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Thread: Forgiveness vs payment of a debt (theories of the atonement)

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    tWebber
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    Forgiveness vs payment of a debt (theories of the atonement)

    I recall coming across someone who argued that Jesus did not pay our debt of sin, but rather that God forgave our debt, so that it did not need to be paid (payment and forgiveness of a debt being mutually exclusive: one cannot both forgive a debt and require its payment). He said that nowhere in Scripture says Jesus paid our debt. He said that the reason Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice was not to suffer punishment but to shed his blood for the cleansing and forgiveness of our sins.

    This seems to make a lot of sense. Yet also seems to differ from any of the theories of the atonement that I'm aware of.
    The ones I'd been aware of seem to have to do with paying the debt: satisfying God's wrath or Justice, or Jesus taking the punishment or blame on himself, or paying a ransom to Satan.

    Has someone else heard of this before or know more about it that can help me out?

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    Troll Magnet Sparko's Avatar
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    Seems to me God forgave our sins BECAUSE Jesus paid the "debt" - otherwise why not just forgive them without Jesus dying?

    Romans 6 says the "wages of sin is death" - meaning that when you sin, you "earn" death. Which is not something you want to "earn" - meaning it is a debt you own.

    If you "earn" prison for being a murderer, that sentence is a debt you are paying to society for your actions.


    also I have heard that when Jesus said "It is finished" on the cross, that was the same word that was stamped on receipts and bills of sale when something was paid for.

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    Thanks Old Man... Bill the Cat's Avatar
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    I think it is splitting hairs that don't need to be split. An exercise in "see how smart I can exegete scripture?"


    Without a clear-cut definition of sin, morality becomes a mere argument over the best way to train animals --- Manya the Holy Szin --- The Quintara Marathon ---

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  4. Amen Chrawnus amen'd this post.
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    tWebber tabibito's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Joel View Post
    I recall coming across someone who argued that Jesus did not pay our debt of sin, but rather that God forgave our debt, so that it did not need to be paid (payment and forgiveness of a debt being mutually exclusive: one cannot both forgive a debt and require its payment). He said that nowhere in Scripture says Jesus paid our debt. He said that the reason Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice was not to suffer punishment but to shed his blood for the cleansing and forgiveness of our sins.

    This seems to make a lot of sense. Yet also seems to differ from any of the theories of the atonement that I'm aware of.
    The ones I'd been aware of seem to have to do with paying the debt: satisfying God's wrath or Justice, or Jesus taking the punishment or blame on himself, or paying a ransom to Satan.

    Has someone else heard of this before or know more about it that can help me out?
    Hebrews does mention that the blood atonement was necessary to cancel the old covenant and institute the new. Hebrews provides a good start point for understanding it all, but only a start: particularly Heb 9: 6-28
    και εκζητησατε με και ευρησετε με οτι ζητησετε με εν ολη καρδία υμων

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    tWebber
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    Looking around more, I see that there is something called the Christus Victor theory of atonement, and what I described seems maybe similar to that.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill the Cat View Post
    I think it is splitting hairs that don't need to be split. An exercise in "see how smart I can exegete scripture?"
    That may be. It can also be the case of trying to understand an apparent paradox, and a desire for logical consistency. That is the case with my personality.

    One possibility is that what we have is a mystery, and that we must give up the goal of possessing a logically consistent theory of how the atonement works. One explanation I have come across is that all the theories of atonement express some truth of the mystery of atonement, but only by analogy. In which case, each is only in some sense like the atonement: Thus it is only in some sense like having someone take your place in your death sentence. It is only in some sense like having someone pay a debt you owe. It is only in some sense like having the person to whom you owe a debt cancel/forgive the debt. It is only in some sense like someone paying a ransom to free you from a captive. It is only in some sense like Jesus performing an act of surrender and obedience in our place because we are unable. Etc. The idea would be that we have all these analogies which give us some idea but not a direct understanding. And some of the analogies taken literally would contradict one another, but each still gives us some idea of the truth via an analogy.

    Perhaps we are to know the effects of the atonement for us, but we are not supposed to understand how it achieves those effects?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sparko View Post
    Seems to me God forgave our sins BECAUSE Jesus paid the "debt" - otherwise why not just forgive them without Jesus dying?
    The seeming contradiction though, is that to require payment for a debt is the opposite of forgiving a debt.

    Then, as for why not forgive without Jesus dying? Well, do we know for sure that Jesus' atonement was the only possible way? Perhaps it was the best way? I've read that some Church Fathers thought it was not the only possible way. In searching on this topic, I found that Irenaeus, who is perhaps the first to discuss something like the Ransom theory of atonement, suggests that God could have rescued us from the power of Satan by violence, but that Jesus offering himself as a ransom was a better way. If I recall correctly, also Aquinas argued that it was not the only possible way.

