Salvation 2.0: Part 1.7: Be of sin the triple cure

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Well, the old hymn says “double cure” — and some Church of Christ publishers have taken even that out, surmising that the phrase refers to, well, I don’t really know.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure.

Anyway, it occurs to me that Jesus, in his death, took on three distinct curses.

* The curse on all Creation of Gen 3. See Rom 8:18-23; Rev 22:3 (KJV, NASB, NIV, NET).

* The curse of Deu 27-28 on Israel for violating the Mosaic covenant. The new covenant of Jer 31:31 ff (and Heb 8) refers to God removing this curse by the Spirit’s work to write God’s law on our hearts and in our minds in line with Deu 30:6. Jesus announced the “new covenant” when he initiated the Lord’s Supper, referencing Jer 31:31 ff and, implicitly, the entire chain of passages that hang on Deu 30:6, such as Jer. 32:39; Ezek. 11:19-20; and Ezek. 36:26-27.

* The curse of the Law of Moses on those hung on a tree (Deu 21:23; Acts 5:30; Gal 3:13; 1 Pet 2:24).

Strange that I’ve never heard anyone speak in these terms. It’s not uncommon to hear about Jesus’ reversing the curse of Gen 3, but the other two curses just don’t make it into our teaching, even though the other two are actually far better attested in the scriptures.

Fung explains the connection of the second two curses together as well as I’ve been able to find —

Christ in his death is described as “having become a curse” (RSV, NASB) … . In the LXX both Dt. 27:26 (quoted in v. 10) and Dt. 21:23 (quoted in v. 13) begin with words based on the same verbal stem (“curse”): 27:26 pronounces a curse (epikataratos, verbal adjective) upon everyone who fails to render perfect obedience to the law, and 21:23 declares to be accursed (kekatēramenos, perfect participle) everyone who hangs upon a tree (or pole). By bringing these two texts together and interpreting the latter in terms of the former, Paul understands Jesus’ death on the cross (to which a curse was attached according to Dt. 21:23) as a bearing of the curse of God incurred (according to Dt. 27:26) by all who fail to continue in obedience to the law.

Ronald Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 147–148.

While it is true that being hung on a tree was not the curse itself but rather the public proof that the one so impaled had incurred the curse, the clear inference of the New Testament is that the death of Jesus by crucifixion was not a quirk of fate but instead the deliberate design of God.  …

The only explanation could be that the Messiah had willingly taken upon himself the dreaded curse that rightly belonged to others. Here, in nuce, is the genesis of the Christian doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. Indeed, as Stott has suggested, it may well have been reflection on the very text Paul cited in Gal 3:13 that led the early Christians to understand the death of Jesus in this way. “The apostles were quite familiar with this legislation [Deut 21:22–23], and with its implication that Jesus died under the divine curse. Yet, instead of hushing it up, they deliberately drew people’s attention to it. So evidently they were not embarrassed by it.

Timothy George, Galatians, The New American Commentary, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 30:238-240.

So Jesus took on the curse of the Torah — that violating Torah would bring a curse upon Israel — and his hanging on the cross (a “tree”) demonstrated his accursedness. Indeed, the very purpose of Jews’ hanging an executed man was not to kill him or to curse him but to declare him already accursed. And the curse Jesus took on was the curse of Israel’s violation of the Law — thereby bringing an end to the Exile and inaugurating the Kingdom.

Of course, the Gentiles were not subject to this curse. They were already cursed by the curse of Gen 3. In theory, the Torah gave the Jews a way to escape the Gen 3 curse and been deemed righteous. But they failed and so suffered exile and the curse of the Law.

Jesus also dealt with the curse of Gen 3 —

(2Co 5:21 ESV)  21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 

Jesus was sinless but was cursed as though he’d sinned. The curse that comes from sin (that is, any sin, not just a Torah violation) is the curse of Gen 3.

Sin is to “miss the mark.” The Eastern Orthodox figure — correctly, I believe — that the “mark” is Jesus as the perfect Image of God. To sin is to be fail to be like Jesus. (Jesus therefore could no more sin than he could be unlike himself!)

Nonetheless, he took on the penalty for sin — of Israel and of the Gentiles — so that “we” — the apostles (in this passage) — could become the “righteousness of God.” God’s righteousness, in Paul, is his covenant faithfulness — and Paul’s job as an apostle was to announce that God was keeping his promises through Jesus, especially his promise to credit faith/faithfulness/ trust as righteousness (covenant faithfulness by us!) for both Jews and Gentiles, because Jesus had taken on the curses that kept us apart from God.

… 2 Corinthians 5:21 is not about ‘the Messiah’s righteousness’, but about ‘God’s righteousness’; and it is not about ‘imputation’, but about Paul and those who share his apostolic ministry ‘becoming’, that is, ‘coming to embody’, that divine ‘righteousness’ as ministers of the new covenant.

