Christus Victor in Romans 5
Here I belatedly conclude a three part series on Christus Victor, first having attempted to clarify the meaning Christus Victor, then having considered its place in the Old Testament, and now pointing out one of its clearest presentations in the New Testament. To summarize the previous articles:
- Circa A.D. 1200, Thomas Aquinas taught the Roman Church something utterly novel to the Christian tradition. He said that the suffering of Jesus satisfied God’s need to punish sin, not merely to penalize it.
- None of the three other apostolic branches of Christianity have accepted Aquinas’s teaching.
- Christus Victor agrees that Jesus endured the substitutionary and atoning penalty of death on our behalf.
- Christus Victor says that God was satisfied by his Son’s obedience, rather than by his torture.
- The Levitical system of sacrifices does not allow for the torture of animals, no matter how grave the sin may have been for which the animal is being sacrificed.
When Martin Luther and others began to challenge Roman doctrines and Roman authority, they did not protest Aquinas’s teaching of the cross. Instead, they modified it and relabeled their version of it as “the gospel.” In Aquinas’s teaching, humans tortured Jesus, and he presented his suffering to the Father, thereby satisfying the Father’s justice. In the Protestant adaptation of that doctrine, God the Father is depicted as actively hurting his own Son in order to satisfy his (the Father’s) wrath against sin.
Very few Protestants would disagree with the predominant teaching that we have been saved from God’s wrath by the death of his Son. Yet this directly contradicts what Paul wrote in Romans 5:9-10. There, Paul said that we are saved from the wrath through Jesus’ life, and that Jesus accomplished something very different through his death.
SAVED BY HIS LIFE
In Romans 5:9-10, Paul says that two things happened through our Lord’s death and that one specific thing happens through his life—we will be saved from the wrath by his life. In the following translation (mine), each phrase has a 1 or a 2 at the beginning, in order to emphasize which phrases refer to his death and which ones to salvation. Greek verbs are displayed in the death-related phrases in lexical form:
1 “By much more therefore, being δικαιοω now by His blood,
2 “we will be saved through Him from the wrath.
1 “For if being enemies we were καταλλάσσω to the God through the death of His Son, by much more being καταλλάσσω,
2 “we will be saved by His life.”1
It will surprise many to learn that this is the only passage of Scripture which uses the words “save” and “wrath” together. The vast majority of New Testament references to salvation speak of liberation from enemies, from sin, or from illnesses. Sin is both the enemy and the pandemic illness of humanity. The sole passage in all of Scripture which pairs the words “save” and “wrath” is the one in which Paul separates salvation and wrath from Jesus’ death, and specifically ascribes such salvation to his life.
DIKAIOW BY HIS BLOOD
In Romans 5:9-10, Paul listed two things as happening through Jesus’ death. The first is that we were δικαιοω by his blood. The word dikaiow is most often translated “justified,” but also “made right” in the NLT and “put right” in the GNT. Our English “justify” comes from the Latin words iustus, meaning “righteous,” and ficare, meaning “make.”2 Whether one agrees theologically with the definition or not, the English word “justify” originally meant “make-righteous,” which is very different from the current Western connotation of “declare-righteous.”
Translating from the Latin Vulgate of Romans 5:9, John Wycliffe produced the first English version, but only transliterated the Latin letters of this word, coining our English word as “iustified.” When William Tyndale later translated straight from the Greek, he too transliterated the Latin, this time as “iustifyed.” And so the tradition continued through the King James Version and beyond. We have no need to wonder, however, whether Paul intended what the Latin Vulgate produced and Wycliffe coined into English, because Paul makes it abundantly clear in Romans 5:18-19 what he means by his dikaiow or our “justify,” as will be noted below.
KATALLASSW BY HIS DEATH
In Romans 5:10, Paul then said that we were καταλλάσσω by the death of God’s Son. The root word of καταλλάσσω is αλλος, meaning “different,” yet καταλλασσω is most often translated “reconcile” or “atone.” This word appears in only three passages of Scripture: Romans 5:10, I Corinthians 7:11, and II Corinthians 5:18-20.
The popular English translation of καταλλάσσω as “reconcile” enters Romans 5 and II Corinthians 5 by way of I Corinthians 7:11, in which an estranged wife is described as being καταλλάσσω to her husband. In that passage, our word “reconcile” makes logical sense. Yet we should ask how the root word “different” applies to the reconciling of an estranged wife, rather than simply taking the familiar word “reconcile ” and imposing it on Romans 5 and II Corinthians 5.
