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Author Topic: Penal substitution and Isaiah 53  (Read 1578 times) Average Rating: 0
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Trebor135
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« on: February 18, 2013, 05:30:32 PM »

Hi all,

I'm in a discussion with a confessional Lutheran pastor and he'd like me to explain how Isaiah 53--a common Protestant proof-text for penal substitution--lines up with Orthodox theology. (He's also asking about part of Isaiah 52, but I don't see any difficulties there; he must simply want to give the full context.)

I'm having a hard time providing him a solid answer, because some parts of this text seem to support, based on the straightforward reading, an innovative doctrine which the Church flatly denies.

I'll quote the whole Scripture passage at issue, with my comments and questions interspersed.

[1] Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

[2] For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.

These verses don't pose any problems.

[3] He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

This verse is describing the reaction of other people to Christ, rather than God's view of him. But why is he "a man of sorrows" and "acquainted with grief"?

[4] Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.

This verse is just plain confusing. On the one hand, it is stated matter-of-factly that (1) Christ "has borne our griefs" and "carried our sorrows", and on the other it is added that (2) "we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted"--as if the first part involved an accurate evaluation and the second part a mistaken impression. Both (1) and (2) seem to be saying the same thing, though, so why the conjunction "yet"?

[5] But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,
and with his stripes we are healed.

What does it mean for Christ to have been "wounded for our transgressions" and "bruised for our iniquities"? What was God doing if "upon [Christ] was the chastisement that made us whole" and "with his stripes we are healed"?

[6] All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned every one to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

What does it mean for "the LORD [to have] laid on [Christ] the iniquity of us all"?

[7] He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb,
so he opened not his mouth.

[8] By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?

[9] And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

These verses all say that Christ was viewed unfavourably and treated unjustly by those who arrested and killed him. If in "oppression and judgment he was taken away", was "his generation" in fact mistaken to have "considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living"? Was Christ actually "stricken for the transgression of [God's] people", or was that simply their erroneous conclusion given the horrors they saw visited on an innocent man?

[10] Yet it was the will of the LORD to bruise him;
he has put him to grief;
when he makes himself an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand;

In what sense and to what end "was [it] the will of the LORD to bruise [Christ]" and "[did] he put [Christ] to grief"?

[11] he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous;
and he shall bear their iniquities.

[12] Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great,
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 made intercession for the transgressors.

How did Christ "bear [the] iniquities [of many]"/"[bear] the sin of many"? How does this act fit in with "[making] intercession for the transgressors"?
« Last Edit: February 18, 2013, 05:43:22 PM by Trebor135 » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: February 18, 2013, 06:17:28 PM »

Many English-language Bibles vary considerably in their translation with the LXX in these passages. I don't have my references handy at present to point them out.
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« Reply #2 on: February 18, 2013, 07:58:41 PM »

Trebor, If you are a cathecumen in ACROD, why are you in contact with a Lutheran pastor?   Huh  Why not ask your ACROD Priest for guidance on those passages?
« Last Edit: February 18, 2013, 07:59:25 PM by SolEX01 » Logged
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« Reply #3 on: February 18, 2013, 10:44:51 PM »

This verse is describing the reaction of other people to Christ, rather than God's view of him. But why is he "a man of sorrows" and "acquainted with grief"?
Because he became a mortal man for us. Because he agonized, suffered and died for us.

[4] Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.

This verse is just plain confusing. On the one hand, it is stated matter-of-factly that (1) Christ "has borne our griefs" and "carried our sorrows", and on the other it is added that (2) "we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted"--as if the first part involved an accurate evaluation and the second part a mistaken impression. Both (1) and (2) seem to be saying the same thing, though, so why the conjunction "yet"?
Because it is speaking from a position of understanding, of a time when the people did not understand. The people believed that Christ was being smitten as a punishment for his perceived blasphemy, rather than for the salvation of the world. Compare Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-23.

[5] But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,
and with his stripes we are healed.

What does it mean for Christ to have been "wounded for our transgressions" and "bruised for our iniquities"? What was God doing if "upon [Christ] was the chastisement that made us whole" and "with his stripes we are healed"?
Christ's sacrifice on the Cross expiates the iniquities, corruption, sin, unrighteousness, etc. of Israel, and through Israel, all the nations.

