Violent Atonement In Romans: The Foundation Of Paul’s Soteriology -- By: Jarvis Williams

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 53:3 (Sep 2010)
Article: Violent Atonement In Romans: The Foundation Of Paul’s Soteriology
Author: Jarvis Williams


Violent Atonement In Romans: The Foundation Of Paul’s Soteriology

Jarvis Williams

Jarvis Williams is assistant professor of New Testament and Greek at Campbellsville University, School of Theology, 1 University Drive, Campbellsville, KY 42718.

Interpreters of the NT have a long history of being interested in the nature of Jesus’ death in Paul’s theology.1 In both the UK and the US, many discussions of Jesus’ death in Paul in both scholarly and popular literature have focused lately on penal substitution.2 A renewed interest in penal substitution has arisen in part because several evangelical and non-evangelical interpreters continue to argue that the NT does not present Jesus’ death as a violent substitute.3

For example, in his recent essay on atonement, Joel Green asserts that penal substitution “divorces Jesus’ life from the passion event, as though the only significant thing about Jesus was his death. Jesus was born in order to die.”4 Green asks: Why did God become human according to the penal substitution view? The answer is simple: to bear on the cross the punishment for our sin. “But this proposal,” Green says, “neglects what we know historically, fails to account for the nature of the witness of the New Testament itself, diminishes the significance of the incarnation, and unacceptably truncates the portrait of faithful human life as the imitation of Christ.”5 Although Green claims that the cross is essential for salvation,6 he asserts that Jesus did not achieve salvation by means of absorbing the wrath of God on the cross on behalf of sinners.

Over against the model of penal substitutionary atonement, then, God’s saving act is not his response to Jesus’ willing death, as though, in a forensic exchange, our punishment by death was suspended by Jesus’ execution. God sent his son to save, but this is worked out in a variety of purpose statements: to fulfill the law (Matt 5:17), to call sinners to repentance (Matt 9:13), to bring a sword (Matt 10:34), to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God in the other cities (Luke 4:43), to seek and to save the lost (

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