Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Cup that's not of God's wrath

But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" (Mark 10:38)
It appears to be becoming a popular argument in Evangelical circles that the presence of the word "cup" here implies or proves Penal Substitution.

Now you might well ask how any sane person could possibly reason their way from the word "cup" to the doctrine of Penal Substitution. Well, apparently the "logic" goes that in several passages in the Old Testament prophets they speak of "the cup of God's wrath", and therefore Jesus' use of the word "cup" refers to God's wrath, and therefore he is expecting to take God's wrath upon himself as a Penal Substitute.

Such ridiculously tenuous logic seems like a bad joke. It reminds me of Liam Goligher's equally stellar claim in The Jesus Gospel that a reference to the herb hyssop in one of the psalms proves Penal Substitution. Yet this "logic" is used by people including NT Wright (The Challenge of Jesus, 87; Matthew for Everyone, 60-61), Thomas Schreiner (The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views, 91) and the writers of Pierced For Our Transgressions (68-70). More than one of these cites Bolt's The Cross from a Distance (69-71) as source of this idea.

Apart from the wholly unconvincing and ridiculously tenuous logic, there are two main problems with such a claim. The first problem is that the Bible uses the word "cup" as a metaphor for a fate, which can be either a positive or negative fate. A few examples of a positive fate include:
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. (Psa 16:5)
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. (Psa 23:5)
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord (Psa 116:13)
Similarly a couple of examples of a negative fate include:
On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulfur; a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. (Psa 11:6)
A cup of horror and desolation is the cup of your sister Samaria (Ezek 23:33)
People God is wrathful towards do, unsurprisingly, experience a negative fate, and cup language is sometimes used to describe this fate. However the use of the cup metaphor itself is not limited to God's wrath and hence the word "cup" does not mean "suffering God's wrath".

The second, and most important problem with the claim, is the verse that follows Mark 10:38:
The disciples replied, "We are able." Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; (Mark 10:39)
Here Jesus explicitly says they will drink the same cup as himself. If the "cup" he is drinking from means "Penal Substitution", then the disciples must also be participating in Penal Substitution. Yet this bizarre conclusion shows that the exegesis being proposed for verse 38 is ridiculous.

The craziest thing of all is that the writers of Pierced For Our Transgressions are aware of verse 39 and hence know the exegesis of verse 38 they are proposing is ludicrous. Yet they comment in a footnote: "Jesus' point [in vs 39] is that their sufferings will be patterned on his, not that they will be identical in every respect. Neither James nor John will die under God's wrath in place of others." So it seems that when they feel like it, "cup" means "Penal Substitution", and a verse later, when it's no longer convenient with their theology the same cup suddenly stops being Penal Substitution. I just can't fathom the stupidity...


Blogger Bryan L said...

I'm curious what Wright says in the Challenge of Jesus and Matthew for Everyone since in JVG he say concerning this section in Mark:

(f) The Baptism and the Cup

I came to cast fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!
Can you drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I am to be baptized? . . . The cup that I drink you will drink, and you will be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized, but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to grant, but is for those for whom it has been prepared.

By themselves, these are necessarily cryptic. In the context we have uncovered, they point unmistakably in one direction. Jesus was aware of a vocation, as part of his messianic work, to bring the battle for the kingdom to its head in an event which could be fully described only in metaphor. The first metaphor here, that of baptism, seems to envisage that Jesus' public career would end in the way it began: not now, though, with an initiation into the renewed people of Israel, but with something else for which that could stand as an appropriate sign and symbol. If John's baptism evoked the exodus; and if Jesus' central and final symbolic act, pointing to his own fate was a further evocation of the exodus; then it is not unreasonable to see this cryptic reference to a 'baptism' still to be undergone as an allusion to the fate which he would have to suffer, and as investing that fate with exodus-significance. Other uses of 'baptism' and its cognates in the metaphorical sense of undergoing suffering suggest that this allusion is on target. The same is true, mutatis mutandis, of the 'cup', which occurs again in the Gethsemane narrative. This image is more frequent; and 'drinking the same cup' clearly means 'sharing the same fate'. The cup can denote suffering, even martyrdom, though the context can indicate that it can also be cup of blessing. Here the context indicates a warning for Jesus' followers, and a strange vocation for himself, to take upon himself the suffering predicted for the people.

As we cautiously allow the riddles to interpret one another, a picture grows up around the central action in the upper room. Jesus knew, somehow, that he was to suffer and die. He interpreted that event through a series of images by which he was saying, not only that this was his god-given lot, but that this was part of the vocation in which his work and Israel's fate were bound up together. We shall explore this further presently." - p. 572-573

This sound a lot like what you are saying. I think Wright does see Jesus as seeing significance in his death and maybe even taking fate upon himself as Israel's representative but I don't know that this necessarily works out to PSA for him.

Bryan L

Blogger Andrew said...

Matthew for Everyone, 60-61:
“The Old Testament prophets speak darkly about the ‘cup of YHWH’s wrath.’ These passages talk of what happens when the one God, grieving over the awful wickedness of the world, steps in at last to give the violent and bloodthirsty, the arrogant and oppressors, the reward for their ways and deeds. It’s as though God’s holy anger against such people is turned into wine: dark, sour wine which will make them drunk and helpless. They will be forced to “drink the cup,” to drain to the dregs the wrath of the God who loves and vindicates the weak and helpless. The shock of this passage… is that Jesus speaks of drinking this cup himself.”

An article I was reading summarizes The Challenge of Jesus pg 87 as saying: "When speaking of “the wrath of God” on Jesus at the cross, Wright turns to the Gethsemane narrative, and specifically Jesus’ use of the “cup” terminology from the Old Testament. Since, in the prophetic writings, the “cup” refers to God’s wrath, Wright believes it is historically sound to affirm that Jesus was referring to God’s wrath when He willingly faced the cross, in order to drink of the cup."

Blogger James F. McGrath said...

There was a discussion of penal substitution on my blog recently, in response to a post on that subject. Why not pay a visit and post a link to this post of yours? I will do it myself, if you prefer, but I figure an invitation to participate beats a link any time.

Thanks for the insightful post!


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