Is Imputation Only a “Legal Ceremonial Pasting On”?

Don Fortner: “I heard a man say, with regard to Christ being made sin for us. ‘It is a legal matter.’ When I heard that, I shook my head in disbelief. Is it possible for a person to see nothing mysterious, nothing wondrously mysterious about the Son of God being made sin for us? Immediately, I thought of our Savior’s words in Lamentations 1:12. — “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me,
wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.”

Fortner: “The fact is the word translated “made” in 2nd Corinthians 5:21 means precisely that — ‘mysteriously, wondrously made, made in a profoundly mysterious way that is beyond explanation. ‘ It is not a legal (forensic) word. Our Lord Jesus was wondrously, mysteriously, profoundly caused to be sin for us, that we might be made (in the experience of grace) the righteousness of God in him.

Fortner: “Traditionally, it is said that Christ was made sin by imputation. I have said that myself; but that is not really true. The Word of God never says that. Our Lord Jesus was not made sin by imputation. The Scriptures forbid the possibility of that (Proverbs 17:15). Our sins were imputed to him because he was made sin. There is no place in this Book of God where a legal (forensic) term is used with reference to Christ being made sin.”

Mark McCulley: Proverbs 17:15 says “he who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.

Fortner: “It is certainly true that our sin was imputed to our Savior. Had it not been imputed to him, he could never have suffered the wrath of God for our sin. But he was not made sin by imputation.

Mark McCulley: Sin was imputed, Mr Fortner agrees. But according to Fortner, that was only later, and that didn’t make Christ a sinner. But something did, and when that something did, then Christ was wicked actually and really, and then because He was wicked actually and really, then God could and did condemn Christ as wicked….

Fortner:”Our sins were justly imputed to him because he was made sin for us! The Book of God does not say our sins were pasted on him in a legal, ceremonial way.

Mark McCulley: According to Fortner, imputing sin is only declaring that Christ is wicked after “somehow” Christ was made wicked. Though nobody defines imputation as “pasted on”, it’s more convenient for Fortner to describe it that way than to talk to a real person who believes in the imputation of sins. Though nobody equates “ceremonial” with “legal”, it serves Fortner’s purposes to make that equation instead of trying to defend his indefensible explanation to a real person.

Fortner: The Book says, “He hath made him sin for us!” The Scriptures do not say he was treated as though he were sin. The Book says, “He hath made him sin for us!” The Word of God does not say he was accounted a transgressor. The Book says, “He hath made him sin for us!” And the Holy Spirit does not here say that he was made a sin-offering. The Book of God says, “He hath made him sin for us!”

Mark McCulley: 1. The book did not say made or “become” either, because there is a need to translate into English and interpret. But Fortner assumes that words must mean what he thinks they mean. 2. I agree that II Cor 5:21 does not say that Christ was made a sin-offering. The sin-offering is a result of Christ being legally imputed with the sins of the elect.

But I don’t only agree. I have a reason (an argument for why) I think it’s not sin-offering. “Made sin” is parallel to “become the righteousness”. Christ was imputed with sins, and the elect are imputed with righteousness when they are justified. But of course Fortner does not allow this parallel, because he assumes that “made” is not legal and because he assumes that “become” is not legal.

Please correct me if I am wrong, but it seems to me that Fortner’s hope is not Christ bearing away the guilt of the elect. To him that is not actual or real enough. That would only be ceremonial (legal). To be saved by imputation would be pasting on something, and not a real something inside you.

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5 Comments on “Is Imputation Only a “Legal Ceremonial Pasting On”?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    Two simple questions for “more than legal” guys.
    1. if Christ is made sin before our sins are imputed to Him, then with what sin is Christ made sin?

    2. if Christ is already made sin before our sins are imputed to him, then what’s the purpose of God then also imputing the sins of the elect to Christ at that point?

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Justification is not only a matter of knowledge communicated and revealed to us but is real and objective in God’s mind. We really were born under the wrath of God, and it’s not only that we think so. And that’s what we need to tell lost people: not only that they need to be born again, not only that they need to know something (both those things are true) but also that imputation is so real and so legal and so objective before God that when Jesus Christ was imputed with the sins of the elect, that meant that Jesus Christ really had to die in time and space for those sins.

