29 April 2008

Substitutionary atonement and Proverbs (part 1 of 2)

by Dan Phillips

Sail carefully
In approaching the Old Testament believingly, two extremes must be avoided.

Off to the left looms the Scylla of atomization. Each part of the Bible is treated as a standalone, an historical artifact written virtually without reference to any other part. If the human author is allowed some awareness of previous revelation, no greater purpose — no metanarrative — is seen as useful (let alone determinative) in interpretation.

The problem with this approach is that it, in effect, rejects the Bible's self-description as a unified and organic revelation, in which the parts are best understood when set within the whole (e.g. Matthew 22:29; Mark 12:24; Luke 24:44-48; John 7:42; 20:9; 1 Timothy 5:18; Hebrews 1:1-2, etc.).

The unity of the Bible is not only a significant fact for doctrine, but for interpretation as well.

Equally, off to the right is the jutting Charybdis of a false Christianization of the Old Testament.
Note: I am not saying that reading the Bible as a Christian book is false. Indeed, I think it false to read it any other way (though what I mean by that would require expansion beyond the purpose of this post). However, the ultimacy of Christ does not cancel out the relevance of each chapter of revelation within and to its own context.
We commit this error when we neglect the fact that the God who finally spoke "to us by his Son" had previously spoken "to our fathers by the prophets" (Hebrews 1:1-2). We effectively deny this fact if we take, as our primary interpretation of any passage, a meaning that the passage could not possibly have had either to the writer nor the readers. If God spoke hopelessly over the heads of both His prophets and His hearers/readers, you couldn't say that He spoke "to our fathers," and you couldn't call what He did "communication." It doesn't honor God to depict Him as, in effect, running the ultimate shell-game.

Having said that: the approach that is (I think) truest to the whole picture of revelation must suggest meanings that would make sense to the original writers/readers, and relate to the ultimate Big Picture that lay in the mind of God.

As an illustration, let's take the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement as it relates to the book of Proverbs.

"This should be interesting," some of you will doubtless say, "— since there is no doctrine of substitutionary atonement in Proverbs!" At one point, that would also have been pretty much the entirety of my own reaction.

I'd certainty agree that no one could build an entire doctrine of the atonement from Proverbs. But I'd also hasten to insist that no one should build an entire doctrine of the atonement from any single book of the Bible, including Romans and Galatians.

However, I do think that Proverbs contains at least two signposts that, in the context of the whole Canon, point us in the direction of the canonical doctrine of penal, substitutionary atonement.

Let me illustrate, then, by expanding a portion of a sermon I recently preached to the good folks at Calvary Community Church in Louisville, TN.

First signpost: "Yahweh"
The first signpost is broadly missed, or undervalued, for a couple of reasons.

First, nobody's helped by the stupid translators' trick of hiding "Yahweh" behind "LORD" and "GOD." We are so overdue for some head of a translation committee to look his fellow-scholars in the eye and say, "Brothers... why do we even do this anymore? We all know it's wrong, none of us can really make sense out of it. The more that people know, the lamer the 'explanations' in our forwards are sounding — so seriously, let's ditch that whole embarrassing LORD / Lord GOD thing, and let the text say 'Yahweh.'" And then everyone else on the committee needs to vote a hearty "Aye," stop baffling generations of Bible-readers, and start making up for lost time.

If this issue doesn't resonate with you, then try this: imagine that every occurrence of "Jesus" in the NT were replaced with "the Teacher" or "the Lord," because some group of unbelievers has a superstition about even saying His name. Maybe then the point will begin to stand out more starkly to you.

Second, because of this, too few reflect sufficiently on the significance of the fact that the living God of the Bible has a personal name, and that this means something. All sorts of religions talk about at least one "lord" and/or "god," so we don't stop to think when we see "LORD" in the text.

But we really should. Especially we plenary, verbal inspiration-types.

Actually, Proverbs is rather remarkable in this regard. Proverbs is different from much of the Old Testament in terms of the mode of revelation. Here we don't see oracles of Yahweh, or "thus says Yahweh," as in other books. Instead, this kind of "wisdom" literature is seen in other contemporary (and older) cultures, and the sage's laboratory is the world of observation and reflection.

