Is atoning sacrifice absent in Paul’s scheme of salvation?

I’ve recently been working on digitizing most of my papers and files from university days and stumbled across a few interesting finds.

One of those was this feisty article by Bradley H McLean. McLean opens with the acknowledgement that ‘Christ’s death constitutes the theological centre of gravity for Paul’s entire soteriology’ and that most scholars have just presumed that this idea of Christ’s expiatory death is based on the Jewish idea of sacrifice and atonement. Not so argues McLean.

His case is made on five key points:

  1. Sacrifice does not atone for personal sin
  2. A sacrificial victim becomes neither sinful nor accursed but remains holy
  3. There are no explicit textual references in Paul’s letters to Christ’s death as an atoning sacrifice
  4. References to Christ’s blood in Paul’s letters cannot be interpreted  as implicit references to an atoning sacrifice
  5. Paul’s interpretation of the suffering & death of Christ is incompatible with sacrificial theology

If I understand him rightly, McLean is not saying Paul didn’t think Christ was our substitute or that Christ didn’t die for our sins but that what Paul does think doesn’t map neatly onto Old testament conceptions of sacrifice.

How would you reply and what Pauline texts would you point to?

I think it’s worth remembering that each scriptural writer reveals a different aspect of the cross and of Christ and we don’t need to be anxious if one (even one like Paul) doesn’t show us everything.

Photo by pedrosimoes7

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