness becoming worse by our making a practice of despising and neglecting Him. For even as one who places himself outside the light inflicts no loss on the light, but the greatest upon himself being shut up in darkness; even so he who has become accustomed to despise that almighty power, does no injury to the power, but inflicts the greatest possible injury upon himself. And for this reason God threatens us with punishments, and often inflicts them, not as avenging Himself, but by way of attracting us to Himself. For a physician also is not distressed or vexed at the insults of those who are out of their minds, but yet does and contrives everything for the purpose of stopping those who do such unseemly acts, not looking to his own interests but to their profit; and if they manifest some small degree of self-control and sobriety he rejoices and is glad, and applies his remedies much more earnestly, not as revenging himself upon them for their former conduct, but as wishing to increase their advantage, and to bring them back to a purely sound state of health. Even so God when we fall into the very extremity of madness, says and does everything, not by way of avenging Himself on account of our former deeds; but because He wishes to release us from our disorder; and by means of right reason it is quite possible to be convinced of this.” –Two Letters to Theodore

    Same goes for St Gregory the Theologian:

    “To Whom was that Blood offered that was shed for us, and why was it shed? I mean the precious and famous Blood of our God and Highpriest and Sacrifice. We were detained in bondage by the Evil One, sold under sin, and receiving pleasure in exchange for wickedness. Now, since a ransom belongs only to him who holds in bondage, I ask to whom was this offered, and for what cause? If to the Evil One, fie upon the outrage! If the robber receives ransom, not only from God, but a ransom which consists of God Himself, and has such an illustrious payment for his tyranny, a payment for whose sake it would have been right for him to have left us alone altogether. But if to the Father, I ask first, how? For it was not by Him that we were being oppressed; and next, On what principle did the Blood of His Only begotten Son delight the Father, Who would not receive even Isaac, when he was being offered by his Father, but changed the sacrifice, putting a ram in the place of the human victim? Is it not evident that the Father accepts Him, but neither asked for Him nor demanded Him; but on account of the Incarnation, and because Humanity must be sanctified by the Humanity of God, that He might deliver us Himself, and overcome the tyrant, and draw us to Himself by the mediation of His Son, Who also arranged this to the honour of the Father, Whom it is manifest that He obeys in all things?”

  43. Jerry, You avoided the most obvious question which was, if God needs judicial satisfaction to forgive sins, then why did God the Son forgive them before His death and at no cost to the forgiven? I agree, that one can read the verses you wrote in an English translation and draw the conclusions that you and many others do. My point about the definition of Judgment in Hebrew is to point out that Saint Paul did not think forensically as he was a Hebrew to the Hebrews and a Pharisee to the Pharisees. He would have had the Hebrew understanding of the Mercy Seat of God and of the Sabbath of Sabbaths in mind. What he meant depends on him, not us interpreting it. We can assure you that he never taught PSA in any manner. That concept did not appear until the 12th Century. It was not taught nor believed by the Church despite what people choose to read back into writings from the early periods. We cannot read in this modern age with the same mind as those who wrote the Scriptures. We do not think the same and do not have the same world view. That is why we in the Orthodox Church depend on the “cloud of witnesses” to teach us what was meant. None of these witnesses would agree with the forensic view of salvation despite how we choose to interpret what they meant. For such a doctrine would have earned itself a seat in the defense box at an Ecumenical Council. When the doctrine of PSA and the other Calvinist ideas became known to the Church the doctrines were condemned in 1672 AD at the Synod of Jerusalem. The self evidence of the rejection of PSA from the beginning is the anathemas against Calvin’s doctrines at the Synod. If we had believed that way, the doctrines would not have been condemned.

  44. Jerry,
    In other words, since scripturally, one can craft all sorts of hypotheses – as manifested by all the scripturally grounded heresies of the past – and since I guess I cannot invoke tradition with someone outside of Orthodox tradition, I point you to the fact that PSA’s hypothesis is fundamentally, philosophically absurd in its attempt to combine the conditional with the unconditional in God.

  45. Thanks for all this, Dino. Several things.

    (1) You are certainly correct that there are some passages where the punishment from God is characterized as God letting us go on our own way; we simply reap what we have sown. This is often referred to by biblical scholars as the deed-consequence theory. However, biblical scholars also recognize that this way of framing things cannot by any means bear the weight of all the punishments from God in Scripture. Taking the Exodus as an example, since you mentioned Pharaoh, yes, Pharaoh reaps what he sows in his rebellion against God. However, God actively sends the plagues against him and the land of Egypt. The death of the firstborn was not simply the “natural” outcome of Pharaoh’s sin; rather, it was the result of God’s actively sending his angel to slay the firstborn. The punishment fit the crime, as it was of course “an eye for an eye” in payment for what Egypt had done to Israel’s male children; but it was not a natural consequence. God actively enacted the punishment. Furthermore, contrary to what some of the church fathers have said (by no means all) not all punishments are for the “salvific repentance” of the ones punished. God did not kill Pharaoh and the Egyptian army at the Red Sea because he loved them and had wonderful plans for their lives. This punishment was entirely retributive as far as the ones punished were concerned. Scripture does not see this any other way.

    (2) I appreciate what you say in the second half of your post. And PSA advocates do not by any means consider penal atonement to be the only lens through which to look at what Christ did for us. Rather, PSA dwells comfortably in the same house with recapitulation, Christus Victor, ransom, union with Christ, vicarious confession, moral influence, healing, etc.

    (3) I do think you need to be careful with the vilification language, lest you end up condemning the church fathers with that accusation. After all, Chrysostom himself talked about what Christ did for us with the language of “an innocent man’s undertaking to die for another sentenced to death, and so rescuing him from punishment” (Homily on Gal 3:1ff.) And many such other juridical formulations can be found in his and other church fathers’ writings. I certainly don’t think the church fathers vilified God when they did this. And I certainly do not either. Rather it glorifies the God who, through the death of his Son, procured our redemption, forgave us our sins, and declared us justified in Christ. Again, PSA by no means argues that Christ’s death causes God to love us, or satisfies a condition to make God to love us; rather Christ died because God loves us. God’s love is unconditional; but it is a demonstrated love, as God’s own Son was delivered to rescue us from our sins.


  46. Jerry,
    The examples taken from the OT depictions of the wrath of God and His destruction of the wicked, etc., are not the right basis for contemplating God nor creating a theology. The OT must be read through the NT. The Fathers (Anselm and Maximus) teach that the OT is shadow, the NT is ikon, and the Eschaton is the Truth itself. I have a sense in your argument that you have turned the table. The Forensic reading of the OT with added features such as satisfaction and sacrifice as payment (neither of which are in the text), becomes the story for reading the New. The PSA is not a theory among theories, it’s a false teaching among the true. For it says things about God that are not true. It mischaracterizes Him. It creates theories about His justice and righteousness that are simply untrue. Whatever “punishments” we may read of, can only properly be understood as corrective, not retributive. God has no need for retribution. None whatsoever. St. Isaac of Syria says, “We know nothing of God’s justice, only His mercy.”

    The passage you cite from St. John Chrysostom is another place where you read PSA where it is not there. When you read ransom language (St. Basil says, “Ransomed us from death”) the language of ransom is allowed to stand, but the metaphor is not then developed to some logical conclusions. We know, for example, that we are not ransom from the devil or from God (cf. St. Gregory). Ransomed from death is enough.

    Yes, Christ is punished, sentenced to death. But the Father does not punish Him, just as the Father did not kill Him. He voluntarily laid down His life. When you take statements like St. John’s, who state something true, but in a reserved manner (not leaping to something that is untrue), and then you put words in his mouth to make him say PSA when he has not – that is specifically where you err.

    But the horse is dead. I’ll stop beating.

  47. Jerry, you said,

    “God did not kill Pharaoh and the Egyptian army at the Red Sea because he loved them and had wonderful plans for their lives. This ; was entirely retributive as far as the ones punished were concerned.”

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding, are you suggesting that God does not love Pharaoh? God does not love the damned? Im sure that’s not what you’re trying to say, but the way its written makes it seem that way. Just looking for clarification as I follow the conversation, thanks!

  48. Hi Nicholas. No, I did not avoid your question. I answered it: “All acts of forgiveness, even the ones you mention in the Gospels, are ultimately grounded in the death of Christ.” Paul covers this when he says that “in his forbearance he [God] had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished” (Rom 3:25) The sins of the OT saints, the sins of those whose sins Jesus declared forgiven in the Gospels, were ultimately forgiven in the death of Christ.

    It is a huge mistake to believe that the Hebrews, and of course, the Pharisees, did not think in forensic categories. You cannot read Romans and Galatians responsibly and fail to see Paul discussing salvation forensically. Indeed, the quotation I supplied to you from Chrysostom demonstrates that. You are certainly correct that often the terms justice and judgment in the Scriptures have to do with what we might refer to today as restorative justice. But Paul definitely uses the term forensically in passages like Rom 3:26; 8:30. And note especially Rom 8:33 — “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.” The forensic element is unmistakable.


  49. Thanks for these quotations, Michelle. Of course, there is a bit of a problem in that authors can say one thing in addressing a particular issue for that issue’s sake, but say something that seems quite different when addressing another issue. So, in another place, Chrysostom says this:

    “And what did this mediator do? The work of a mediator! For it is as if two had been turned away from each other and since they were not willing to talk together, another one comes, and, placing himself in the middle, loosened the hostility of each of the two. And this is also what Christ did. God was angry with us, for we were turning away from God, our human-loving Master. Christ, by putting himself in the middle, exchanged and reconciled each nature to the other. And how did he put himself in the middle? He himself took on the punishment that was due to us from the Father and endured both the punishment from there and the reproaches from here.

    “Do you want to know how he welcomed each? Christ, Paul says, ‘redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.’ You have seen how he received from on high the punishment that had to be borne! Look how also from below he received the insults that had to be borne: ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you,’ Scripture says, ‘have fallen upon me.’ Haven’t you seen how he dissolved the enmity, how he did not depart before doing all, both suffering and completing the whole business, until he brought up the one who was both hostile and at war—brought that one up to God himself, and he made him a friend?” (Homily on the Ascension of Christ)

    As for Gregory, as adamant as he may seem to sound in the citation you provided, note what he says in another place:

    “But look at it in this manner: that as for my sake He was called a curse, Who destroyed my curse; and sin, who taketh away the sin of the world; and became a new Adam to take the place of the old, just so He makes my disobedience His own as Head of the whole body. As long then as I am disobedient and rebellious, both by denial of God and by my passions, so long Christ also is called disobedient on my account. But when all things shall be subdued unto Him on the one hand by acknowledgment of Him, and on the other by a reformation, then He Himself also will have fulfilled His submission, bringing me whom He has saved to God.” (Fourth Theological Oration)


  50. Thanks for the perspective, Fr. Freeman. But for my part, I refuse to pit the God of the Old Testament versus the God of the New Testament. With the New Testament, Irenaeus, and the faithful of all the ages, I freely confess that the God of the Old Testament is the same God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And God does not all of a sudden become a “gentler, kinder” God when we cross the divide between the Testaments. Blessings.

  51. Good question, Michelle. I was trying to capitalize on that modern trite phrase, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Without becoming too involved in my answer, I taught a course several years ago at my seminary entitled, “A Biblical Theology of the Love of God.” It becomes pretty evident in Scripture that there are different “levels” to the love of God. On the one hand, God loves everyone. But on another level, he has a special love for the redeemed, for the church. With regard to Pharaoh, what I really wanted to emphasize was that God’s punishment of Pharaoh had nothing to do with working toward Pharaoh’s salvation. It was, in fact, retributive and not restorative. Interestingly, later Israelites celebrated what God did with these words:

    1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.
    His love endures forever.

    10 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt
    His love endures forever.
    11 and brought Israel out from among them
    His love endures forever.
    12 with a mighty hand and outstretched arm;
    His love endures forever.
    13 to him who divided the Red Sea w asunder
    His love endures forever.
    14 and brought Israel through the midst of it,
    His love endures forever.
    15 but swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea;
    His love endures forever. (Psalm 136:1, 10-15)

    Notice that these acts of destructions are celebrated as acts of love, but toward the Israelites.

  52. Sorry, hit the send button before I even started.


    First, that prayer you read from the OT is about our Baptism and our own death to sin. The Church, which possesses the Spirit of Christ, does not rejoice over the death of any sinner. This is where one should interpret the OT according to the Spirit of Christ, as it is revealed im the NT.

    Secondly, to say that God loves the redeemed in a special way that the damned do no enjoy is blasphemy. I for one hope to sit with Pharaoh in hell until I love him in the exact same way that I Christ Himself. Because that, my friend, is the heart of Salvation itself. Just as Paul says in Romans to the Jews; “I would that I were accursed from Christ…”

  53. Sorry, to many typos. I must repost or it will kill me, lol. I meant to say:

    “Secondly, to say that God loves the redeemed in a special way that the damned do not enjoy is blasphemy. I for one hope to sit with Pharaoh in hell until I love him in the exact same way that I love Christ Himself. Because that, my friend, is the heart of Salvation itself. Just as Paul says in Romans to the Jews; “I would that I were accursed from Christ…”

  54. Hi Michelle. Thank you. I will, of course, have to disagree. Psalm 136 can be appropriated by the church for any number of purposes, but it is not about our baptism and death to sin. It is about the mighty works of God which he did in the Old Testament, especially with regard to the saving works he did in saving the Israelite from their enemies.

    As for what you refer to as blasphemy, you are not reading the texts fairly. God had a special love for Israel in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 7). There are passages in the Psalms where it is said that God hates the wicked. There is of course the statement that God loved Jacob but hated Esau. God can talk about how he has withdrawn his love from Saul, and given it to David. And Jesus can talk about a love for the disciples that is in some way conditioned on their obedience to his commands (e.g., John 14:21). At the very least, this lead us to understand that there are different levels to, or kinds of, the love of God. Thanks, and Blessings.

