Category Archives: Colossians

Pauline Theology of Atonement

This was an assignment I wrote in a Pauline Theology class. The class was specifically an introduction to the “New Perspective on Paul”. Unfortunately, I can’t find the syllabus now, so I don’t know what the parameters were for this paper. Reading it though, it obviously was some sort of response to the chapters concerning atonement in the textbooks that we used, James Dunn’s The Theology of Paul the Apostle and the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (The chapter on Atonement was written by James Green).

Chris Evangelista
Dr. Terry Donaldson
14 November 2012


It would seem that whether or not Romans 3:25 can be seen as supporting a “penal substitutionary” view of Jesus Christ’s salvation hinges on whether you translate hilasterion as “propitiation” or “expiation”. According to Dunn, “expiation”, simply meaning the removal of sin, is the correct term while “propitiation”, which carries the connotation of appeasing God, is problematic (Dunn, 213-214). This would seem to place Dunn firmly against penal substitution as the view of salvation.

Dunn makes his argument based on the Septuagint’s use of the word hilasterion, as the lid of the ark (Ibid, 213). He takes this line of argument further by showing the usage of the Hebrew verb. He writes: “In Hebrew usage God is never the object of the key verb (kipper). Properly speaking, in the Israelite cult, God is never ‘propitiated’ or ‘appeased.’ The objective of the atoning act is rather the removal of sin” (Ibid, 214). As such, the issue at hand is whether God is the one acting for the purpose of our salvation or he is acted upon. To be sure, Dunn explains further: “Of course, the atoning act thus removes the sin which provoked God’s wrath, but it does so by acting on the sin rather than on God” (Ibid). Certainly, Dunn’s argument that sin was taken away (expiated) by the blood of Jesus Christ as the semantic meaning of Romans 3:25 is quite convincing. But as per his own admission in that previous quote (though not quite saying it outright), the effect of this taking away of sin is that God is appeased through this action (propitiated).

I believe this reason that Green writes in the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters that “Paul seems never to tire of adding new images to his interpretive vocabulary by way of explicating its significance” (DPL, 203). Most relevant to the argument at hand is that Green adds another category for the effect of Jesus Christ’s salvation, reconciliation, which he actually places against expiation and propitiation as a competing view, relating these terms of the ideas of satisfaction and doctrines of substitution (Ibid). Again, though, Green’s argument is relevant because it acknowledges the plurality with which Paul speaks about effects and benefits of the cross. As Green writes: “it is important that we come to terms with the more fundamental reality that Paul has no one way of explicating the meaning of the cross” (Ibid, 204).

Certainly, when we look at the many ways (several dozen, according to Green) which Paul uses to explain the significance and benefit of the death of Christ, this becomes the case. Dunn’s view of atoning sacrifice in the tradition of the Israelite cult is seen in passages such as Romans 8:3, 2 Corinthians 5:21, and passages that use the phrase “in/through his blood” in addition to Romans 3:25 (Dunn, 216-217). Colossians 2:13-14 gives a great middle point view, without even using the words propitiation or expiation, for the penal substitutionary model and Dunn’s sacrifice model, speaking about God’s work to cancel out the legal demands against us: “ God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.” (NRSV)

In addition to these passages, Green examines two passages which contain layers of imagery used to explicate Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. In these two passages, 2 Corinthians 5:14-6:2 and Galatians 3:10-14, Green finds the categories of vicarious substitution, representation, sacrifice, justification, forgiveness and new creation (DPL, 204). Most appealing about Green’s argument is how he takes into account the context of the passage for explaining why Paul might have used this particular imagery for the cross. For example, while covering reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5, Green writes: “Paul’s choice of terminology and logic of argumentation is tailored to its context, for here Paul not only needs to counter the triumphalistic boasting of his opponents at Corinth but also to overcome the disharmony between himself and his ‘children’ at Corinth. Rooting the message of reconciliation fundamentally in the sacrificial death of Jesus and asserting that reconciliation entails living no longer for oneself but for Christ (and thus for others), he addresses his first aim” (Ibid). It is clear, then, that Paul not only had theological aims in his pursuit of explicating the significance of Christ’s death, but a very real pastoral concern in doing so. Indeed, this could very well be reason why Paul uses such a plurality of imagery, and why it is so difficult to settle on just one.

