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Understanding the Meaning of Jesus’ Death in Scripture

Various understandings or interpretations of the significance of Jesus’ ministry, particularly his death, have been offered.  The following essay explores several views about Jesus’ death as a sacrifice, focusing on the question whether Jesus’ death was a substitutionary sacrifice.  I begin with a brief study of how the author of Hebrews explained Jesus’ death as an atoning sacrifice and then examine various views on how to understand this sacrifice.  The argument will be that, despite various arguments to the contrary, Jesus’ death was, indeed, substitutionary.  I will conclude with an examination of Jesus’ death as both a sacrifice of atonement and a Passover sacrifice—both dealing with sin, and note how very rich the meaning of Jesus’ death really is in New Testament teaching.

Jesus’ Sacrifice of Atonement in Hebrews 8-10, 1 John, and Paul

By way of introduction, note that Jesus’ death was seen as an atoning sacrifice with regard to the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16).  Hebrews gives the most extensive discussion of this (Heb. 2.17 and chs. 8-10).  The New Covenant (Jeremiah 31.31-34 is quoted at length) is contrasted with the Old, Mosaic Covenant (Heb. 8), and then the sacrificial death of Jesus as our high priest is contrasted to the Day of Atonement in the former covenant (ch. 9).  Note the language of sanctification and purification and the Day of Atonement in the following verses:

Hebrews 9:12-14 he [Jesus] entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.  13 For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh,  14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

The author then says that the first covenant was sealed with blood, and ‘under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins’ (Heb. 9.22).  Further,

Hebrews 9:26-28  has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.  27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,  28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Jesus’ offering of his body once for all as a sacrifice for sins sanctifies us (Heb. 10.10, 14).  Our 'hearts have been ‘sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water’ (Heb. 10.22).

Like Hebrews, John mentions Jesus’ death as an atoning sacrifice, albeit briefly (and twice):

1 John 2:2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (NRSV; ESV has ‘propitiation’ for ‘hilasmos’)

1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins (NRSV; ESV again has ‘propitiation’).

Finally, Paul once refers to Jesus’ death as an atoning sacrifice:

whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed… (NRSV; ESV has ‘propitiation’).

John Goldingay’s Interpretation of the Stain of Sin

John Goldingay emphasizes that Jesus’ death is a cleansing and a making of restitution.[1]  In so doing, he follows a trend in recent, western Biblical and theological studies on the meaning of the cross.  Such studies under-emphasise or even oppose an understanding of Christ’s death in terms of penal substitution (Christ paying the penalty of sinners) and promote an understanding of Jesus’ death that focusses more on participation (D. E. H. Whiteley) and interchange (Morna Hooker).  Goldingay’s interpretation focusses on the stain of sin and the removal of a taboo in the sacrifice of atonement and, in this way, does not emphasise the substitutionary role of the sacrifices.

Goldingay states that the Hebrew word ṭa̅me̅’ (amej'): not ‘impurity’ but ‘taboo’—a taboo that one carries and needs lifted.  E.g., things not associated with God: sex, death.  One needed to wait a few days after a mild taboo, and one needed cleansing in the case of more serious taboos (322). ‘The word does not indicate the lack or compromising of some quality, as is suggested by the word im-purity.  It rather suggests the presence of a quality, the presence of something rather strange or worrying or mysterious, which issues in the attaching of a taboo to the object that carries it’ (321).

The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) is a purification of the people as a whole and of the sanctuary.  Goldingay places the focus of atonement on the cleansing necessary to remove the year’s accumulated taboos, which cause God not to associate with his people.  Leviticus 4-5 speaks of two offerings dealing with human short-comings or failures, not with sin (322).

a.     ḥaṭṭa̅’t (taJ'x;): commonly translated ‘sin offering,’ this is actually not a sin offering but a ‘purification offering.’ 

