Alec Motyer, “Stricken for the Transgression of My People”

Isaiah 53 yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

verse 4, we thought x
verse 6, we were correct or we were wrong?

p 261, From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, Crossway, 2013, ed Gibson and Gibson

Alec Motyer—Verse 6 is a corrective to the misinterpretation of verse 4. Personal conversion has taken place, yet nothing is said about hearing and responding to the truth. There is no reference to personal decision, commitment or faith. It is the secret history of every conversion, the real story of “you did not choose me but I chose you”. It is also the death knell to any open-ended understanding of the atonement which seeks to posit a disjunction between redemption accomplished and applied.

Could any whose iniquities the Lord laid on His Servant fail to be saved? Could that laying-on prove ineffectual? Were any iniquities laid on the Servant save with the divine purpose of eternal salvation? The “we” of these crucial verses were locked into a failure to grasp what the Servant was all about, but our iniquities were laid by Yahweh on His Servant, and THIS is what led to our “seeing”. The atonement itself, and not something outside the atonement, is the cause for any conversion.

The Lord Himself is at work. he is the Agent behind the bruising (verse 10) and the Guarantor and Apportioner of the results (verse 12), by making sure that the Servant is rewarded as he deserves. The Servant’s reward arises not from His righteousness, nor even from His shocking suffering, but solely from His sin-bearing death. His death, that and nothing else, ensures the results of redemption applied.

The Servant is not just the Procurer of the results of His death. He is also the adminstrater of the results of His death. The Servant is not like others who died, but lives to administer the atonement he accomplished by His death. The Servant is not engaged in further self-offering. He is administering the fruits of a past historical act.

Isaiah’s “Behold, my servant shall succeed” matches the great cry, “It is finished (John 19:30) and forces us to ask what “finished” means in John and what “succeed” means in Isaiah. On any “open-ended” view of the atonement–that is, that the work of Christ only made salvation possible rather than actually secured salvation–“finished” only means “started” and “succeed” only means “maybe, contingent” on God contributing something else in the sinner

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4 Comments on “Alec Motyer, “Stricken for the Transgression of My People””


    Matthew Harmon on John 6
    From Heaven, p 271—According to John 6:37-44, the Father does not plan to send the Son to save everyone, and then only elect some, knowing that apart from election one would believe. Such a contention suggests that redemption circumscribes election. But John 6 indicates that the Father gives a specific group of people to the Son for whom he THEN comes to die in order to give them eternal life. Particularism attends the planning and the making of the atonement, not only its application.


    Jonathan Gibson, “The Glorious, Indivisible, Trinitarian Work of Christ”, From Heaven He Came, p 355—Interestingly, this verse has been neglected in Constantine Campbell’s otherwise comprehensive treatment of union with Christ (PAUL AND UNION WITH CHRIST, Zondervan, 2013)

    14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

    p 352—“Some conclude that the efficacy of Christ’s work occurs only at the point of faith, and not before. This ignores the fact that union with Christ precedes any reception of Christ’s work by faith. It is union with Christ that leads to the efficacy of Christ’s work to those who belong to Him.”


    unless the atonement can be left out of the gospel, then neither can election be left out of the gospel

    Lewis Sperry Chafer. ST, 3, p187—-”The highway of divine election is quite apart from the highway of redemption.”

    Herman Bavinck, Sin and Salvation, volume 3, Reformed Dogmatics, 2006, p 469—-”The center of gravity has been shifted from Christ and located in the Christian. Faith (not the atonement) has become the reconciliation with God.”

    Jonathan Gibson, From heaven, p 358—-Election and the Atonement do not operate on separate theological tracks. What God has joined together, let no theologian separate. Affirming union with Christ before the moment of redemption accomplished counters any disjunction between the effect of Christ’s death and the effect of His resurrection. (Those who put union later) sound as if Christ’s death might lead to the death of some sinners, but not also to their resurrection. This is not only analogy. if one, then the other. if death with, then resurrection with.

    Romans 6:5 For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like his.

    mark: Being united with Christ before the moment of redemption means that the atonement is both substitutionary and representative. The death is not only representative, not only “on behalf of”, as if there could be other deaths along side the one death. But also the death is not only substitutionary, as if Christ were some arbitrary individual who died for no one in particular because he had no covenantal relationship with those for whom He died, as only some “available substitute”. Christ was already united by election to those for whom He died.

  4. D A Carson—Gathercole’s introduction begins by asking the question raised by the old spiritual: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” If we answer “yes,” we presuppose that we somehow participated in his death, or that in his death Jesus somehow represents us: “We have died with Christ” (Rom 6:8). If we answer “no,” then we were not there: Christ died alone. “He was there, taking our place in our stead” (p.13). In much biblical scholarship, the former answer is widely assumed: on the cross, Christ represents us, but it is a mistake to think that substitution occurs when Jesus dies. While not denying that the Bible can present Christ’s death on the cross as an act of representation, in this slender volume Gathercole sets out to rehabilitate substitution.