We see this in Proverbs 24:30-34 —
I passed by the field of a sluggard,
by the vineyard of a man lacking sense,
31 and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns;
the ground was covered with nettles,
and its stone wall was broken down.
32 Then I saw and considered it;
I looked and received instruction.
33 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
34 and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.
Verse 32 might be rendered a bit more literally: “Then I myself gazed, I applied my mind, I saw, I received an education.” The insight of revelation comes not from a vision or a voice, but through observation and reflection.

Now, given the nature of wisdom literature, and given its provenance in the world of nature and society, what name of God might you guess would dominate: the more generic, general-revelation name "God"? Or the very specific, special-revelation, Israelitish name "Yahweh"? I would have guessed the former.

I would have been wrong.

In fact, whereas words translated "God" occur only about eight times in Proverbs, the name "Yahweh" occurs eighty-seven times -- about the same proportion as the (very Yahwistic) book of Deuteronomy (cf. Bruce Waltke, "The Book of Proverbs and Old Testament Theology." Bibliotheca Sacra, 136, No. 544 [1979], p. 305).

"What," you ask, patience finally waning, "does the prevalence of the name 'Yahweh' have to do with substitutionary atonement?"

What kind of God is Yahweh?
I would make the argument that Yahweh is by definition the God of penal, substitutionary atonement. Without repeating works such as Leon Morris' well-nigh epochal The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, the worship of Yahweh prominently featured substitutionary atonement from its very first breaths.

Consider: Adam and Eve sinned, and Yahweh immediately informs them that a Seed of the woman (!) would defeat the serpent through bloody suffering (Genesis 3:15; snake-bit heel = bloody heel); and at least one animal's blood was shed to cover their shame (v. 21; skinned animal = bloody animal). The faith of believing Abel moves him to make blood sacrifice which Yahweh accepts, while He rejects Cain's bloodless (and faithless) sacrifice (closely compare Genesis 4:1-5 with Hebrews 11:4's "more acceptable sacrifice," before too hastily dismissing the bloody element).

When Yahweh formalized His covenant with Abram, what means did He choose? The bloody covenantal formalities of Abram's day (Genesis 15).

Surely no Pyro reader needs me to make the point that Israel's worship of Yahweh was blood-spattered, in a vivid depiction of penal, substitutionary atonement, from start to finish? Yahweh's covenant with Israel is inaugurated with blood (Exodus 24:5-8).

And after a series of commands which Israel is urged to obey (Exodus 20-24), Yahweh immediately begins giving instructions as to what to do in view of the certainty that they will not obey. That is, He directs the construction of the Tabernacle and the institution of the priesthood (Exodus 25ff.). And what is the primary function of the Tabernacle? The worship of Yahweh by the offering of bloody, substitutionary sacrifices (among others; detailed in the book of Leviticus). Thus the writer to the Hebrews could rightly say in 9:22 that "under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins."

In fact, the truth is expressed clearly in the central, clarifying text of Leviticus 17:11 — "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. " That is what "Yahweh spoke to Moses" (17:1).

Accordingly, what is "blood" in these Biblical contexts if not shorthand for penal, substitutionary atonement?

Bringing it to Proverbs
Putting this together: a textually-respectful, whole-Bible reading of Proverbs will see each mention of Yahweh as equivalent to saying "the God of Israel, who can be believingly approached only on the basis of penal, substitutionary atonement."

