Sunday, February 12, 2006

Blood as Life or Death ?

Atonement theories throughout the history of the Church have been varied. The early church fathers and Augustine proposed a ransom theory (too often mischaracterized and dismissed), Iraneous suggested a recapitulation theory, Anselm a satisfaction theory and the Reformers a penal substiutionary theory. Evangelicals, as heirs of the Reformation, have typically understood the atonement in light of Anselm and the Reformers, viewing the death of Christ as necessary for satisfying the just wrath of God against a sinful humanity. Within this framework, the blood of Christ has come to be viewed as representing death. Sin has been committed; death is the judicial requirement from a holy and just God; blood as payment for sin satisfies justice’s requirement for death.

But perhaps there is a better way of understanding the relationship between blood and atonement. I have argued at length elsewhere that culpability is grounded primarily in ontology—as the doctrine of Original Sin and virtually all Christians acknowledge. If so, then it naturally follows that more than judicial payment for sins is necessary. If we are condemned first because of our condition of death (not just our sinful deeds), then what we need is more than forgiveness--we need life. From this perspective, note the reason that Moses gives for why blood suffices to make atonement.
NAS Leviticus 17:11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.
It is interesting to note here that blood makes atonement primarily because it contains life. The Old Testament sacrificial system seems to suggest that God requires life, not death, as atonement for sin. Dead people cannot come to God, thus without life of their own, the Old Covenant believer came to God with the life of another. Death, though the inevitable result of bringing the life of another, is not ultimately what God desires. He desires life.

The unfolding of salvation history adds to the dialect between blood and atonement. The animal life/blood of the Levitical system, though sufficient for entering into an external relationship with God as typified by the Mosaic Law, was not sufficient for entering into final eschatological salvation. Such a salvation requires a quality of life that can only be found in God alone—an eternal, death-defying kind of life that is given freely by the Son. Thus our participation in the New Covenant blood/life is the means by which our sin/death is ultimately atoned for (and indeed destroyed) and full access to the Father is granted. Blood represents life—the very thing that Adam lost, the Second Adam possesses in abundance and that we need.

The blood of the New Covenant is not simply poured out onto the altar--it is poured out into our lives. We gain our lives by the blood of Christ, not because it contains death, but because it contains life. We are reborn by the blood just as much as we are forgiven by the blood. Indeed, I think it is perhaps more proper to say that we receive forgiveness by means of the blood in as much as have first been born again by our participation in the blood. Blood atones because blood contains life.

Just some thoughts.

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