Monday, August 31, 2009

Romans 3:25-26
"Good News for the Whole World (Part 2)"

[Crossposted to Street Prophets. The index for the series is here.]

I am using Carl Palmer's titles for these posts. The appropriate links are:

The text:

(NET) Romans 3:25 God publicly displayed30 him31 at his death32 as the mercy seat33 accessible through faith.34 This was to demonstrate35 his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed.36 26 This was37 also to demonstrate38 his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just39 and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness.40

30 tn Or “purposed, intended.”

31 tn Grk “whom God publicly displayed.” Because of the length and complexity of the Greek sentence, a new sentence was started here in the translation.

32 tn Grk “in his blood.” The prepositional phrase ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι (ejn tō aujtou haimati) is difficult to interpret. It is traditionally understood to refer to the atoning sacrifice Jesus made when he shed his blood on the cross, and as a modifier of ἱλαστήριον (hilastērion). This interpretation fits if ἱλαστήριον is taken to refer to a sacrifice. But if ἱλαστήριον is taken to refer to the place where atonement is made as this translation has done (see note on the phrase “mercy seat”), this interpretation of ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι creates a violent mixed metaphor. Within a few words Paul would switch from referring to Jesus as the place where atonement was made to referring to Jesus as the atoning sacrifice itself. A viable option which resolves this problem is to see ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι as modifying the verb προέθετο (proetheto). If it modifies the verb, it would explain the time or place in which God publicly displayed Jesus as the mercy seat; the reference to blood would be a metaphorical way of speaking of Jesus’ death. This is supported by the placement of ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι in the Greek text (it follows the noun, separated from it by another prepositional phrase) and by stylistic parallels with
Rom 1:4. This is the interpretation the translation has followed, although it is recognized that many interpreters favor different options and translations. The prepositional phrase has been moved forward in the sentence to emphasize its connection with the verb, and the referent of the metaphorical language has been specified in the translation. For a detailed discussion of this interpretation, see D. P. Bailey, “Jesus As the Mercy Seat: The Semantics and Theology of Paul’s Use of Hilasterion in Romans 3:25” (Ph.D. diss., University of Cambridge, 1999).

33 tn The word ἱλαστήριον (hilastērion) may carry the general sense “place of satisfaction,” referring to the place where God’s wrath toward sin is satisfied. More likely, though, it refers specifically to the “mercy seat,” i.e., the covering of the ark where the blood was sprinkled in the OT ritual on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). This term is used only one other time in the NT: Heb 9:5, where it is rendered “mercy seat.” There it describes the altar in the most holy place (holy of holies). Thus Paul is saying that God displayed Jesus as the “mercy seat,” the place where propitiation was accomplished. See N. S. L. Fryer, “The Meaning and Translation of Hilasterion in Romans 3:25, ” EvQ 59 (1987): 99-116, who concludes the term is a neuter accusative substantive best translated “mercy seat” or “propitiatory covering,” and D. P. Bailey,
“Jesus As the Mercy Seat: The Semantics and Theology of Paul’s Use of Hilasterion in Romans 3:25” (Ph.D. diss., University of Cambridge, 1999), who argues that this is a direct reference to the mercy seat which covered the ark of the covenant.

34 tn The prepositional phrase διὰ πίστεως (dia pisteōs) here modifies the noun ἱλαστήριον (hilastērion). As such it forms a complete noun phrase and could be written as “mercy-seat-accessible-through-faith” to emphasize the singular idea. See
Rom 1:4 for a similar construction. The word “accessible” is not in the Greek text but has been supplied to clarify the idea expressed by the prepositional phrase (cf. NRSV: “effective through faith”).

35 tn Grk “for a demonstration,” giving the purpose of God’s action in v. 25a. Because of the length and complexity of the Greek sentence, a new sentence was started here in the translation.

36 tn Grk “because of the passing over of sins previously committed in the forbearance of God.”

37 tn The words “This was” have been repeated from the previous verse to clarify that this is a continuation of that thought. Because of the length and complexity of the Greek sentence, a new sentence was started here in the translation.

