with contributions by Monte McGary II
Salvation is one of the most debated concepts of Christian theology. Within the institutionalized organized churches of the Protestant movement, and the Church of Rome, the idea of Salvation has evolved into a doctrine of infinitely intricate explanations. These explanations have massive ramifications for our view on so paramount a doctrine as Salvation. The ancient Jewish scriptures possess within them the basis for the doctrine of Salvation as developed by the Church. However, the Doctrine of Salvation is not succinctly defined within the Bible. The purpose of this paper shall be to examine the development of the Doctrine of Salvation from St. Clement through Martin Luther.
A Few Thoughts
The apologists of the following centuries after the death of Jesus of Nazareth began to set down in detail what His death and resurrection meant. Within the scriptures, salvation has multiple different implications and different usages. In the New Testament, the word salvation took on a meaning of redemption, but it carries many more ramifications than redemption. The Old Testament portrays salvation as freedom from oppression or slavery. The New Testament further explains the concept of redemption mixed with the Old Testament’s idea of liberation by likening salvation to liberation through ransom. The apostle Paul takes a more relationship based approach by likening salvation to a reconciliation of friends after a dispute, and includes in his definition the state of being at peace with the estranged party. The peace that comes after reconciliation is coupled with a forgiveness of sins. This process is defined as justification, and the party who offended becomes right again in the sight of the offended.
The debate over salvation that took place over the centuries has not been about the presence of these ideas within the scriptures, but rather about the way in which to interpret these ideas. As with most other early church controversies, the apologists were the most prominent on the early scene of debate. Six separate interpretations of the implications of Salvation within scriptures began to arise:
- Salvation as Illumination (Clement of Rome, Justin Martyr, and various early apologists. 90-150 C.E.)
- Salvation as Restoration (Irenaeus, Circa 150 C.E.)
- Salvation as Satisfaction (Tertullian, Circa 150 C.E.)
- Salvation as Victory (Origen, Circa 185-254 C.E.)
- Salvation as Deification (Athanasius, 287 C.E.)
- Salvation as Justification (Augustine, 354 C.E.) (McKim 74-95)
The last of these became the main thought for the interpretation of the Bible regarding Salvation. However, all of these ideas show signs of life within the current Doctrine of Salvation. It could be easily said that the Doctrine of Salvation is a melting pot of these six ideas combined over time. It is important to explore all of these implications, if one is to gain a full understanding of the doctrine that they gave birth to.
Salvation as Illumination
The first of these ideas is that of Salvation as Illumination. The idea of Salvation as Illumination is one of idea, not experience. The apologists who developed this idea were interested in the philosophical ideas of Christ as being the Logos (Word) of God. They believed that the Word was the vehicle by which God imparted to humanity, the divine knowledge that the philosophers of the day were seeking in Gnosticism. The difference between Salvation as Illumination and Gnosticism is the process of impartation of that illumination. In Gnosticism, the divine knowledge is given to a select amount of people, although all people seek this knowledge. The early apologists, such as Justin Martyr and Clement, were careful to stress that Jesus is this Divine knowledge spoken about in Gnosticism, yet the purpose of Christ clearly shows that the divine knowledge is one that is open to all people.
Though the idea that divine knowledge is opened up to all people through Jesus, according to the apologists, the essential applications of Gnosticism still apply. Because the purpose of knowledge is application that brings us into an eternal knowledge, and thus immortal existence, the salvation that comes from the presence of Christ is dependant upon the action of that knowledge. Therefore, we are waiting upon the summing up of existence into death where we will see God’s love save us because of our knowledge. One of the early apologists who developed this idea was Clement (Behr 204) Clement does not remove the law from grace and faith, but he joins the two so that they are dependant upon one another. The result of this is a doctrine that supports works as the justification for faith, and thus for a true knowledge of Christ. Therefore, the purpose for Salvation by Illumination is to respond to the ideas of Gnosticism. The Gnostic belief supported the idea that divine knowledge was secret and had to be acquired through secret method. Salvation by Illumination does not address sin, but instead addresses ignorance. Ignorance is the mother of sin for Gnosticism, and so the answer to this plight is knowledge. It is clear that Christ is the answer to the Gnostic problem of ignorance because of the illumination that He provides. However, to make Gnosticism’s doctrine of ignorance the basis for Christ is fatal to making Christ the answer for the problem presented by Gnosticism. If the Gnostic belief supports the lack of knowledge as being the cause of man’s sin, and knowledge is openly being given in Christ, then humanity should not need Christ to begin with. The idea that Christ is presenting knowledge of truth to a people that can only receive truth, if given directly by a secret source, supports that humanity should not be able to know who Christ is because Christ is an open source. Christ sums up the Gnostic experience by opening truth up to everyone, but in Gnosticism true knowledge is hidden. Even when that knowledge is revealed, it is revealed in a secretive way.
Therefore, for Christ to be the gnosis that all men seek and hear as being truth, truth itself, as being secretive, must be ill conceived. Calling Christ the secret truth that all men hear, claims that truth is in fact not secretive at all. The natural conclusion is that truth can be heard by all men, but it is very rarely spoken. To say this is the truth, the Gnostics would have to remove from their thinking the idea that the knowledge they have gained outside of Christ, is of value. The apologists were not seeking to redefine the philosophy of the time, but rather to more define the philosophy. Using Christ as a filter to understand their struggle with sin, by implying that sin comes out of ignorance of the truth is lazy at best. At worst, it is a means to shift the blame off the self, and to intellectualize a problem that has little to do with intelligence.
Therefore, Salvation by Illumination is not salvation, but in fact, a further blurring of the understanding of the human condition.
Whether the full implications of Salvation by illumination are valid, it should be noted that the reason the apologists have flaws in their logic is not because the idea is flawed. The Bible is quite clear that Christ does provide humanity with an ultimate truth that is so unique that it can only be understood through Him (John 14:6). The problem with the idea of Salvation as Illumination is that it takes a valid concept and uses it as a platform for destroying sin. The purpose of creating this philosophy is a reactionary one, not for the purpose of a better understanding. Its purpose is to answer the ideas that Gnosticism presents, while still maintaining Gnosticism as being ultimately flawed. To build a concept upon something that is flawed, although useful, is ultimately entropic. The apologists were claiming that Christ was something unique, while claiming that He was better. To put Christ into the position of better, is to make Him comparable. This idea ultimately undermines the idea of uniqueness. It could be argued that this is a viable means to show His worth to those who do not understand His value yet. This is true, but Christians who claim to understand His value as unique, should not then take for themselves an understanding that is not for the educated, but the uneducated. The apologists were writing mostly to dispel “heresies” from within the church, not from without. Therefore, the approach should not have taken into account the positions of “out of institution” doctrines such as Gnosticism, in their explanations to believers. Likewise, the Christians should not have taken for themselves defense strategies that were devised for “out of Church” doctrines within church politics. To do this undermines the uniqueness of the Gospel within the institution. Salvation by Illumination is a result of such misjudgments on the part of the institution.
Salvation as Restoration
Salvation as Restoration is a different idea. The idea of Restoration is a development of the theologian Irenaeus. The idea of restoration is a concept that defines the state of humanity as being different than its intended state. Irenaeus believed that Christ’s purpose was to relate to humanity on all levels of human existence. In theorizing this, he explains the reason that the Messiah was incarnated in the womb, and grew from childhood. The idea that Irenaeus presents is that on every level, Christ restores humanity to its intended state as an initially created being (McGrath 328). This concept gives way for heavy usage of the Apostle Paul’s allusion that Christ is the new Adam. Not only is Christ the new Adam to Irenaeus, but the various icons surrounding Christ’s incarnation are given like symbolism. The cross is the new tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Virgin Mary is the new Eve. Christ is the vehicle of Salvation, just as Adam was the vehicle for the Fall (McGrath 328). Christ sums up in his obedience the likeness of God, and thus one man has restored humanity to its state of intention, just as it initially fell. Irenaeus describes this process as being a union of man and God, where God lowers Himself to man’s level through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Man is then raised up to God’s level by being in His likeness. The purpose of Christ is to restore man to the original intended state.
The issue of restoration raised by Irenaeus is a valid idea, worth the amount of exploration it given by the apologist. Restoration to the intended state through the work of Christ on the cross is certainly an idea that is supported by the Bible. The issue of restoration is about the issue of sin. The idea that sin caused humanity to lose his intended state of created perfection, and thus to be in need of restoration, is an idea that answers the problem of sin. Therefore, the idea of Salvation as Restoration is different from Salvation as Illumination because the latter supports Jesus’ deity as being before, and not related to sin. Salvation as Restoration claims specifically that the purpose of the incarnation was specific to the presence of sin, and the need that it created for restoration.
The idea of Salvation as Restoration assumes that the need to address sin is the purpose for Christ to exist.
Salvation as Satisfaction
Restoration is not the only sin-based interpretation given to Salvation by the apologists. The great western theologian Tertullian was a man whose theology greatly shaped many of the ideas that Orthodox Christianity holds, such as the doctrine of the Trinity (Olsen and Hall 30). One such idea that has permeated the orthodox institution is that of Salvation as Satisfaction.
Salvation as Satisfaction is the idea that a standard must be met for restoration to occur due to the separation created by sin. According to the writings of Tertullian, good deeds acquire merit, but bad deeds require satisfaction. The death of Christ on the cross is seen as an act of goodwill on Humanity’s behalf (Tertullian 158). This is the peace offering that opens the door, through reconciliation, for satisfaction. Tertullian’s God is one who has accepted that a relationship should be maintained, but must be satisfied that the offender is genuine about his want for reconciliation. Thus humiliation of the self, through exultation of God, is encouraged. With this said, it is not merely enough to accept Christ, but it is necessary to be baptized as a furtherance of reconciliation. If one does not perform this sign, he is not willing to satisfy the standards of God, and is not reconciled. Once baptized, the offender may discharge his previous offenses by sacrifices of action, and even money. The sorrow that gained from this shows God the sorrow that man feels for his sinful ways and God will one day forgive them.
Tertullian’s idea of God is interesting, but more closely resembles the pagan God’s of Rome and Greece, than he does the God of Abraham and Moses, summed up in Jesus. The sacrifices found within the Old Testament were not a means of satisfying God’s wrath as they have come to be understood. The Mosaic covenant did not support a need for reconciliation with YWHW; instead, it maintained a relationship through the proof presented by blood sacrifice (Robertson 173-174). Satisfaction through blood sacrifice was never truly achieved by humanity’s ritualistic form of law (Micah 6:6-8). God Himself declared that these sacrifices meant nothing to Him (Isaiah 1:11-15), and that He would much rather be merciful than punish man for his sins (James 2:13). The stark difference between the God presented by Tertullian, and the God presented by Jesus is one of Mercy. Jesus’ incarnation presented the idea that God was with man – His name Immanuel clearly presents this (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23). Jesus openly forgave man of their sins because of their faith, without their sacrifice. His decree to these people was not to make a second repentance by living in constant sorrow for their past sins. His decree was simply to, “Go and sin no more (John 8:1-11).” The Father who agrees with Jesus by virtue of their Triune nature within the Godhead would be in agreement with the sentiment of Christ on the cross to, “forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).”
Tertullian was one of the founding Fathers of the Trinitarian doctrine, but he seems to forget that the ways of the Son, are the ways of His Father. Thusly, because Jesus did not require a sacrifice for sin, in order to be in communion with humanity, and thus to forgive them, neither would God His Father.
Therefore, salvation as a means to satisfy the just anger of the Father is an idea that denies the nature of God found in the incarnation of Jesus.
This doctrine has been the forbearer of various permutations, such as penance in Roman Catholicism, and the need to satisfy God’s righteous standard found within modern Protestant Orthodoxy. The doctrine of Salvation as Satisfaction is different than Salvation as Restoration because it places more of an emphasis on humanity’s need for good deeds than Salvation as Restoration. Although their implications are essentially different, they both stem from the same root. Both ideas present Christ as being present due to the nature of man as sinful. The idea of Salvation as Restoration opened the doorway for Salvation as Satisfaction. Salvation as Satisfaction has opened up the doorway for several ideas to be presented. Among these are the Roman Catholic doctrines of penitence, and purgatory, and the Protestant concepts of God’s wrath and vengeance. The rise of a need for Salvation as both Restoration, and then Satisfaction continued to be picked up by other philosopher/theologians.
Salvation as Victory
Origen, a student of Clement, believed that the ability of Christ to restore humanity to the Father, and give us a way to work through our Salvation through Satisfaction, proclaimed Jesus as a victor. He likened Jesus’ act of restoration, as an act of Ransom. According to Origen, Jesus gave himself to the Devil, who owns all sinful souls, as an exchange for the souls of humanity. Once Jesus was taken by the Devil, the Devil found that he could not hold Him, because in Him there was no sin, and Hell can only hold those who are sinful. It is in this way that Jesus was able to restore humanity to God, and open up the doorway for a satisfaction of God’s righteous standard. Origen likens Jesus to a warrior protecting his friends. Because death cannot defeat Christ, anyone who stands with Christ will be under His protection, although their sinful souls would naturally belong in Hell (Bethune-Baker 337).
Salvation as Deification
Athanasius, who was famous for dealing with the Arian controversy that created the Council of Nicaea (although he was not actually there.), as well as Clement, and Irenaeus also worked on another sin-based idea called Salvation as Deification. The idea of Salvation as Deification has to do with man’s renewal and restoration to the intended state of perfection he was at during Eden. The term describes not only the act of restoration, but also the process of becoming immortal, perfect, and finally satisfactory to the Father. Clement sums up this idea by stating that, “the Logos of God had become man so that you might learn from a man how a man may become God (Clement).” The idea of Salvation as deification is an idea that practically applies the concept of Salvation as Victory. Its scriptural support is found in numerous places in the Bible. Probably the most notable of these passages is Psalms 82:6 which states that, “You are gods, sons of the most high, all of you.” The Apostle Paul repeatedly emphasizes the idea of partaking in Christ’s holiness. This concept is not a new one, although it is very well embedded and quiet within Orthodox views of Christianity. This concept of Salvation as Deification, and the process that it supports helped give way to other such doctrines of progressive deification, most notably the Doctrine of Sanctification, which almost verbatim describes the process of restoration which Christ as Victor made possible through Salvation, and the ability to satisfy God’s standards ultimately ending in a sort of deification. The relationship and progression of these ideas is obvious and inseparable. Although Salvation as Deification doesn’t stress its own origin in sin, it tackles its origin by emphasizing man’s potential to overcome sin and one day be restored; satisfying God’s standard, and being victorious over sin.
Salvation as Justification
Some two hundred years of philosophy and politics brought about the doctrine of Salvation as Justification. Augustine, who would develop the most practical example of the Trinity, and champion the causes of the Roman Catholic Church, was the proprietor of the doctrine. Within his writings, we find allusions to the previous four concepts of Salvation, as well as the current platform from which Salvation is approached. This platform is an outright attack on the concepts of current theology of the day, as well as early Church theology found within the doctrine of Salvation as Illumination. For Augustine, the incarnation was specifically related to sin, and the need for restoration, satisfaction, through victory, for the purpose of deification. Augustine proclaims that justification and deification are essentially the same, since it is justification that allows the sinful to become the Children of God. He states that, “if man had not sinned, the Son of God would not have come (McKim 85).” The current theological debate against his summation of the four previous ideas in Justification was called Pelagianism.
The namesake of this belief, Pelagius, believed that humanity was free to choose God (McKim 86-87). In essence, Pelagianism was a logical conclusion to the idea of Salvation as Illumination as a response to the Gnostics. Instead of humanity being enslaved by sin and therefore incapable of doing what is right, the Grace of God which is inherent in the creation of humanity (as the imago dei – image of God) and is evidenced through Jesus’ incarnation, gives man the help he needs to activate his freewill toward doing what is right. Therefore, “faith in the first instance is reckoned as righteousness for this reason, that (a person) is absolved as to the past, justified as to the present, and prepared for the future works of faith (McKim 87).” Pelagius differed with Augustine on the same point as the four previous ideas of Salvation disagree with Salvation as Illumination. The issue was the idea of Original Sin.
Found within the writings of Tertullian, the same theologian to give us a better understanding of the Trinity, and the idea of Salvation as Satisfaction, is a concept called Traducianism. This concept is simply the affirmation that the soul of the father is transmitted sexually to his offspring (McGary II). The consequences of this concept bring all of humanity into Adam’s Original Sin. Therefore, Augustine’s view of humanity’s entropic condition is a direct response to the theology of Salvation as Satisfaction, which is based upon Traducianism. In the mind of Augustine, all of humanity participated in the sin of Adam because all of humanity has Adam’s soul. This became the main focal point for Augustine’s justification of the Doctrine of Original Sin, and Salvation as Justification.
Augustine believed that humans are incapable of enacting their freewill without sinning. Augustine was intent on proving that Grace is not merely an aesthetic to the presence of creation, but an essential act of God within a creation that has sinned. He was worried that Pelagius’ idea of sin as being the sum of a single action and the ability of man to choose to avoid this action would leave man without a need for God.
According to Augustine, God activates grace first (prevenient). Grace, “predisposes a man before he will, to prompt his willing. It follows the act of willing, lest one’s will be frustrated (McKim 87).” This means that grace is God making a suggestion, or programming man’s will to respond a certain way, although the actual event of choosing is open for the personal decision of the individual. Justification is the act of this will choosing to do what the Father wills through the prompting of the grace of the Holy Spirit. Augustine’s understanding of Justification is, once again, almost synonymous with Tertullian’s idea of Salvation as Satisfaction. The moment of Justification is not the acceptance of the truth, but the action of baptism, which symbolizes that acceptance.
Augustine had four separate types of Grace:
- Prevenient Grace: Grace that begins the act of Salvation without being prompted by the actions of humanity.
