A review, part 2, of

Recovering the Scandal of the Cross

Atonement in New Testament & Contemporary Contexts
Joel B. Green & Mark D. Baker, InterVarsity Press, Downer’s Grove, © 2000
Reviewed by David H. Linden
Action International Ministries
Alberta Reformation Fellowship

The Sacrifice of Obedience in Hebrews 10:5-10

This is the second review of some issue in Recovering the Scandal of the Cross. My previous review was of material in this book on pp. 48,49. In a chapter "The Saving Significance of Jesus’ Death in the New Testament," this current review is of the section labeled "Sacrifice" on pp. 102-106, especially what it has to say about Christ saying to His Father, "I have come to do your will." My readers should be aware that I am not in favor of the teaching in this book. One of its chief purposes is to convince the church today to reject the doctrine of penal substitution.

This doctrine, penal substitution, is that Christ paid for our sins in His death when He underwent the wrath of God for us thereby graciously and lovingly relieving us of the judgment we deserved for our sins. The Father and Son were in complete accord in this transaction on the cross. The Father’s wrath did indeed fall on our Substitute and the Father was thus propitiated by Christ and His holy justice satisfied. Thus He can in full faithfulness to His own nature forgive us our sins, when we believe, since on the cross He has not overlooked them. Remember this is the doctrine repeatedly denied and argued against in this book. The authors are both theology professors, Joel B Green of Asbury Seminary in Kentucky and Mark D. Baker of Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno, California. It is my sober opinion that both theologians are teaching theology contrary to the heart of the gospel. Mine is not a favorable review of their work.

The flow of their argument

The Bible does say that Christ died for our sins. Thus they admit that "Jesus’ death is sacrificial in some sense," p.103. In one paragraph, some 26 N.T. references are referred to but not opened up for examination of their content. They are classified as to type of reference, some are Passover, some are covenant sacrifice, others use "blood" as a synonym for sacrificial death, etc. Except for one later mention of Romans 8:3 and 2 Corinthians 5:21, none of the verses referred to are dealt with again in this section. What does happen?

Attention turns from those statements of Christ’s death in the N.T. It is shifted off to a tangent beginning with "Of course". "Of course, sacrifice has no monolithic meaning in ancient Israel." 103. This is reasoned by the fact that things other than blood sacrifices were offered, such as cereal offerings, 103. So since not all offerings in the O.T. were alike, how the sin offerings of the OT throw light on the death of Christ is laid aside and not taken up again.

The reader may miss the importance of "ancient Israel," but later Israel will come up. Ancient Israel is related to the canonical Scriptures of the Old Testament. But Israel’s religion continued after the OT was completed, so Green and Baker will take their readers into the Inter-Testamental period for theological light from the Apocrypha. In short, this section on what the N.T means passes quickly and lightly over the inspired background of the O.T. We will then get our clues as to the real meaning of Jesus’ death from other sources.[1] The OT is little help, in the thinking of Green and Baker, because it has so many different sacrifices. Not one scrap of evidence is given here of sin imputed to the innocent animal which died in the place of the one who brought it, laid his hands on it, killed it, and the priest took that blood and poured it out before God’s altar and the man was pronounced forgiven. Maybe to Green and Baker that is not really relevant background, because a sacrifice could be the thank offering of some grain! Since there is no monolithic meaning for sacrifice there, they decline to pursue any meaning in the OT examples that expressly concentrate on sacrifice for sin. What I am pointing out is that these writers can refer to Biblical statements and then not deal with them. They refer in a surface manner to some background and then leave out the most relevant material in the OT, as they seek to present what the NT significance of Jesus’ death is. I have elsewhere characterized this syndrome as "touch and leave." It creates the illusion of Bible study, but like a bubble has little depth. It need not be this way. Here is a concise treatment of the OT background and significance of sacrifice:

The Significance of His Death as a Sacrifice

Because the evangelical ear is accustomed to such language, the assertion that Christ offered himself up to God on the cross as a sacrifice may not appear to be very significant. But it is replete with implications. Since the Old Testament sacrificial system is the obvious background to the cross-work material of the New Testament, the New Testament material that speaks of Christ’s death as a sacrifice certainly presupposes (1) the sinless perfection of Christ, since any sacrifice acceptable to God had to be "without blemish" (Exod. 12:5; 1 Pet. 1:19); (2) the imputation or transfer of the sinner’s sin to Christ on the analogy of the Levitical legislation (Lev. 1:4; 3:2, 8, 13; 4:4, 15, 24, 29, 33; 16:21-22; Num. 8:12; see Isa. 53:4, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12); (3) the resultant substitution of Christ in the stead and place of (anti – Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45), because of (dia – 1 Cor. 8:11; 2 Cor. 8:9), for (peri – Matt. 26:28; Rom. 8:3; 1 Pet. 3:18; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), and in behalf of (hyper – Mark 14:24; Luke 22:19, 20; John 6:51; 10:11, 15; Rom. 5:6, 8; 8:32; 14:15; 1 Cor. 11:24; 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:15, 21; Gal. 1:4; 2:20; 3:13; Eph. 5:2, 25; 1 Thes. 5:10; 1 Tim. 2:6; Titus 2:14; Heb. 2:9; 10:12; 1 Pet. 2:21; 3:18; 1 John 3:16) those sinners whose sins had been imputed to him; and (4) the necessary expiation or cancellation of their sins. As Geerhardus Vos has written: "Wherever [in the sacrificial system] there is slaying and manipulation of blood there is expiation."

These four theological principles, taken together, justify the conclusion, based upon the truth that Jesus’ death is portrayed in the New Testament as a sacrificial death, that Christ’s death procured the juridical removal or expiation of the sins of those for who he died. It also means, because of the principle of substitution necessarily implicit within the scriptural representation of his death as one of sacrifice, that everything else that Christ did in and by his cross work – turning away God’s wrath, removing his hostility, delivering from the condemnation of the law, and freeing from the guilt and power of sin – has necessarily been accomplished for those who the Father chose in him before the foundation of the world.
Pp. 633,634 Robert L. Reymond A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville, Nelson, 1998)

I am leaving for the end how Hebrews 10 is handled. After showing how little help the OT really is, they remind us again of "the preference of some prophetic literature for obedience over sacrifice." 103. I have answered this old and familiar liberal distortion of the OT in my review part 1. Omitting Hebrews 10, which comes up in their book at this point, they then introduce the next thought with these revealing words, "Complicating this picture further…" Here they move into two arenas, the Greco-Roman world and the Apocrypha. The rule is simple: find out what sacrifice means in the NT from outside the Bible and then carry that meaning to what the NT says. This is a depreciation of the Word of God. To learn what Jesus’ sacrifice really means, we need not depend so heavily on the Scriptures according to Green and Baker. After all, His was a human sacrifice, so "the more specific way in which Jesus’ death is understood in various New Testament writings, is know best outside of narrowly defined Jewish circles [here, read "the Bible"]. They think the best way to understand the death of Christ is to look outside the Bible, promoting the notion that we may learn what the death of Jesus means from pagan human sacrifice. (You may read the book for yourself!)

In 4 Maccabees 6:27-29, we read of Eleazar, a devout being tortured for refusing to eat pork. While his Gentile tormentors were killing him he prayed: "You know, O God, that though I might have saved myself; I am dying in burning torments for the sake of the law. Be merciful to your people, and let our punishment suffice for them. Make my blood their purification, and take my life in exchange for theirs."

From the extra-Biblical source, Green and Baker point out, "In these texts, the execution of the faithful is given special meaning in God’s purpose – for example … even an act of atoning for one’s own sins [no man can do this!!] or sins of the nation." 104. Their footnote here goes further, they ask, "Would not Jesus and his followers be capable of participating in similar, parallel, creative appropriation of these sacrificial metaphors …?" 104. They present Eleazar’s dying words as a way to understand Isaiah 52,53 and the similar language of the NT where we read of Jesus dying in exchange for His people.

I can only say that if Christ’s death is on the pattern of Eleazar’s, all Green and Baker have done is hint that Christ’s is not utterly unique in kind. They can argue all they like that Jesus’ death has different and more effective consequences, but the issue here is what is its core essence. In this part of their book, they lead us to think of its significance as a martyr’s death, not an atoning sacrifice. Their doctrine is martyrdom yes, propitiation, no! Eleazar’s death is not the presentation of a clean offering acceptable to God. He was a sinner too and needed a sacrifice for himself. I hope the brave man had Christ. If he thought his blood was acceptable to God, and he may have meant something else by his words, but if he did, then he did not understand his own religion. In the OT no human blood whatsoever was allowed. Two of Aaron’s sons once made an unauthorized offering and they did not live to brag about it, Leviticus 10. The models for the sacrifice of Christ are found within the Word of God. Green and Baker take us outside for its significance and have succeeded in giving a truly foreign explanation for the offering of God’s Son whose precious blood, unlike Eleazar’s was without blemish or defect, 1 Peter 1:19. Jesus did not mimic the language or events of 4 Maccabees. The erring theologians who think He might have so are looking in the wrong place. See John 15:15, "I learned from my Father."

They do spend much of page 104 to have a look in "brief detail" at Romans 3:25, a key verse on propitiation. Green and Baker do not find any room to quote any phrase from this crucial text. Their readers can find out what it says for themselves. That passage says:

"God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement[2] , through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith is Jesus."
Romans 3:25,26.

Briefly, it is God who presented Christ. Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice but did not initiate His saving act. In Romans 1 & 2, the wrath of God is upon sinners, how then may sinners be forgiven? By the wrath of God not coming on human sin at all? How do we escape the wrath of God? God’s answer is that He presented Christ as a sacrifice so that sins unpunished earlier do not remain in such an unresolved state. The sins committed by those forgiven beforehand remained unpunished till the death of Jesus Christ. There God’s justice was satisfied by God Himself in the ministry of God the Son, acting and dying for us in our flesh. Thus God’s justice is fully addressed, and forgiveness does not rest on the illusion of the wrath of God somehow evaporating into the air. That wrath was executed on human sin in the human sacrifice of our Redeemer. The God who said in Romans 12:19 that He would repay, did not say He might repay. In Christ He did repay those united to Him. So we say God has been reconciled; but not in a transformation of God, as Green and Baker cast penal substitution. Instead, God has been satisfied. He will not contradict or violate His holiness when He forgives those who believe in Jesus. Those now joined to Him receive the merit of His substitutionary penal intervention. This is the particular doctrine so obnoxious to Professors Green and Baker.

In its place, they argue that those who hold to penal substitution place "the transformative significance of Christ’s death in the wrong place. What is needed is not a transformation within God’s heart toward sinners, but a transformation of their sinful existence before God." 104. We say God has been satisfied. We do not say God has been transformed or changed; in fact we say the opposite. He Who must react to sin in righteous wrath has not transformed Himself into a God who fails to respond to sin. The cross reveals His immutable nature. The necessary foundation for forgiving a sinner was and still is the demonstration of God’s justice in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Green and Baker do not get into the text they allude to in their book. They slide over it. To know the gospel down in one’s soul, one should be held in awe by it. God propitiated Himself by sending Christ to atone.

On page 105, the writers urge that the language "Lamb of God" has as its paramount interpretation the concept of the Passover Lamb. They argue elsewhere that the Passover, or at least the setting of the deliverance for Egypt is one where there is a ransom without payment being made, p. 42. It is helpful to remember that this book strips the idea of payment from ransom when they speak of Passover this way, "…God ransomed Israel not by ‘paying someone off’ but by delivering the people from slavery in Egypt…" p. 42. This is one of a number of cases of keeping the effect of ransom while removing the cause.

Then on p.105, they finish the New Testament survey and show that "the Lamb" in Revelation is a mighty victor. True in Revelation 5:9 He purchased men for God with His blood, but from that point on "lamb" has a different imagery, so His sacrificial death means simply "the defeat of all that opposes the rule of God" – no penal substitution there. They leave out Rev. 1:5 where Christ "has freed us from our sins with his blood…" Whatever it means, for Green and Baker, He did not pay for us in our place.

Finally, I turn to the Sacrifice of Obedience argument of Hebrews 10. Here is what they say in full:

Of course, "sacrifice" has no monolithic meaning in ancient Israel. One must not only think of the various types of regular and special sacrifices (e.g., the burnt offering, the cereal offering, the guilt offering, the Passover sacrifice). One must also keep in mind the development of the "sacrifice of obedience"—the preference in some prophetic literature for obedience over sacrifice (e.g., Is 1:10-17; Amos 5:21-25; Mic 6:6-8). This latter development is explicitly highlighted by the author of Hebrews (Heb 10:5-10) and is not far from the background of an overall New Testament witness to the faithfulness/obedience of Jesus Christ. Complicating this picture further, sacrifice was a category known to people in the larger Greco-Roman world quite apart from the sacrificial cult of Israel. Indeed the idea of human sacrifice, the more specific way in which Jesus’ death is understood in various New Testament writings, is known best outside of narrowly defined Jewish circles. This does not mean that one must step outside of the trajectories of Israel’s religion to come to terms with Jesus’ death as a sacrifice. After all, within Hellenistic Judaism one finds precursors to the sacrificial interpretation of Jesus’ death, above all in the effective deaths of martyrs as narrated in 1 Maccabees 2:7-38; 2 Maccabees 6:18-7:42; 4 Maccabees 6:24-30. In these texts the execution of the faithful is given special meaning in God’s purpose – for example, as a means of resisting evil, of bringing forward God’s vindication of his people, and even as an act atoning for one’s own sins or sins of the nation.

In my first review, I have addressed the matter of whether the prophets spoke against sacrifices. They clearly did speak against corrupt worship. Yet "the law required them [sacrifices] to be made" Hebrews 10:8. But there is more; there is a sense in Psalm 40 that sacrifices were not adequate even apart from how sinners may damage them. Sacrifices were commanded, but they still were not effective to remove sin, nor adequate to please God even though He had a purpose in using them for many centuries. Hebrews 10:5-7, following the Septuagint version of Psalm 40, says:

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
"Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.
Then I said, ‘Here I am – it is written about me in the scroll –
I have come to do your will, O God.’"

Psalm 40 speaks of Christ. His incarnation is explained in part as the activity of God preparing a body for Him for sacrifice. The other sacrifices offered over and over could not possibly remove sin or its guilt, Hebrews 10:2-4. So God sent His Son to be a sacrifice to remove sin and to cleanse the conscience. By one sacrifice for sins, Christ makes perfect those who are being made holy, 10:14. It was His Father’s will that He should come and do this. He was obedient to that will. He came to do God’s will by means of the body prepared for Him. Some of verse 9 and 10 may be rendered this way: "…‘I [Jesus Christ] have come to do your will.’ " And [now] by that will [of the Father being obeyed by Christ], we have been made holy through [what He did with that body i.e.] the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ [the one prepared by the Father, vs.5]…"

These things emerge clearly in Hebrews 10:

  1. The obedience of Christ was to the Father’s will, vs. 7.
  2. That will included that He should come into the world, vvs. 5, 7.
  3. The very purpose of the incarnation is the background.
  4. The will of God for Christ involved His assuming a body, vvs. 5, 10.
  5. With that body He was to make a sacrifice, vs. 10.
  6. By that sacrifice He accomplished the will of God and the redemption of man, vvs. 10, 14

Observe the direction of Green and Baker’s argument:

  1. There is no clear meaning to sacrifice in the OT. They say "of course" not.
  2. They told us earlier that Judaism got along well in having a relationship with God without sacrifices at all! p. 49.
  3. Some prophets preferred obedience over sacrifice, a repeated argument in different chapters of this book.
  4. That development is explicitly highlighted now in Hebrews 10 too, where it teaches obedience over sacrifice.
  5. The situation is already complicated.
  6. Complicating it further we must see that sacrifice is better understood outside narrow Jewish writings, such as the OT.
  7. Look also for help to the pagan world for the meaning of Jesus’ death. In fact, the type of death he had, a human sacrifice, is better known there.
  8. And then, if you just turn outside the Bible, yet another time, this time to the Apocrypha, you will get a good explanation of the death of Jesus.
  9. Even the death of martyrs is presented us as atoning in the Apocrypha
  10. Jesus was capable of participating in similar parallel appropriation of this kind of sacrificial metaphor.

All this tossing around of supposedly related themes does not result in a clear assertion of the real significance of Jesus’ death even though the chapter is about its significance and the focus in this part was on sacrifice. We are left to wonder, but this is sure: things are complicated enough that you know there is no tight connection between the substitutionary sacrifices of the Old Testament and the sacrifice the Savior made on the cross. They have thrown too much dust in the air to see that clearly any longer. On Hebrews 10 being a new kind of sacrifice, a "sacrifice of obedience" different from a substitutionary sacrifice bearing the guilt of our sins, they are clearly wrong.

The obedience of Hebrews 10 is not set against sacrifice. It was just the opposite of such a supposition. The obedience in that chapter was specifically for Christ to become a sacrifice. Baker and Green do not do any real exegetical work on these verses in Hebrews 10, they only allude to them. This handling of Scripture is typical of their book. But they do create the impression that the sacrifice of obedience is a sacrifice disconnected from the blood sacrifices throughout the Old Testament. Instead, they present a sacrifice of obedience as part of a trajectory away from sacrifice itself to obedience. Hebrews 10 will not allow such a spin. They have it backwards. His was an obedience unto death, Philippians 2:8, not an obedience in replacement of sacrifice.

I expect to make other reviews of this book. For now I must lay aside my duty to show some of the many holes in its argument and the undermining it makes of the gospel itself. I plan to carry these two reviews with me as I lecture, Lord willing, in the Philippines some days from now. I will focus more in other papers and in my lectures there on what penal substitution really is, and how rich the atonement is. But what Green and Baker say is so different from the thrust of Scripture that I leave this subject now with the words the Holy Spirit gave to Isaiah, words that never appear in Recovering the Scandal of the Cross:

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. Isaiah 53:10


1. These authors have done this very thing before of arguing outside the Bible for the meaning of sacrifice. For their notion that sacrifice is not need to have a right relation with God, based on the developing religion of the Judaism after the destruction of the Temple, see p. 49 of their book and my review of it, part 1. Return

2. I say this would be better translated propitiation, but since that is the issue here, I will abide by the more vague wording of the NIV for now. Return