38 tn Grk “toward a demonstration,” repeating and expanding the purpose of God’s action in v. 25a.

39 tn Or “righteous.”

40 tn Or “of the one who has faith in Jesus.” See note on “faithfulness of Jesus Christ” in v. 22 for the rationale behind the translation “Jesus’ faithfulness.”

Biblical Studies Press. (2006; 2006). The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press.
My Comments: Carl Palmer quotes Socrates saying, about 500 years before Christ, that perhaps the diety can forgive sin; but that Socrates didn't see how. Carl says that the biggest problem in the universe is not sin, but how God could recieve people like us into His presence while maintaining His perfect justice: God's mercy/grace in conflict with His justice. Carl asks if anyone else has wondered how God could do that? Yes, I have thought of that.

Carl says that if we do not have a problem with the idea of God spending eternity with us; then we are missing one, or both, of these things:
  1. The Holiness of a God who cannot, and will not, bring imperfection into His presence without changing it; and/or
  2. the enormity of our own sin.
God's plan examined in Romans not only allows God to cover our sin so we are not abhorant to His sight and a stench to His nostrils; but also to create a method for us shedding our "old man" and transforming ourselves into a "new thing" that is truly righteous - not just cleaning us up by covering us in the righteousness of His Son. This is God's plan for our spiritually-powered transformation and not some spiritual perfume to cover up our smell. The brilliance of God is that He has figured out a way to both punish all unrighteousness; and redeem humanity for eternity. Very cool beans indeed.

This plan had been in place for awhile. Substitutionary atonement is not a Christian invention:
Yom Kippur, the most important day in the religious calendar of Israel, falling on the 10th day of Tishri (the Hebrew month corresponding to mid-September through mid-October). On that day the high priest entered the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle (or temple) to atone for the sins of all Israel . . .

Although many additional rites were added over the centuries, the basic description of the original Day of Atonement is
Leviticus 16. Complex and detailed ceremonies all focused on the central objective of complete atonement by sacrifice. First, the high priest removed his official garments, made for beauty and glory, and clothed himself in white linen as a symbol of repentance as he went about the duties of the day. Next, he offered a bull calf as a sin offering for the priests and himself. That done, he entered the Holy of Holies with a censer of live coals from the altar of incense, filling the area with incense. He sprinkled the bullock’s blood on the mercy seat and on the floor before the ark of the covenant. Then he cast lots over two live goats brought by the people. He killed one of the goats as a sin offering for the nation, taking the blood inside the veil and sprinkling it as before, thus atoning even for the Holy Place. He confessed the sins of the nation over the live goat as he placed his hands on its head. Finally he sent the live goat, called the scapegoat (i.e., the escape goat), into the wilderness. Symbolically it carried away the sins of the people. Then the high priest clothed himself in his usual apparel and offered a burnt offering for himself and one for the people with the fat of the sin offering. Outside the camp the flesh of the bull calf and goat was burned .

The Day of Atonement became so central to Judaism that it survived the destruction of the temple in ad 70 and the end of the sacrificial system. It is the highest holy day of Judaism today . . . In biblical times, celebration of the Day of Atonement showed that Israel believed the cleansing of their sins was accomplished by the rites commanded by God. The forgiveness and grace of God were granted them and were the basis for their continued fellowship with God as his covenant people. Because it was designated as a sabbath of solemn rest (
Lv 16:31; 23:32), all work was forbidden on that day as on the weekly observance of the Sabbath.

As with all the prescribed sacrifices throughout the year, the question arises as to the need for a special time for atonement. It is clear that the ritual was meant to avert God’s wrath for sins already committed as well as to guarantee the continued presence of God. The sacrifice of the first goat and the sending away of the scapegoat were intended to cleanse the nation, the priesthood, and the sanctuary from sin. The intent of the whole sacrificial system reached its highest expression on that day, called by some the “Good Friday of the OT.” The daily, weekly, and monthly sacrifices left something undone, so that the high priest could not enter the holiest place throughout the year. On that one day, however, he was permitted to enter with sacrificial blood as he solemnly represented the nation before the bloodstained mercy seat.