  55. Jerry,

    Just wanted to say I harbor no anger towards you. I realize it is probably coming across that way, but I don’t mean for it to.

    Also, I’m not accusing you of having a blasphemous disposition, but just that the Reformed theology you’ve fell victim to is, indeed, blasphemous.

    No hard feelings.

  56. Hi |Dino. Feel free to argue tradition. Basically that’s what’s involved in the regula fidei. However, I do deny that any one tradition has everything right. And in my opinion, there are places where the Orthodox churches have tended to read against the regula fidei rather than with it. As for your last sentence, I really have no idea how this is a problem. Do you not believe that God can make both conditional and unconditional statements? Conditional is what the covenants are all about. God is not to be micro-managed by us into conditional versus unconditional. Blessings.

  57. Jerry,
    I have nothing different to what Father Stephen and Michelle just commented (e.g.: regarding the baptismal understanding of the Red Sea Passing or the eschatologically salvific understanding of what appears retributive at first (St Isaac and St Gregory make a particularly big deal of this clearly), so there’s little point restating it once again. Have you read Kalomiros’ “The River of Fire” [on this blog] regarding all ‘punishment’ never being retributive?

    The OT reading you present – or rather that Reform theology presents- is not the “opening of the scriptures” that Christ bestowed on His disciples (Luke 24:25), but the juridical reading that He accused the Jews of being blinkered with (John 5:39). If one reads the whole and not just a sentence here and there in Chrysosotom and the others, PSA becomes utterly untenable.

    May God enlighten us all.

  58. Jerry,
    The mental gymnastics PSA theory had to resort to in order to find a way to reconcile what it saw as the OT God of wrath and the NT God of Love (with a clear predilection to get rid of the NT rather than the OT if needed!) is based on the fact that the West wanted to rationalize and construct ‘theology’ based mainly on that [ie: human thinking], with a host of other fallen problems being adopted in the process. Orthodoxy based its authentic theology on those God-bearers who encountered God first-hand and therefore retains the authentic knowledge and experience of God as Love and Salvation even in what might be perceived and called ‘wrath’ or even ‘hell’. But you need to see His eyes (Luke 15:20), upon you (Luke 22:61) the way the Saints did [and upon all] to truly understand that. You then solve the OT – NT ‘issues’ you are having. The Orthodox tradition contains this view throughout it.

  59. Dino, this article I wrote was simply a piece of satire, and has nothing at all to do with PSA theory. The only thing I did in this article was poke fun at all those people who say we need to get rid of the Old Testament God and just have the New Testament God. This was simply my way of showing that the God of New Testament is as much a wrathful God as is the God of the Old Testament, and that the Old Testament God is just as much a God of love as is the New Testament God. Guess it sucked you in, huh! 🙂

    Reformed theology believes consistently that the God of the OT is the same as the God of the NT, and sees no need to suggest some rigid dichotomy between the Testaments. And, in this way, Reformed theology is much truer to the church fathers, such as Irenaeus. I linked to my blog post because Fr. Freeman had suggested that we cannot use the descriptions of God in the Old Testament to formulate our theology, and that the Old Testament is merely shadow. Such an idea would have been repugnant to the authors of the New Testament and to early church fathers like Irenaeus. The recovering of the reciprocal relationship between the Testaments is a service that Reformed theology has performed for the church as a whole. Jesus did not come to show us a different God than the one revealed in the Old Testament; rather, he came to give us a fuller revelation and understanding of the same God. The Old Testament God is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  60. Jerry,
    A little more on punishment: Punishment is not unconnected to the redemptive nature of suffering – a core axiom of Christianity – and one emancipated from the secular understanding of earthly life as the totality of existence, we comprehend how this salvific nature of suffering extends even to death and beyond, somehow rendering all punishment ultimately redemptive. To suppose that retribution for evil acts is to be found in God is abominable. [Issac the Syrian II/39, 2-3].
    Do we not see in the punishment and exile of Adam and Eve from paradise and the establishment of death under the guise of punishment the blessing of the resurrection to come? St Isaac is most telling here: “God decreed death, under the appearance of a sentence, for Adam because of sin, … He showed it as something Adam would receive as a repayment for his wrong, but He hid its true mystery, and under the guise of something to be feared He concealed His eternal intention concerning death and what His wisdom was aiming at. Even though this matter might be grievous, ignominious, and hard at first, nevertheless in truth it would be the means of transporting us to that wonderful and glorious world. Without it, there would be no way of crossing over from this world and being there … The Creator did not say: ‘This will turn out to be the cause of good things to come for you and a life more glorious than this’. Instead, He showed it as something which would bring about our misfortune and dissolution. … You should see that, while God’s caring is guiding us all the time to what He wishes for us, as things outwardly appear, it is from us that he takes the occasion to providing things, His aim being to carry out by every means what He has intended for our advantage.
    All this is because He knew beforehand our inclination towards all sorts of wickedness, and so He cunningly made the harmful consequences which would result from this into a means of entry to the future good and the setting right of our corrupted state. These are things which are known only to Him. But after we have been exercised and assisted little by little as a result of these consequences after they have occurred, we realize and perceive that it could not turn out otherwise than in accordance with what has been foreseen by Him. This is how everything works with Him, even though things may seem otherwise to us: with Him it is not a matter of retribution, but he is always looking beyond to the advantage that will come from His dealings with humanity.”

  61. Jerry, et al
    There is only one God. But there is a false argument that the “God of the OT is the God of the NT.” There is only one God, and He has made Himself known definitively in Christ. Christ is the “Ho On” as is noted on His icons. Christ Himself speaks to Moses, etc.

    However, together with the Fathers, we hold that in the OT, Christ is seen within shadows, types, etc. But the PSA, and much of the Reform tradition, sees no distinction to be made between a literally, rational reading of the OT and the definitive reading of the NT. Indeed, it reverses them, looking for signs in the gospels and the Epistles that the punishing, retributive God, is still with us. It makes these readings of the OT, the definitive manner of reading the New.

    There was a reason that type, allegory, etc. were so often employed in the Fathers in the reading of the OT. There is a reason it was described as “shadow.”

  62. After all, Chrysostom himself talked about what Christ did for us with the language of “an innocent man’s undertaking to die for another sentenced to death, and so rescuing him from punishment” (Homily on Gal 3:1ff.) And many such other juridical formulations can be found in his and other church fathers’ writings.

    This is not actually a forensic statement and here, I think, is where we differ. The readings of the Fathers by non-Orthodox automatically carry with them a legal, forensic viewpoint. Orthodox deal with the union and interrelationship of God and mankind, the healing of the latter by the former; non-Orthodox deal with a separation that must be crossed, a gulf that must be bridged.

    The “sentenced to death” is the lot of humanity in the wake of Adam’s sin; it is the self-sentence of Adam that resulted in death. The “innocent man’s undertaking to die” and “so rescuing him from punishment” is Christ, “trampling down death by death” so that the punishment of death that Adam entered himself into is lifted. There is nothing forensic here. This is the healing work of God towards the sickness (death) of mankind.

  63. Thank you for this last two comments Dino and Fr Stephen. With few words saying very much.

  64. Fr. Freeman and Dino, yes, you are certainly correct that God is Christ Himself BTW.” But it is absolutely not a mistake to also refer to “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” To refer to this as a mistake is just plain silly. But if it is a mistake, it is one that I have made along with both the apostles Paul and Peter (Rom 15:6; 2 Cor 1:3; 11:31; Eph 1:3; 1 Pet 1:3 ). When the apostles use this phrase, they are obviously, at least in these passages, using the word “God” to refer to the Father and not to the Trinity per se. So both formulations are correct: Christ is God, but he is also the Son of God.

    But, just to reiterate, I am perfectly happy, indeed, I insist on it, that Christ is also God in the Old Testament, and that he was the one who carried out acts of both salvation and judgment. Blessings.

  65. Jerry,
    Dino’s point was that the God who acts in the Old Testament is Christ, i.e. the 2nd Person of the Trinity. He was reacting to your identification of the OT God as “the Father.” There is, of course, no contradiction or tension between the persons of the Trinity. It’s part of how the Orthodox read the OT. There is, strangely, a common Protestant treatment in which the God of the OT is seen as the Father, while the NT describes the Son. I think Dino was hearing this treatment in your statement, nothing more.

  66. Dear Fr. Stephen and Dino, and all,

    Thank you for your wonderful replies to Jerry. May God grant him to know His Truth eventually… It’s so much more reassuring to read what you write about God (a loving, caring and self giving God) than the one he seems to describe (a self preoccupied and self centered God).
    He created us to share in His Life out of Love, He created the world through and for Christ, and us for Christ…. Everything else is, as Dino says, mental gymnastics that won’t matter at all at the moment we are being lowered into the grave… The only thing that will matter is if we loved and love Christ, if we lived our life “in Him”….
    There is no other Church than the Orthodox Church that teaches that Love, thru Her Saints especially (because they actually receive that direct revelation)…. May God indeed enlighten us all and grant us to see, know and love Him “with all our heart, and soul and mind and strength”.

    You are in my prayers Jerry.

  67. Thank you for this clarification. But, again, I want to reiterate that it is not a “mistake” to refer to the Old Testament God as the “God and Father of the our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is also true that Christ is God in the Old Testament. You are correct that there are some Protestants who would deny that Christ is God in the Old Testament, but they are heretics who have broken away from their Protestant heritage. Blessings.

  68. St. John Chrysostom (since you keep referencing him) does an excellent job of clarifying the corrective and loving nature of God’s wrath towards Pharaoh (as well as Esau, and those punished in the wilderness) in his homily on Romans 9,

    Basically he states that Pharaoh’s punishments are strictly for the sake of drawing him to repentance, due to God’s love for him. But since, according to God’s foreknowledge, He knows that Pharaoh will continually refuse His loving invitation, He instead uses these punishments for the sake of drawing others to repentance. All God does is done out of His love towards all. Everyone one, including Pharaoh, in firsthand experiencing God’s grace, even through punishments. Nothing is mentioned at all of God’s just vengeance needing to be satisfied through the eternal damnation of Pharaoh.

  69. The human project that is the Incarnation of Christ began before all worlds and before Adam’s sin. Please, Fr Stephen or Dino correct me if I’m wrong, I’m an infant in the faith.

  70. Byron, simply pontificating that “this is not actually a forensic statement” will not make the forensic language go away. This is not a non-Orthodox problem; it is a modern Orthodox problem. The language of “an innocent man’s undertaking to die for another sentenced to death, and so rescuing him from punishment” is decidedly forensic, legal language. To be sure, It is certainly more than that, but it is not less than that. As you say, it is also the healing work of God; but it is also the forensic work of God. I, for one, do not believe that the apostles and church fathers were incapable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. They can refer to how God performs a work of healing in the atonement, AND they can refer to the legal, forensic aspects of that atonement.

    No, Adam did not self-sentence himself, except by a figure of speech. God pronounced the sentence upon him, and then he actively enforced that sentence by exiling him from the Garden of Eden and barring his access to the Tree of Life. Even today we can, by a figure of speech, refer to how criminals have sentenced themselves to their punishments, or how they have “signed their own death warrants.” But the actual sentence is carried out by someone else.


  71. Fr Stephen, would you have handy a reference for J. N. D. Kelly’s statement ‘that the East never developed an Atonement Theory’?

  72. Thomas,
    The confession of an old man. I first read this in Kelly’s Early Christian Doctrine back in the 70’s. It’s early in the chapter on atonement. But, that’s a long memory…

  73. Hi Michelle. This is indeed a very fine sermon by Chrysostom. But as far as our discussion is concerned, the sermon has to be taken into account with the totality of his teachings. Sometimes, when the game of “dueling quotations” is played, there is the idea that one quotation in some way cancels out other quotations. But, of course we do not usually read authors this way. We assume, when we read an author, that their statements are not ultimately contradictory. And we also grant that an author does not say everything that needs to be every time they address a particular topic. We take into account of the totality of all their writings. So this sermon does not cancel out what Chrysostom said in that Ascension homily I quoted, which in turn does not cancel out what he said in the letters to Theodore you cited, which in turn does not cancel out anything else that he said. God’s punishments are sometimes restorative in nature; at other times they are retributive because there is a finality to them. Chrysostom recognizes both. Thanks, and blessings.

  74. Byron, simply pontificating that “this is not actually a forensic statement” will not make the forensic language go away. This is not a non-Orthodox problem; it is a modern Orthodox problem. The language of “an innocent man’s undertaking to die for another sentenced to death, and so rescuing him from punishment” is decidedly forensic, legal language. To be sure, It is certainly more than that, but it is not less than that. As you say, it is also the healing work of God; but it is also the forensic work of God. I, for one, do not believe that the apostles and church fathers were incapable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. They can refer to how God performs a work of healing in the atonement, AND they can refer to the legal, forensic aspects of that atonement.

    Forgive me, I only wanted to point out that the Orthodox read the language in a different way than Protestants (in general). Healing of sin and death, the primary focus of God towards humanity, does not come through the application of law and legal requirements being met (by us, or before God). To add a legal requirement to any statement that is rooted in God’s love, in spite of the language used, misses the point of it.

    No, Adam did not self-sentence himself, except by a figure of speech. God pronounced the sentence upon him, and then he actively enforced that sentence by exiling him from the Garden of Eden and barring his access to the Tree of Life. Even today we can, by a figure of speech, refer to how criminals have sentenced themselves to their punishments, or how they have “signed their own death warrants.” But the actual sentence is carried out by someone else.

    I agree that my use of “self-sentence” is perhaps a poor use of language. But God did not “pronounce the sentence” of death upon Adam, Adam brought death upon himself by moving away from Life (God) and eating of the fruit of the tree. Even when offered opportunities for repentance (in God’s questioning of him), Adam refused them, instead blaming the woman. God’s exiling of mankind from the garden is an act of setting the stage for our redemption; it denies eternal being to the corruption that Adam entered into. It is not an act of judicial sentencing, but an act of Grace.

    Blessings to you as well, my friend.

  75. Indeed, Agata. May we all come to a greater knowledge of the truth and of the God who was “pleased to offer up for all his seed his own beloved and only-begotten Son as a sacrifice for our redemption. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.5.4)

    “By remitting sins, he healed humankind, while also manifesting who he was. For if no one can forgive sins but God alone, while the Lord remitted them and healed human beings, it is plain that he himself was the Word of God made the Son of Man, who had received from the Father the power to remit sins. He was man and God, so that, since as man he suffered for us, so as God he might have compassion on us and forgive us our debts, in which we were made debtors to God our creator. That is why David said beforehand, “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity” David thus points to the forgiveness of sins which comes with his advent, “erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands” and “nailing it to the cross,” so that as by means of a tree we were made debtors to God, so also by means of a tree we may obtain the remission of our debt. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5.17.3)


  76. St Isaac’s statement that attributing any sort of retribution to God is a blasphemy and abomination is arguably of great gravity, greater than many others. So what if we can find forensic language (used in quite different world’s than our current one) in the words of Chrysostom…? The overarching framework is not that, and there’s little point defending and cultivating forensic sounding statements instead of the ontology of God’s unconditional love, guiding our fervour discerningly is up to us.

  77. Hi Jerry,

    Fascinating conversation. As a former reformed Christian, I’d make only the following comments on your observation;

    Sometimes, when the game of “dueling quotations” is played, there is the idea that one quotation in some way cancels out other quotations. But, of course we do not usually read authors this way. We assume, when we read an author, that their statements are not ultimately contradictory. And we also grant that an author does not say everything that needs to be every time they address a particular topic. We take into account of the totality of all their writings.

    The Orthodox approach is to take the totality of the witness of all Fathers, scripture, liturgy, hymnody, etc. (the body of Traditon) as a witness. In this respect all forensic language is seen properly contextualized and referenced to the whole….and not with a theory of satisfaction read into it in retrospect. The language you describe as forensic has meaning apart from what PSA insists on imparting to it. Once on accepts the PSA model it is very difficult to allow the language to have any other meaning.

    However, for the most part, (and Father Freeman can correct this) there would probably not be an issue for Orthodox to speak in juridical terms if such speech was seen as ultimately pedagogical and emphasized as such. As it is, what we see is the ascribing of the juridical framework of justice and retribution to the nature and /or essence of God which is balanced by His revelation of Himself as love and mercy and to a degree that they must assuage Him in both regards. What often seems to be at issue, it seems to me, is that the Orthodox will not make conjectures about the essence or nature of God from inferred. extrapolated theories outside of direct revelation in Christ. As a seminarian at an evangelical seminary, all Protestant Christians are comfortable with making speculative statements about God’s nature and essence which they affirm as dogma…or with which they play around with in a haphazard fashion (from the Orthodox POV).

    Just my observations.

    I’m intrigued by your state,Kent to Fr. Freeman about “heretics who have left the reformed heritage.” What is a heretic in your view?

  78. God’s treatment of Pharoah had everything to do with God’s people and bringing Israel out of Egypt. It was not just retributive. If one refuses salvation, one misses salvation, but that’s not retributive either or payment for satisfaction either. IF that were true it would be like saying we have to pay for grace as well. It doesn’t work on one side of the equation and it wouldn’t work on the other except to be self-contradictory

  79. Jerry,

    I’m going to be a bit presumptuous here and assume you believe in a limited atonement. Please correct me if I’m wrong (and then ignore everything I’m about to say, lol).

    Assuming you believe in limited atonement, I’m also going to be bold and guess just a little part of you, deep down inside somewhere, considers yourself to be in the in crowd, as one of the elect.
    Well, hello! It’s very nice to meet you, Mr. Elect! Let me introduce myself, I fully reject your (Calvin’s) Christ, and always will, my name is Mrs. Unelect! Now that we’ve been introduced, feel free to be one with your Christ and love yourself, as well as your other elected buddies in a “special” way that is not extended to me! Tell me, how exactly is it that you do love me, you know, in the less-special way? Nevermind, rather, call me Mrs. Wicked. I gladly accept the title from you, so do not be shy and feel free to be one with your Christ and hate me with that imputed righteous hate that He graces you with. It’s only Just to do so.

    Sorry for the sarcasm, but you need to get out of your head and think a little more with your heart. Just as Christ tried to get the Jews to locate their hearts when they scolded Him for healing someone on the Sabbath.

    Consider this analogy for instance, and tell me what your heart says about it:

    A perfectly just, and perfectly merciful man has a wife and a 12 yr old son. His son steels money from his father’s wallet to give to an older kid in exchange for some alcohol. In this world the perfectly just punishment for this crime is to be busted in the jaw with a brick until it breaks. So, the father, being perfectly just must bust his jaw, but, being perfectly merciful he also must forgive his child. So, in total agreement with his wife, they sit the young lad down and explain to him that his mother is going to take the bloody blow for him instead. And then the father proceeds to bash his wife in the face in front of his 12 yr old boy, beating his mother right in front of him to a bloody pulp. Now tell me, do you think the boy will have a complex when he’s older? Maybe some severe depression?

    Now imagine this actually happening in reality, as if it were really true. How do you feel about it? Do you celebrate it, pleased by the justness and mercy? Or do you cringe? Use your heart and be honest.

  80. Also want to give you props, Jerry. We’ve got you surrounded and your really holding your own! 🙂

  81. Jerry,

    Thank you for continuing this conversation with us, and especially for “drawing out” these excellent commentators and their spectacular words of explanations. It’s truly a feast today, here on “Glory to God for All Things”! 🙂
    (I am such a nobody in this crowd, and yet I cannot restrain myself from sharing a few thoughts with you).

    What I hear in what you write (and this a very very personal opinion) is such “theoretical” knowledge of God… I don’t see any practical application of what you are saying (so God forgives us because of Christ, but how does that change me and help me grow closer to Christ, as we should). The Orthodox Church offers experiential access to God, tangible, material, no mental gymnastics necessary… I am not good at keeping track of advanced theology concepts (but I am glad smart and saintly people in the Church have that figured out, and I can trust their assurance), I would really like to know how to pray, fast, cheerfully give alms, forgive people, be somebody God is pleased to look at. Even knowing the fact that He forgives me isn’t that comforting, since I know he sees the darkness in my soul better than I can myself.

    One of the most beautiful things I have ever read on this blog (or maybe it was in Father Stephen’s book) is this paragraph:

    “There will be no legal defense before God. There can be none. What takes place between us and God is entirely a matter of our being, our existence. No words or explanations, no reasoning. Just who and what you are. That’s all there is.”

    I am sorry Jerry, but nothing you write helps with that, and everything Fr. Stephen, Dino, Michelle (and all other wonderful friends) say gives me hope…. Forgive me. Thank you for your blessings, and blessings to you.

  82. Jerry:
    I’ve been where you are, I can sympathize. Perhaps an analogy:
    You’re pulling your hair out wondering why it’s not super-obvious that all the references in these ancient texts to “taking a shot” refer to imbibing vodka. You’re honestly baffled. Incapable of seeing it any other way. Why? because you were raised and formed in Alcoholism. It is literally impossible for you to see it any other way – it’s just SO OBVIOUS.
    But here’s the deal: these ancient texts weren’t crafted by recent Alcoholics, but Ancient Archers. “Take a shot” refers to something outside your reality: Bows and Arrows. You will NEVER be able to see this. At least, not without entering the Archer reality in which the texts were crafted, receiving the Archer Tradition of which the texts are an expression. And, fighting very hard against the alcoholic life you did receive. You are a foreigner to the life of the texts. And you can’t study your way out of that. Your study – coming from a place of death (outside the life of the texts) can never yield life/truth, only darkness/error.
    Deny yourself. The first step is to admit that you don’t know. To the extent that you hang on to the delusion that you do know, to that extent you will never know. If you are right, you will never be righteous. Lose your life to save it. Otherwise you will play the Elder Brother, outside in the field, consorting with your bottle of vodka as to what the Father could possibly be doing in there with all those silly sticks and ignorant Prodigal Sons who just can’t see the obvious meaning of the texts.
    The way down is the way up.

  83. It is good to remember from time to time that this is an Orthodox blog and not an open Christian blog. It is revealing indeed, but for an outsider who wants to learn, not how to become God, etc., because union with God/Christ is a gift, and not attained or measured by arguments in a precise science of understanding all the texts in the bible, what has been a/for thousand years in verbal transmissions, then in text’s of distant cultures, and so on. We have fragments and with faith we rely on the fullness of Christ, and we receive it without ever having known all the debates and arguments as I have read thru these pages.
    I enjoy reading from Orthodox sources, and like Jerry said, we can learn a lot from these forgotten sources, but the need to argue, and who has got in right or wrong is really in the end God’s call, not Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant. Today’s Orthodoxy almost has a flavor of a Cultic tendency mho here. You either believe this or your out….kind of like, and you are not saved. (you are not (Orthodox) Jewish, chosen people)To me that sounds like playing God or lording over ….. Intrinsically still competing and still very much Jewish. (Kabbala) Having run close side by side for the first 1000 years.
    A very interesting dialogue. Thank you everyone, even in this there is value. Blessings

  84. Well,
    Distinctions have to be made between sermon illustrations and more dogmatic treatments of central teachings. There is a reason that Chrysostom gets cited so frequently in these conversations – he was a preacher. He was not a dogmatic theologian of particular great note. But his sermons (often as expositions of Scripture) are massive, in terms of what we still have. In the course of preaching, many illustrations will be used, and many times without the careful reflection on what the consequences would be were that illustration to be taken and used as the primary metaphor for doctrine.

    Jerry says that the PSA is happy to be among the many images used in atonement doctrine. But this is not true. In Reform thought, its metaphors and images, its internal logic, is the cornerstone for all subsequent theology. Everything else is a sermon illustration. It is of primary note that the forensic language and imagery of the PSA is simply absent in the liturgical life of the Church. It is not how we sing, not how we pray. If you will, those sermon illustrations (rare indeed) that can be used in support of some PSA version, never “made it onto the charts.”

    But this is not something that can really be discussed with the non-Orthodox, because they are simply without experience and knowledge of the liturgical life of the Church. It is this lack of experience in the Tradition (and there are not “many traditions”) that makes the conversation awkward.

  85. Maria,
    I do not think that someone is out or not saved if they are not Orthodox. However, neither is the truth fragmented into the many pieces of denominational Christianity. Our culture teaches us that we all need to get along, and we therefore have an instinct to finally minimize all differences. But Orthodoxy is not a brand, not a denomination among denominations. It is the faith of the Fathers received and preserved. The Orthodox Church is filled with sinners and has no corner on righteousness. However, its inheritance within its prayers and liturgical life, the Fathers, etc., are the right and true expression of the faith. Some of that is just plain historical fact, no real argument.

  86. Father, is it right to say (as I have begun to), that the Orthodox Church, as the Body of Christ, is as an overflowing fountain. The Grace, the Life, the truth of the Holy Trinity comes through the Church in such abundance that it overflows to every one and everything. We can not possibly contain Him even if we wanted to. Unless one consciously and purposefully rejects God and tries to unite to Satan that life reaches you. Shoot, even there to some degree.

    Still we have the fullness even when we do not partake of that fullness as we ought? Is that not one aspect of being “The pillar and ground of the truth”?

    There is an icon of the Theotokos that depicts a similar reality. It takes my breath away. Seems the Incarnation works that way: a particular mother, a particular revelation in the person of Jesus Christ, a particular group of Apostles and disciples forming a particular Body with a particular understanding given by grace. That is what is traditioned. Here for all to drink of if they come.

    We did not make it up. It was/is given, whole and complete full of every blessing.

  87. Michael,
    Essentially, yes. We should not think of the Church in the smaller terms of an institution, though it has institutions. The Church is the whole of creation being gathered together into Christ. Sacramentally, this is expressed as the Orthodox Church, and it certainly overflows. The Eucharist lies at the very heart of the union between Christ and creation.

    The institutionalization of grace is a mistake (one largely picked up from Medieval scholasticism). Those who say “no grace outside the Church” mean “no grace outside the boundaries of the institution.” That is nonsense. Even the devil and his angels are sustained in existence by the good God (and that sustaining is grace). If this were not so, they would cease to exist.

  88. Hey guys,

    You have certainly been very busy beavers! Unfortunately, I have a lot of things on my plate and I wasn’t able to get back to a number of you yesterday, and today’s not looking too good either. Besides doing some yard work, spending some time with the family, and other things, one of my tasks today is to prepare a sermon I am preaching tomorrow. I have entitled it, “Special Decoder Glasses, Klingon, and Where’s Waldo: Jesus Christ in the Old Testament.” It is based on Acts 26:22-23, where Paul is on trial before Felix, and at one point says this:

    “But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

    Did you catch that? According to Paul, he is not saying anything that the prophets did not say. This was the point of my initial post on this whole thread, and my concern with the dichotomy that Fr. Freeman had set up between the shape of the gospel story being “discerned within” the Old Testament as opposed to being “derived from” the Old Testament. Paul is not working with that dichotomy. If there was ever a time for Paul to give up the idea that he is not saying anything beyond what the prophets said, this would have been a good time to do it, in a process where he is potentially on trial for his life. But he holds fast to it. And he does that before the Jewish leaders, before Agrippa, before Felix, and before the authorities in Rome. Indeed, for that belief, Paul will ultimately suffer martyrdom. If Paul had simply believed that Christ could be discerned within the Old Testament by using special decoder glasses or playing a game of Where’s Waldo, that would not have accounted for his great faith. Rather, it was his conviction that what Christ did was entirely according to the Scriptures. Christ did what he did because the Scriptures “must” be fulfilled. Paul was convinced that he was not saying anything beyond what the prophets said.