    His introduction is devoted to some careful definitions. “I am defining substitutionary atonement . . . as Christ’s death in our place, instead of us. The ‘instead of us’ clarifies the point that ‘in our place’ does not, in substitution at least, mean ‘in our place with us.’ (Jesus was, for example, baptized in our place with us – that is, the baptism was not a substitution.) In a substitutionary theory of the death of Jesus, he did something, underwent something, so that we did not and would never have to do so” (p.15). Again: “Substitution entails the concept of replacement, X taking the place of Y and thereby ousting Y: the place that Y previously occupied is now filled by X. In representation, X in one sense occupies the position of Y, as in substitution. There are differences, however. In representation, X does not thereby oust Y but embodies Y” (p.20). Gathercole provides extensive quotations from Martin Luther, Robert Letham, and Karl Barth “to illustrate this definition” (p.15). Along the way he sketches the relationship between substitution and satisfaction, substitution and penalty, substitution and propitiation, and substitution and representation, partly in order to stipulate that in this “essay” his restricted aim is to defend substitution, not representation, satisfaction, propitiation or anything else – not, as becomes evident, because Gathercole has not thought about these things or is unwilling to defend them, but to keep this work sharply focused.[1]

    Gathercole concludes his introduction by briefly listing and responding to common criticism raised against substitution: it is a legal fiction and an immoral doctrine, surrounded by philosophical, logical, and exegetical difficulties. For example, against the charge that substitution is a form of “cosmic child abuse” (in recent work, think Peter Carnley and Steve Chalke), in which God vents his wrath on his Son, Gathercole responds in several ways. The two most important are these: (1) the charge neglects “the obvious fact that the death of Christ is not that of a third party but is the ‘self-substitution of God’ [to quote John Stott’s expression]. Outside of a context of high Christology or of the doctrine of the Trinity, substitution might of course be open to such charges as those leveled above. But as far as I can see, most theologians seriously advocating substitution also hold to a high Christology” (pp.24-25). (2) In any case, Jesus “offers himself as a sacrifice in line with his own will. . . . (Gal. 1:4; 2:20).”

    The last of these several categories of objections, exegetical challenges to substitution, occupies the first of three numbered chapters after the introduction (pp.29-54). The four exegetical errors on which he focuses are these:

    (1) Representation in the sense of “place-taking,” as in the Tübingen school nicely represented by Hartmut Gese and Otfried Hofius, and, in English, by Richard H. Bell. The focus is on the day of atonement ritual described in Leviticus 16. “The problem [as Gese sees it] is not so much individual transgressions but that the Israelite needs to be rescued from death” (p.31). When the hand is placed on the animal, this does not represent a transfer of sins but an identification with the animal. When the animal dies, “the people symbolically enter into the judgment of death” (p.32). When the blood of the animal is taken into the Most Holy Place, the animal is symbolically bringing the people of Israel into the presence of God with him. In other words, there is no substitution but a form of representation. Gathercole objects, in the first place, to Gese’s interpretation of Leviticus 16. Everything depends on the significance of the hand being placed on the sacrificial animal, but Leviticus 16 says nothing about that: the hand is placed instead on the other animal, the scapegoat – and here it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the scapegoat (the live goat) is a substitute.
    (2) Representation in the sense of “interchange” with Christ, the view of Morna Hooker. She holds that substitution is not only un-Pauline, but that Paul speaks against it. In her view, Jesus does not swap places with his people but “goes to the place where they are and takes them from there to salvation” (p.39). She relies heavily on her distinctive reading of 2 Cor 5:21 and 8:9, and rests on her understanding of union with Christ. Christ enters into the human condition of sin and death, but human beings must also unite with him, and we pass out of death and into resurrection with him. Gathercole acknowledges the importance of the union with Christ theme, but denies that Paul ever criticizes substitution, and insists that a right understanding of what the death of Christ achieves readily embraces substitution. Moreover, the union theme tends to focus on Adamic sin as a whole, but does not really address individual sins.

    (3) Apocalyptic deliverance, not least as articulated by J. Louis Martyn and M. C. de Boer. They hold that human beings do not so much need forgiveness of sins as deliverance from slavery to sin; they appeal to (inter alia) Gal 1:4. Gathercole insists that even if this view is defended from Galatians, it really does not work in Romans, where a major component of sin is personal guilt (e.g., Rom 1-3). Sin may sometimes be presented as a major external cosmic force that Christ overcomes, but even more commonly sin is presented in terms of individual sins and transgressions.

    (4) All three of these views tend to downplay the place of individual sins in Paul’s thought. Gathercole provides an admirable summary of the biblical evidence that refutes the common assumption that “sins” play only a little part in Paul’s thought. He then shows how this evidence shapes our reading of several atonement passages.

    The final two chapters provide detailed exegeses of just two verses: chap 2, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3), and chap 3, treating Romans 5:6-8. As for the former, Gathercole notes that Paul is writing about the matters he views as “of first importance”: Christ died for our sins. He focuses on the phrase “according to the Scriptures”: which Scriptures? Drawing attention to several passages, Gathercole treats Isaiah 53 at length – how it is used in Paul generally, and in particular in 1 Corinthians 15:3. He provides a shrewd and convincing exegesis (pp.61-70). Gathercole also draws attention to several passages where the OT asserts that so-and-so dies for his sins (e.g., Num 27:3; Deut 24:16; Josh 20:22; 1Kg 16:18-19): this use of the preposition hyper (in the Greek translation of these OT passages) does not itself signal substitution, for in these texts the person dies in consequence of his sins. “It is when this is set in the framework of one person doing this for the sins of others (and not for one’s own) that the substitutionary sense is achieved” (p.74). “It is not that huper [sic] in itself has a substitutionary sense; this would in any sense be meaningless, as Christ is not dying in the place of the actual sins but in place of the people who are saved. The substitutionary meaning arises out of the unusual language of one person dying for the sins of others” (p.79). And this is what Paul declares to be of first importance.

    After a short excursus (“An Objection – Why Then, Do Christians Still Die?”, pp.80-83), Gathercole delivers his final chapter, which provides a close exegesis of Romans 5:6-8, no less convincing than his treatment of 1 Corinthians 15:3.

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