Paul uses the root word of καταλλασσω, which is αλλος (meaning “different”), in the verb form of αλλασσω in several places, including one epistle in which he also uses καταλλασσω, specifically I Corinthians. In I Corinthians 15:51- 52, he famously states, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed … the dead shall be raised, and we will be changed.”(emphases added) In these two verses, the meaning of the verb αλλασσω is undisputed in meaning “to change” (as in “make-different”), just as it also means in all four of the other places where it occurs in the New Testament. Therefore applying the meaning of αλλασσω in I Corinthians 15:51-52 to καταλλασσω in I Corinthians 7:11, an estranged wife must be “changed.” To be “reconciled” to her husband, she must be changed from being a stranger or even his enemy, back into being his closest possible ally, his wife.
In καταλλασσω, the prefix κατα is added as a prefix of establishment. So the change in Romans 5:10, is an establishing change. Such meaning verifies the translation of δικαιοω as “justify,” if we follow its etymology, “make-righteous,” as opposed to our Western connotation of “declare righteous.” That is to say, that being made-righteous (iustus-ficare or dikaiow) is an establishing form of being changed, an establishing form of being made-different.
If this seems too startling an idea, the notion that we could actually be made-righteous in this lifetime rather than only declared righteous, I John 2:29 says, “If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of him,”3 and in 3:7 of the same epistle: “Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.”3 Revelation 22:11 also instructs, “… let the one who is righteous still practice righteousness …”3
The Christian doctrine of second birth is the ultimate way to be made-different. This doctrine appears throughout the New Testament, including John 1:13, Romans 8:16, Titus 3:5, I Peter 1:3 & 23, and four instances in 1st John, not to mention the “new creation” statements in Paul’s epistles, or passages like Luke 16:8, John 12:24 & 36, Ephesians 2:3 & 5:8, I Thessalonians 5:5, and Hebrews 12:7-10. Nothing which is born of the Holy Spirit can be born unrighteous, for the Holy Spirit is righteous.(I John 2:29)
CHRISTUS VICTOR OF THE LAST ADAM
In Romans 5, Paul continues after verses 9-10 to flesh out what has happened through Jesus’ death, the δικαιοω (making-righteous) work of his blood and the καταλλασσω (making-different) work of his death. To help us understand this event, Paul points us to the transformative work of the First Adam.
In Romans 5:12, sin came into all of humanity through the First Adam. In verses 12 through 14, death reigned over us all because of the First Adam, “who was a type of the One who was to come.” In 15 through 17, the First Adam’s act of rebellion was surpassed by the Last Adam’s act of generosity. Then in 18 and 19:
“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.
“For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”4
If we want to know the meanings of δικαιοω in Romans 5:9 and καταλλάσσω in Romans 5:10, the Apostle Paul disperses all ambiguity in 5:18-19. Just as the First Adam’s disobedience made people sinners, the Last Adam’s obedience can make people righteous. The First Adam’s disobedience did not merely declare those born of his seed to be sinners, his disobedience made them sinners. Likewise the Last Adam’s obedience does not merely declare those born of his Spirit to be righteous, his obedience makes them righteous per Romans 5:19.
CHRISTUS VICTOR BIRTH
The ancient Christian view of the cross—held until even now by Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, and the Assyrian Church of the East, while also having been held by all Christians in the early church—is the view which recognizes a threefold victory. King Jesus has liberated people 1) from bondage to demonic powers, 2) from the curse of death, and 3) from the Adamic disease of rebellion against God. By the obedience of Jesus, we have been liberated from all three.
We do still deal with sin as descendants of Adam, therefore John says in 1:8 of his first epistle that anyone who claims he has no sin deceives himself. Yet we have been born of the Holy Spirit, therefore John says in 3:9 of the same epistle that we do not sin and cannot sin. The word “continue” in 3:9 is an insertion by well-meaning translators of many English versions, but it is wholly absent from the Greek text. Only by the second birth can we make sense of this apparent contradiction. The twice-born human has sin present in his life (1:8), yet he does not do sin (3:9) “because the Seed of God dwells in him; and he cannot sin because he has been born of God.” Again in I John 5:18, “We know that whoever is born of God does not sin …”
That is to say, the twice-born human has a choice every day, whether to walk by default in the flesh (the Adamic nature) or to walk in the spirit5 (the Christian nature). In his epistle to the Romans, Paul gives us three commands in 6:11-19 and an encouragement in 8:5-39. Since we have misconstrued the cross under the tutelage of Thomas Aquinas, we do not obey Romans 6:11-19, therefore we, by and large, live the directly-opposed lives of defeat, as presented in Romans 7:14-24, rather than the life of victory which is presented in Romans 7:25 through Romans 8.
We need not contradict Romans 5:9-10 by claiming that we are saved from God’s wrath through the death of Jesus, rather than agreeing with Paul that we are saved from God’s wrath by his life in us. We can instead agree with Romans 5:9-10 & 5:18-19, that we have been made-righteous and made-different, therefore willing also to obey Paul’s three commands in Romans 6:11-19.