Therefore, I would argue, just as each use of Jesus by NT writers is theologically "loaded," so it is with uses of Yahweh in the OT. No matter the proverb's subject, this is who Yahweh is: He is the God of penal, substitutionary atonement. It would be legitimate (if stylistically reprehensible) thus to gloss proverbs:
A false balance is an abomination to [Yahweh, the God of penal, substitutionary atonement],
but a just weight is his delight (Proverbs 11:1)

The name of [Yahweh, the God of penal, substitutionary atonement] is a strong tower;
the righteous man runs into it and is safe (Proverbs 18:10)
The purpose of Proverbs is expressly stated to be the acquisition and practical living out of God's viewpoint (Proverbs 1:1-6), so one will not expect a focused doctrinal exposition per se. However, when Proverbs 1:7 says that absolutely everything is based and built on the fear of Yahweh, we now understand that Solomon means the fear of Yahweh, the God who can be approached only through faith and on the basis of penal, substitutionary atonement.

In sum, then: the first signpost is in Solomon's use of God's name "Yahweh." The OT knows of no Yahweh who is not the God approached by faith on the basis of penal, substitutionary atonement.

In the next installment, I plan to examine a verse that directs us towards the atonement in a surprising manner; then to bring both posts together in a concluding statement.

UPDATE: part two.

Dan Phillips's signature

33 comments:

Revivalfire said...

Thanks Dan, this reinforced my morning bible reading this morning in Numbers six which refered to burnt offerings and sin offerings which had to be made for atonement and also Psalm 40 which said 'burnt offerings and sacrifices were not what God desired'... Messianic psalm indicating that the sacrifices were insuficient and what was needed was the suffering of an obedient messiah who would make atonement for us.

Praise Yahweh for the Blood that makes us whole!

KGWiley said...

very powerful, thanks D-N, I mean Dan

Johnny Dialectic said...

Oh man, that's great Bible study, Dan. Thanks for a rich morning devotional.

Hadassah said...

What an excellent post.

We lose a right understanding of Yahweh when we forget the requirement for bloody sacrifice, even though its requirement is clearly spelled out in Scripture. Thanks for highlighting that.

The truth is, though, that the prevalent cultural (mis)understanding of God doesn't much like the idea of bloody sacrifice, does it?

Satan can be subtle.

DJP said...

Doesn't like it much at all, Hadassah. The very point Al Mohler recently made at length at T4G.

VcdeChagn said...

So, you're becoming a Jehovah's Witness? It just goes to show, even THEY have something right.

Seriously, fantastic post. The best part was defining both the line and the relationship between OT and NT. I would love to see a post expanding on it.

I've been spending (and blogging) some time recently debating pro-Catholic evangelicals. Your argument, from Scripture, that the forgiveness of sins requires the shedding of blood has provided another useful angle in the discussion.

Note for Frank: The company I consult with (52,000 users worldwide) is moving to Gimp to save money...

Tom Chantry said...

First, nobody's helped by the stupid translators' trick of hiding "Yahweh" behind "LORD" and "GOD." We are so overdue for some head of a translation committee to look his fellow-scholars in the eye and say, "Brothers... why do we even do this anymore? We all know it's wrong, none of us can really make sense out of it. The more that people know, the lamer the 'explanations' in our forwards are sounding — so seriously, let's ditch that whole embarrassing LORD / Lord GOD thing, and let the text say 'Yahweh.'" And then everyone else on the committee needs to vote a hearty "Aye," stop baffling generations of Bible-readers, and start making up for lost time.

AMEN AMEN AMEN! I increasingly am reading Scripture in worship off of a printed sheet, specifically so that I can cut and paste the ESV text, then change all the LORD's to Yahweh's. I used to just try to remember to read the word correctly, but I forgot too often. People have approached me after church to thank me for reading the text including the name of God. The whole text comes alive in meaning sometimes. Consider the following:

So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as Yahweh had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. Yahweh descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of Yahweh. Yahweh passed before him and proclaimed, “Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:4-7

DJP said...

I've done that very thing as well, Tom; just as glad to hear that you do it. Do you reflect, as you do, that you're doing the remedial opposite of what superstitious scribes did (and do)? When they came on a place where GOD HIMSELF said "Yahweh," they "remedied" it by reading the Hebrew for "Lord" or "God" instead. You're just fixing it back to what it should be.

And VcdeChagn, I know you don't mean to, but you do make me wince. It is a shame to me that the only versions consistently to have any name at all (instead of a title or a generic) are old (ASV), virtually unknown (Rotherham), or heterodox (Jerusalem Bible).