The Septuagint (LXX; Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) translates this as peri hamartias (as a purification offering’), and it also uses this translation of Isaiah 53’s restitution offering (see next point, b, below) (p. 330).  Goldingay believes that this is true of peri harmartias in Rom. 8.3 (God gave his Son peri harmartias—and Goldingay says that Rom. 7 anticipates this and so is about taboo!, p. 323) and when hamartias is found without peri.  The latter occurs in 2 Cor. 5.21.  ‘Nor is it the case that a sacrificial animal carries the punishment that is due to its offerer; this idea ‘confuses Temple with Law-court, Altar with Gallows’.  Sacrifice relates to cleansing; it removes the uncleanness that mars the good creation.’ (p. 324).[2]  ‘Sacrifice is thus not designed to bring about forgiveness of sins….  Rather, by God’s declaration a sacrifice could bring about purification from taboos’ (325).

b.     ’aša̅m (~v'a'): not ‘guilt offering’ but ‘restitution offering’ (p. 328).  Goldingay focusses on Isaiah 52.13-53.12.  Isaiah 53.7 does not, he argues, speak of the servant’s ‘penal substitution,’ as many translations imply with the word ‘punishment.’  ‘The chapter’s point is not that God is punishing his servant instead of punishing his people.  Its point is rather that the servant has been faithful to Yahweh and has not deserved affliction, as other people did, but has shared in their affliction’ (p. 328).  ‘…the presupposition of Isaiah 53 is that one faithful person’s willingness to pay the cost of their ministry might compensate for the faithlessness of their entire people’ (329).

The KJV translates ’aša̅m  as ‘trespass offering’, and Goldingay interprets this as insightful because, he argues, God’s rights or honor are ‘trespassed’ and need to be restored (330).  Forgiveness does not accomplish this; a restitution of God’s honor is needed (as Anselm argued) (330).  ‘As our representative and substitute Jesus offers his perfect obedience as an offering that can compensate for our defiance and counteract its effects’ (331)—see Rom. 5.19 (Adam’s disobedience countered by Christ’s obedience making the many dikaioi).  ‘Another person cannot be punished for you; that doesn’t work.  But another person can make compensation for you, if you then identify with the offering they have made’ (332).

Simon Gathercole’s Discussion of Three Contemporary Schools of Thought

Simon Gathercole can be helpful in recapturing the substitutionary aspect of the atonement sacrifices and of the meaning of Jesus’ death.  He has argued against three recent schools of thought about what Jesus’ death accomplished.[3]  The first is a German interpretation that Gathercole calls the Tübingen understanding.  Key representatives include H. Gese and O. Hofius.[4]  The second is a more British interpretation largely associated with Morna Hooker.  Hooker argued against the notion that Isaiah 53 was to be found in the New Testament and against interpreting Jesus’ death as a penal substitution. Instead, she argued that Jesus’ death was an ‘interchange.’[5]  The third school of thought is more American and understands Jesus’ death as an apocalyptic deliverance or liberation from the powers of the present evil age.  Associates of this third school are J. Louis Martyn and M. C. de Boer.[6]

The Tübingen Interpretation: Jesus Deals with the Result of Sin—Death (H. Gese; O. Hofius)

The Tübingen interpretation of Jesus’ death does not focus on individual transgressions but on the resultant situation: death.  The mechanics of sacrifice in Leviticus 16 involve laying on of hands and blood sacrifice.  By laying hands on the goat, the priest does not transfer sin to it (substitution) but identifies with it.[7]  The death of the animal does not involve substitution as the people identify with the creature, enter the judgement of death with it (symbolically), and pass through it.  Similarly, through the blood sacrifice, the people pass with the animal’s blood into the Holy of Holies and connect with God.  For O. Hofius, forgiveness follows rather than precedes reconciliation in 2 Cor. 5.19—the relationship of identifying with the other is prior to any forgiveness.[8]  Also, the death of Christ is not for transgressions or sins, as though these can be separated from the sinner, but for the whole person, who is corrupt to the core.

Gathercole mentions several problems with this view.  First, such emphasis is placed on the laying on of hands in the interpretation of Leviticus 16 that it is problematic that this takes place not with the blood sacrifice that is taken into the Holy of Holies but only the scapegoat.[9]  Moreover, the scapegoat is a substitute: sins are placed on the goat’s head when hands are placed on it, and the goat then carries the sins away to a solitary place (Lev. 16.21-22).  Third, this view assumes a Kantian understanding that guilt cannot be transferred from one person to another because it is internal.  Thus, the view tries to answer a problem that may not be present in the text.