- Accompanying Grace: The continuing presence of God within the life of those who believe.
- Sufficient Grace: The Grace in the Garden of Eden, of which Adam was in possession of before the Fall.
- Efficient Grace: The Grace that enables God’s people to be productive for God (McKim 87-88).
Augustine’s conclusions on the subject of Justification through grace led him to the conclusion that God’s grace is always present and capable, and therefore will overcome everything. However, since not everything is overcome by His grace, Augustine conjectured that God’s grace is intentfully willed, and divided amongst those who God chooses. Therefore, those who are saved, are saved specifically because God chose for them to be saved, and those who are not, were not chose out of intent.
Augustine’s extreme conclusion based upon the ideas set forth by the four apologists before him, and his own understanding of scripture drew much controversy. Many people accepted some of his writings, and some of Pelagius’ writings. Eventually in 529 C.E., The Synod of Orange tipped the scales in favor of Augustine by condemning Pelagius’ views, while at the same time remaining silent on Augustinian extremes like predestination. The Synod of Orange affirmed that the fall of Adam was the fall of all humankind through Original Sin and Traducianism (McKim 89). The Synod approved the concept that Grace precedes justification in total; that due to sin, free will in itself cannot lead one to be baptized; and that grace is favor that is unmerited and fully necessary for avoiding evil, and doing what is good.
The Synod of Orange did not close discussion on the issues summed up by Pelagius, and Augustine. It did however provide a platform from which the Roman Catholic Church could consolidate its power over souls. Outside of this “Institutional Orthodoxy”, controversy raged on. At the center of the issues was the question of what really happened at the Fall. Did all men fall in Adam? Are we truly separated from God? Pelagius did not recognize the prevenience of sin, where as Augustine followed suit with his apologist philosophers and emphasized it. The one thing that all six different belief systems held in common was the presence of works, which justified grace.
Enter Martin Luther
Martin Luther inadvertently started the Protestant Reformation because of an error he found in the idea that righteousness and salvation are maintained by works, through grace. Ultimately, this idea came to a head in the selling of indulgences, and penance. Luther expounded upon Augustinian ideas of Justification as Salvation, but instead of summing this up in the process of works and succinctly baptism, he emphasized the moment of belief or faith. His fight mirrored the Apostle Paul’s words that it is by, “Grace you are saved, through faith . . . not of works (Eph 2:8, 9).” In this way, Martin Luther maintained the same emphasis on sin that his predecessors had done before him, but he changes the point of Salvation from being by grace in works, to Salvation through Faith (McKim 91).
According to Luther, the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness happen upon acceptance and faith, not baptism. Our ability to become that which we are already, is a process that is completed at death. This process is called Sanctification. Luther believed that, “Our justification is not yet complete . . . It is still under construction. It shall, however, be completed in the resurrection of the dead (McKim 92).” Therefore, Salvation as Justification is not completed by humanity even though Christ completes it. Salvation as Justification will only be complete when humanity reaches his entropic end and catches up to his justified state. This is an amalgam of the idea of Salvation as Deification, with the concept of Salvation as Satisfaction. Martin Luther uses his Augustinian understanding of Tertullian’s Traducianism and Original Sin to support that a satisfactory standard must be met before deification can occur. Thus, Luther both supports, and rejects the power of Original Sin, creating a new doctrine called Sanctification.
Martin Luther’s understanding of the doctrine of Salvation as Justification by faith, is not a completely new idea, but in fact is an old idea that has been passed down through the centuries by his famous theologian predecessors. Martin Luther did not add to the doctrine, but instead changed its emphasis. The foundations found within the Doctrine of Salvation are present within the current doctrine, even in its institutionalized orthodox form. Within Sanctification, the remnants of Tertullian’s Doctrine of Satisfaction lurk. Within Justification, the remnants of Irenaeus are buried in the form of recapitulation, and propitiation. The body of the current institutionalized orthodoxy is powered by the spirit of these ancient concepts. Upon understanding that the institution is based not upon scripture, but upon philosophy and political intent, the question is whether these philosophies are indeed scriptural, or based upon mankind’s musings. When this question is brought to the table, a modern day protestant/or Roman Catholic preacher will tell us that the ideas of the apologists are scripturally based.
As history will show, the philosophies of Martin Luther are not based on scripture at all. His philosophies are measured against scripture when a departure from scripture is thought to be found. The basic structure of Luther’s theology is based upon the structure of Augustine’s theology. Augustine’s theology likewise is an amalgam of the theologian’s before him, most notably Tertullian. The resulting doctrines, which are now present within the church, are toted as being scripturally based, but the truth is that they are based upon the writings of the theologians before them. Because these writings do not outright oppose the common understanding of scripture, they are called scriptural even though several of these ideas are not found in the scripture. Because of this, any common idea is left alone and not checked against the scripture. If there is no checking being done, nothing is found wrong with it, and because nothing is found wrong with it, it is deemed to be in line with the scripture although it is not, at all. This is the very reason Martin Luther’s reformation was made possible. For literal centuries, the common idea of Salvation was based upon works. It was only when the convenience of seeing the doctrine of Salvation by Works became socially inconvenient, that it was challenged. Even the reformation was not a full challenge of the system that had been created through political convenience. Martin Luther did not want to leave the Roman Catholic Church, but was instead forced out. It was not the iconoclasticism of Rome that was addressed in force, but the monetary aspect of Rome. Several issues of improper interpretations of scripture within Rome’s doctrines were noticed, but remained largely unaddressed. His intent was never to lead a reformation, but in fact, he was forced to. This is the Reason that the Lutheran Denomination, to this day, maintains much of its Roman Catholic Heritage, and gives example as to how it is that a doctrine can be challenged without challenging the establishment that created it.
The issue of fallacy within the foundation of the Doctrine of Salvation should be evident. Consequently, it is not merely the Doctrine of Salvation that should be held up in scrutiny, but the foundation of that doctrine. Neither of these issues is scrutinized by the institutionalized orthodoxy. Although the issue of Salvation is said to be based upon Scripture, it should be clear that the way in which scripture has been looked at in the doctrine of Salvation is an amalgam of various filters. Salvation, specifically, has been put through at least six different filters. By the time of the last filter of Martin Luther, it is hard to tell what is being said in the scriptures at all, without implementing these filters.