Of course "Jehovah" cannot possible be the correct pronunciation; but it's better than LORD / GOD in that it is recognizably a name, and not a title nor a generic.

DJP said...

Or whacked-out cultic bizarro versions.

Or translations by scholars in their commentaries. Well, except Bruce Waltke.

Tom Chantry said...

I've never really thought of it as "doing the remedial opposite of the superstitious scribes," but it does suggest an interesting observation:

One way to distinguish between the true fear of God and a false, legalistic, slavish fear is this: true fear of God will always cause us to follow Him, while false fear will drive us away from Him in surprising manner. Shouldn't the fear of God make us unwilling to change His word? Yet a false, hypocritical legalism drove the scribes to do just that: to change His word in a critical way.

VcdeChagn said...

And VcdeChagn, I know you don't mean to, but you do make me wince.

Not always a bad thing, is it? {GRIN}

It is a shame to me that the only versions consistently to have any name at all (instead of a title or a generic) are old (ASV), virtually unknown (Rotherham), or heterodox (Jerusalem Bible).

I agree, though I had never heard of Rotherham (Which makes your point, I guess). As far as old goes, I guess once you get used to it, it's not that big of a deal. I've been reading the KJV the majority of the time in my devotional reading and have gotten quite used to its idiosyncrasies.

In any case, sorry for making you wince...I think this is the second time.

JackW said...

Dan, I've agreed with you since your original rant over Yahweh's name.

The thing that I'm curious about is that when Jesus read from scripture, how did he read the name and why wasn't it an issue?

Mike Riccardi said...

The insight of revelation comes not from a vision or a voice, but through observation and reflection.

That might not have been the point of the post, but that's what reached out and convicted and exhorted me. Cursory readings of Scripture won't do. When we meditate and let our heart, soul, and mind be filled with the words of God, then truth is illuminated to us.

Stefan said...

Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow!!!

Oh man, this morning's post is sweet manna! Thank you, Dan.

It is not too much to say that the principle of penal substitutionary atonement was the means to my salvation: not just literally (through the shed blood of Christ for an undeserving sinner), but also in terms of being exposed to the doctrine.

I had dreams before I was redeemed whose theme was PSA. My first Bible study group before I was saved took me through Leviticus then, by the grace of God, Hebrews. And the sermon series that brought me to my knees in repentance was from Romans.

After I was saved, when God was starting to form within me an understanding of reformed theology, He led me to Edith Schaeffer's Christianity is Jewish, which is all about the doctrine of PSA, from Genesis to Revelation, from Eden to the Heavenly City.

I can so wholeheartedly that the Lord has blessed me (though I will never have deserved it) by showing me this glorious crimson thread that runs through the whole of Scripture, and by leading me to godly Christian teachers who embrace and teach it.

But I was still convicted this morning, reading your summary of the doctrine of PSA in the Old Testament, even though I "knew it all already" (except for its occurrence even in Proverbs, of course!).

Thank you! I'm greatly looking forward to part 2.

And this, too, struck me:

If this issue doesn't resonate with you, then try this: imagine that every occurrence of "Jesus" in the NT were replaced with "the Teacher" or "the Lord," because some group of unbelievers has a superstition about even saying His name. Maybe then the point will begin to stand out more starkly to you.

Wow! I'd never seen it put so plainly! Thanks again!

Stefan said...

"I can so wholeheartedly" ==> "I can say wholeheartedly."

Stefan said...

Seriously. The Lord used you to convict me this morning, Dan, to bring some things to the foot of the Cross that I've been holding back on. The Holy Spirit pierced my heart through this post. Thank you again.

Stefan said...

I mean, Yahweh used you to convict me.

Okay, last comment. I have a busy day visiting a customer today. Please pray that the Holy Spirit will keep me mindful of this when I have time to delve into His word tonight.

Revivalfire said...

apparantly, the Jerusalem bible keeps teh word Yahweh...dont know about the rest of its translation though... Catholics got something right ;)

Frank Turk said...