            The Interchange View (Morna Hooker)

Morna Hooker’s ‘interchange’ view highlights 2 Cor. 8.9 and 5.21.  Hooker prefers the concept ‘interchange’ over ‘substitution’ or exchange.  God does not make Christ poor and us rich; rather, Christ enters our poverty, brings us out of it, and makes us share in his riches.  Christ does not switch places with sinful humanity but becomes sin to deliver us from our sinfulness and brings us to righteousness before God.  Christ identifies with us so that we might identify with him.  Hooker writes, ‘Christ empties himself and humbles himself in identifying himself with mankind and becoming what men are; they in turn must identify themselves with his shame and death if they are to become what he is in his glorious resurrection life.’[10]  If this were a straightforward exchange, we would not read that we became the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor. 5.21).[11]  The concept is one of participation, not substitution.[12]

As Gathercole notes, however, the issue is not whether we can speak of the cross in terms of participation and interchange but whether there is also a positive role for the cross.  On Hooker’s view, the cross is negative: an identification in something negative (the cross) so as to identify subsequently in something positive beyond the cross.  The cross, however, is viewed in positive terms for it accomplishes something, as we see in Rom. 3.25; 5.6-9; 8.3; Gal. 1.4; 3.13).  Thus, Paul can refer to his Gospel in the short-hand language of Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1.23; 2.2).[13]

            The Apocalyptic Deliverance View: Enslavement by the Cosmic Powers (J. Louis Martyn 
and M. C. de Boer)

On the ‘Apocalyptic Deliverance’ view, the human plight is not understood as sins but as enslavement—enslavement to hostile, cosmic powers.  Not forgiveness for sins but deliverance from powers, including the Law, is the solution that Paul offers.  Some key passages in undisputed epistles of Paul include Galatians 1.4, which J. Louis Martyn interprets in a unique way:

Galatians 1:4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father….

The second half of the verse is, in Martyn’s view, the focus.  The first half that mentions Christ giving ‘himself for our sins’ is actually the Galatians’ view and that perpetrated by the false teachers: Paul is correcting this emphasis through what he supposedly adds in the second half of the verse!  In support of this non-substitutionary reading of Galatians, Gal. 3.13—speaking of the curse of the Law—is referring to a present, not future curse.  D. Campbell believes that a substitutionary view is antithetical to a liberative view of what Christ accomplishes.[14]

Gathercole notes that the apocalyptic deliverance view might make sense of Galatians, but not of Romans and other Pauline epistles.[15]  Second, Romans 1-3 sees human guilt, not subjection to powers, as part of their plight.  People need rescuing from God’s wrath (Rom. 5.9; 1 Thes. 1).  Col. 2.13-15 combines the notions of forgiveness of transgressions and triumphing over the powers.[16]  Another problem with this model is that it cannot explain why Jesus had to die: how does death bring deliverance?

Gathercole further notes that all three of the alternative models that downplay or oppose penal substitution simply neglect to address the discussion in Paul of sins.  True, in Romans sin (singular) is often personified.  Yet singular references to sin in Paul are not always because the thought is about some power; often the singular is used corporately.  Also, other terms are used for ‘plural acts of disobedience in Paul.’[17]  Also, the plural ‘sins’ is found in disputed Pauline epistles, and this comports well with the cognate hamartema and the verb hamartano used in reference to particular sins in Romans and 1 Corinthians, as well as to Paul’s use of hamartolos, sinner, and the verb adikeo, ‘do wrong.’[18]  As Paul says, ‘in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them’ (2 Cor. 5.19b).