    In any case, I’ll try to get back to all your questions as soon as I can. But please be patient with me. Blessings.

  89. Thank you Fr. Freeman,
    I appreciate your response and agree that the “God given Faith and Light” to the Church is NOT fragmented, but nevertheless, it is given according to the understanding of a particular Church Culture/people, which can be limited. Just like each of our Children are different from the same set of parents, so I believe the Churches are. As a very young individual raised Baptist, attended schools with nuns, Methodist from Mothers side, living in a mainly Catholic and Protestant culture, where I belonged to a minority as Baptist, raised after WWII with a Faith to survive, I often wondered about all these splits and why we are killing each other professing the same God. So yes, I am troubled as an adult with the freedom I have to explore what I have received from the cradle to near death. I’ve come to love all the denominations if you will, and I probably will love Orthodoxy too as well, as I have enjoyed much of your writings here, though not always agreeing. I don’t think we have to resolve our differences in understandings, but RESPECT it, because it will take care and change itself. The spirit searches all things, and they shall all know him as he is. And we all might be surprised.
    Religion informs culture, and culture informs politics. And sometimes change comes hard. We see it in this NOW culture. Religion is no longer informing and giving way to culture. I see it in various traditions. And tradition is a part of culture. So not sure why you think Orthodoxy is the only right tradition to acknowledge the God of our fathers.. I love the spiritual part and understanding you have in many respects, and I think that is where all Churches are loosing ground. It is not tradition that will hold a church together I am afraid. We then will all be wearing the Ring without the love for one another. Differences is what keeps us growing and humble, and not cookie cutter Christians. No, God is not fragmented—we are as people, by religion, culture and politics etc. and in this climate we plant the seed of spiritual unity. What God did then, can not be repeated. No one needs to die in their sins, if we are willing to forgive one another or trespasses (crossing the boundaries of another) And live in such a way to create NO SHADOWS , The task of a Church for today. (my understanding)

  90. Jerry,

    Regarding St. Paul “But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

    Christ said — CHRIST said — He was the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. That does not mean that this fulfillment did not take on aspects far FULLER than what was already understood from the Law and the Prophets. You use the word beyond but Christ illustrated the effects of His ministry – new covenant — with new wineskins that would expand to hold the new wine. What is fulfillment? What is fullness? You say he does not say “beyond” but you fail to grasp fullness. In this perspective then the Incarnation is irrelevant except to fulfill prophesy! But its content is all there already. Perhaps Christ could somehow be discerned from the OT I don’t think Orthodox tradition says He’s not there but the opposite, the OT is full of Christ. But that doesn’t mean the Incarnation was just a repeat.

  91. Jerry,
    Your reading just baffles me. Where on earth was anything about Christ “obvious.” Yes, it is all there, once you learn to read and have seen it. But Jesus apparently was wasting His time with the needless “opening” of the disciples’ understanding (nous). And that no one(!) had ever, ever seen the pattern of the Crucified anywhere in the OT. It’s there. But before Christ makes it known, Psalm 22 (for example) would in no way have conjured up an image of the crucifixion.

    But I simply despair of any agreement on this. It’s all so obvious for you.

  92. Hi All,

    My apologies on that last post. Paul was in front of Agrippa and Festus, not Agrippa and Felix. I sometimes do this Festus/Felix interchange in my mind. Probably from watching too many cartoons. 🙂


  93. Maria,

    There is much of value in what you say, and some of it reflects very Orthodox thought (even if you don’t see it). There is most certainly a translation issue between the Orthodox proclamation of the gospel and the background and understanding of gospel in other Churches. (Esp. Protestant ones). We who come from evangelical and Protestant backgrounds tend to plug in our own heritage and teachings into the blank spots in dialogue with Orthodox. We read into Orthodox language. And fo many Orthodox this is difficult because the theology of Orthodoxy is all interconnected.

    Ultimately though, the view you have expressed means there is absolutely no basis for any dialogue with Mormonism jehovahs witnesses, oneness Pentecostals, Unitarian Universalists, etc. there is something deeper about the gospel at stake here which is lost on many even within Orthodox circles. id like to expand on this, but am unsure if you’re interested in further exploring this with us here in the interests of clarity about the Orthodox position. The purpose of this dialogue is not to condemn you. In no way do I believe my evangelical mother, or my Mormon sister are not saved by Christ.

  94. Onesimus, the Orthodox missionaries listened to stories of the spiritual heritage of the indigenous people of Alaska and then told them the rest of the story..a completion for which many were waiting.

    Christ’s salvation is available to all, not all take advantage. Morman stories are so artificial, so filled with innumerable heretical beliefs that there is literally no way that Mormonism moves people in the direction of salvation. They categorically deny every article of the Nicene Creed. Their Jesus is not the Jesus who we know.

    Yet their ignorance of the truth apparently lowers the bar for them and allows for great grace. God will judge them by what is written on their hearts just as He will us, but we have no excuse.

    There is a danger in not realizing that the foundations of others, even other Christians, is not equivalent to the foundation of the Orthodox Church.

    One can, and should, recognize the lack of equivalence without denying the grace of God is operative in all of us.

    Yet there is a genuine difference between the Orthodox Church and the Apostolic faith she holds and transmits than any other Christian expression. We need not be triumphalist to recognize and proclaim that difference. Indeed we are called upon to do just that.

  95. Onesimus,

    July 9, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    You are absolutely correct about those denominations, I totally retreated (all of them) in any kind of dialogue upon listening to what they had to say, just intuitively or instinctively. I never knew so many variations existed to be honest.
    My understanding is even different from the mainline Churches or even the US Baptist Churches.
    I don’t think you will be able to condemn me, because He did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it and reconcile it unto himself as I understand it. And the process of reconciliation begins with the seed and birth (a gift and not an attainment) of the triune God in your soul. He who has the Son has life and he will lead you to the rivers/ or fountain of water freely to drink from. This is how I know Him, love Him, treasure and protect him,…. with my Life.
    I would be happy to hear your understanding, and neither would I condemn or invalidate you or anyone who has encountered Him differently after his/her/their needs. Do be patient with my style and limited writing ability. English is a 2nd language and I am not proficient, but trying my best. Thank you for taking me serious. Love and Peace!

  96. Jerry said,

    “God’s punishments are sometimes restorative in nature; at other times they are retributive because there is a finality to them.”

    I think it is this “finality” of punishments that protestants get hung up on. What could the purpose of the “finality” experienced in an eternal state of hell be if not some form of retribution from the hands of the Father?

    Maybe its a lack of imagination that hinders them when confronted by this mystery. They just need to think outside the box, but, alas, they cannot because they’ve jumped the gun and already declared this retributive interpretation as dogma. But for the Orthodox the question has been kept open, subject to wonder and inquiry.

    Hell is not a literal place created by the Father for the sake of doling out His punishments. Hell is a state of being that the person moves towards; a state of absence that one works to achieve by cursing God in their heart.

    But God cannot be fully driven out because of His gracious presence fills everything, even hell. It even filled Pharaoh’s punishments, out of love.

  97. Michelle,
    I agree. The true weakness and problem of the PSA is that the notion of sin as a forensic concept exists only in the mind of God. It is not a something, only a relational issue. In that sense, sin is only a problem in God’s mind, and He has to make it a problem for us by punishing and killing us, etc.

    Sin, of course, is ontological. The notion of sin as “stain,” or being “washed” from our sins, etc., makes no sense in a legal framework.

  98. Hi Onesimus,

    Thanks for the comments and question, as well as your empathy as a former Reformed guy. As for the comments, in spite of what you say with regard to how the “The Orthodox approach is to take the totality of the witness of all Fathers, scripture, liturgy, hymnody, etc.,” I find the opposite to be the case so far in this discussion. And that is the problem: a very definite strand of PSA language in the church fathers is not being listened to, but rather suppressed. Aside from the quotations which I have provided so far from Eusebius and Chrysostom (which by the way are not simply sentences but paragraphs and really somewhat extensive passages), I could provide many more, and from many more of the fathers. As I said earlier, after awhile, the refusal to take these passages into account simply becomes an exercise in special pleading. So, for example, when Dino privileges the words of Isaac the Syrian over the words of Chrysostom, instead of giving Chrysostom’s words their full weight, this becomes more evasionist than responsible.

    With regard to your thoughts about speculative theology, I share the same concerns. However, it is not speculative theology to take the fairly plain statements about atonement in Paul, and Peter, and John, and accept them as being scriptural statements about what God has done in Christ.

    As for your question about what I would consider to be heresy, that’s a hugely open-ended type question. Lots of things qualify as heresy. But, in keeping with the original topic of this thread, there are theologians, who want to refer to themselves as Reformed or Evangelical, but who have departed from an understanding of the Old Testament as revelation from God, and have practically become Marcionites or semi-Marcionites in the process. So, when they argue that we cannot rely on the revelation of God in the Old Testament, and argue that Jesus came to correct our erroneous Old Testament conceptions of who God is and what he is like, I would refer to that as heresy.


  99. Hi Mrs. Wicked Unelect 🙂

    Seriously, Michelle, I got on this thread with regard to the issue of interpreting Scripture; I didn’t really want to track off into the area of PSA, and I certainly don’t, on my part, want to expand the discussion into areas of limited atonement and election. So, I’m going to leave those alone. I do, however want to address one thing you mentioned in your post.

    At one point you said, “you need to get out of your head and think a little more with your heart.”

    I take the words of Jesus in Matt 22:37-40, in which he freely quotes Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18, very seriously. Jesus says, ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    There is no dichotomy to be employed between heart and mind. When I engage in the act of interpreting Scripture, I try to love the Lord my God with all my heart, all my soul, and all my mind. I do so very imperfectly, but that is certainly my goal. So, let me assure you, everything I have said in this discussion has been with both my heart and my mind. And that is one of the reasons why I have to listen to the entire witness of Scripture. It is not an act of love to God on my part to only accept the things I like, and reject the things I don’t like. In this regard, the words of Augustine are quite on target:

    “Your evasions are met on every side. You ought to say plainly that you do not believe the gospel of Christ. For to believe what you please, and not to believe what you please, is to believe yourselves, and not the gospel.” (Reply to Faustus the Manichaean).

    Enjoying the discussion, Michelle. Blessings.

  100. Thanks for the “props,” Michelle. Yes, it’s me, Paul, Irenaeus, Athanasius, Eusebius, Chrysostom, and Augustine against the world. “)


  101. Thanks for the suggestions, Justin. But they really are not applicable in this case. The Christian faith is not built on a retreat into Gnosticism which regards all outsiders as uninitiated alcoholics who are unable to sober up and read. God chose to speak to us in language, with grammar, syntax, morphology, and logic. The statements God makes in Scriptures must be taken seriously, since he went to all the trouble to speak us. I am not a foreigner to the life of the texts; rather, I am immersed in them. So, if you want to enjoy the life of the texts, I invite you to read them with heart and mind. “Deny yourself. The first step is to admit that you don’t know. To the extent that you hang on to the delusion that you do know, to that extent you will never know.” Blessings.

  102. Hi Agata. Of course, one cannot say everything that could possibly be said every time one addresses a particular issue. However, with regard to PSA, the doctrine has significant practical implications for our life in God and in his Christ. I could write you an entire dissertation on this! However, I’ll just give you two suggestions in this regard, and both of them are given in Scripture.

    “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:7-12)

    That God loved me so much to go to such extravagant lengths in the sacrifice of his Son to redeem me to himself–that engenders intense love in me. I love him because he first loved me.

    “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. . . . Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude.” (1 Peter 3:15-18; 4:1).

    Everything Peter mentions in this passage, all the behavior he asks the believer to engage in, is in response to what Jesus did, who suffered for our sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to god.

    So many more things I could mention which are accomplished by Christ’s death for our sins: redemption, forgiveness, justification, sanctification, glorification, regeneration, union with Christ–the benefits are innumerable! Blessings.

  103. Very interesting thought, Maria. I don’t think there was anything that I necessarily needed to respond to, but I appreciate a good bit of the sentiments you have expressed. Blessings.

  104. Jerry,

    Instead of proof-texting, which, to me, is like endless whirling, allow me to suggest that you note the essential elements or points of PSA theology as you see them, and that you clarify and note as well every vital role that the scheme requires. Such roles might include the aggrieved, the satisfied, the guilty, the propitiator, the punisher, and so on. This list is illustrative. Make your own.

    The point is to see what a clearly explained PSA doctrine says about God who is always cast in multiple roles.

    Let me posit that you cannot complete this exercise without doing theological violence as the god you depict will be a distorted straw man.


  105. Thanks for the question, Janine. First of all, “beyond” is not my word, but Paul’s. My main takeaway from what Paul says is that the basic plotline of the gospel story, or what Fr. Freeman referred to as the “shape” of the gospel story, is what the prophets said would happen. Of course, there are details that “fill out” the story; and Peter talks about these in 1 Peter 1:10-12 —

    “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.”

    So, yes, you are certainly right, there were many things the prophets did not know. But according to Paul and Peter, they knew the basic plotline of a Messiah/Servant of the Lord/Savior figure who would die and rise again.

  106. Jerry,
    Apparently, context is important in reading. At the very least, it sets the bounds of meaning. For example, I suspect that when you read the word “sin,” you have a meaning in mind and that when I read the word “sin,” I have a different meaning in mind. That meaning will be largely drawn from other things – the community in which you live and practice your faith, for example.

    The juridical understanding of sin is largely foreign in the practice of Orthodoxy, it’s services, its’ prayers. It is far more ontological in character. That more dominant imagery demands a different treatment for passages that you simply take to be forensic in content and meaning. In the same manner, your more juridical understanding of sin and forgiveness will read more ontological treatments in a juridical manner.

    I believe that you cannot resolve such a difference by arguing one meaning against another, inasmuch as the meanings are not reflective of the text, per se, but of the community to which the reader belongs.