In conclusion, I believe that Dunn’s argument that Romans 3:25 supports a sacrificial view of the cross in the same tradition as Old Testament sacrifices is an accurate explanation of the passage. However, I don’t believe that it should be used as evidence that the sacrificial view is the only explanation for the cross. I prefer Green’s treatment of multiple passages in DPL, which allows for multiple views of the cross, as well it should because Paul used multiple images for explicating the cross. I think Paul did so in order to address the pastoral concerns of the congregations he was writing to, concerns which could most effectively addressed by a plurality of implications for Christ’s death on the cross.

Colossians – Who is Jesus?

Colossians is my favourite book of the New Testament, and we’ve finally come around to studying it in my New Testament class. So I thought I’d live-blog it as well (like I did with Apocalyptic books from OT class on Tuesday).

Analogies with Stoicism: 1, Deity as the Head of the Cosmos

Paul leaves no doubt that he identifies the church with the body, the cosmos which Christ is the head of. It is the microcasm of the macrocasm… The church is the miniature version of Christ’s headship over all creation… Or maybe we’re the original, and the cosmos and Christ being the head of it is the image of his headship over the church…

Analogies with Stoicism: 2, the mind is the key to the good life

Christ is all knowledge and wisdom though… being in Christ can lead to perfection… The goal of preaching Christ is that everyone would become perfect within Christ. Stoics believe perfection is possible. Likewise Paul is claiming it is possible to become perfect in Christ.

Christ’s Indwelling Life

Often talks about walking in Christ. Or Christ dwelling within Christian… The Christian being in Christ dies with Christ… metaphorically, 2:11-12. Dying and being buried in baptism, and being raised with him from the dead.

Unlike Romans, where hope is for the resurrection, Colossians, resurrection is already at hand… Reason: change in the way the Christian lives.

Parallels with Plato

Plato – God didn’t create out of nothing, but out of chaos. Order our of chaos. Chaos came from the bad god, who continues to create chaos in the world. One of the reasons that Plato advocates turning away from this world… towards the world of the forms, the ideal world, where there’s only truth, beauty and goodness.

τα στοιχεια τοθ κοσμου – elemental principles of the world… this is what Platonists god created the order from… These are the reasons for bad things happening. They are fearsome forces. This is why it’s important for Platonists to believe in reason at the heart of the kosmos, because it allowed for hope.

Plato – image of God… believed that we need to keep our eye on the forms, which is what’s real… what we have are just images. For believers, the image in whom they live is Christ…

Analogical Comparison with Gnosticism

In Christ, all of the πληρωμα of God is pleased to dwell… In Colossians, you have been filled in Him. While in gnosticism, hope is for being filled with knowledge one day.

Another feature is that those in the inner circle believe they have access to a secret knowledge. By comparison, Paul says that God’s mystery is Christ. And all who have knowledge of Christ have knowledge of the mystery.

*** Not arguing for influence. That Paul knew about these philosophies or that his audience did. Just simply looking at what different philosophies in the ancient world is saying about what reality is and how to make it better… Putting Colossians into that mix.


Credo Paper: Penal Substitution

Chris Evangelista
Dr. Joseph Mangina
28 November 2011

Penal Substitution

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:13-14


In chapter eight of The Apostolic Faith, David Yeago begins his discussion on the atonement by taking a look at two theories of atonement which he deems inadequate. The second theory, and the subject of this essay, is the doctrine of penal substitution. Yeago builds his case against this doctrine on three points: (1) that it creates a conflict between God’s love and justice, (2) that it presents the goal of Christ’s atoning work as God changing his attitude towards sinners, and (3) that scriptural support for Christ’s death as the substitution for punishment is weak.

In this essay, I will argue that Yeago does build a convincing case against penal substitution as an explanation for atonement. He does an inadequate job of presenting the strengths of penal substitution, choosing instead to present and counter points that work to his advantage when he goes on to present his own model of atonement. I will show that his first two points do not actually discredit or disprove penal substitution. In fact, the alternative that he proposes for these two points would seem to harmonize quite nicely with the doctrine. Furthermore, his third point – that the scriptural case for substitutionary punishment is weak – is itself ironically weak, as it relies merely on the argument that the scriptural conclusions made by proponents of penal substitution are “illogical”, rather than being based scripture itself. Continue reading