[6] All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned every one to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

What does it mean for "the LORD [to have] laid on [Christ] the iniquity of us all"?
God willed that Christ would take upon himself the unrighteousness of Israel, destroying it by his perfect righteousness through his obedience even unto death (see Epistle to the Philippians Chapter 2, Gospel of John 3:13-15)

Was Christ actually "stricken for the transgression of [God's] people", or was that simply their erroneous conclusion given the horrors they saw visited on an innocent man?
Yes, but not as a sacrifice of vicarious punishment to satisfy vengeance, but in the manner of an old testament sacrifice: that is, to pour life into iniquity in order to fill it up.


[10] Yet it was the will of the LORD to bruise him;
he has put him to grief;
when he makes himself an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand;

In what sense and to what end "was [it] the will of the LORD to bruise [Christ]" and "[did] he put [Christ] to grief"?
It was the will of God that His Word would suffer for the salvation of mankind. Christ was the right arm of God, reaching into the world to liberate it.

How did Christ "bear [the] iniquities [of many]"/"[bear] the sin of many"? How does this act fit in with "[making] intercession for the transgressors"?
Read Epistle to the Hebrews Chapter 2.
« Last Edit: February 18, 2013, 10:47:39 PM by NicholasMyra » Logged

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« Reply #4 on: February 18, 2013, 10:58:55 PM »

Many English-language Bibles vary considerably in their translation with the LXX in these passages. I don't have my references handy at present to point them out.

I find it curious that such an important passage as a messianic prophecy would be so difficult to translate. :confused: Anyone know what parts of Isaiah 53 are the culprits?
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« Reply #5 on: February 18, 2013, 11:00:45 PM »

Trebor, If you are a cathecumen in ACROD, why are you in contact with a Lutheran pastor?   Huh  Why not ask your ACROD Priest for guidance on those passages?

I'm not asking this pastor for his theological input; I debated with him a couple years ago, wrote to him recently, and was asked to comment about this passage since I hadn't done so before.

I asked Matushka for her assistance and talked to the theology graduate at our parish, but the former was too busy and the latter didn't know what to say. I'll have to ask Father this week if I can.
« Last Edit: February 18, 2013, 11:02:31 PM by Trebor135 » Logged

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« Reply #6 on: February 18, 2013, 11:15:17 PM »

AHHHHH!

Penal Satisfaction is what is taught against. Substitutionary atonement is fine.

The Orthodox Church only teaches against the notion that Jesus died to save us from God the Father, that is all. Very simple. Ignore the rest.

No bloodthirsty deity who needs to drink the blood of his son to be satiated/"satisfied" and appeased. God the Father loves us and sent His son to die for our sins. He died in our place. He bore everything, all of our sin. He bore it in his perfection.
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« Reply #7 on: February 18, 2013, 11:23:55 PM »

AHHHHH!

Penal Satisfaction is what is taught against. Substitutionary atonement is fine.

The Orthodox Church only teaches against the notion that Jesus died to save us from God the Father, that is all. Very simple. Ignore the rest.

No bloodthirsty deity who needs to drink the blood of his son to be satiated/"satisfied" and appeased. God the Father loves us and sent His son to die for our sins. He died in our place. He bore everything, all of our sin. He bore it in his perfection.

Amen.
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« Reply #8 on: February 18, 2013, 11:29:34 PM »

Penal Satisfaction is what is taught against. Substitutionary atonement is fine.

The Orthodox Church only teaches against the notion that Jesus died to save us from God the Father, that is all. Very simple. Ignore the rest.

I think, more specifically in the context of PSA, Orthodoxy teaches against the notion that Christ bore the punishment of our sins from the Father.
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« Reply #9 on: February 18, 2013, 11:32:32 PM »

[8] By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?

These verses all say that Christ was viewed unfavourably and treated unjustly by those who arrested and killed him. If in "oppression and judgment he was taken away", was "his generation" in fact mistaken to have "considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living"?

The bit about generation I find very interesting.

The Prophet seems to say that his prosecutors will not care who his parents were, who he is or where he comes from. The NRSV interprets "generation" as referring to his future offspring/glory: "Who could have imagined his future?"

