Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 19:3 (Fall 2015)
Article: Book Reviews
Author: Anonymous

Book Reviews

Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul. By Simon Gathercole. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2015. 128 pp., $19.99 Paperback.

Simon Gathercole is senior lecturer in New Testament studies in the Faculty of Divinity of the University of Cambridge and Fellow and director of studies in theology at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. He has published several books, such as The Gospel of Thomas: Introduction and Commentary and The Pre-Existent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. His Defending Substitution is a welcomed addition to the discussion of atonement in Paul’s letters.

In the book’s introduction, Gathercole notes that the representation view of the atonement (Christ represented sinners on the cross) has become an accepted view in biblical scholarship, but substitutionary atonement (Christ died in the place of sinners) is hotly contested. Gathercole contends that substitution deserves a place in the discussion of atonement in Paul. Substitution does not have to be exclusive of representation. They can coexist. Accordingly, then, his main argument is that “Christ’s death for our sins in our place, instead of us, is in fact a vital ingredient in the biblical (in the present discussion, Pauline) understanding of the atonement” (14). While some challenge this doctrine by calling it legal fiction or immoral, and others present philosophical, logical, and exegetical challenges, even the “most weighty exegetical criticisms are unfounded and that there is actually good evidence for seeing substitutionary atonement as intrinsic to the biblical presentation of how God has reconciled the world to himself in Christ” (28).

Chapter 1 addresses the exegetical challenges to substitution. The Tubingen, interchange, and apocalyptic views are among these views. Gathercole is fair in his analysis of these perspectives, arguing that each has its merits. The Tubingen and interchange views share the idea that Christ identifies with us in his death. The apocalyptic view emphasizes Christ’s triumph over oppressive hostile powers in his death and resurrection. Yet, Gathercole argues that each share a common problem—they down play individual sins, focusing instead on sin as an entity (47-48, 53-54). In his observation,

it “is a feature of representative understandings of the atonement that they are more corporate in nature. They are therefore not necessarily particularly equipped to incorporate reference to that aspect of human plight that consist of human sins … Sins, transgressions, individual infractions of the divine will are, however, integral to Paul’s account of the human plight” (54). Anothe...

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