J. Sklar on Impurity, Sacrifice, and Atonement
I now turn to a closer look at atonement and purification in the Old Testament.  Jay Sklar’s examination of kipper, ‘atone,’ in Hebrew and the Old Testament raises questions about Goldingay’s strong separation of ‘sin’ from ‘impurity,’ although Goldingay’s argument is based on other terms.[19]  Sklar argues that kipper (atonement sacrifice) can have either sin or impurity in view, depending on context: it is not a matter of one or the either meaning but both.  Also, when ‘sin’ or ‘impurity’ is primarily in focus, the other is also implied: the notions are not to be separated.  That is, ‘sin’ includes ‘impurity,’ and ‘impurity’ endangers people before our holy and righteous God.  Both sin and impurity require both ransoming and purification, and for this reason a word like ‘kipper’ can include both notions of sin and impurity.  Leviticus 17.11 speaks of blood making atonement, and Sklar explains that the blood sacrifice accomplished ransom and purification.
Sklar writes that ‘the Day of Atonement rituals, for example, were meant to atone (kipper) for both sin and impurity.’  He then lays out his argument that sin and impurity overlap: [20]
Leviticus 16:16 (ESV) Thus he shall make atonement [rP<åkiw>] for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses [ha'm.ju] of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions [[v;P,], all their sins [taJ'x;]. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses [ha'm.ju].

He then notes that some texts speak of the polluting effect of sins, quoting Leviticus again:
Leviticus 18:24-25a "Do not make yourselves unclean [amej'] by any of these things [sexual sins], for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean [amej'], 25 and the land became unclean [amej']…. [cf. 20.3]

Sklar further notes that ‘people are not purified simply of impurities, but also of sins,’ again quoting from Leviticus:
Leviticus 16:30 For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse [rhe(j'] you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins.

Also, Sklar notes that, ‘in contexts that require [kipper—a ransom], sin not only endangers, it also defiles, while impurity not only defiles, it also endangers [i.e., results in severe penalty if not addressed properly].’[21]

Jesus’ Provision of a New Passover Sacrifice

The Synoptic Gospels present Jesus’ teaching on the Law throughout his ministry as a preamble to his sacrificial offering of himself on the cross.  The Jesus who called for repentance and righteousness and who intensified the Law then offers himself as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins through his own blood of a New Covenant.  Like Hebrews 8-10, Jesus’ sacrifice is a ‘new covenant’ sacrifice.  Unlike Hebrews 8-10, his sacrifice in all four Gospels is a Passover sacrifice—not an atonement sacrifice.  But like Hebrews, the Gospels—and the rest of the New Testament—understand Jesus’ sacrifice as a sin offering.

All four Gospels associate Jesus’ death with Passover, and John’s Gospel has the language—spoken as a testimony by John the Baptist—of Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1.29; cf. v. 36).  John also presents Jesus’ death at the time of the slaughter of the lambs for Passover.  And the book of Revelation presents Jesus as a slain lamb (Rev. 5.6).  He uses the term ‘lamb’ of Jesus 28 times, or 4 x 7 = 28 (given John’s interest in numbers and theological interpretation), with 4 the number of the earth and 7 the number of completion and perfection.  That is, Jesus is the Lamb who makes the perfect sacrifice once for all for the sins of the whole world.  Paul, moreover, refers to Jesus as ‘Christ our Passover Lamb [Pascha]’ (1 Cor. 5.7).  He sees Jesus’ Passover sacrifice (the Lord’s Supper) as a participation in the blood and body of Christ:

1 Corinthians 10:16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? (Cf. vv. 25, ,27.)

Peter says that believers may conduct themselves without fear,

1 Peter 1:18-19 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold,  19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

Finally, Luke links Jesus’ death to a lamb’s sacrifice by quoting Isaiah 53.  The suffering servant is like a sheep or lamb:

Acts 8:32-33 Now the passage of the Scripture that he [the Ethiopian] was reading was this: "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth.  33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth."

In this text, no explicit connection is made between Jesus’ sacrifice as a lamb in terms of Isaiah 53 and the Passover sacrifice of a lamb.  All the other texts in the New Testament that mention a ‘lamb’ sacrifice, however, are Passover sacrifices.  The ‘lamb’ of Passover and the ‘lamb’ led to the slaughter of Isaiah 53.7 easily interpret one another, as we can see when Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper at the time of Passover by alluding to Isaiah 53:

Mark 14:24 And he said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.