VcdeChagn:

so what do they do with the GiMP?

rmckinion said...

Dan,

Great stuff as usual.

Here's a question that comes to my mind. Would it be legitimate for me, instead of reading references to Yahweh as the God of penal/substitutionary atonement, to understand the sage's consistent use of Yahweh to underscore the fact that Yahweh is the God who created all things and is therefore the origin of true wisdom? Wouldn't that be consistent with the theology of the Hebrew Bible. For example, could I rephrase one of your eloquently annotated verses as follows:

A false balance is an abomination to Yahweh [the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who created all things and thus understands the way of wisdom], but a just weight is his delight (Proverbs 11:1)

Isn't the creative power of Yahweh a consistent theme in OT wisdom literature? Just a thought.

Blessings,
Randy

DJP said...

Very good question, Randy. I'm going to fight my usual temptation to want to think about something until wood petrifies, and instead think aloud in response.

Of course you're right that Yahweh as sovereign creator is a big theme in the OT in general. In fact, you could have underscored your point by citing that theme in Proverbs, where it is indeed very prominent (e.g. chaps 3, 8, 16).

But I'm not arguing for ID'ing Yahweh as (say) Redeemer instead of Creator. More, I'm responding against the decades-long tendency effectively to isolate Proverbs from the rest of the OT, and argue that, because it doesn't explicity cite the Exodus and other "cultic" elements prominently, it is some sort of alien presence in the Canon.

What I'm arguing for is that the presence of the name Yahweh itself necessarily is a nod to the doctrine (for instance) of penal, substitutionary atonement — because that is how He reveals Himself in antecedent Scripture. My point is not that He's that rather than Creator; my point is that we're talking about that specific God, rather than some generic concept of Deity.

I'm responding to asinine sentiments like that of J. Alberto Soggin, who burbled that "the attentive reader who is versed in the history of religion" will see that generic terms such as "God" or "deity" may be substituted for "Yahweh" in Proverbs 1:7 without any problem (J. Alberto Soggin, Introduction to the Old Testament, OTL, trans. John Bowden [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976], pp. 379-80). No, they really, really can't.

Further, when Moses describes the creation of the universe he uses the more generic 'elohim (Gen. 1); in focusing more tightly on man's creation and probation, he brings in Yahweh (Gen. 2:4f.). I think of Yahweh as the personal name God uses to sign His covenant (cf. Genesis 15, esp. v. 7, for instance).

That's why I phrase it "the God of Israel, who can be believingly approached only on the basis of penal, substitutionary atonement." I am emphasizing not merely who He is in Himself, but who He is in relation to His people.

Great question. Helpful answer?

rmckinion said...

That is helpful, Dan. Your approach is helpful in reminding us that the author of Proverbs not only wants but requires his reader to be versed in a theological knowledge of Yahweh. That was the only point I am making in broadening what the reader should be thinking when he/she comes upon the name Yahweh in the text. I really appreciate the keen observation you have made on the sage's consistent use of the name. That helps me in approaching the book. Even beyond the theological gateway set in place by Prov 1:7, the book continues to point the reader back to the knowledge of Yahweh that is presupposed. Thanks

Jim Kirby said...

Dan,

Thanks for the blog. As always, it caused me to think. In the process of thinking, this question came to mind, which hopefully, you've worked out. If Yahweh is the OT covenant name of Israel's God, why didn't the NT writers use the tetragrammaton when specifically referencing Him in OT passages (e.g., Jn 12:38; Acts 2:35; et al.) rather than kurios?

JDK

The Doulos said...

Dan, you followed one of Abraham Piper's rules for good blogging - you made a title that sucked me in and kept me reading the whole thing. I mean, c'mon - PSA in Proverbs? I know you're a Proverbs guy, but really...

Well stated, though. Good point that we have to remember the person and nature of God, Yahweh, El Elyon, all of those real names, as we read any of the Scriptures. We can't isolate the wisdom of God in Proverbs from the sovereign grace of God in Romans, etc. Yahweh is the God who demands a bloody sacrifice in our stead for righteousness. And in the case of fallen humankind, provides the bloody sacrifice in His own person.