    There is no apology from Orthodoxy for this, and I understand that to be at the heart of Irenaeus’ point with regard to the gnostics. There is certainly less disagreement between Orthodoxy and Reform than between Orthodoxy and Gnosticism, but the differences are significant – so much so that a number of points of Calvinism have been condemned as heresy by an Orthodox Council (probably one of the most badly written conciliar documents I’ve ever seen, but its point stands).

    Arguing tradition versus tradition only states the obvious – that we read things in a different manner. That Reform practice differs from Patristic practice seems to me to argue that you do not actually read in the same manner that they do (regardless of what you yourself might think you are doing).

    There are larger problems entailed by the legal metaphor. It is not an integral part of the primary doctrines (Trinity, Christology, Sacrament, etc.) of the Conciliar Church. The various ontological treatments of the Atonement share the same language and metaphor of Incarnation, Trinity, Christology, etc. The less integrated presentation of forensic atonement creates a fissure in the unity of doctrine that eventually shows up in practice. The long range result has been a destruction of many important aspects of the Christian faith (the Church, the sacraments, etc.). There are very important reasons that the forensic approach has never truly gained traction in Orthodoxy. It is foreign to its ethos. It just doesn’t fit.

    That it fits in a Reform ethos says a lot. It makes it feel like a different religion sometimes and creates very awkward conversations, particularly in that much of our vocabulary is shared on the surface.

    I think the horse is pretty much dead now. I’ll quit beating him.

  107. I would say that it is impossible to convince someone of what they do not wish to see or are too afraid to question. Having been a rather well-studied and militant classical Lutheran myself, I can testify to the horrific difficulty of even questioning the PSA given how the system is set up. Fear that if i do so, i am apostasizing from the core teaching of Christianity and rendering myself liable to eternal retributive punishment.

    I can also testify to secretly hating [this version of] God and the number of psychological, spiritual, and plain old life crises it took to wake this prideful intellectual up to the truth of what Love is. Love keeps no record of wrongs and requires no payment to restore relationship – as it is so consumed with care for the other such a thought does not even enter in.

    PSA is not just a false theory, but a blasphemous one which paints a very distorted picture of God. Worse than that -if possible- is that it makes you feel like a piece of garbage for even questioning the implications of it on the nature of God, the nature of love, etc.

    But only the willingness to see things with the mind IN the heart, the willingness to let go of the idolatry of dogmatic certitude and intellectual sophistry – coupled with deep prayer and existential angst – can get a person so embedded in this way of seeing things out of it. Oh, and seeing that it has never been a feature in the liturgical life of the most ancient, continuous Christian Tradition in existence helps too! In my experience, at least.

  108. Fr. Freeman, a couple of things in response.

    (1) I find your response to what Paul says very revealing. Paul says that he is “saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen–that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.” Then you respond to this by saying “your reading just baffles me.” Interestingly, right after Paul makes his defense, Festus interrupts Paul by saying, “You are out of your mind, Paul! Your great learning is driving you insane.” So I find it very telling that your response lines up very well with the response of Festus. Apparently, it’s Paul and me versus you and Festus!

    (2) Your reading of what happens in Luke 24 falls short of taking account of all the clues in the text. Note that when Jesus opens the disciples’ minds, it was because their minds had been closed. Remember that, on the Emmaus road, Jesus rebuked the disciples by saying, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Their problem was not so much cognitive as it was affective and ethical. Jesus opens their minds by removing the veil that covered their eyes when they read these texts, a veil that consisted primarily of a lack of faith. Note also that there are several places in the gospels where Jesus rebukes the Jewish leaders for not understanding the Scriptures which pointed to him. Why would Jesus rebuke them for not properly understanding these passages in the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, if these passages could not have been understood as pointing to a dying and rising Messiah. Again, their problem was not so much cognitive as it was affective and ethical. They could not because they would not.

    There are many more things that could be noted, but I will let that suffice for now. Blessings.

  109. Sorry, I never met a dead horse which I couldn’t flog just one more time…

    I also came across this quote (from Archbishop Chrysostomos) which I think cogent – emphasizing spiritual experience [i.e. of the Saints, which we enter into] over intellectual reasoning:

    “I should also add that the dogmas of Orthodoxy are not subject to mere intellectual evaluation (however unsophisticated or unlearned that evaluation). Consensus, by the same token, is not simply empirical or representative of some attitudinal “mean.” [For instance,] When the Church excludes heretics from its consensus, it does so not only because of their wrong belief, but because that wrong belief simultaneously and inevitably estranges them from the common spiritual experience of Orthodoxy. An ignorant man can believe wrongly and come to correct his belief by submission to the Church (even, at times, without understanding the “intellectual” source of his wrong belief), a spiritual act which restores his mystical communion with the body of True Believers. A heretic, however, cannot enter into that communion, if he persists in wrong belief, not simply because his views are wrong, but because his defiance closes to him the spiritual path to communion with Orthodox believers. Even if he were to come to a correct confession intellectually, if this confession is not within the context of submission to the Church and a spiritual re-entry into Her consensual integrity, it does not necessarily restore him. The matter is not one of “right” or “wrong” or of personal opinion, but of genuine spiritual experience within the authentic body of Christ….

    “Theology begins, as Father Florovsky emphasizes, quoting a great Father of the Church, with “fact” (that is, “spiritual fact,” an ontological phenomenon) and with experience, not theory and speculation. Dispute is solved not by reconciliation and dialogue, but by humility and submission. And the criteria by which Truth is established are not the domain of arrogant, puffed-up Christians who have created, in the name of Orthodoxy, a religion of their own, but of those who exist among the properly Baptized, who converse with God, heal the sick, raise the dead, and who converse with Angels, according to St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite.”

    It might sound arrogant or triumphalistic to state all of this, but when you’ve had the experience of Orthodoxy you begin to recognize what is really being said. If you fall on the Rock, you will be broken indeed – but brokenness is the gateway to fullness.

  110. Hi Jerry,

    Sorry for taking us off the trail into limited atonement. I only mentioned it because you tipped me off that you were a Calvinist when you spoke of the “levels” of God’s love concerning Pharaoh and the like. I still maintain that this idea of “levels” of love, as I mentioned earlier, and as I pointed out in my Mr Elect/Mrs Wicked response, is indeed blasphemous. We now know, through what Christ has revealed to us concerning the Father in the NT, that interpreting OT passages about God’s hatred for wicked persons should not be taken literally, or even as some sort of “level”.

    For example, we learned of the Father’s endearing love, equal to the other disciples, for Judas Iscariot. We learn of this equally fervent love through Christ’s choosing of Judas Iscariot to be a disciple, bestowing upon him all of the same blessed gifts, and even inviting him to partake of the same Divine, Eucharistic Table with Him, along with the other disciples. And as we know, only the Church is invited to participate in the Divine Table. Christ’s relationship with Judas was genuine. It was not a Divinely manipulated ruse to help usher in the Crucifixion. Judas was not a vessel created explicitly for this particular betrayal unto a predetermined damnation. He was a vessel created for discipleship. Every act of Christ’s toward Judas shows us this.

    But anyway, I will stick to PSA from now on, as you suggest.

    In my previous post I gave an analogy of PSA, in my the father, wife, son example, and then asked how you felt about it. You responded by saying it is not an act of love towards God if you only keep what you like, and dismiss what you don’t. I take that to mean that the violent aspect of PSA I aptly referred to in my analogy is something you dislike, but feel you cannot dismiss. Well, at least you dislike it, that’s a start. 😉
    If only you would recognize the pedagogical nature of what Chrysostom says in the Ascension quote you gave. And also that your moral conscious that cringes at my analogy is a God given guide, a grace, to help you avoid such evil. This is why I told you to use your heart -because very often you CAN trust it, though I recognize we must also be sober about our inclination towards delusion. Maybe then you could finally remove this yoke of rejecting your God given conscious that tells you my analogy of a literal PSA reveals something truly repugnant and evil.

    But Reformed theology has reduced all interpretation down to strict logical syllogism, based on the laws of contradiction. When doing theology this way reading Scripture becomes a game, like a jigsaw puzzle, where one attempts to perfectly piece every verse together with the thousands of others. Strict literalism of the text becomes a necessity in such a game. It is nothing more than an acrobatic feat, playing to the unquenchable cravings of the human mind to solve logical problems. Its a a seeking of satisfaction by delving into the bottomless pit of logical possibilities. In other words, your religion is just philosophy, using the Scriptures for its playing field. Just like mathematicians use quantities for theirs. According to Reformed theology any apt human mind can mine the thoughts of God through logical contemplation of the dry text of Scriptures. No Holy Inspiration required. But when you remove the language of the Scriptures and the Fathers from this jigsaw puzzle, and examine it outside of the field of logical syllogism, then PSA as an indelible dogma quickly dissipates.

  111. Hi MichaelPatrick,

    Thank you for this. First of all, let me assure that I have not been engaged in proof-texting. Proof-texting does not refer to simply citing a passage in support of one’s position. Rather, proof-texting is a term that refers to citing a passage out context. Every citation that I have made from the New Testament passages has been made with regard for the context. This past semester, I taught a course at the seminary where I am on faculty entitled, “A Biblical Theology of Atonement.” The course was a detailed investigation of the scriptural teaching on atonement, throughout both Old and New Testaments, and one in which I also touched on systematic-theological issues as well as the history of interpretation, especially in the church fathers.

    So, I hesitate to attempt to do what you are asking, because, in essence, it would either require to me be quite expansive in my answer, almost approaching a dissertation, or if I tried to state things briefly, it would leave all kinds of questions unaddressed. So let me just define the terms, and then you can feel free to ask questions.

    Atonement — Christ in the whole course of his life, incarnation, life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, has acted to reconcile sinners to God. Particularly, in his death, he has procured redemption and forgiveness for sins.

    Substitutionary — Christ has done something for me that I could not do for myself. He has died in my place. He was my substitute.

    Penal — Christ takes onto himself the penalty that should have come upon me. He died my death. God set him forth as a propitiation for sin. Or as John Stott puts it, God propitiates himself in the death of his Son.

    Note well: This is a Trinitarian act. Christ does not by his death change anything the heart of God. God was already lovingly disposed toward us. The death of Christ in our place was an act of love on the part of the entire Trinity. As Hebrews 9:4 puts it, Christ offered himself to God (the Father) through the eternal Spirit. He offered himself by dying for us, cleansing us from our sins and from our guilty consciences by his blood. The Father gave the Son. The Son offered himself to the Father, and he did this through the Holy Spirit. And this death accomplished a whole host of things: forensic justification, sanctification, redemption, healing, purification, cleansing from a guilty conscience, union with Christ, to name only a few. This is not just the teaching of a few isolated “proof-texts”; it is the sum teaching of the totality of Scripture.

    By the way, there are numerous, very thorough monographs, which lay out this whole-Bible understanding of atonement. Among them are:

    Stott, John R. W. The Cross of Christ. 20th anniversary ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2006.

    Morris, Leon. The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross. 3d rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965.

    Morris, Leon. The Cross in the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965.

    Treat, Jeremy R.. The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.

    Perhaps you have some clarifying questions. Blessings.

  112. Thanks Jerry. I’ve read all those treatments and many more. Understand that Anselm’s was a tract no better then than the “Four Spiritual Laws” Evangelicals use today. In their time both were popular and easy in to understand but they fail miserably as theology.

    My challenge should be relatively easy for someone as educated as you and it’s worth doing if you want to persuade others that God actually plays the roles you’ve got Him in.

  113. Jerry, sorry, I should have said I’ve read all those treatments but Jeremy Treat’s.

  114. Hi Michelle,

    So many problems here!

    (1) You said, “We now know, through what Christ has revealed to us concerning the Father in the NT, that interpreting OT passages about God’s hatred for wicked persons should not be taken literally, or even as some sort of ‘level’.”

    No, we don’t know that. First of all, Paul, in Romans 9:13, quotes the OT text about God loving Jacob and hating Esau, and he does not reject that statement. He certainly had a chance to, but does not take it. Second, you have the words of Jesus himself when he declares, “The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them” (John 14:21). Additionally, Jesus goes on to state, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (John 15:10). In these two statements, Jesus introduces a level of conditionality with regard to the love of God. Now, we might say that Jesus means something different here by the word “love” but that is exactly my point. Sometimes the word “love” means different things or refers to different levels of love. Furthermore even of the Father’s love for the Son, Jesus says this, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again” John 10:17). On the one hand, we know that the Father loves the Son from all eternity with this perfect divine inter-Trinitarian love. However, Jesus here speaks of a love the Father has for the Son particularly because he was obedient to his Father. These are statements of Jesus with which we have to deal.

    And then, on a more general note, Jesus did not come to correct how the OT portrays God. To be sure, he came to bring us a fuller revelation; but he did not come to bring us a different revelation, or one that was contradictory to that in the OT.

    (2) No, when I cited that statement from Augustine, I was not talking about your analogy, but about the general way in which Christians approach the words of Jesus in the gospels and appropriate what they like and reject what they don’t like. Of course, this is not the way to read the gospels.

    (3) Your analogy is too crass, and has too many problems to really deal with; it simply caricatures what PSA proponents argue. Here, however, is what you do need to deal with. Scripture, regardless of whether or not you accept PSA, definitely portrays the death of Christ as something that is in the plan of God, and, indeed, orchestrated by God. Here are some of the relevant texts:

    “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18)

    “This man [Jesus] was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23)

    “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer.” (Acts 3:17-18)

    “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” (Acts 4:27-28)

    “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all . . .” (Romans 8:32)

    “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood . . .” (Romans 3:25)

    “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

    Now, again, regardless of whether you accept these passages as teaching PSA, they definitely present God the Father sacrificing the son to atone for our sins, to secure our redemption, and to provide forgiveness of sins.

    (4) No, your last paragraph is a huge caricature of what Reformed theology does. I myself am not at all fond of reducing theology to syllogisms, I don’t think the law of non-contradiction applies to the message of the cross, and while I do believe there is a logic to the gospel, Paul definitely says in 1 Corinthians 1 that the message of the cross is foolishness in the eyes of the world. So, no, Reformed theology is nothing like what you’ve said in this paragraph. And I am very much surprised that you refer to the “dry text of Scriptures.” Is that what you really think of Scripture. Well, not me. The word of God is my very life. I can go without food; I cannot go without the word of God. The word of God is living and active. It is my joy and delight. I love God’s word. A dry text? Never!


  115. Hi MichaelPatrick,

    I have not said a word about Anselm. PSA did not begin with him, but with Jesus and the apostles.

    Sorry, I have already said quite a lot, but I am not going to write that dissertation or reproduce my course on this blog. Feel free to ask questions where I can be more specific with my answers.


  116. Jerry, I mentioned Anselm because his PSA is still popular today.

    Which particular PSA is right? Within Calvinism we have a smorgasbord of choices. The nuanced refinement of Lutheran versions is attractive, making 4 and 5 point versions look like en masse trials of sinners in god’s angry hands. Perhaps your PSA is more Armenian? Mustn’t some PSA be true in the particulars?

    I wish you were willing to test your PSA against Orthodox theology instead of defending the whole wide lot of them. This could be very easy; Just the roles for God and man, a plot outline and outcomes of the final scene. The key question, again, is what roles God will play and what do the outcomes say about Him?

    A fair challenge unmet.

  117. Regarding problems with PSA from an Orthodox perspective of the Atonement, I found this 1995 online treatment by Dr. Robin Collins, Evangelical professor of philosophy at Messiah College, to be helpful in giving me a way to articulate the disconnect I came to see with popular presentations of “God” in common Evangelical presentations of PSA, on the one hand, and the image of the Father visible in the face of Jesus Christ in the Gospels, on the other.

    Perhaps it will be helpful to further the discussion.

    Jerry writes:

    “Atonement — Christ in the whole course of his life, incarnation, life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, has acted to reconcile sinners to God. Particularly, in his death, he has procured redemption and forgiveness for sins.

    My observation: Orthodox agree, but would add Christ has acted not only to reconcile sinners to God, but to free them from sin’s bondage and raise the dead to life! This is a critical part of reconciliation–it is the very heart of it, because death is not only or even mainly physical, it is first and foremost spiritual bondage and alienation from the life of God.

    “Substitutionary — Christ has done something for me that I could not do for myself. He has died in my place. He was my substitute.

    My observation: Yes, Christ has done for me what I could not do for myself: He offered Himself in perfect sinless obedience to the Father and willingly entered into death in complete solidarity with sinners (2 Corinthians 5:21). His obedience was indeed a substitute for my disobedience (Romans 5:18-19), but His death was not a substitute for, but rather a sharing in my death on my behalf, that I might in turn share in His life given as a free gift (Hebrews 2:14-15). As Father Stephen has pointed out, I will still die physically, and in my baptism I also die with Christ to sin. In fact, my salvation is as much contingent upon my taking up my own cross and following Christ and being baptized into His death and resurrection (i.e., my own voluntary repentance empowered by Christ), as it is upon His incarnation for my sake. I may face the second death if I refuse God’s offer of redemption, but Jesus never did and never will face the punishment of the second death. What I also could not do for myself is bring myself back to life. Christ has done that for all.

    “Penal — Christ takes onto himself the penalty that should have come upon me. He died my death. God set him forth as a propitiation for sin. Or as John Stott puts it, God propitiates himself in the death of his Son.”

    Christ freely takes upon Himself the penalty to which I am made subject as the result of sin. I will still die, but now I will not die alone without hope and without God. Because of the whole economy of salvation in Christ, the presence of God now also fills Sheol (Psalm 139) even as it does the whole earth and the heavens. Christ did not take upon Himself the punishment of the second death. That comes only to those who refuse God’s offer of forgiveness and salvation. God set Jesus forth as the “mercy seat”–the place of reconciliation between man and God–not because only now can or will God receive man back into His favor, but because only in and through Christ can man see his way back to God. It is man who is once again empowered to move toward God through Christ (expiation). From the Garden on, God has always been taking the initiative to seek out Adam and Even, to come and find His lost sheep.

  118. Jerry, you say that the church fathers taught PSA.

    Is it fair to ask, then, when did the Orthodox abandon it? Who rediscovered the lost PSA doctrine? When?

    If you care about continuity of the church that Christ vowed to protect these questions will not be peripheral, they will be central. Or, if you’d rather care about history as facts the answers should not be difficult to relate.

  119. Jerry, you say proof texting is taking Scripture out of context and you are not doing that. That is the crux if this whole long discussion. You have your own context. It is a context the the Orthodox Church has never known and is entirely foreign.

    You can push your context all you want but it is not ours and never will be.

    So unless you are willing to step outside your man made tradition and experience the ongoing life if the Church you will never begin to understand.

    Have you ever attended even one Orthodox service? If you are really interested in knowing how we approach our Lord and His freely given gift of life, attending several services is a must. At least a mini-cycle of Vespers, Matins and the Divine Liturgy.

    Better yet would be making an effort to attend Holy Week.

  120. Jerry,
    You completely presume a flat, moralistic, unnuanced meaning to everything. Your treatment of the encounter in Luke simply has no spiritual discernment whatsoever. And it’s typical of Reform treatments.

    You are very clever with the Festus thing, so you get points in the Reform gameshow. Again, you presume the most literalistic, moralistic treament of the OT by Paul. Perhaps there was something so puzzling in St. Paul’s treatment of the OT that it made Festus think he was mad. I think we have said enough.

  121. Hi Karen,

    Thank you very much for this response; it is certainly one of the more careful and responsible ones posted so far. Here are a few thoughts in reply. First, let me just note that the presentation by Robin Collins, in my opinion, has numerous problems, not least among them his very poor use of the prodigal son story. I have already written about this here:

    But now on to your responses to the substance my basic definition of PSA

    (1) I have no problem with anything you have here with regard to “atonement.” Again, as I have mentioned before, the atonement Christ accomplished for us is a multi-faceted one. And PSA very well takes its place, either in simple parallel with, or, in my opinion, a hierarchical and logical order with, many other concepts of the atonement, such as Christus Victor, reconciliation, purchase, redemption, healing, justification, sanctification, union, etc.

    (2) With regard to “substitution,” I think you make some valid points, but I still think you fall short of really landing on a proper conception of what substitution entails. Rather, Christ obeys in my place, and he dies in my place. Yes, on one level Christ comes alongside us in our suffering and suffers with us. This is solidarity, and perhaps even representation. But this is not substitution. My own suffering, my own death as a penalty for my sin, does not constitute an atonement for sin, nor does it exhaust the punishment due me for my sin, as there is still a hell, a second death, beyond this life. Yes, we do still die. And this simply accords with the idea which is prevalent in the OT sacrificial system, as well as in the NT, that the substitution does not entirely do away with the penalty, but rather mitigates it. All the OT Israelites who brought God-ordained sacrifices for their sins, still ended up dying. Christ, in the NT, dies my death, and in doing so substitutes for me so that I am rescued from eternal death. His death atones; mine does not. You are certainly correct that we die with him (Rom 6:5-14; Gal 2:19-21); but my dying with Christ is not the same as what accomplished in his giving himself for me. With regard to the idea of substitution, note in particular the recent book by Simon Gathercole, Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul (Baker, 2015).

    (3) On the third point, “penal,” I am happy that you recognized that Christ did indeed take this penalty upon himself. What is also important to recognize is that this penalty is one which God decreed and put in place. And that is what Chrysostom means when he says that “He [Christ] himself took on the punishment that was due to us from the Father.” There is debate about whether hilasterion in Rom 3:25 should be translated as “place of propitiation” or sacrifice of propitiation.” I feel that the linguistic and historical arguments for “sacrifice” are stronger than for “place.” Regardless, Paul still notes that this propitiation takes place by the shedding of his blood” (which also provides an argument for “sacrifice” rather than “place”).

    Again, thank you. Blessings.

  122. Jerry, there is no need to see “penalty” as something external to sin itself and imposed from the outside by God, as if there might be no punishment had God not decreed it even though we were in sin. Sin, by biblical definition as alienation from the life and love of God for whom we were made, is its own punishment. Love is its own reward. The Orthodox reading of this is simply more coherent with the whole of the Scriptural account of our salvation in Christ and the nature of Self-giving love as Fr.mStepgen has said. I’m truly sorry you can’t see that because I’m here to stand as a witness that for some of us embracing the full Orthodox truth of the matter has been salvation from madness, quite literally.

  123. Karen, I appreciate the attempt, but your understanding of penalty as not coming from God is simply terribly inconsistent with the ubiquitous teaching of Scripture. And, no, what you have supplied is not the biblical definition of sin. There are indeed places where sin is talked about as being its own penalty. But these instances are very isolated, and the larger teaching of Scripture is that God is very active in punishing sin and iniquity. If God does not actively punish sin, then you really end up with a deistic and uncaring God, a God who is neither just nor loving. And there’s absolutely no need to feel sorry for me. I am only one of tens of millions of Christians across this world who rejoice in what Christ has done to rescue sinful human beings, and who revel in the great love of God as displayed in his penal substitutionary death on the cross.

    In Christ alone, who took on flesh,
    Fullness of God in helpless babe!
    This gift of love and righteousness,
    Scorned by the ones He came to save:
    Till on that cross as Jesus died,
    The wrath of God was satisfied –
    For ev’ry sin on Him was laid;
    Here in the death of Christ I live.

  124. Dear to God Jerry;

    I dont know how many times different Orthodox Christians can tell you the same thing. Fr Stephen has two articles after this one that address aspects of the problem you are having here.
    Have you read them? The second on St Athanasius’s use of ostensively legal concepts and terminology is especially pertinent. I suspect you could continue the conversation there more profitably.
    I have also noticed your silence on St. Isaac the Syrian’s explicit rejection of any strictly retributive interpretation of God’s punishments. You do realize how looming a Father he is in our Tradition? There is simply no way that we could import PSA without running contrary to the very interpretive framework of our God-bearing elders, those who know the Truth intimately because they purified their hearts and He dwelt there and communed with them.
    Also Fr Stephen has pointed out that the massive liturgical inheritance we pray within, simply lacks the juridical framework that PSA assumes.
    So we have the same scriptures as you (as for example the gnostics had), but we have a whole other interpretive framework that gives us radically different readings. Thus quoting the scriptures to prove juridical paradigm as you have repeatedly done simply cant work. Again, read the two articles that follow this one to see the reasons.

    Now, you have noticed that on a few occasions Orthodox here have expressed sadness at your apparent inability to appreciate our Orthodox heritage in this. The reason for this is that we have a very different relationship with God dont we? If God *is* retributive in his justice, and does punish just because of a past offense and not to effect a future good, then He is a very different God than the one we know in the Orthodox Church.
    And our God is one to be adored; He is kind to the righteous and the wicked alike- and so I need not fear the shameful truth that I am one of the wicked. He is always intending only good toward us always, and nothing we do can ever change his regard for us. What a beautiful God- how could I exchange His love for an uglier image? We are all so deeply in love with this God that we come to know in the Orthodox Church, that we truly feel sorrow when someone such as yourself will not accept so beautiful a gospel.

    Jerry, you have demonstrated to us and to yourself that you have a completely plausible, internally consistent interpretive framework for the scriptures and the Fathers that can take anything we give and understand it in the light juridical concepts, of PSA, and of a retributive framework.
    Yet, we have a whole unbroken Tradition that has read all the same scriptures, Fathers, etc., and we do not share your interpretations. They aren’t in our intuition nor are they in our formal teachings.
    So where do we go from here?
    This is where some have referenced the place of the heart. Not as an affective faculty, but the deep heart, the seat of the mind: the nous; the inner temple where the conscience speaks and where we commune with the God who loves us, intimately, in silence and without anyone else there. It is this vessel that Orthodox Tradition works to shape and ready and purify for a right vision of God. We fast, pray, give alms, attend services, practice the virtues, all to prepare our hearts for a visitation from the Lord. To receive the grace to see rightly, from a posture of humility and with contrition.
    In short, I am suggesting that what you are missing in your interpretation is a *broken heart*. You have a finely-tuned mind, and a gracious and kind demeanor here, and a well-informed bank of knowledge, and much wisdom. But I do not hear the voice of a man who weeps for sinners, who weeps for the damned.
    This is what is missing.
    I implore you, as futile as it may be for my one more Orthodox voice saying the same thing: work on your heart. We have a gift in our Tradition that calls us to attend to our hearts first and foremost- to place ourselves as worst of sinners. It is essential to discerning between your interpretive framework and that which we know in Orthodoxy:
    Work to empathize with sinners who will suffer the punishment you believe is their ‘just reward’. Soften your heart to them, break your heart down and make room for the unrepentant and unbelieving, genuinely weep for the lost. Then, come back and re-read all of this. Perhaps you will see something new.

    here is the Orthodox heart:

    What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns with without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.

    Here is the Orthodox mind:

    “It was particularly characteristic of Staretz Silouan to pray for the dead suffering in the hell of separation from God… He could not bear to think that anyone would languish in ‘outer darkness’. I remember a conversation between him and a certain hermit, who declared with evident satisfaction, ‘God will punish all atheists. They will burn in everlasting fire.’ Obviously upset, the Staretz said, ‘Tell me, supposing you went to paradise, and there looked down and saw somebody burning in hell-fire– would you feel happy?’ ‘It can’t be helped. It would be their own fault,’ said the hermit. The Staretz answered him with a sorrowful countenance. ‘Love could not bear that,’ he said. ‘We must pray for all.'”

    Love in Christ;
    -Mark Basil

  125. Hi MichaelPatrick,

    Chrysostom: “And this is also what Christ did. God was angry with us, for we were turning away from God, our human-loving Master. Christ, by putting himself in the middle, exchanged and reconciled each nature to the other. And how did he put himself in the middle? He himself took on the punishment that was due to us from the Father and endured both the punishment from there and the reproaches from here. Do you want to know how he welcomed each? Christ, Paul says, “redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.” You have seen how he received from on high the punishment that had to be borne!”

    I don’t know when this was abandoned by the Orthodox. Among others, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin helped to recover it.


  126. Hi Michael Bauman,

    I am not pushing my context. I am pushing the context of Scripture.

    I know Orthodox services are very beautiful and meaningful. Beautiful, however, does not trump scriptural. We are not saved by aesthetics, but by the cross of Jesus Christ.


  127. Hi James Isaac,

    I am very sorry for you that your experience caused you so much angst. But that has not been my experience, nor the experience of tens of millions of like-minded Christians. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). To believe in this God is not blasphemy.


  128. Fr. Freeman,

    Thank you for kudos on the cleverness. 🙂

    But I do wish you would refrain from the ad hominem. You don’t know enough about to me to characterize my understanding of Scripture as flat, moralistic, or literalistic. In actuality, it is anything but.

    Thanks, and Blessings.

  129. Hi Mark Basil,

    Thank you very much for your very eloquent and impassioned post. There is far too much there for me to reply to. So please accept this reply to just one of your points.

    You referred to Isaac the Syrian and that passage of his that Dino cited to me in one of his posts. You then said, “So we have the same scriptures as you (as for example the gnostics had), but we have a whole other interpretive framework that gives us radically different readings.” But this is not actually correct. The problem is not that we have different interpretive frameworks; the problem is that this citation from Isaac is not really interpretive of Scripture at all. It doesn’t even pretend to be interpreting Scripture; it is simply a free-floating essay, untethered to anything in the actual biblical text. Indeed, this essay has more in common with Gnosticism than it does with the church fathers, the regula fidei, or the biblical text. God chose to speak to us in language, and it not an act of love toward God to ignore the words in which he spoke. I deeply appreciate the Orthodox heritage, but part of that heritage has been left behind. The Reformers’ watchword, ad fontes, back to the sources–that is, the Scripture, the regula fidei, and the teachings of the early church fathers–was their guiding light. So, again, the problem is not different interpretive frameworks, the problem is interpretation versus the abandonment of interpretation.

    Thanks again, Mark. Blessings.

  130. Jerry,

    A Chrysostom homily says your PSA variant, as yet undefined, is more orthodox than Orthodox? I have nothing to say to a teacher who can’t pray with the church.

    Understand that, if you don’t know when the church abandoned PSA and you’re certain Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin helped recover it, you’re effectively trying to bridge the great schism. That means you’re in way over your head.

    I’ll keep praying and singing with the church.

  131. Jerry,

    Mark Basil is right, the right context is everything. And the right context is a broken heart. Only with a broken heart can someone become illuminated and have the meaning of the Scriptures open up to them. I’m not illuminated (I’m sure you’ve gathered that already, lol). I’m much too often a “Mrs. Elect,” with a decidedly un-broken heart. But I’ve seen a light in St. Silouan, as well as other Saints, and in coming to know the Orthodox Church in an intimate way, and they call out to me. Ive learned of their broken heart, and how it makes them one with Christ, and it calls out to me. I can’t explain it. I trust them to be my faithful guide to understanding the Scriptures and the Church Fathers. This is why I can reject the notion of God’s Justice being satisfied by taking vengeance upon sinners. Love cannot bear that.

    I have a brother who is a Baptist and shares many of the same beliefs as you. He has a son named Seth, who is almost thirteen now. When Seth was five years old his mother left him. She moved to a different state and hasn’t spoken to him since. I know her very well, and I know that she did not want her child. She left because she hated my brother, and did not want Seth. He was five years old and knew she did not want him. He was abused by her, and he knew exactly why she left. But, to this day, he still loves her. He has a beautiful heart. Someday, probably soon, he will start to realize what the Baptists believe. He will learn that if his abusive mother dies without faith in Christ, God’s Just hand will eternally smite her with a vengeance more terrible than any punishment known on earth. And his heart will break. Because he loves his mom. He will then leave the Baptist faith, or, quite probably, leave Christianity altogether. And his broken heart that rejects God’s vengeful hand being laid upon the mother he loves so dearly will make him like Christ, and he will be saved.

  132. Thanks, Michelle. Actually, Mark and I have dialogued a bit off site; he seems to be a very fine fellow, and I am looking forward to more engagement with him.

    Now as for the necessity of having a broken heart, maybe I can give you my version of that. Here’s a FB post of mine from about a year ago. It deals with John Newton, the slave trader turned preacher, and author of Amazing Grace. This is a broken heart.

    I remember as a young boy—I’m not sure if I was in my teens yet—remarking in church one time, that if a person was to envision Christ hanging on the cross, and come to the realization that Christ died for them, paying the penalty for their sins and dying the death they should have died, it would be impossible for that person not to come to faith in Christ. Christ’s love would conquer them. I didn’t realize it at the time; but what I was really doing was articulating the doctrine of irresistible grace.

    There are those who argue that the doctrine of substitutionary atonement presents us with a picture of a pagan, “Monster God,” unworthy of being worshipped, and a god whom no one could love. However, the testimony of saints for nearly two millennia has been very different. They have argued, rather, that it is this vision of God, this vision of the cross, and this understanding of what Christ was doing on the cross, which has conquered them. It has melted their hearts, broken down their resistance, and caused them to glory in God and in all his excellencies. It has caused them to love the God who first loved them, and to devote their entire lives to his service and his pleasure.

    Some time after I made that statement, I came across one of John Newton’s lesser known hymns, “I Saw One Hanging on the Tree,” a hymn which says what I said in that statement; but articulates it better by far. The hymn, in my opinion, was unfortunately married to a tune that did not capture the drama of the lyrics (my apologies to all those who like that tune). I believe a better musical setting for the hymn has been provided by Bob Kauflin (with some alteration of the lyrics, as well as with an added refrain; see link below). The lyrics for Kauflin’s version are in the PowerPoint; but I also provide for you here the lyrics as originally given in the Olney Hymns. Notice that the original version has a verse which precedes what is usually given as verse one in most hymnals, and that the song was entitled in the Olney Hymns as “Looking at the Cross.”

    Looking at the Cross

    In evil long I took delight,
    Unawed by shame or fear;
    Till a new object struck my sight,
    And stopped my wild career.

    I saw one hanging on a tree,
    In agonies and blood.
    Who fixed his languid eyes on me,
    As near his cross I stood.

    Sure, never till my latest breath,
    Can I forget that look;
    It seemed to charge me with his death,
    Though not a word he spoke.

    My conscience felt, and owned the guilt,
    And plunged me in despair;
    I saw my sins his blood had spilt,
    And helped to nail him there.

    Alas! I knew not what I did,
    But now my tears are vain!
    Where shall my trembling soul be hid?
    For I the Lord have slain.

    A second look he gave, which said,
    “I freely all forgive;
    This blood is for thy ransom paid,
    I die, that thou may’st live.”

    Thus, while his death my sin displays,
    In all its blackest hue;
    Such is the mystery of grace,
    It seals my pardon too.

    With pleasing grief and mournful joy,
    My spirit now is filled;
    That I should such a life destroy,
    Yet live by him I killed.

  133. Jerry, I understand your perception here (stated in your July 12, 7:18 pm comment to me). It was very much mine for most of my adult life (25+ years). I, too, rejoiced that Christ took my place and my punishment. Who could not be grateful for that? Two of my favorite hymns were “And Can It Be” and “It is Well with My Soul”. I love the hymn you cite, too, except for the unbiblical language that the wrath of God was “satisfied” (the language of “satisfaction” not being in the Scriptures, but rather in Anselm’s theory). Frederica Mathewes-Green has a good reflection on the meaning of Christ’s suffering from an Orthodox perspective here:

    I certainly understand God’s “punishment” (chastisement) for sin in the Scriptures to be active (inasmuch as God is dynamic and living), but not reactive and not *external* to sin itself and also not strictly-speaking retributive in the sense of an end in itself (notwithstanding the OT’s anthropomorphic language)–its purpose is always with a view to the correction and redemption of sinners (Hebrews 12). This is the nature of love. It seems to me God’s “love,” “mercy” and “righteousness/justice” are not, when all is said and done, different attributes of God, but different words for the same single Divine Will and Nature as this is expressed in creation and redemption. The Apostle John sums up this Divine Nature in 1 John 4:8. I also believe we must look at what Christ actually did and said in the Gospels to understand properly what that business about God’s actively “hardening hearts” and punishing the wicked and so forth in this OT means in its full context (which is the Scriptures as a whole, where Christ and the Gospels are central and the proper context for understanding all the rest).

    With regard to the Parable of the Prodigal Son, I find Dr. Collins’ use of it quite appropriate inasmuch as my understanding is there are Orthodox Fathers of the Church who taught this parable *alone* was sufficient to explain the whole nature of the gospel! (I’m sorry I don’t now remember where I read that.) Apparently, there is a deeper meaning still to this parable than Christ’s rebuke of the Pharisees for their devaluation of repenting “tax-gatherers” and “sinners,” though that is certainly there. As Fr. Stephen has pointed out the Reformed mindset is to take the flat, literal surface content of the narratives of Scripture and fail to dig much deeper than the surface moral lesson in its own immediate context to its wider and deeper spiritual ramifications and application in light of the full revelation of God given us in the whole economy of Christ’s Incarnation. As I understand this, the Fathers, while certainly not ignoring or denying the literal meaning of such passages in their own immediate context, and like the Apostles before them, looked beyond that immediate meaning and saw something deeper illumined in the full Light of Christ and His Pascha. In the case of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, as I have said this “look beyond” made them claim this parable *alone* was sufficient to explain the whole gospel. For, surely it doesn’t just serve as a correction of the Pharisees, but also as a clear revelation of the very heart and motivation of God, the Father, in His dealings with His erring children, of the meaning and nature of sin and repentance, and the meaning and nature of salvation itself! The Fathers obviously had a more full-orbed take on this parable than you.

    I will venture to suggest from an Orthodox perspective, there isn’t a real difference between the “what” of God’s forgiveness and the “how.” Rather, the “what” and the “how” can only be properly understood in a real concrete experiential encounter with the “Who” of God though Christ in His Church. Who God is, fully revealed only in the face of Christ, explains it all (John 1:18).

  134. Jerry,
    the “consistent, ubiquitous scriptural basis” you allude to is the reason for the existence of more than twenty thousand different protestant strands…
    from Chrysostom and other clearly paraenetic [rather than theological] sermons to ‘Sola Scriptura’-style scriptural argumentation, defending the ‘religion’ of PSA, will not make it any less of just a human rational construct. But when Christ opens the Scriptures to his disciples, when the Spirit illumines one’s understanding, It first rebukes their hardened, human, juridical understanding and says, ‘Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.’

  135. Mr. Sheppard, you assume an impossibility that the Scripture forms the Church not the other way around. Your predecessors abandoned that living entity through which the Scriptures were delivered by the Holy Spirit and by which they were formed.

    The One, Holy and Catholic Church was the first fruit of the Holy Spirit from which came our worship, practice, the Epistles and the Gospels which are written records of the life of the Church which existed first as oral teaching handed down from the Apostles.

    Western Christians have ripped the Scripture from the body to which it belongs. It still has life because we still exist by the grace of the Holy Spirit fulfilling the promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against what God formed.

    Your are obviously a thoughtful and kind person but the assumptions on which your approach is founded are incorrect. They lead to bad teaching about the nature of God and our inter-relationship with Him.

    I was never a member of a Reformed congregation but I was subjected to a lot of bad teaching and taught heresy as truth(God is merciful). It took me a long time to recover. Indeed I still have to double check on some things and I have been in the Church 30 years.

    Bad teaching warps the soul of those who dispense it and those who hear it. You deserve better.

    May God grant you grace.

  136. Jerry,
    indeed you deserve far better…
    The Atonement of Jesus Christ has a very pertinent explanation by a Texan convert, Timothy Copple, which I particularly think addresses the issues you touch upon.

    The Orthodox, original understanding of atonement is that God’s goal in our redemption is the restoration of oneness with God, His energies enlivening us and annulling the inevitable corollary (i.e.: the consequences of corruption and death) that follows the severing of our union [i.e.: sin, brought about through the evil counsel of our adversary] with our Creator and Life-giver. We are made captive to death by Satan through sin, and in Christ, the utterly sinless One, it is this death that is being defeated and transformed and transcended, Satan’s bonds broken. We are not in bondage to God and do not owe Him something, as in Western theories of atonement, which, by placing God as the one who is unwilling to forgive us our debt, make Him the one to whom we are in bondage unto death by, and not Satan. Yet the Fathers explain clearly that it was necessary that the debt owed by all [in our contingent-upon-our-Creator nature’s “createdness”], namely, that all should die when separated from God, came from Satan and not from God “This bond then the devil held in his possession. And Christ did not give it to us, but Himself tore it in two, the action of one who remits joyfully.” (St. John Chrysostom, 6th homily on Colossians)
    However, in Western traditions which attempt to explain this restoration and atonement [at – one – ment] of Christ’s Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension for us, outside of the ontological understanding, the problem becomes not a lack of union with God that is being fixed, but something that God needs to extract from us which we don’t have and so all we have left to give is our lives, to die. It’s as if instead of being in death because of losing the oneness with our Creator, we are in death because we have a need to pay God the Father back. The goal of atonement makes a big difference in the understanding of how Jesus Christ brought this about.
    This has been described with several different analogies by the Fathers. Taken together, they can give us a complete picture. The problem has arisen because some have taken one analogy and attempted to make that describe the whole of atonement. However, because it can only point to certain truths about the atonement, any attempt to do this will inevitably result in false conclusions both about God and what needed to be fixed for us to be saved.
    This is essentially what Anselm did, who is known as the father of the ‘satisfaction’ understanding of the atonement. His goal was to be able to explain to the heathen in a logical fashion why Christ had to die for our sins, without using the Bible or the Fathers. This doesn’t mean he wasn’t trying to stay within them, but because of his methodology he does drift away substantially on some points. It is known as the satisfaction theory because it indicates a need to satisfy a lack that keeps us from salvation.