The standard for what is right according to scripture and empirical evidence, is whether what is right can be proved wrong. Subsequently, if scripture contradicts one of the filters it is put through, then either the filter is wrong, or the scripture is wrong. Since the scripture is said to be the basis for these filters, then if a filter is wrong, scripture will contain paradoxes. However, it would be impossible for a paradox to be maintained in a filter without making the filter invalid by its disagreement with its own standard of truth.
An example of this is the interpretation of scripture given by the angel Moroni to Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith’s interpretations of the scriptures contradict what the scriptures say alone. An example of this is that Jesus is presented by the theology of the Latter Day Saints as the brother of Satan, when the scripture’s are clear that Jesus was God’s only begotten son. These two statements are contradictory. In order for the filtered version of scripture to be accurate, it cannot disagree with the scripture. If scripture disagrees, then it invalidates its own authority, and the authority of the scripture, because when one is based on another, both cannot be right, and yet one still wrong. The second must always agree with the first, although it may expound upon the first. If a paradox exists, it is because the second denies the first, which is the basis for its existence, and in doing so it denies itself.
The doctrine of Salvation has been passed down with filters attached to it. Primarily, these are the filters of Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Athanasius, Augustine, and Martin Luther. To understand the scripture’s truth, we must ask the question of whether these filters are contradictory or productive. Irenaeus is the main contributor of the doctrine of Salvation through Restoration. His filter is not the doctrine of Restoration, but the means by which he achieved this doctrine. The tools he used to look at Salvation within scripture are two major underlying ideas. The first is “recapitulation”, and the second is “propitiation.” These two ideas together are largely responsible for the formation of the theme of restoration that is found within the institutionalized orthodox Doctrine of Salvation.
The foundation for the idea of Restoration through propitiation is presented by Irenaeus as an expansion, primarily, of the Apostle Paul’s theology. Probably the most systematic explanation of Mankind’s condition and relationship with God is found in the book of Roman’s. Irenaeus takes from Roman’s as well as other Pauline works to build the idea of Propitiation. Using the twenty-fifth verse of Romans, the philosopher/theologian presents a systematic theology of Restoration through propitiation.
For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us. God was being entirely fair and just when he did not punish those who sinned in former times. (Romans 3:25)
Irenaeus argues, citing Leviticus, that Christ is the sacrificial goat made to take the blame for our sins. He extrapolates an order of restoration, using Levitical law, presupposing a firm foundation that sin has caused a need for restoration. The order for restoration is subsequently headed up by the act of sinning. According to the economy presented by Irenaeus in Romans 3:25; Man sinned, which caused God to become angry, and a relational separation to occur. In order to satisfy God’s anger, Christ sacrificed himself, which then justified that a relationship should be maintained, and thus restoration occurs. The law which man sinned against was the Law of Moses, which then justifies the use of the sacrificial scapegoat, since this method was outlined in the Levitical Law. Therefore, according to Irenaeus, grace is necessary because humankind sinned against the Law of Moses. Because man is unable to fulfill the law, Christ came to fulfill it for him.
According to the theological order presented in Romans 3:25, by Irenaeus, grace is dependant upon the action of Sin. Accordingly, the purpose of Restoration is to bring about reconciliation. Tertullian would later develop this idea, citing the same verse, and claiming that reconciliation occurs when God’s standard is satisfied. Therefore, according to Irenaeus, the purpose of restoration is to cause reconciliation.
The verses found within Romans chapter three, present a different economy. Verses nineteen through twenty-four are clear that grace comes before sin.
Obviously, the law applies to those whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses and to bring the entire world into judgment before God. For no one can ever be made right in God’s sight by doing what his Law commands. For the more we know God’s law, the clearer it becomes that we aren’t obeying it.
But now God has shown us a different way of being right in his sight- not by obeying the law, but by the way promised in the scripture long ago. We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done.
For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. (Romans 3:19-24)
More than this, they are clear that fulfillment of the law does not make us right before God. This passage is the proper context for a translation of Romans 3:25. The economy presented by the Apostle Paul states that although everyone is guilty of sinning against the Law of Moses and God, following this law does not make a person right before God. Clearly, says Paul, if a person was to follow this law, it would not make us right with God. Therefore, if keeping the law does not equate to righteousness, then how is it that falling short of it equates to wickedness? Putting this question aside and focusing on the order presented by Irenaeus, another contradiction becomes apparent.
The order of Irenaeus states that Grace is made manifest as a result of sin. This Grace is manifested in the person of Christ who came in order to satisfy God’s standard, which we offended by breaking his law. Paul states in verse twenty-one, that the way, which God provided for being righteous, was presented in the scriptures long ago. Earlier in verse two of Chapter one, Paul claims that this method was given by the Prophets long ago. In Paul’s letter to Titus, he claims that the truth of Eternal Life, through Christ, is a message that was before the creation of the world. In verse twenty-two of Romans 3, Paul states that the condition for this Grace is not dependant upon who we are within God’s creation, and therefore, what we have done inside that creation (which ultimately defines who we are) does not decide our ability to receive this Grace.
Clearly, Pauline doctrine, and economy supports that Grace is first in creation, and therefore does not exist because of sin. In fact, sinning against the law and therefore God apparently has no bearing upon the Grace of God, because, according to Paul, obedience to the Law could not make us right before God. Therefore, Irenaeus is presenting a different economy than Paul has presented within Romans. According to Paul, Grace is extended to humankind before they sinned because it was presented before the world was created. When humankind sinned, all he had to do to come to God was reconcile himself, using the knowledge that the relationship would exist because of the evident Grace of God in Christ. The reconciliation of the creation to its creator would then warrant the restoration of the creation to the position that the creation had previously held. Ultimately, Paul maintains that a position as prime creation had been compromised by sin, but not that the entire relationship had been thrown away. Therefore, it is not a relational separation that occurred in Adam, but a positional separation. In this light, salvation of position, from the power of sin is necessary, but salvation of relationship with God due to separation because of sin is not.