    Was it maybe necessary to satisfy the old law, which requires shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sin? The argument in line with the OP would be that although the sprinkling of blood somehow cleansed Israelites from sin, yet it was not the case that either God or the man doing the sacrificing was exercising wrath upon the sacrificial animal, or punishing the animal. Rather it was a ritual required by the Law for the forgiveness of sins. Or the case of the scape-goat, the sins are transferred to the goat, and then the goat is not punished, but sent away--the sins removed along with the removal of the goat.

    Tabibito likewise suggested above that "Hebrews does mention that the blood atonement was necessary to cancel the old covenant and institute the new."

    To say that we are somehow cleansed by Jesus' blood, and by that, rescued from the power of sin, and our natures restored and reconciled to God, seems perhaps sufficient. (without adding ideas about God being wrathful toward Jesus and/or about penal substitution/satisfaction) However it isn't exactly satisfying, regarding wanting to understand how it achieves those results.

    also I have heard that when Jesus said "It is finished" on the cross, that was the same word that was stamped on receipts and bills of sale when something was paid for.
    That's interesting. I had not heard that. Do you happen to remember the source of that?

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    tWebber
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    I agree that the atonement isn't a matter of paying debt, and that God can and does forgive us.

    Hebrews does mention that the blood atonement was necessary to cancel the old covenant and institute the new. Hebrews provides a good start point for understanding it all, but only a start: particularly Heb 9: 6-28
    I agree. However if you look carefully at the way Heb. 9 uses the OT, it sees Jesus' death as a covenant sacrifice, which really has little to do either with paying a debt or making satisfaction for sin.

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    tWebber
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    Quote Originally Posted by Joel View Post
    I recall coming across someone who argued that Jesus did not pay our debt of sin, but rather that God forgave our debt, so that it did not need to be paid (payment and forgiveness of a debt being mutually exclusive: one cannot both forgive a debt and require its payment). He said that nowhere in Scripture says Jesus paid our debt. He said that the reason Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice was not to suffer punishment but to shed his blood for the cleansing and forgiveness of our sins.

    This seems to make a lot of sense. Yet also seems to differ from any of the theories of the atonement that I'm aware of.
    The ones I'd been aware of seem to have to do with paying the debt: satisfying God's wrath or Justice, or Jesus taking the punishment or blame on himself, or paying a ransom to Satan.

    Has someone else heard of this before or know more about it that can help me out?
    You do good to bring this question up for if the debt is paid in full there is nothing to forgive. Paul was forgiven of murdering innocent Christians, so no one has to pay that debt, but that does bring up the fact as parents we not only forgive our rebellious disobedient children, but we also see to their discipline for all the benefits of loving discipline if at all possible. Paul said he was crucified with Christ so was that fair/just disciplining for him?
    I agree with the first part but disagree with the cross being all about the blood.

    The subject you are addressing is huge since books have been written on it with lots of different conclusions; mostly due to the preconceived ideas of the authors.

    We can work on this together and draw our own most likely alternative interpretation that will be very biblical, consistent and logical.

    To begin with:

    During the time of Christ, the Jewish people in and around Jerusalem would have had a much better understanding of atonement since atonement sacrifices were going on every hour at the temple, maybe thousands each day. All mature adults would have most likely participated in the individual process of atonement, but this was only for unintentional sins (really minor sins) since intentional sins had no Old Testament system for atonement.

    Those only able to afford a bag of flour (Lev. 5) certainly would not have considered that bag of flour to be a “substitute” for them. There is nothing to suggest the Jewish people ever thought of any sacrifices to be substitutes for them. So what did they experience in this atonement process for unintentional sins?
    If we could relate to their atonement experience for “minor” sins we might be able to extrapolate to what the atonement process would be like for intentional sins? (Read Lev. 5)

    Forgiveness for unintentional sins came after the completion of the atonement process (Lev. 5), but did God need a bag of flour to forgive the person’s sins?

    Would God need anything to forgive a person’s sins or is it the person needing something to accept that forgiveness as pure charity?

    Is Christ Crucified described by Paul, Peter, Jesus, John and the Hebrew writer as a ransom payment (it is not even said to be like a ransom payment, but it was a ransom payment)?

    I find the ransom description more than just an analogy to be an excellent fit and I am not talking about the “Ransom Theory of Atonement”
    (The “Ransom Theory of Atonement” has God paying satan the cruel torture, humiliation and murder of Christ but: Does God owe Satan anything? Is there some cosmic “law” saying you have to pay the kidnapper? Would it not be wrong for God to pay satan, if God could just as easily and safely take back His children without paying satan?)