    History is not pretend, not a show. History is God’s actions. And even though justification is not an act God does in the elect sinner, justification is nevertheless an act that has effects in reality so that when God declares a ungodly person to be righteous, the result is life and all the other blessings of salvation.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Robert Letham—I will focus my comments on chapter 4, which addresses the question of what kind of humanity the Son of God assumed. The thesis is that for Christ to identify with us in our fallen condition, it was necessary for him to have a fallen human nature. By assuming humanity in its fallenness he redeemed it from where it actually is, otherwise he could not have saved us in our actual state as fallen human beings. This is akin to the teachings of Edward Irving and Karl Barth, as well as Torrance.

    There are a range of problems with the claim. At best, it entails a Nestorian separation of the human nature from the person of Christ. The eternal Son—the person who takes humanity into union—is absolutely free from sin but the assumed humanity is fallen. If that were to be avoided, another hazard lurks; since Christ’s humanity never exists by itself any attribution of fallenness to that nature is a statement about Christ, the eternal Son.

    The authors do not consider biblical passages that tell against their views. Romans 5:12–21, crucial for understanding Paul’s gospel, is not mentioned. If Christ had a fallen human nature it is unavoidable that he would be included in the sin of Adam and its consequences. In short, he could not have saved us since he would have needed atonement himself, if only for his inclusion in the sin of Adam.

    The authors state that Christ assumed flesh “corrupted by original sin in Adam” (p. 116, italics original). He took a humanity “ruined and wrecked by sin” (p. 119), “corrupted human nature bent decisively toward sin” (p. 121). He healed the nature he took from us (p. 117). In this they acknowledge that a sinful nature and original sin are inextricably linked and that Christ himself needed healing. Such a Christ cannot save us for he needed saving himself.

    Christ’s healing of human nature happened from the moment of conception (p. 121–22). He was without sin. Thankfully this obviates the problem mentioned in the previous paragraph but simultaneously it destroys the argument for it means Christ’s humanity was not entirely like ours after all.Christ does not identify with us to the extent of being a sinner, has “a peculiar distance” from our own performance, does not follow our path, and has an “estrangement from us” due to his obedience (p. 122–23).

    Throughout, the authors oppose the idea that Christ took into union a nature like Adam’s before the fall. However, this is not the only alternative. Reformed theology has taught that Christ lived in a state of humiliation, sinless and righteous but with a nature bearing the consequences of the fall in its mortality, its vulnerability and its suffering—but not fallen. Furthermore, the NT witness is that the incarnation is a new creation, the start of the new humanity, not a re-pristinization of the old. Christ is the second Adam, not the first.

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Sam Storms–Reformed theologians have not always agreed on what this imputation entails. Charles Hodge (Systematic Theology [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970], 2:149-256) defines imputed sin as consisting simply of the obligation to satisfy justice, i.e., the exposure to punishment on account of Adam’s sin (the reatus poenae). John Murray (Imputation), in contrast to Hodge, argues that the reatus poenae, or obligation to satisfy justice, may be imputed only on the grounds of a logically antecedent culpa or demeritum. He concludes his response to Hodge by noting that “Reformed and Lutheran theologians [historically] did not conceive of the reatus of Adam’s sin as imputed to posterity apart from the culpa of the same sin. And this is simply to say that the relation of posterity to the sin of Adam could not be construed or defined merely in terms of the obligation to satisfy justice (reatus poenae) but must also include, as the antecedent and ground of thatreatus, involvement in the culpa of Adam’s transgression” (p. 84).

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Tiessen is not merely for “incorporation, but against “imputation”

    Although Jesus “knew no sin,” in accordance with what Reformed theologians call the “covenant of redemption,” God “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). Here we see the core of the doctrine of incorporatedguilt and incorporated righteousness.

    [Protestants have tended to speak of imputed guilt and righteousness, and our intent has been good, but I think the choice of terminology is unfortunate. It implies an externality which prompts people to question why one person should be accounted guilty for the sin of another {Adam}, or accounted righteous for the righteousness of another {Jesus}, as though some sort of external transfer was the mechanism at work in such accounting. But I believe that the more biblical way of speaking is incorporation

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