N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 4:951.

The whole point of the ambassadorial system, in the ancient as in the modern world, is that the sovereign himself (or herself) speaks through the agent. Paul stresses this: ‘God is making his appeal through us’. It should therefore be no surprise that in his summing-up he should refer to himself as ‘becoming’ the ‘righteousness’, that is, the ‘covenant faithfulness’, of God. If that covenant faithfulness was revealed climactically in the death of Jesus Christ, as Paul says in Romans 3:21–26, it is natural that the work of one who speaks ‘on behalf of Christ’ (5–20 [bis]) should also be such a revelation, especially when the one so speaking is also acting out, in his own physical body, that same death (4:10, etc.). If Paul as an ambassador has any inadequacies, they are dealt with in the death of Christ; if he has a message to deliver, it is because he has become, by the Spirit, the incarnation of the covenant faithfulness of God. 

N. T. Wright, Pauline Perspectives: Essays on Paul, 1978–2013, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013), 74.

In short, Paul and the other true apostles become the righteousness of God — displays of God’s covenant faithfulness — because sinless Jesus has taken on our sin. Implicit in this, of course, is that the church takes on the apostolic mission. We Christians should also become the righteousness of God — that is, people who are true to God’s covenant, seeking to bring salvation to those who, like us all, don’t deserve it.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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11 Responses to Salvation 2.0: Part 1.7: Be of sin the triple cure

  1. Keith says:

    I believe the double cure in the hymn is connecting (poetically) two substances, the water and the blood, to a “double” cure in that it 1) saves from wrath and 2) makes me pure.

    Yes, we don’t seem to like to talk about the covenant curses, and accompanying wrath, even though it is prominent part of the biblical story. Presbyterians still include this as baseline teaching. It is more evidence that they are surpassing us in Bible emphasis.

  2. Mark says:

    The cofC also did not want to talk about Jesus and how he fulfilled the Torah and prophets or atonement.

  3. laymond says:

    Jay, as followers of Jesus how can Christians who are dead to the
    world be concernd with salvation of the Gentiles ?
    And how did the sacrifice of Jesus cleanse the gentiles of sin, when
    they were never under the “Law”. (nor the curse)

    Mat 8:21 And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me
    first to go and bury my father.
    Mat 8:22 But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead
    bury their dead.

    Mat 15:24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the
    lost sheep of the house of Israel.
    Mat 15:25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help
    me.
    Mat 15:26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the
    children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.

    It seems to me that Peter was the appointed apostle to the gentiles,
    and Paul was added as an afterthought after Jesus’ death.
    Or was it that Peter decided to take up the cause after Paul
    initinated it.?
    Is the grafting onto the tree mentioned anywhere except in Paul’s
    writing.?
    Just wondering what you think.

  4. Dwight says:

    Mark, most in the coC don’t want to talk about the fact that the Jews still did Jewish practices, even the apostles, which were technically not commanded. They still went to the Temple, burned incense and still did the Sabbath and many of the feast and were not condemned. Christ brought all things to Himself and all things were to be done to God’s glory and in Jesus name, as long as they weren’t sinful and didn’t go against God and wasn’t done to another.

  5. Excellent post, Bro. Guin!

  6. @laymond has opined that “It seems to me that Peter was the appointed apostle to the gentiles,
    and Paul was added as an afterthought after Jesus’ death.”

    It is untenable to harbor such a thought. After perfectly planning everything from the very beginning to the end – from the fall to the restoration – including Jews and Gentiles (all humanity) in His plan – in the midst of it all, “an afterthought” is simply jarring to say the least. Why would he have an afterthought when He knew all along that only He could restore fallen humanity to a right relationship with Himself in and through the Logos? He is not man to have an afterthought. He does not have to think. He knows.

  7. laymond says:

    Thomas said “It is untenable to harbor such a thought. ”

    Thomas, is it as untenable as thinking God changed his plans while dealing with Noah.
    or do you think God was just “funning” Noah when he said he was going to destroy “ALL” of mankind.

  8. laymond says:

    So Thomas, this was God’s plan all along, according to you. Yes God created both good, and evil, but was that the plan? evidently not.

    Gen 6:5 And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
    Gen 6:6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.
    Gen 6:7 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.
    Gen 6:8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.

  9. laymond says:

    Thomas asked “Why would he have an afterthought” ? Maybe you should ask Noah about that.
    A God capable of both love and hate, has to be a changeable God.

  10. That’s your opinion. The Bible says that He does not change, “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” Malachi 3:6, ESV. There are other passages too. I’d rather accept the Biblical statement than man’s opinion.

  11. Dustin says:

    There are plenty of scriptures that indicate that God changes his mind.I believe there are 39 passages that show this. Of course, there are several that indicate that God doesn’t change his mind as well. Both views are non-heretical.

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