Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Great Exchange

I'm reading through Michael Holmes' excellent translation of the Apostolic Fathers (3rd edition, Baker, 2007 - do buy this book) and read this amazing quote from the Diognetus:
"He did not hate us, or reject us, or bear a grduge against us; instead he was paitent and forbearing; in his mercy he took upon himself our sins; he himself gave up his own Son as a ransom for us, the holy one for the lawless, the guitless for the guilty, the unjust for the just, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal. For what else but his righteousness could have covered our sins? In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified except in the Son of God alone? O the sweet exchange, O the incomprehensible work of God, O the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous person, while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners? (Ep. Diogn. 9.2-5).
If I didn't know better I would have sworn that I was reading either Calvin, Luther, Owen, or Piper.


Andrew said...

Of course any of those you name would be thinking of Penal Substitution when they spoke these words. The generally held view among patristic scholars I've read has been that Diognetus isn't.

In my own readings of the Fathers , I have often found that on occasion they describe their main atonement theories (Moral Exemplar, Christus Victor/Ransom from Satan, and Recapitulation/Theosis) in ways which it is easy to for modern Christians to misconstrue as Penal Substitution when the quote is taken out of context, because these theories also involve exchange mechanics.

Since the vastly most common atonement model in the pre-Nicean era was Moral Exemplar, the first thing most patristic scholars do with this Diognetus quote is say "is it possible the author is talking about Moral Exemplar?" and the answer given generally seems to be "yes", and there the matter usually ends.

Of course, the first thing most evangelicals do when they see the quote is look for similarities in their own modern context and upon finding these similarities then conclude Diognetus is talking about Penal Substitution, imputed righteousness etc. :) For that reason I was surprised not to see this quote turn up in the recent work Pierced For Our Transgressions since they do this with a variety of patristic quotes.

Ian Hugh Clary said...

Michael Haykin published a book in 2004 called Defence of the Truth, which is a collection of chapters dealing with apologetic themes in the patristic period. He has a chapter on the Letter to Diognetus which I believe is entitled "The Great Exchange" or something to that effect. It really is an excellent book.