The Septuagint gives it another meaning: τὴν γενεὰν αὐτοῦ τίς διηγήσεται; "Who will tell/narrate his generation?" The Orthodox interpretation is that the Prophet speaks of his eternal birth from the Father, unknown/unimaginable to his contemporaries and an unfathomable mystery for all mankind.

This whole passage is used in the preparation of the Holy Gifts for Liturgy. The priest speaks it as he cuts the Lamb from the prosphora, remembering/reenacting the trial, the passion, and the exaltation of Our Lord. Glorious stuff!   
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Trebor135
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« Reply #10 on: February 19, 2013, 03:00:05 AM »

Penal Satisfaction is what is taught against. Substitutionary atonement is fine.

The Orthodox Church only teaches against the notion that Jesus died to save us from God the Father, that is all. Very simple. Ignore the rest.

I think, more specifically in the context of PSA, Orthodoxy teaches against the notion that Christ bore the punishment of our sins from the Father.

But Eastern Orthodoxy emphasizes the element of the atonement by which Christ bore our sins a lot less than Catholicism, rather stressing the Lord's victory over death and sin--to the point of making the latter understanding into the exclusive one to be heard (it seems).

Plus, Anselm put forward his argument for the satisfaction theory of the atonement in the eleventh or twelfth century, and he isn't considered a saint in Orthodoxy but is in Catholicism.

What gives?  Huh
« Last Edit: February 19, 2013, 03:01:04 AM by Trebor135 » Logged

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« Reply #11 on: February 19, 2013, 03:07:33 AM »

Quote
But Eastern Orthodoxy emphasizes the element of the atonement by which Christ bore our sins a lot less than Catholicism, rather stressing the Lord's victory over death and sin--to the point of making the latter understanding into the exclusive one to be heard (it seems).

This is reflected in iconography of the Crucifixion. We do not see a ravaged, bloody corpse on the cross, but Christ expressing, even in death, His free and willing sacrifice. His hands are even shown pointing upwards in a gesture of prayer, humility and benevolence. The inscription above His head does not read Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, but The King of Glory.
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« Reply #12 on: February 19, 2013, 04:21:43 AM »

But Eastern Orthodoxy emphasizes the element of the atonement by which Christ bore our sins a lot less than Catholicism, rather stressing the Lord's victory over death and sin--to the point of making the latter understanding into the exclusive one to be heard (it seems).
Oh?

You know, during Holy Week, we actually nail a wooden icon cutout of Christ onto a cross?
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« Reply #13 on: February 19, 2013, 04:23:56 AM »

Fwiw, reply #41 here attempts to delve into the multitudes of ways of looking at salvation...
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« Reply #14 on: February 19, 2013, 04:27:51 AM »

But Eastern Orthodoxy emphasizes the element of the atonement by which Christ bore our sins a lot less than Catholicism, rather stressing the Lord's victory over death and sin--to the point of making the latter understanding into the exclusive one to be heard (it seems).
Oh?

You know, during Holy Week, we actually nail a wooden icon cutout of Christ onto a cross?

Never seen this in Russian churches, only Greek ones.
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« Reply #15 on: February 19, 2013, 01:06:49 PM »

Fwiw, reply #41 here attempts to delve into the multitudes of ways of looking at salvation...

Pretty interesting post. Hadn't seen anyone try to list that many of salvation's facets before.
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« Reply #16 on: February 19, 2013, 02:59:27 PM »

Penal Satisfaction is what is taught against. Substitutionary atonement is fine.

The Orthodox Church only teaches against the notion that Jesus died to save us from God the Father, that is all. Very simple. Ignore the rest.

I think, more specifically in the context of PSA, Orthodoxy teaches against the notion that Christ bore the punishment of our sins from the Father.

Well, we can speak of the Father's wrath being upon us because of our sin, and we can speak of Christ saving us from our sins and death, but the problematic area is when the language gets too strong about Christ averting the Father's wrath in such a way that it implys that Christ is saving us from the anger of the Father. He is saving us from sin and death, from the devil, etc. Not from the Father.

The whole "punishment" thing is kind of a side note and I have no idea why so much attention is given to it. I suppose it would be the idea that the Father "must" dole out punishment for sin, and that Christ has to be the scapegoat for the sins. As in, "Man, I've really got to inflict punishment for all of this sin on someone, and if I don't, I'm just going to cease to be just and implode!"