Isaiah 53:12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

The Mosaic Passover sacrifice was not a sacrifice for sins.  However, it was a sacrifice that involved (1) substitutionary death (the lamb for the firstborn); (2) a sacrifice leading to liberation from the slavery and idolatry of Egypt to become the people of YHWH; and (3) a sacrifice that is associated with God’s covenant.  Jesus’ Passover is also a substitutionary death, a liberation of people from slavery to sin, and a sacrifice initiating a new covenant.  Jesus’ celebration of the Passover with his disciples (cf. Matthew 26.26-28) was like, and yet slightly different from, this initial, Mosaic Passover.  As there was an old covenant and a new covenant, there was an old Passover and a new Passover.  Jesus tells his disciples that his is a sacrifice of his own body (symbolized in the bread) and blood (symbolized in the wine) to establish a new covenant—the new covenant foretold by the prophets. 

How is it that the first Passover is a sacrifice that establishes a people for God and the Passover of the new covenant is this plus a sacrifice for sins?  The answer lies in the story of Israel itself.  The first exodus of the Jews was a liberation from slavery in Egypt that led to establishing them as God’s treasured possession.  At this time, God gave them His commandments.  Subsequently, however, Israel broke God’s commandments to the extent that, in time, they were rejected by God and sent into exile (the northern kingdom in 722 BC and the southern kingdom in 587/6 BC).  When the prophets speak of a future new covenant (e.g., Isaiah 59.20-21; Jeremiah 31.31-34; Ezekiel 36.25-27), they speak of it as God not merely restoring Israel from captivity but also dealing with their sins.  The new exodus from exile is not merely a liberation from the slavery and idolatry of another nation but also a salvation from sin and punishment (exile).  Nor is it only a forgiveness of sins as it is also a transformation of the heart, a giving of God’s Spirit, such that the people will be established in righteousness.  The new covenant is not simply a forgiveness of and release from the punishment of sin but also a triumph over sin.  Jesus’ Passover sacrifice is associated with the new covenant and so not only establishes a people for God’s Kingdom but also, in keeping with the inauguration of an inward righteousness in the new covenant, is a sacrifice for sin.  It is a sin offering that is both substitutionary for the punishment of sin and victorious over the power of sin.

Jesus’ Death as a Blood Sacrifice for Sin

Jesus’ death was often seen as a sacrifice for sins, without any clear reference to whether it was being thought of in terms of an Atonement or Passover sacrifice.  As a sin offering, Christ’s death is understood as a substitution of life for life because the guilty party receives justification, forgiveness, and reconciliation to God instead of death for the trespasses committed.  Consider the following texts:

            Paul's writings:

Galatians 1:4 who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,

Galatians 2:20  …the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us-- for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"—

Romans 3:25  whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed;

Romans 4:25 who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

Romans 5:8-10 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified [made righteous] by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.  10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.

1 Thessalonians 5:10 … who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.

Philippians 2:8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross.

Colossians 1:20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross…. 22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death….

Ephesians 1:7 In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of trespasses

Ephesians 2:13, 16 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ…. 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.

Ephesians 5:2 … and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 5:25-27 … just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her26 in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word27 so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind -- yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish.

1 Timothy 2:5-6 For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human,  6 who gave himself a ransom for all -- this was attested at the right time.

Titus 2:14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
Synoptic Gospels

Mark 14:24  He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.

Matthew 26:28  for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Luke 22:20  And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Gospel and Epistles of John

John 6:53-56  So Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day;  55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.  56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.

John 19:34  Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.

1 John 1:7  but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 5:6-8  This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.  7 There are three that testify:  8 the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree.


Acts 20:28  Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.


Hebrews 9:7, 12, 13-14, 18-22, 25; 10.4  but only the high priest goes into the second, and he but once a year, and not without taking the blood that he offers for himself and for the sins committed unintentionally by the people….  12 he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.

Hebrews 9:13-14  For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified,  14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!

Hebrews 9:18-22 Hence not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood19 For when every commandment had been told to all the people by Moses in accordance with the law, he took the of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the scroll itself and all the people,  20 saying, "This is the blood of the covenant that God has ordained for you."  21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship.  22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins…. Hebrews 9:25  Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own…. Hebrews 10:4  For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins…. Hebrews 10:19  Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus…

Hebrews 11:28  By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.

