The Scriptural expressions explaining the nature of Christ’s death

Two passages, Matthew 20:28 (“the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”) and Mark 10:45 (“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”) employ the preposition anti (“in place of”) to express the substitutionary nature of Christ’s death.  The use of anti in Matt. 2:22; 5:38; Luke 11:11 demonstrate that this is the proper understanding of this preposition.

Despite claims such as that by Gorringe[1] that there is “little evidence for expiatory theology in the gospels,”[2] these two verses cannot be explained away without much damage to the grammar of the text.  Dismissals of this understanding such as that by Finamore, “Even the often-cited reference to Jesus’s life as λύτρον ἀντὶ πολλῶν (“a ransom for many”) may be read as an example of service for others or as the promise of liberation from the dominant culture, rather than through the אשׁם (sin offering) of Isaiah 53:10”[3] do a serious injustice to the text.

The preposition uper with the genitive as used in several passages also demonstrates the substitutionary nature of Christ’s death.  W. G. T. Shedd notes that there is “abundant proof from classical usage that hyper may be used in the sense of anti.”[4]  The following passages demonstrate this usage with regard to the death of Christ: Rom. 4:25; Gal. 1:4; Rom. 8:3; 1 Cor. 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:14, 20-21.  Other passages use uper with the genitive to demonstrate representation or advantage[5] such as Romans 5:6, 8 and 1 Peter 3:18.

The use of substitutionary words in these last references reinforces the salvific understanding of Christ’s death since they specifically say that Christ died “for us,” “for the ungodly,” and “for our sins.”  If Christ were dying simply to set an example of self-sacrifice, or to pay a ransom to Satan, or even to liberate people, why would the Scriptures use such language?  Those who espouse alternative views can provide no reasonable explanation for such substitutionary language.

Indeed, apart from these examples, 2 Corinthians 5:21 states that Christ “became sin for us” and in Galatians 3:13 Paul writes that Christ “became a curse for us,” the meaning, gathered from the context, is that Christ bore the curse decreed for law-breakers so that the lawbreaker could go free.


[1] God’s Just Vengeance: Crime, Violence and the Rhetoric of Salvation (CUP, 1996), 67, cited in Stephen Finamore, God, Order, and Chaos: René Girard and the Apocalypse (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2009), 154.

[2] Stephen Finamore, God, Order, and Chaos: René Girard and the Apocalypse (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2009), 154.

[3] Stephen Finamore, God, Order, and Chaos: René Girard and the Apocalypse (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2009), 154.

[4] William Greenough Thayer Shedd and Alan W. Gomes, Dogmatic Theology, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., 2003), 691.

[5] These are Wallace’s terms.  Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 383.

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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
This entry was posted in Soteriology, Theology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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