The picture that Paul presents is that of a Father and Son relationship. The child may throw away his position with the Father and claim that he is no longer his son. He does this by willingly going against the standard of the Father in open rejection and rebellion which apexes in declaring his own emancipation. This is a separation of position within the family. However, the child cannot remove his genetic connection to his Father, because by natural order, he is who he is. If he were able to do so, he would be making a relational separation. Therefore the idea of positional separation does not rely on a geographical position, but a position of economy. Conversely the idea of relational separation is not defined by the kinetic relationship being severed, or by interaction between the parties being ceased. It is defined by the intrinsic connection of the parties being disturbed.
Irenaeus was claiming that an intrinsic connection had been broken with God by the act of sinning, and in order to set things right Christ came to satisfy God’s anger over the matter, and thus restore us to our rightful position. The main problem with this thought process is that it associates a positional idea of restoration with a problem of relational separation.
Logic dictates that in order to restore something to its original state you must first bring the estranged parties together. This is done by understanding that an intrinsic relationship exists between the two parties. Therefore, you cannot reconcile something by first restoring it, you must first reconcile it. Paul grasped this concept and presented that man is positionally separated, and therefore in need of reconciliation through knowledge that a relational or intrinsic separation does not exist. This grace was evident before sin, and is manifested in the persona of Jesus Christ. His sacrifice is a presentation of sorrow over the positional separation, and an acknowledgement of falling short of this standard, but in no way does it imply a relational separation that ultimately condemns humankind to the Lake of Fire. Because man is reconciled to God through Christ, God restores man to his original state as prime creation, giving justification to the grace presented before the creation. Thus, the doctrine of propitiation falls short because it presents a doctrinal economy, which in practicality and in logic is backwards. Irenaeus’ idea of Salvation through restoration by propitiation due to recapitulation is heinously flawed. The Pauline idea of Salvation is clearly restoration through reconciliation by faith through grace, and is absent of a need for relational or intrinsic salvation.
The book of Romans is not the only letter which presents a relational connection, but a positional separation. The letter to the Ephesians, chapter two, states that humankind is in God’s special favor, which is contradicted in Irenaeus’ idea of restoration through propitiation. Propitiation has, as foundational, in its definition the idea that humankind is no longer in God’s favor. This favor was humankind’s before the creation according to the second chapter of Timothy. Paul was very clear that Grace is first, and therefore reconciliation is primary to restoration. Paul is not the only ancestor who believed this. The unknown author of Hebrews presents a similar economy, citing the Levitical laws like his Pauline counterpart, in the letter to the Hebrews, chapter nine. The author of Hebrews states the necessity of Christ as atonement for sin in verses one through sixteen, and then explains the reason for atonement in verse eighteen, as a mere proof of death. The relevance of having a proof of death is the idea that a relationship is present, and the benefits of the relationship can be claimed. Hebrews presents that the reason for blood sacrifice is not to appease God’s anger and therefore restore us to our relationship with God. Blood sacrifice is proof that the relationship with God exists, and the sacrifice is a way for humankind to reconcile that relationship and restore man from his positional separation.
The apostle Peter states in his first letter, chapter one verse eighteen, that God paid a ransom for our sins. In verse nineteen, Peter states that this ransom was planned before the world was created, and that Christ came for all to see that this ransom was already paid before the world was created. Peter is clearly stating that at no point in creation was man relationally or intrinsically separated, and that Christ came to show this to humankind so that he may be positionally restored by Christ’s own sacrifice.
John, the beloved apostle, states the same thing in verse ten of Chapter four of his first in his triad of letters. John states that real love is witnessed in the fact that God loved us, not in our love for him. According to John, God sent his son as a sacrifice as proof of his love. Paul and Peter would say that this love, and subsequent sacrifice were before sin. The author of Hebrews agrees with Paul and Peter, as well as John, as the beloved apostle expounds on the idea that the proof that sacrifice shows about love, is that God’s love existed beyond sin. Thus the author of Hebrews, John the beloved, the main disciple of the Jews; Peter, and the Apostle Paul, are all in harmony regarding Grace. They all suggest that the economy of Grace begins with Grace itself. They present Grace as independent of sin and time, and salvation show salvation as the capacity of Grace to act within creation as an agent that reconciles the tears in a relationship with God, rather than restoring a relationship that was irreparable. Therefore, salvation is constant in creation as a reconciling agent. Salvation is therefore the agent of Grace in creation. And in concession to this point, Sin merely gave grace the opportunity for itself to be seen and manifested as salvation in creation, but salvation and grace were always present.
Despite the harmony of the biblical philosophers, Tertullian agreed with Irenaeus. What is probably more appropriate, and common of theology in general, is that Tertullian did not disagree with Irenaeus. Tertullian was an interesting man. The father of the doctrine of Satisfaction was not a static personality by the time of his death. Over the course of his lifetime he made a giant swing from absolute legalism to the feeling driven spiritualism of Montanism. It is important to understand that Tertullian was a person whose doctrine was developing. Tertullian was, by association, and terminology a lawyer. Although the evidence surrounding his career cannot be proven beyond the shadow of a doubt (pardon the pun), the arguments that Tertullian used to support his theology were legal arguments.
An example of such style is the introduction of the terms “substancia,” and “persona” into the explanation of the Trinity. Tertullian did not associate the esoteric meaning of substance that the word has come to imply. To Tertullian, substance was not “matter,” it was the property and the right of a person to make use of something. Tertullian’s idea of “persona” is also a legal idea. Persona is not the individual, but the individual who has the substance. This allusion to the Latin legal system gave Tertullian the ability to present his beliefs as a common understanding of practical society. Thus Tertullian’s ideas on God are seen as logical because they play out in a common practically in a sinful society. This practicality does not substantiate, however, that the ideas are in harmony with the scriptures they are supposedly defending. In point of fact, Tertullian was quite prone to making use of the Latin legal system in order to substantiate theological claims, which were not actually present in the philosophies on the pages of scripture. Tertullian wrote an entire treatise on the validity of scripture as the rightful property of the ecclesiastical body due to its presence with the church for such a long amount of time. He justifies this claim in his Liber de praescriptionibus adversus haereticos. In this work, he uses the Latin legal work Praescriptio longi temporis, which says that the use of a property for a prolonged period of use gives the user a legal right to it. Although this is certainly a compelling argument for the validity of the church to a Latin governed people, it has nothing to do with a biblically governed people. The arguments of Tertullian are patterned in this manner.
It is a legal tactic to take from circumstantial evidence to prove the point one is trying to make. In order to do this, the subject at hand cannot be addressed as being absolute in its true nature, because that is what is in question. Without proving a point based on the validity of the point itself, outside examples are used to justify the point. Thus the point in question can be assumed to be true without having any valid evidence within itself to justify its truth. Tertullian used this tactic to argue for the validity of the established theology. He did not seek to find whether what was established was worthy of its own establishment, but instead sought to defend it blindly. His method of defense for the validity of the Trinity, the scriptures, and the church follows the suit of his definitions. The apology that he makes is legal, not philosophical. In fact Tertullian was very adamant that philosophy was to be rejected. He believed that philosophy was the parent of heresy, because it brought into question the origins and meanings of ideas that the law assumed into place; such as good and wrong, and right and evil.
Understanding the mindset of Tertullian as a legal thinker is absolutely essential to understanding his influence on the doctrine of Salvation. His contribution to the doctrine is not a philosophical one that springs from a love of scripture, and a longing to find the truths that it holds. This is not to discount everything that Tertullian gave to theology as being invalid, but it is to give it the place of authority it demands, which is considerably different from the position his theology has been given by theologians in the centuries following him. Tertullian’s theology sprung from a need to justify the ultimate standard held by the Law of both Moses, and the Romans. Using his legal background, he isogeted whatever scriptures could serve him best in order to maintain a sense of order for himself and the people around him. This assessment may seem to be a harsh statement, but consider that Tertullian would later abandon his own legalistic interpretation for the cult of Montanism. Although Church history might say that Tertullian was a well-grounded student of the law and the scriptures, Tertullian himself would deny the legalism he defended so vehemently in his earlier works.
It is this man, Tertullian, who presents the economy of Irenaeus in Romans chapter three. In this twenty-fifth verse, Tertullian seeks to justify that God is an offended party in a legal dispute, by citing the word “satisfy,” of which the apostle Paul makes use. Tertullian transliterates satisfaction into the legal definition of the word. By doing so, he claims that God’s anger must be satisfied, as the offended person in a legal dispute would have to be satisfied in Roman law. Tertullian does not look at the economy presented by the apostle Paul to see the truth presented in its full hermeneutical context. According to established theology, which is filtered through the superstitions of the area and political interests, God not only has every right to be angry at humanity, but also in fact should demand satisfaction. This was common practice in the community of Rome, just as it was common in the mythology of the area.
Because Tertullian did not delve into philosophy, he did not question whether this point should be taken through the filter of his upbringing and surroundings. Tertullian, more than likely, found this fact to be helpful in helping people to relate to a “common sense” idea of who God is. Therefore, rather than looking at the economy of Grace presented by Paul in Romans, Tertullian perpetuated the same economy of sin Irenaeus presented, stating that satisfaction for God’s anger was common sense to the Hellenized mind, and should not be questioned. Tertullian did not pay attention to the implication of the passage as being absolute and unattainable by humankind. Romans presents satisfaction as something that was achieved, absolutely, and not because of a relational or intrinsic separation. However, the book of Romans presents a positional relationship being offended. Satisfaction for that relationship is presented as something that was accounted for before the world began. The concept of an economy of Grace makes satisfaction of an offense, something that is continually happening. It is like a wound that heals on its own. Grace is the vehicle by which Jesus came into this world, to show humankind that the separation between Man and God is a gap that repairs itself through the infiniteness of God’s grace itself.
As Tertullian understands the idea of Satisfaction, humankind is forever doomed to live up to a standard that is impossible for him to achieve, even through Jesus. According to the economy of Tertullian, and Irenaeus, Jesus restores humankind to a relationship with God, but does not reconcile him. Humankind in his constant state of sin acquires a debt of satisfaction that continues to count against him, until it is paid at death, so that the judgment is ripe upon his death. According to the apostle Paul, Jesus reconciled humankind and thus restored him to his position as Prime creation. This reconciliation satisfied absolutely the fact that mankind had fallen short of his position as Prime creation, and in fact, will always do so. Therefore humankind can be assured that God will never desert him in his sin, because satisfaction is immanent, and yet absolute in the Grace witnessed to us through Jesus Christ.
It is this one idea that has plagued the common Christian for centuries. The acquiring of debt, due to God’s unreachable standards leaves Christians feeling hopeless in their hope. The current incarnation of this idea in Sanctification holds Christianity’s absolute victory over the power of sin off to the side. It becomes a victory, which can only come into existence when life is finished. What is worst about this concept is that its uncertainty is never extinguished upon death for those who are living, for they never see whether the person who has died has received their victory. The power of salvation by restoration through justification by faith, or works, ultimately does not matter. Whether by works or by faith, restoration through justification empowers humankind to feel ashamed of their sin and work toward a goal which they could never achieve on their own.
For those who finish the race we call life, there is no physical evidence of their victory in Jesus, for they simply die, and then they are gone. The victory of Jesus found in these people is ultimately found in how they lived their life for him during the race. A sad and ironic twist considering that the only thing the runner should be caring about according to this doctrine, is escaping his less than satisfactory performance in this race. Indeed, anticipation is all that is in the minds of the runner of the race of restoration through Justification by faith or works. In some ways, works makes more sense than faith in this regard, because works does not pretend to find victory in this life, and does not give off the impression that it can rest in working toward their goal of finishing the race. The idea of Justification by faith parades runners who claim to have already won the race yet still feel they must run to win.
Whichever is more accurate to scripture has been the debate of centuries, but neither side is found in scripture. Scripture presents apostles who were victorious in this life. They withstood ridicule and torture with grace and poise. They were men of conviction who could not be swayed. Their miracles were legendary just as their master was. These were men who were not running a race to win it. These were men, who had already won it, and now were watching and waiting for race to be completed. They gave instructions to the athletes who needed advice, healed those who had been injured, and took the place of those who could not run any longer.
The emphasis of their writing is not on the power of sin, or even the presence of Sin. Their emphasis of their writing was full of grace and hope and peace. Wherever they addressed sin, it was with an economy of Grace before sin. They did not address sin as an issue that humankind needed to resolve, but instead as an issue that humankind needed to remove. They address sin as an issue that is universal not to condemn all men, but to show men that they are all in the same situation. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God,” is not a means for all humankind to wallow in his sin, or even to pay for it. It is a means for all men to come to the same conclusion, for the context of this statement is true in every place it is found in the scriptures. God’s economy states grace before sin. Therefore this statement of all have sinned is not for the purpose of saying to all who hear it, “Therefore you must be saved because you have offended a just God who now sentences you to hell, but if you satisfy his standard, or sanctify yourself by recognition of his Son, he will save you.”
This statement misses the point of the verse. The point of the whole sacrifice by a person who was offended cannot be for himself. God was clearly proving a point by sending his son to die, but scripture does not support the idea that it was for restoration. Salvation as presented by the scriptures, old and new, is the agent of Grace in creation. It is something that never has to restore a relational separation, for Grace never allows any sort of intrinsic separation. Therefore salvation is never necessary for creation, although it is always immanent in creation. A good example of this is the gardener/garden relationship. A gardener will tend his garden despite the yield of the garden. In fact, the less the garden yields, the more the gardener tends. Another example of this is a doctor to his patient. The more the patient does what is hurtful to his body, the more the doctor pays him attention. The problem with institutionalized orthodox salvation is that it in essence claims that God is the one who causes the body to break down. It says that God’s just standard must invoke punishment for sin and this punishment is death. Salvation creates a need for itself. This is the same redirect Adam used with God in Eden when God confronted Adam (without condemnation) about his knowledge of his nakedness and Adam blamed God for giving him the woman.
In this one accusation of Adam, we find the way in which man deals with God; the pattern of his neurosis. And it is from this pattern that God sets out a plan of Salvation, which ultimately removes any way in which blame can be used as a means to avoid where man must grow. The pattern that he sets down is one in which man can see that God wishes to reconcile the relationship. This is why the Jews were capable of believing in Salvation without believing that God had cut them off. The Jews continued to refer to themselves as God’s chosen people although they constantly had their sin made evident to them. This relationship culminated in the birth of Christ, which brought about the physical, tangible evidence of God on earth, communing with creation, despite the idea that God could not be with anything that was so full of sin. Apparently this evidence was not good enough for humankind. Clearly, they still chose to believe that God could not commune with them. They believed that sacrifices and rituals were the only way in which humanity could come before God, and so they killed the man who said otherwise. And in doing so, he became their sacrifice, and gave to the Jews the possibility of restoration through reconciliation, and from them he gave us Paul, so that this message might spread. Despite this, humankind does not seem to understand what Abraham understood before God had appeared in human flesh. Man does not need to be restored, only reconciled through Salvation. This is a message that does not cheapen the work of Christ on the Cross.
The institutionalized orthodox view of Christ on the cross is a message of much pettiness and sadness. It says that God is a God of two faces. It claims that God condemned his creation for making one mistake and threw them away. And he did this because he couldn’t get over his own standards; because he couldn’t, in essence, swallow his pride and allow his creation a second chance. Hypocritically, it then turns around and states that God found a loophole to his own standard which makes him willing to compromise his idea of Justice, and sent himself as a sacrifice for that standard, which is essentially doing for us what he refused to do for us in the first place; humble himself and allow us a second chance. It claims that this is the ultimate standard of truth and grace, when really what is presented is a God who is petty, and prideful, and self-compromising. Grace is presented as giving freely to something that is undeserving, when grace in fact is giving freely regardless of how deserving they are. And truth is presented as a standard that God must act within, rather than a standard that he defines by his actions. Ultimately restoration as salvation by justification, through faith, by grace, is petty, and shameful in its picture of truth, grace and the God they are from.
The scriptures paint a picture of a God who saw that his creation had a neurosis. He listened to his prime creations inability to get over his own guilt, and made a path of reconciliation based upon that. When he saw that man had become to dependant upon the guilt offering, he presented to them a clear and tangible evidence of his continuing love for them in Jesus. But man would not let go of his guilt. Just as in Eden, humankind needed to place blame, and so knowing that his death would prove his power over death and their punishment, he allowed himself to be killed providing them with both proof of their intact relationship, and proof of his sovereignty.
This is not a picture of a God who created a box of laws that he had to abide in at risk of being unjust. This is a God who humbled himself to work within the box of law’s that his creation needed in order to abide with him. This is a message that makes God’s Christ more powerful than institutionalized orthodoxy ever gave him credit for. The church has taught that Christ came to die because it was necessary for the satisfaction of God’s just standard which is indeed powerful, but consider how much more powerful it is that Jesus came as the Christ, acting within the only standard mankind would understand though he did not have to.
The true Gospel is found in the famous verse:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
This message is powerful when you consider that God did this to accomplish his will and yet satisfy his standard, but it still remains petty. This message only takes on its fullness when the standard of man’s sin is removed from the interpretation of the verse, and you see God giving his son though there is no standard he must fulfill. The true Gospel message is not that we needed restoration and we have that through Christ. It is that: Though we did not need restoration, Jesus reconciled us as Christ by dying for us, because death was the only thing we would accept. To believe anything less is shortsighted, petty, and shameful on our parts.
As followers of Christ, we must learn to look with open hearts and open eyes for the true meaning of Salvation, and bring honor to Jesus, who died so that we may have it.
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