DJP said...

Well, Jim, I'd say worked at, rather than worked out. (c;

Since no NT text addresses the subject in any way, I'm left of course with speculation. So here's what I have of that.

I'm of the view that Jesus taught in Greek as reported in the Gospels; that, in other words, the Greek of the dominical discourses is not translation-Greek, but Greek as He spoke it. What we usually see (not without exception) is that the NT speakers/writers used the common Greek translation of the Old Testament; and it used kurios, reflecting Jewish practice.

So rather than adding to the list of revolutionary truths He was focusing on, and traditions He was busting apart, our Lord and His apostles just dealt with the conventions they were handed in that area.

Why? As I say, I can only guess.

I don't see our situation today in America as parallel on that issue.

It's a good question. I wish I could finger a verse that would give me a slam-dunk answer. So, dealing with a well-attested Hebrew text that contains close to 7000 occurrences of the name, I'm content to present them as they are in the OT -- and, of course, not try to force them into the NT.

Jim Kirby said...

Dan,

Just a further wondering follow-up. If all other OT proper names have Greek equivalents, and Yahweh is His proper name, it would seem that there should have been a Greek equivalent for hashem.

JDK

The Doulos said...

DJP: Doesn't like it much at all, Hadassah. The very point Al Mohler recently made at length at T4G.

It seems like the whole subject of penal substitutionary atonement has been on my mind ever since hearing Mohler's lecture at T4G. Such a key, core doctrine, and so hated and maligned. And not just by the unbelieving world, but by many within the realm of Christianity. This topic has been on my mind so much I did a post about it the other day.

OK, shameless self-promotion off.

DJP said...

Jim, I'm not sure what you're driving at. Maybe if you reworded your question?

It's true that there are proper names in the Gk NT, but as often as not, they're Hellenized to some degree.

More to the point, the convention at the time apparently already was to obscure the Name by reading the Hebrew word for "Lord" in place of "Yahweh." There are ancient Greek transliterations of "Yahweh," and names with the theophoric element "-yah." Further, "the early Greek transliterations of the name by Clement of Alexandria and Theodoret, respectively iaoue and iabe (b pronounced as an English v), have led scholars to the view that “Yahweh” is probably the closest equivalent to the original pronunciation" (Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988; 2002], 2:507).

VcdeChagn said...

so what do they do with the GiMP?

Same thing they're doing with OpenProj and Open Office (trying..I don't like Open Office at all).

Saving money...in this case by replacing Photoshop. Of course, not everyone in the company uses photoshop..but there is a big enough marketing department that it's significant....

Strong Tower said...

Strong Tower...

I heard that somewhere...

Do you know how many more pages long the Bible will be if they insert [Yahweh, the God of penal, substitutionary atonement] everywhere? Gots nuff words already, dang it!

I kinda like Lord. And beside, everyone today has their own ideas as to what the "real" meaning of the text is. You can imagine the worship song: Have it Yah...weh, have it Yahweh... Hmmm sounds mrgnt (note not just small caps- no vowels to offend)

That was a really good yohb [Daniye'l God is my judge].

We had a female rabbi (they didn't call her that cuz she was a, well, woman) who teaches religion classes at the Synagogue here who said that the Hebrew religion knew nothing of substitutionary atonement...

What else when Moses is read?

Stefan said...

C'mon! Even if one doesn't believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, Son of God, Lord, and Saviour, substitutionary atonement (even without its being a type of Christ) is right there in the Hebrew Bible!

What exactly is Leviticus supposed to signify otherwise?

Pedro said...

Thanks Dan for the great teaching.

thomastwitchell said...

Stefan-

What was as incredible was the fact that she was teaching, but because it is a conservative Synagogue they would not call her rabbi- know what I mean?

I answered her op-ed with a letter to the editor... it was met with silence. Which was unusual because for most other things that I irritate the libs with, with this issue, no one took exception... not even the rabbette!