Elwell, W. A., & Comfort, P. W. (2001). Tyndale Bible dictionary. Tyndale reference library (130). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.
Jesus as Mercy Seat vs Sacrifice: The NET Bible translators went a very different direction from most (all?) of the previous translations. It is generally true that no real points of theology are bound up in the many differences of translation that one can find. This is an exception to that. This is how the NIV (and everyone else?) translates verse 25:
God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—
This is certainly the standard orthodox/conservative view of Christ - He was the sacrifice whose blood was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat to atone, once and for all times, for the sins of God's people. The NET Bible translates the verse this way:
God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed.
This makes Christ not the sacrifice to atone for sins, but the place of atonement itself. There may be (probably are) places where Jesus is referred to as the sacrifice itself - but it seems to be a common translation error here. However, this is all Greek to me, so those who feel capable of following the translators' logic can look at the translation notes (32 and 33) to the two verses above; and please comment at will. Incidentally, the extensive translation notes are the reason I am using the NET for this series.

From the note sheet: Going deeper into the word --
  1. What is the significance of the words “But now…”? (3:21)
  2. What does Paul mean by “the righteousness of God”?
  3. Do you regard yourself as someone who has been “justified freely by His grace”? (3:24)
  4. How would you explain that Jesus is “a sacrifice of atonement”?
  5. Why is it essential for God to be reveal Himself as both “just and the one who justifies” those who have faith in Jesus?
Next: 3:25-26 -- "One God, One Faith, One People"


  1. Theodore A. Jones11/10/2009 7:51 AM

    "It is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but
    it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous." Rom. 2:13
    You also need to note that the law has had an addition made to it after
    Jesus crucifixion Rom. 5:20 & Heb. 7:12b.
    And one other problem you need to be aware of. The theory and practice
    of substitutionary atonement does pre-exist Jesus crucifixion in the
    Bible. But that the doctrine of substitutionary atonement does
    pre-exist Jesus' crucifixion and is in the Bible before he was
    crucified is evidence by fact that the doctrine of substitutionary
    atonement is an error. 1 Cor. 2: 6-8, states that if the true reason
    for Jesus' crucifixion would have been able to have been determined
    from any source prior to his crucifixion Jesus would have never been
    You need to go back to the "Brain Camp".
    [This was sent to the author by email rather than posted as a comment - I thought I would stick it in here for posterity]

  2. First, if you do not think substitutionary atonement is part of the reason Christ died - what do you think is? This series <span style="color: #776644;"> </span> on Pastoral Soteriology  would be a good reference point to discuss from (if you see your view there). The link to his support of substitutionary atonement is <span style="color: #476cb8;"></span>".  
    In the meantime, I am not sure how either of these verses (even looking at the context) implies an "addition made after Christ's crucifixtion:
    <span>Romans 5:20</span> Now the law came in so that the transgression may increase, but where sin increased, grace multiplied all the more,  
    <span>Hebrews 7:12</span> For when the priesthood changes, a change in the law must come as well.
    Those are the questions. As to Romans 2:13 - frankly I think this verse is being used out of context. The first three chapters of Romans are a systematic case of why everyone needs salvaton - whether Jews under the law or gentiles not under the law. Paul's conclusion - and the theme of Romans 4-7 and the rest of Romans - is that obedience to the law cannot make you righteous.

    1 Corinthians 2:6 Now we do speak wisdom among the mature,<sup> </sup>but not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are perishing. <span><span style="color: #776644;">7</span></span> Instead we speak the wisdom of God, hidden in a mystery, that God determined before the ages for our glory. <span><span style="color: #476cb8;">8</span></span> None of the rulers of this age understood it. If they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

    I do not see how this says that the "reasons for the crucifixtion" is a mystery - it is not understanding the "wisdom of God" that led the rulers to crucify Christ.


How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly