Mark Driscoll blogged about viewing Jesus through events in the Old Testament. One of the events examined was Yom Kippur. Unfortunately he missed the more correct meaning of the ancient Israelite festival as he viewed the text through the lens of the penal substitutionary atonement model. even more unfortunate, this position obscured and missed the truths found in Leviticus concerning the character of God and his dealings with his people. Such truths illuminate the importance of the crucifixion, helping us better understand certain aspects of atonement in the New Testament writings.
What follows in this first post highlights the dangers involved with mishandling atonement theory metaphors and models.
The second post will examine the Yom Kippur festival in detail, in its textual, cultural, and social context.
The third post will examine what this reveals about Jesus, his crucifixion, and his resurrection.
Mis-Projected Metaphors Do Not Bring Clarity, But Blur Our Vision
Driscoll views the ritual of the Yom Kippur festival through the lens of penal substitution:
‘Over the sacrificial goat, the high priest would confess the sins of the people and slaughter the animal as a substitute sacrifice. The blood of that animal would be shed, and the wrath of God would be poured out on that animal in their place as a substitute. Over the scapegoat, the high priest would confess the sins of the people and rather than being slaughtered, it would be sent away.’
As much as some would like to see penal substitution in play here, the notion of direct substitution, and the outpouring of God’s wrath for sin, is not found in the text of Leviticus. These features have been placed onto the text by understanding the text through the shape of the penal substitutionary atonement model, and its own shades of meaning through metaphor.
If a metaphor was not in mind at the point of writing, then it will not be directly reflected in that text. To incorrectly place metaphors upon unassuming texts will produce unintended meaning, blurring our vision of the text, and obscuring the original intended meaning. Some imposed metaphors may occasionally seem to work, or ‘fit’, but this is likely the prejudice and bias of the biblical interpreter being projected into, and over, the text, rather than the text speaking out to the biblical interpreter.
Atonement models and their sibling metaphors, found within the biblical text, are mosaic and complimentary; They are like the individual coloured pieces of a stained glass window. Distinct in their colour and shape, they each bring out different features of atonement. Unified in their focus and purpose, they all dovetail together, forming the exquisite and expansive atonement picture.
Stacked up together, one piece on top of the other, the intricacy of the image collapses. Likewise, the clarity of the image suffers if one colour is allowed to spreads across the whole.
Distinct yet unified, the atonement metaphors and models come together. Carefully constructed, they form the big picture of God working through history: Reconciling humanity to himself, reconciling human to human, and reconciling individuals with themselves.
It is only through a careful and correct reading of the mosaic text that such a picture can be projected with clarity. For the biblical interpreter it is a imperative to know that the job is never done. They must: continually examine the text, continually seek links, continually pick out divergent colours, textures and hues, and continually rework other biblical interpreters parts of the picture, to praise the intricacy, or correct inaccuracies.
I do praise Driscoll for highlighting and drawing attention to Yom Kippur: being buried away in the text of Leviticus, its shapes and colours are often overlooked by the general reader. Yet, by mishandling the text and applying the wrong metaphor, inaccuracies have resulted. we are left with misshapen fragments, stained the wrong hue, giving a misleading image of the character and the works of God in his dealings with his people.
The next post will pick out some of the shapes and colours of the atonement picture as projected by the Leviticus text, explicitly the ritual of the Yom Kippur festival.