The language of penal satisfaction is acceptable to a certain degree as it is Biblical, but the problems start to creep in when you talk about the Father having to or needing to dole out punishment in order to retain his quality as a just God. The other big problem is the notion that we then have to be saved from the wrath of the Father, meaning that the savior saves us from the Father.

I think that the Orthodox teaching on salvation is helpful. If helfire is the glory of God which sears sinners but illuminates the faithful, then the "punishment" of the Father is really just the glory of His presence. Therefore God's punishment would be impossible to inflict upon his Son, because his son is sinless. Only glory, fire, and power for the Son.

My two cents, for what they're worth.
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« Reply #17 on: February 19, 2013, 05:56:15 PM »

Well, we can speak of the Father's wrath being upon us because of our sin, and we can speak of Christ saving us from our sins and death, but the problematic area is when the language gets too strong about Christ averting the Father's wrath in such a way that it implys that Christ is saving us from the anger of the Father. He is saving us from sin and death, from the devil, etc. Not from the Father.

The whole "punishment" thing is kind of a side note and I have no idea why so much attention is given to it. I suppose it would be the idea that the Father "must" dole out punishment for sin, and that Christ has to be the scapegoat for the sins. As in, "Man, I've really got to inflict punishment for all of this sin on someone, and if I don't, I'm just going to cease to be just and implode!"

The language of penal satisfaction is acceptable to a certain degree as it is Biblical, but the problems start to creep in when you talk about the Father having to or needing to dole out punishment in order to retain his quality as a just God. The other big problem is the notion that we then have to be saved from the wrath of the Father, meaning that the savior saves us from the Father.

I think that the Orthodox teaching on salvation is helpful. If helfire is the glory of God which sears sinners but illuminates the faithful, then the "punishment" of the Father is really just the glory of His presence. Therefore God's punishment would be impossible to inflict upon his Son, because his son is sinless. Only glory, fire, and power for the Son.

My two cents, for what they're worth.

The point I was trying to make is that Penal Substitution is more than just Christ saving us from the Father - it is Christ bearing the Father's punishment and wrath for us, which is largely condemned. Other similar theories can mention Christ "saving us from the Father," but without actually bearing his penal wrath.
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« Reply #18 on: February 22, 2013, 04:18:51 PM »

(Please disregard. I replied to my own post by mistake.)
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« Reply #19 on: February 22, 2013, 04:19:45 PM »

Well, we can speak of the Father's wrath being upon us because of our sin, and we can speak of Christ saving us from our sins and death, but the problematic area is when the language gets too strong about Christ averting the Father's wrath in such a way that it implys that Christ is saving us from the anger of the Father. He is saving us from sin and death, from the devil, etc. Not from the Father.

The whole "punishment" thing is kind of a side note and I have no idea why so much attention is given to it. I suppose it would be the idea that the Father "must" dole out punishment for sin, and that Christ has to be the scapegoat for the sins. As in, "Man, I've really got to inflict punishment for all of this sin on someone, and if I don't, I'm just going to cease to be just and implode!"

The language of penal satisfaction is acceptable to a certain degree as it is Biblical, but the problems start to creep in when you talk about the Father having to or needing to dole out punishment in order to retain his quality as a just God. The other big problem is the notion that we then have to be saved from the wrath of the Father, meaning that the savior saves us from the Father.

Imagine you were conversing with a fervent Calvinist now: how would you answer these questions?

1) If God didn't punish sin, how could he forgive it?

2) What did the horrific suffering of the passion accomplish?

3) Was the whole experience of scourging and crucifixion actually necessary?

3a) If so, why?

3b) If not, how else could the problem of our sinfulness have been resolved?
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« Reply #20 on: February 22, 2013, 04:29:29 PM »

This is reflected in iconography of the Crucifixion. We do not see a ravaged, bloody corpse on the cross, but Christ expressing, even in death, His free and willing sacrifice. His hands are even shown pointing upwards in a gesture of prayer, humility and benevolence. The inscription above His head does not read Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, but The King of Glory.