    Would a ransom as those in the first century might understand it (it was well known Caesura at 21 had been kidnapped and a ransom paid for him) included the following elements:

    1. Someone other than the captive paying the ransom.
    2. The payment is a huge sacrificial payment for the payer, who would personally prefer not to pay.
    3. Since those that come to God must come as children, it is the children of God that go to the Father.
    4. The payer cannot safely or for some other reason get his children any other way than making the payment.
    5. The kidnapper is totally undeserving.
    6. The kidnapper can accept or reject the payment.


    Go to Luke 15: 11-32 the prodigal son story to illustrate:

    Who in the middle of the night snuck in and dragged off the young son, force the son to do evil stuff and finally chained him to a pigsty starving to death? (this is not the way it happened, but the child of the father was kidnapped.)

    Who returned to the father, was it the son that rebelliously wished his father’s death so he could get his inheritance or was it the child of the father?

    We can only come to our Father as children, so who is keeping the nonbeliever in the unbelieving state (who is this kidnapper)?

    There is the one ransom, but could there be many kidnappers and many children?

    Who are the kidnappers?

    Looking at verses in particular:

    (NIV) Ro. 3:25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—

    “God presented” this might be better expressed as “God is offering” since it will later be received, received or rejected on the contingency of some kind of “faith”. Instead of received it might better be translated as accepted (with the option of being rejected or not accepted).
    “Sacrifice of atonement” is described by Jesus, Paul, Peter, John and the Hebrew writer as the “ransom payment” or just “ransom”. So God is offering a ransom payment to be accepted by those with faith or rejected by those refusing or just not accepted by those lacking faith.

    A huge part of that ransom payment that especially applies to those that are already Christians is the life giving cleansing blood of Christ. Christ and God would have personally preferred that blood remained in Christ’s veins, but I needed it given up by Christ to flow over both my outside and my heart to know, experience, “trust” and feel I am cleansed and made alive. So Christ willingly gave up His blood for me and because of me. This is an overwhelming tragedy I insisted on to believe: I was made holy, righteous and stand justified. Without knowing and feeling this blood flowing over my heart, I might question my cleansing?

    “Demonstrate his righteousness” God did not become righteous, but just showed the righteousness He has always had. (God’s justice/ holiness/being right) comes with the atoning sacrifice that includes the life giving cleansing blood showing God’s righteousness/justice in a very particular way; by resolving the huge problem that existed under the Old Covenant. That huge problem in the Old Covenant was with the handling of intentional sins that where committed, repented of, and which the individual sought forgiveness from God for doing (and God forgave without justly disciplining the sinner [thus not showing His righteousness through His disciplining]). These sins could be forgiven by God, but there was no way to fairly/justly discipline (punish) the sinner and still have the sinner live in the Promised Land. God did have fair/just punishments (discipline) for these sins, but the Jews could not follow through with them, since all Jews deserved to be treated similarly (there would be no one left in the Promised Land).

    “in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished” Instead of “unpunished” I would translate that Greek word to be “undisciplined”.
    “because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished”, shows the contrast between before and after the cross. This is not saying: “before the cross sins are now being punished by Christ going to the cross”, but is saying they were left unpunished prior to the cross. If they are being handled the “same way” as sins after the cross there would be no contrast? (And there are lots of other problems with this reasoning.) There is no “punishment” (disciplining for intentional sins) before the cross yet there is “punishment” (disciplining of God’s children) with the cross.

    Any good parent realizes the need for not just forgiving their rebellious disobedient child, but to also see to the child’s fair/just/loving discipline if at all possible, but under the Old Covenant there was no “fair/just/loving discipline” so God could not show His justice/righteousness except to point out in the Law what really should happen, but that is not “good” disciplining, the child can almost feel they got away with something.

    By my coming to the realization of my forcing Christ to be tortured, humiliated and murdered, because of my personal sins I experience a death blow to my heart (Acts 2: 37) the worst possible experience I can have and still live (That is also the most sever disciplining I can experience and still live). Thus I know God is my loving concerned Parent (since He at great cost has seen to my disciplining). I know how significant my sins really are; I can put those sins behind me after being disciplined. Since God and Jesus shared in my disciplining “I am crucified with Christ” (a teaching moment) our relationship is even greater than before my transgressing.
    What is the benefit/value for us that we would want to accept the ransom payment of Christ’s torture, humiliation and murder?
    What value benefit did it have for those 3000 on the day of Pentecost?
    Would those 3000 have become baptized believers on the day of Pentecost if Peter had not been able to say: Acts 2:36 “…this Jesus whom you crucified”?
    So for those 3000, their crucifying Christ (ransom payment/atoning sacrifice) resulted in them becoming baptized believers on the day of Pentecost! Did it have value for them?

    This will get us started if you really want to know.

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