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A Reconsideration of the Doctrine of Atonement in the Light of New Perspectives on First-Century Judaism.

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Atonement was described by Leon Morris as ‘the central doctrine of Christianity’ and yet surprisingly no single understanding has ever been insisted upon by the Church in its creedal confessions. Atonement has instead been explained through multiple metaphors and models, each conveying something of the meaning of Christ’s salvific work. The main burden of this thesis is neither to debate that particular conundrum nor to re-­‐enter the ‘atonement wars’ conflict between a dominant or central view versus a multi-­‐faceted view. Instead, we shall be exploring a largely unidentified theological oddity: the absence of any positive contribution to Christian thought on the atonement drawn from the relationship between Israel and its God. The atoning role of Jesus can surely only be understood within Israel’s story of divine-­‐human relations, and yet discussion of atonement doctrine almost universally displays what R. Kendall Soulen calls an ‘Israel forgetfulness’. This memory lapse has been brought into sharp relief by a body of recent literature (the so-­‐called ‘New Perspective on Paul’, hereafter NPP, and concurrent scholarship) that not only reminds us that Jesus and Paul were Jewish but also challenges longstanding supersessionist assumptions concerning the nature of Judaism and Jewish-­‐Gentile relations in the early Jesus-­‐ following movement. This thesis will be asking how our understanding of atonement might be reconfigured if one were to take seriously these new discoveries. Our scholarly context will be the Evangelical and Reformed traditions, within which there has been considerable recent debate, particularly concerning the hegemony of penal substitution. The thesis will develop in four parts: firstly, a survey of the current state-­‐of-­‐play in atonement thought; secondly, a review of the NPP and some associated literature; thirdly, our substantive proposal for a ‘re-­‐Judaization’ of atonement, framed around twin poles of non-­‐supersessionism and christocentrism, with an affirming stance towards the efficacy of the relationship between Israel and its God in the period prior to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth and an enduring relevance for it post-­‐ Christ; and finally, a consideration of the implications of such a reading for the traditional models and metaphors by which atonement has been understood.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date2017


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