Aren't you conceding that Orthodox teaching nowadays isn't taking into account everything we find in Scripture?
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« Reply #21 on: February 22, 2013, 04:33:08 PM »

But Eastern Orthodoxy emphasizes the element of the atonement by which Christ bore our sins a lot less than Catholicism, rather stressing the Lord's victory over death and sin--to the point of making the latter understanding into the exclusive one to be heard (it seems).
Oh?

You know, during Holy Week, we actually nail a wooden icon cutout of Christ onto a cross?

Never seen this in Russian churches, only Greek ones.

If the "bearing our sins" aspect of the passion is only given some emphasis in part of the Orthodox world, an important element of what happened seems to have become obscured.

Plus, if the notion isn't so foreign to Orthodoxy as I had thought, couldn't Anselm be considered a saint in the East?
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« Reply #22 on: February 22, 2013, 04:36:20 PM »

Fwiw, reply #41 here attempts to delve into the multitudes of ways of looking at salvation...

Pretty interesting post. Hadn't seen anyone try to list that many of salvation's facets before.

Indeed. Thanks for sharing, Asteriktos.
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« Reply #23 on: February 22, 2013, 04:37:25 PM »

Plus, if the notion isn't so foreign to Orthodoxy as I had thought, couldn't Anselm be considered a saint in the East?

He wasn't even in the Orthodox Church, so no.
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« Reply #24 on: February 22, 2013, 04:50:16 PM »

Plus, if the notion isn't so foreign to Orthodoxy as I had thought, couldn't Anselm be considered a saint in the East?

He wasn't even in the Orthodox Church, so no.

But he was for some 20-odd years, or however one dates the schism. Of course he died post-1054.
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« Reply #25 on: February 22, 2013, 05:38:07 PM »

This is certainly a helpful starting point, Nicholas. Thanks!

Because he became a mortal man for us. Because he agonized, suffered and died for us.

This makes sense.

Quote
Because it is speaking from a position of understanding, of a time when the people did not understand. The people believed that Christ was being smitten as a punishment for his perceived blasphemy, rather than for the salvation of the world. Compare Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-23.

This also makes sense. Thanks for the Wisdom of Solomon reference--it looks very... prophetic. Smiley

Quote
Christ's sacrifice on the Cross expiates the iniquities, corruption, sin, unrighteousness, etc. of Israel, and through Israel, all the nations.

Going by the passage alone, though, and putting aside other theological concerns, can we determine that Isaiah did not mean that Christ was being punished? Perhaps the nuances of the "for" in the Greek could help us...?

Quote
God willed that Christ would take upon himself the unrighteousness of Israel, destroying it by his perfect righteousness through his obedience even unto death (see Epistle to the Philippians Chapter 2, Gospel of John 3:13-15)

But v. 6 says "the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all", which sounds far more direct than how you interpret it. (I have a possible solution, but would like to hear your input first.)

Also, why do you link Philippians 2:5-11 and John 3:13-16 to Isaiah 53, when neither of the first two passages cite or allude to the third?

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Yes, but not as a sacrifice of vicarious punishment to satisfy vengeance, but in the manner of an old testament sacrifice: that is, to pour life into iniquity in order to fill it up.

Do you know of any web page or book explaining, from an Orthodox viewpoint, the Old Testament sacrifices and their connection to Christ's passion?

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It was the will of God that His Word would suffer for the salvation of mankind. Christ was the right arm of God, reaching into the world to liberate it.

But how would you explain to a Protestant what Christ actually accomplished, if he wasn't punished in our place? (Please see my previous post.)

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Read Epistle to the Hebrews Chapter 2.

Thanks for referring me to that passage--it's very unfriendly to the Protestant position but fits in well with Orthodoxy.

This part, v. 9, puzzles me: "For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering." Is the "he" God the Father and "the pioneer of their salvation" Christ? If so, why would God the Father have to "make [Christ] perfect"? ??
« Last Edit: February 22, 2013, 05:39:26 PM by Trebor135 » Logged

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« Reply #26 on: February 24, 2013, 09:04:13 PM »

Hi again Nicholas--continuing from the post immediately above this one, to tack on one more question, about the last verse of Isaiah 53:

Why was it necessary for Christ to "[make] intercession for the transgressors" if he had already acted as the propitiation for the sins of the world?
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