    Essentially, he took the concept of debt that we owe to God and made that into the whole of the atonement. We do see the debt understanding even in the Bible, as the servant who owed his master a lifetime plus of wages. Athanasius speaks of the debt we owe as well, but he does this ontologically and not juridically, not as Anselm ended up using it. [i.e.: that because of sin, we owed God a debt due to our violation of His honour. This honour has to be repaid somehow, due to the nature of God. Man can’t pay it, only God can pay it, so God becomes man to not only pay what His due is to the Father through perfect obedience, but goes beyond that to give what He didn’t have to give, His life. Since He didn’t need this merit, we can obtain that merit for paying our debt to God off. The sacraments then become a means of distributing these merits, as well as other good works. This is basically the Roman Catholic understanding.]

    One of a few key changes in Anselm’s view that makes a major shift from the view of the Early Church, (i.e.: that what is being atoned for was the broken relationship with God, the Lack of His life giving energies, lack of a union with God), is that there exists a debt of broken honour with God, that is the problem to solve and fix. The whole goal of Christ’s death and resurrection has moved from redeeming us from death and Satan by defeating Him, to paying back God for the honour due Him that we cannot pay ourselves. This was arrived at by deductive logic on Anselm’s part by making what should have been analogical the reality.

    The Reformers modified this a bit, but used the same principles as Anselm, and thus it has the same problems. Instead of using the debt analogy, a juridical analogy replaced it. Instead of a debt of God’s honour, it is breaking God’s Law. Instead of owing a debt, we are guilty of Law breaking. Instead of Christ dying to satisfy God’s honour, He dies to satisfy God’s justice. Instead of salvation being the fulfilling of the debt, it becomes the declaring innocent of the guilty due to Christ taking our punishment.
    Still, God is the one with a problem in that He cannot forgive us outright, but He must punish someone to satisfy His justice. Christ is the only one who can take it and not be defeated by it, and so He becomes man in order to take our place. Salvation is still understood in terms of something other than a relational oneness in Christ; as a clearing of us from a legal problem. It still contradicts the Bible which shows God the Father as forgiving many without needing to punish someone for it. It is still based on premises about salvation and the Father that are not evident in the Early Church or Scriptures.

    Missing from the satisfaction theory are the points we derive from another analogy used by the Fathers and the Scriptures, that of healing. Actually, the Greek word used for salvation (σωτηρία), is the same word translated as heal. Context and theology determines the translation choice. It basically is a word that means wholeness or completeness. For Orthodoxy it indicates the fullness of how we were created. We are sick, and need healing because of the corruption we are subject to. In this picture, there is no owing or guilt directly involved, though it is in the background of how we got here. Rather, there is a healing of our souls going on. The analogy of debt and justice totally miss this whole context which is much frequently used in the Fathers. Even the Eucharist is referred to as the medicine of immortality. That is how we get a complete picture, we need to keep all the ‘analogies’ before us.

    Do you see why Protestants understand things the way they do in relation to salvation, and why Orthodox understanding is different? It is relational with God, not legal or financial in nature. That changes the whole perspective in how we approach salvation. It is not a one-time deal, a declaring not guilty, but a continuing relationship with God. It is not a matter of works or faith, but an ontological obedience to God of love which draws us closer to Him.

  137. I’ve been following this comment thread closely, since it mirrors many of the questions that have troubled me in recent years. I am not yet inside of the Orthodox church, but I am discontent with the standard evangelical/Reformed treatments of the atonement.

    Jerry, you are a clear thinker and a clear communicator. You have given as winsome a presentation of PSA as I think is possible in an internet forum. Your knowledge of the Fathers and the Scriptures is broad–certainly beyond mine. At points as I read your comments, I am almost convinced to stick “appease” and “satisfy” back into my gospel vocabulary.

    And yet… although you have given me good reason to believe that the Scriptures and the Fathers can be excerpted and arranged to support PSA, I remain unconvinced that such a theory *adds anything useful* to the gospel of our Lord. That is to say a Christian faith which lacks PSA lacks absolutely nothing.

    Here’s what I mean: When I first encountered the idea that PSA was not in Scripture, I could have laughed out loud. How could any serious, traditional Christian think such a cornerstone of the faith was not there? Of course it was! And I had all the verses you quote to back me up. But I decided to try something. What if I pretended that I had never heard of PSA. What if I kept everything else I had received but cut out every assumption that Jesus bearing my sin meant Jesus bearing God’s wrath–or that the Father forgiveness depended on Someone being punished? Wouldn’t the whole thing fall apart? Wouldn’t I become some flaccid liberal confused and susceptible to every wind of doctrine? Like Qoheleth I would see what it was like to live in folly for a little bit–my heart still guiding me with wisdom.

    But here’s the thing–a couple days of that thought experiment turned into a couple of weeks turned into a couple of months, and yet I found I still wasn’t missing anything. My love for God and neighbor, my faithfulness to every other part of my tradition, my desire to know and grow in Christ, everything that I could evaluate and judge was completely unaffected by the loss of PSA. (If anything, the effect was only an increase of these things, at least so far as I could determine it.) I was astonished. I didn’t have to skip over any Bible verses. My gratitude for Christ’s sacrificial death lost no fervor. I didn’t become more tolerant of sin in my own life. I didn’t find religious progressivism any more enticing than before. In the body of my spiritual thought and practice, PSA was a useless tumor pretending to be an essential organ. Maybe I’ll someday realize something good that I lost when I surrendered PSA, but as time moves along it seems less and less likely.

    I doubt that any theological arguments will move you. But I wonder if you wouldn’t be willing to try my experiment for yourself. See if the theological world or your relationship with Christ comes crashing down without PSA. You might be pleasantly surprised! (Though there are no guarantees on your relationship with friends and family who still hold fervently to PSA…)

  138. Dino, would you say that our understanding was summed up in the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor especially the verse: “As he prayed he was changed…”

  139. Michael,
    Inasmuch as Christ as Man transfigured shows us the deification of human nature on Mt. Tabor, inasmuch as He offers each person the capability to be deified –transfigured in prayer – despite being created from nothing, perhaps we can claim that our understanding can be summed up there indeed. As Athanasius reminds us, the solidarity of mankind is such that, by virtue of the Christ the Word’s indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all. He uses the image of some great king who enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honoured, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it.

  140. Jerry,

    I appreciate your explanation of a broken heart. What I hear you saying is that if my nephew, Seth, were to realize the gravity of his sins, knowing them to be the true cause of Christ’s unjust death upon the Cross, then he would accept his punishments as a Just reward willingly with a broken heart over his sins. And this broken heart will, in fact, rejoice, not only at the Justness of the punishments he is faced with, but at the mercy that Christ is bestowing upon him by trading places with Him and enduring what he deserves in his stead.

    What I also hear you saying is that since Seth will fall in love with the beauty of the Justness of God, which is unending vengeance upon sinners, he will actually rejoice in that, if Christ had not taken his stead, this beautiful Just vengeance would have befallen him too. And for this same reason Seth will even rejoice in the beauty of God’s Just vengeance upon his own mother for eternity, enduring terrible punishments beyond anything known on this earth, should she be found without faith, and Christ passes her by, not taking her stead upon the Cross.

    And this is actually what my brother teaches his son about the Father and Christ’s relationship towards the mother his little heart burns for. My brother tries to cultivate in his son’s heart a belief that he will possess a righteous love of vengeance against the unrepentant in the eschaton, quite possible including vengeance upon his mother. While at the same time teaching him to love Christ for freeing him from the same fate as these sinners. He teaches him that if he has faith in what Christ has done for him, then in the eschaton he will forever rejoice over God’s mercy to him, a sinner. And, likewise, if his mother never comes to believe in Christ sacrifice for her, then he will forever rejoice in God’s Just vengeance upon her, a sinner.

    Indeed, it is a cruel trick of Satan’s; to convince a father to contort his own little boy’s heart, who burns so desperately in love with his unworthy mother, into accepting rejoicing over her unending suffering at the hands of God, due to her deadness to the love of God, as a result of her own self-love. While at the same time rejoicing in his own unending joy, because of God’s mercy upon him while he was yet deserving hell, due to his deadness to the love of God, as a result of his own self-love.

    Would it really be a wonder if Seth should condemn the teaching of his father, abandoning this vision of God, happily trading Christ for his mother? He will not risk losing the only piece of her he has left, which is his love for her. And in sacrificing this false Christ for his mother, he will both gain his mother, and along with her the True Christ of the Scriptures.

  141. TimOfTheNorth, thanks for that comment about your own experiment. What a story and well said!

  142. Dino, several problems here.

    (1) If something is ubiquitous in Scritpure, it has to be dealt with. How many times does God have to say something before he gets someone’s attention.

    (2) You put the number of Protestant strands at 20,000. Someone else on this thread put the number at 40,000. Neither number is near the truth. Reliable reference sources put the Protestant number at about 9,000, and even then these are not always separate denominations but simply regionally and geographically differentiated associations. And by the way, There are apparently about 1,000 Orthodox denominations! And none of these denominations are divided over doctrines that are ubiquitous in Scripture.

    (3) Again, the way you are handling the texts from Chrysostom is a case of special pleading. Chrysostom was being parenetic, so he wasn’t being theological? Really? If I were Chrysostom I would be quite offended at this suggestion. Pastors have the responsibility to make sure that their sermons are theologically correct. I seriously doubt that Chrysostom shirked this responsibility.

    (4) PSA is not a man-made rational construct; rather it is God-given doctrine to his church.

    (5) Christ did not come to get rid of the juridical. He came to fulfill it and to reinforce it.


  143. Jerry,
    As Father rightly suggested it looks that after once and twice and thrice, it’s time we finally put this to one side. May God bless you in all, now and always.

  144. Dino, thank you, thank you, thank you for your most recent comment. Your last paragraph in particular was pure gold and was extremely helpful!

  145. Alan,

    I second your comment wholeheartedly!
    (I happen to think ALL Dino’s comments are pure gold! :-))

    I wanted to share with you this great interview on AFR, where Dr. Carlton compares Salvation to a diamond…. (you could say it is “pure diamond” :-))

    I will also include this article that references Dr. Carlton’s books (all very excellent):

    (hopefully Fr. Stephen will allow just one more comment here…)

  146. Alan,
    I am not sure whether you meant the earlier bit [the long comment] about the ontological obedience to our God out of Love, or St Athanasius’ words on the image of the great king who enters a large city by dwelling in one of its houses, the whole city is honoured, and enemies and robbers cease [response to Michael], or simply the last one to Jerry: that it’s time we finally put this whole thread to one side! 🙂

  147. Dino, my apologies. I failed to correctly navigate those notices at the bottom of the comments that say “newer comments” or “older comments.” Sorry about that. I was referring to the paragraph below from you, that I included. Thanks again!

    “Do you see why Protestants understand things the way they do in relation to salvation, and why Orthodox understanding is different? It is relational with God, not legal or financial in nature. That changes the whole perspective in how we approach salvation. It is not a one-time deal, a declaring not guilty, but a continuing relationship with God. It is not a matter of works or faith, but an ontological obedience to God of love which draws us closer to Him.”

  148. If Father allows . . .

    Jerry, just for the record, I didn’t see Fr. Stephen’s comment about the tendency toward a flat, moralistic literalism in the way Reformed expositors tend to expound Scripture as an ad hominem, but rather accurately descriptive of a tendency of the modern Reformed m.o. in Bible exposition and teaching that he also saw at work behind the conclusions you presented in your general approach to explaining the Scriptures here. The way you expounded and read (i.e., limited the meaning of) the Parable of the Prodigal Son in your written critique of Dr. Collins work apparently without also seeing in it a powerful illustration of the whole nature of the gospel as the Church Fathers did is a case in point. This is not to say you might not make some pastoral applications or connections to the gospel (as you understand that) from your expositions, but that is not what seems to be what is considered the most important aspect of Reformed preaching and teaching, which rather seems to be to get across what is deemed a proper understanding of the straightforward literal meaning and moral application of a Scriptural text in its own context.

    Would it be fair to say that the ideal preaching/teaching method from a Reformed standpoint is verse-by-verse exposition of a passage of Scripture in its own immediate context? Within the last couple years, I did read a Reformed preacher’s blog who was making a plea this was the case and lamenting so many Reformed preachers were straying from that long-standing Reformed tradition in more recent times under pressure from the popularity of other approaches within the wider Evangelical world.

    I hope it will be clear I’m not saying there is no value whatsoever in such an approach. I’ve learned a lot in that context that set the stage for better assimilation of many parts of the Scriptures’ teaching. But here’s what intrigues me (correct me if I’m missing something here), as far as I can recall, though I understand passages of Scripture were routinely read and discussed as part of the Jewish synagogue services (as in Luke 4, for example) as they are in some of the older Christian liturgical traditions to this day, this verse-by-verse expository method of teaching the meaning of such passages is conspicuous by its absence in the examples of the preaching and teaching we have of Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles in the Scriptures themselves. Why do you think that is? Feel free to answer my question under a more recent, shorter thread if you like.

    Thank you, too, for your interaction here. You are a true Reformed Christian gentleman, and it’s always a pleasure to “meet” such. 🙂 (There are other kinds in Christian blogdom–Orthodox included–and it’s not always such a civil and kind–if, at points, also very frank–exchange as we’ve been able to have here.)

  149. Hi Karen. Excellent questions. I’ll let Fr. Freeman decide as to whether he’ll allow any more discussion this.

    Also, thank you for your kind comments. They are much appreciated. Blessings.

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