“For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.”

— Hebrews 2:10

This is astonishing really. And perhaps the Orthodox are correct to admonish us to remain silent in wonder and awe at the mystery rather than puzzle over the explanation. Still, there is so much misunderstanding and opprobrium commonly heard over this point that some explanation is demanded.  

Here is one place where focus on the atonement as satisfaction (“propitiation”) of Divine wrath is completely misplaced — and provokes misunderstanding. The level of Christ’s suffering was not “necessary” insofar as that much being required to get the angry God over His temper tantrum. If the beating and spitting and ridicule — not to mention the sufferings endured at the hands of the Roman soldiers behind closed doors so unspeakable that even the gospel writers leave it purely to the imagination; if all these sufferings — are thought to be the manifestations of the wrath of God, that’s where the objections to penal substitution as “Divine child abuse” arise.

But no, that is not what Hebrews is saying — and it’s Hebrews that goes into the most explanation of why Christ suffered (not just died). He suffered such pain and abuse and mockery and was subjected to such gratuitous sadism not because that was what was required on God’s part to satisfy Him.  No, Hebrews says that was what was “fitting” to enable Christ to be a better, more suitable advocate for us humans.   

In what way did the “author of salvation” need to be “perfected”?  It certainly was not in the realm of informational knowledge; or correction of some deficiency of performance; or improvement in degree of pleasure taken in Him by the Father. No, the only thing that the Second Person of the Trinity would have “lacked” was the actual experience of being human.

And so, Hebrews tells us, not out of requirement but out of concern for “propriety” (do you hear the overtones of concern for “appearance” and “how it would be perceived”?!!!), God’s plan included the Son not only becoming human and enduring death, but enduring every awful aspect of being a human living in and under the corruption of sin. So He could advocate credibly for us — see Hebrews 4:14-16 — Christ endured unspeakable suffering, culminating in the most humiliating kind of public death every conceived from the heart of depraved humanity. Even the word “excruciating” has at its root, crux, crucis: the cross.   

This Good Friday, as we contemplate the sufferings of Christ’s Passion Week and the bearing of shameful death on the cross, let us marvel and worship. But let us do so aright. The proper thought is not: “this is the suffering Christ bore that we deserve because God hates us sinners so much”; but rather, “this is the suffering Christ bore and that God regarded as ‘only fitting’ for a perfect priest-advocate for humanity He would provide because He loves us so much.” 

Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.


0 # Robert Martin 2013-03-29 13:35
An excellent reflection... so, not so much penal substitution... the suffering wasn't to satisfy a penalty... but certainly an atonement that comes through experience.

This certainly sounds like it would satisfy the pacifist Anabaptists as it doesn't invoke a "wrathful" God so much.

This doesn't quite sound like Christus Victor though... How would you classify this atonement view (if it actually has a classification to date)?
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+1 # R. Todd Mangum 2013-04-01 18:25
True, Rob -- I'd say "not so much," though I wouldn't deny penal substitution entirely. It's just that that's NOT the emphasis, not even the PRIMARY emphasis, that the NT gives (especially Hebrews) to why Christ suffered and was tortured so.

Probably the closest to "traditional models" would be "moral example" -- but it actually is, as you imply, kind of a non-traditional category I'm noting here. (Though I have to say: I didn't really realize that until you pointed it out! :-) ) It looks to me like Hebrews is surfacing something like a "qualifying credentialing/experience development" category. . . .

Thanks for the thoughtful comment and interaction. Got me thinking (even more)!
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0 # Robert Martin 2013-04-02 08:35
Glad I could help ya push things out a bit. :-) Looking forward to seeing where this goes...

May I suggest something? Perhaps not fully in Hebrews necessarily, but playing off of Paul's old Adam/new Adam thing.

All humans experience death of some form or another. This is our lot since the fall. We broke relationship with the life-sustaining God and, as a result, are now subject to the power of death. Jesus, in his death, takes on all possible aspects of death in the crucifixion. Caleb Wilde, another Biblical grad, posited on his blog some time back that Jesus may have died even of a broken heart. So we have death by torture, execution, grief, exhaustion, etc.... and who knows what else. Everything humans have inherited from the first Adam.

Jesus, as the new Adam, takes all that on himself in the crucifixion and, as the new Adam, upon resurrection completes the "old" story of Genesis and starts the new story. Hebrews describes a priest who has "sat down" at the end of the service... a priest who no longer needs to stand and act out on our behalf with sacrifices. The old way that leads to death is the old Creation. Jesus, as the new Adam, on his death, finished that old story and, on his resurrection, started a new one.

It's not exactly "qualifying credentialing" either, in that sense, but simply a matter of bringing one thing to completion before starting another.

Does that scan?

Here's the article where I got some of my thinking from:

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