Hebrews 12:22-24  But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,  23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,  24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Hebrews 13:11-12   For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp.  12 Therefore

Hebrews 13:20-21  Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant,  21 make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.


1 Peter 1:2  who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood: May grace and peace be yours in abundance.

1 Peter 1:18-19  You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold,  19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.


Jesus’ death was not interpreted in a singular way but was seen as the fulfillment of various Old Testament understandings of sacrifice.  In particular, his death was interpreted in light of the Atonement sacrifice, the Passover sacrifice, and a sin offering.  This rich understanding involves the view that Jesus’ death was substitutionary, even if also other things.  Attempts to underplay or even deny this simply fail under the weight of the Biblical evidence.

Yet the significance of Jesus’ death is also more than substitutionary.  It is more than a substitutionary sacrifice that removes the penalty for sin from the sinner when Jesus dies for sinners.  A further study will explore how the New Testament explains Jesus’ death in such ways as the following:

Jesus’ death overcomes the powers that cause disobedience—
o   spiritual powers (e.g., Ephesians 2.1-2)
o   sinfulness of humanity (e.g., Rom. 5.12)
Jesus’ death makes possible a new humanity in Christ and of the Spirit that no longer fulfills the
inclinations of the sinful flesh and its desires (e.g., Ephesians 2.3)
Jesus’ death brings forgiveness of sins (as noted above)
Jesus’ death removes guilt and shame for sin (e.g., Romans 10.33; 11.11, 1 Peter 2.6; all quoting
Isaiah 28.16, LXX; 1 John 2.28)
Jesus’ death removes the consequences of and punishment for sin (e.g., Romans 6.23).

[1] John Goldingay, Biblical Theology: The God of the Christian Scriptures (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016).
[2] Goldingay here quotes from J. S. Whale, Victor and Victim (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1950), p. 53.
[3] Simon Gathercole, Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015).
[4] H. Gese, ‘The Atonement,’ in Essays on Biblical Theology (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1981), 93-116; O. Hofius, ‘Erwägungen zur Gestalt und Herkunft der paulinischen Versönungsgedankens,ZTK 77 (1980): 186-199 (also in several reprints elsewhere); O. Hofius, ‘The Fourth Servant Song in New Testament Letters,’ in The Suffering Servant: Isaiah 53 in Jewish and Christian Sources, ed. B. Janowski and P. Stuhlmacher, trans. D. P. Bailey (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), pp. 163-188.
[5][5] Morna Hooker, ‘Interchange in Christ,’ in From Adam to Christ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).  Hooker first presented her essay in JTS 22 (1971), pp. 349-361.
[6] J. Louis Martyn, Theological Issues in the Letters of Paul (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1997; J. Louis Martyn, Galatians, Anchor Bible 33A (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997); M. C. de Boer, Galatians: A Commentary (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011).
[7] Gese, p. 106.
[8] O. Hofius, ‘Got hat uns aufgerichtet das Wort von der Versönung (2 Kor 8.9),’ ZNW 71 (1980): 3-20.
[9] Gathercole, pp. 36f.  He notes that the laying on of hands is mentioned in Leviticus 4 and 2 Chronicles 29, but one would expect it to be a focus in Leviticus 16 if this mechanical aspect of the sacrifice is critical to understanding the sacrifice.
[10] Hooker, ‘Interchange in Christ, p. 17; quoted in Gathercole, p. 40.
[11] Ibid., p. 17.
[12] Ibid., pp. 26-27.
[13] Gathercole, pp. 41-42.
[14] D. Campbell, The Deliverance of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009).
[15] Gathercole (p. 46) notes that D. Campbell has to attribute much of Romans 1-4 to Paul’s opponent; see Campbell, parts 3 and 4.
[16] Gathercole, p. 47.
[17] Gathercole, p. 48.
[18] Gathercole, pp. 49-50.
[19] Jay Sklar, Sin, Impurity, Sacrifice, Atonement: The Priestly Conceptions (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2015).  See also, ‘Sin and Impurity: Atoned or Purified?  Yes!,’ in Perspectives on Purity and Purification in the Bible, ed. Baruch Schwarz (), pp. 18-
[20] Sklar, ‘Sin and Impurity,’ p. 24.
[21] Ibid.