CHRISTUS VICTOR RESPONSE
While the effect of the First Adam’s rebellion came upon all those born of his flesh, the effect of the Last Adam’s obedience comes upon all those born of his Spirit. We must respond and be born of the Holy Spirit. Therefore while II Corinthians 5:18-19 says that God is the One fundamentally-changing (καταλλασσω) us to himself, Paul also urges us in verse 20 to actively be fundamentally-changed (καταλλασσω) unto God.
I John 5:1 says that the second birth (the fundamental change) happens to those who trust that Jesus is the Psalm 2:2 “Anointed” King of all the earth: “Everyone trusting that Jesus is the Anointed, has been generated out of the God…”1 John’s call to trust that Jesus is the Anointed (Christ) is the call to be fundamentally changed, to be καταλλασσω. Yet if we claim to trust that he is the Anointed King of all the earth and yet do not obey the King, we make ourselves liars. As the evangelist puts it in I John 2:4-5:
“He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not guard His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in this one; yet whoever would guard His word, truly the love of God has been completed in him. By this we know that we are in Him.”1
Returning to I John 3:9, which has been quoted above, “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.”3 Therefore while the Father was satisfied by the Son’s obedience, we must not only believe that Jesus is the Anointed (thereby being born of his Spirit), but we must live lives of obedience via Romans 6:11-19, lest we would realize by living in disobedience that we were never changed at all, which is to say, never “born again.”
CHRISTUS VICTOR AND WRATH
I close by returning to Romans 5:9-10 and 5:19 in order to clarify the solution to God’s wrath.
5:9 “… being δικαιοω now by his blood, we will be saved through Him from the wrath.”1
5:10 “… we were καταλλάσσω to the God by the death of His Son, much more being καταλλάσσω, we will be saved by His life.”1
5:19 “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.”1
We can be made-righteous by his blood (5:9), fundamentally-changed by his death (5:10), and made righteous by his obedience (5:19). The prophet Isaiah summarized our healing from sinfulness through the First Adam to righteousness through the Last Adam in Isaiah 53:5: “… with his wounds we are healed.”3 Somehow we, who have been born of his Spirit, can be changed by his substitutionary acceptance of the penalty of death. As I Peter 1:4 puts it, “… you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”4 Only the Last Adam could heal the disease with which the First Adam infected us.
Much more then, having accomplished our change by his death, Romans 5:9-10 says that we will be saved from the wrath through his life. Scripture does not say, that we will be saved from the wrath because it was poured out on Jesus. Scripture says that we will be saved by his life (Rom 5:9-10), if we are no longer sons of disobedience, but sons of the Light (Eph 5:6-8). The wrath comes upon the “sons of disobedience,” therefore the solution to divine wrath is to be born again, no longer a son or daughter of disobedience.
Aside from Anselm’s honor-theory circa A.D. 1100, Christus Victor was the only Christian view of the cross for 12 centuries. These are not the personal musings of a would-be theologian; this view of the cross has been presented throughout the centuries by the Church, an example of which has previously been presented here from Irenaues’s “The Preaching of the Apostles.” It is also the current view of the three Eastern branches of apostolic Christianity.
Most of the current contributors to Conciliar Post align with Western branches of Christianity, whether Roman Catholic, Episcopal/Anglican, or Protestant. Therefore, I can only assume that this post will conflict with the views of many Conciliar Post contributors. I openly and respectfully invite a response to the claims above. If I have misread Church tradition prior to Aquinas or misread Scripture, I will be grateful for correction.View Sources
- My own translation
- https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/justify; https://www.etymonline.com/word/justify
- New King James Version
- English Standard Version
- In the apostolic branches of Eastern Christianity, those who have been born of the Holy Spirit are understood as having been healed of sin and learning to live out that healing. Therefore the Partriarchal Text of 1904 does not capitalize “spirit” in Romans 8:4-6, because “spirit” in that verse is understood as the new nature of the born again Christian: “ἵνα τὸ δικαίωμα τοῦ νόμου πληρωθῇ ἐν ἡμῖν τοῖς μὴ κατὰ σάρκα περιπατοῦσιν, ἀλλὰ κατὰ πνεῦμα·οἱ γὰρ κατὰ σάρκα ὄντες τὰ τῆς σαρκὸς φρονοῦσιν, οἱ δὲ κατὰ πνεῦμα τὰ τοῦ πνεύματος. τὸ γὰρ φρόνημα τῆς σαρκὸς θάνατος, τὸ δὲ φρόνημα τοῦ πνεύματος ζωὴ καὶ εἰρήνη·” The Patriarchal Text of 1904 does however capitalize “Spirit” in passages such as Romans 8:9: “ὑμεῖς δὲ οὐκ ἐστὲ ἐν σαρκί, ἀλλ᾿ ἐν πνεύματι, εἴπερ Πνεῦμα Θεοῦ οἰκεῖ ἐν ὑμῖν.”