Christ’s Priesthood and Definite Atonement

from heavenLast month, Justin Taylor interviewed a number of the contributors to the new book, From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective, edited by David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson. One of the questions concerned how Christ’s priesthood might relate to the extent of the atonement. In the book, Wellum develops this biblical-theological theme to argue that a right understanding of Christ’s priesthood necessitates a definite atonement.

I could not agree more. I spent the last four years talking to him about the matter on a weekly basis. At the same time, I wrote my dissertation arguing the same point. In my estimation, the “priestly argument” is the missing link in the exegetical case for definite atonement. While many have made biblical cases against the logical step from penal substitution to definite atonement, it is the priestly office that requires both.

To familiarize yourself with the priestly argument, consider Wellum’s brief answer and then keep your eye out for Wellum’s chapter in From Heaven He Came and Sought Her. 

JT: What is the connection between Christ’s priestly ministry and definite atonement?

Stephen Wellum: In Scripture, the relationship between the role of the High Priest and the act of atonement is tight. Under the old covenant, the High Priest serves as the mediator for a particular covenant people. We see this on the Day of Atonement where the High Priest has the incredible privilege of entering into the Holy of Holies, on behalf of the people and as the covenant mediator of Israel. But it is important to note that the Priest’s act of sacrifice and intercession is a definite work.

As our Lord Jesus brings all of this to fulfillment, this same particular work is stressed. Christ is the new covenant head, mediator, and its great High Priest. As the new covenant head, his work is specific and effective for all those in that covenant. However, Scripture also teaches that everyone without exception is not in the new covenant. All people enter this world in Adam and under the dominion of sin, and it is only by Christ’s priestly work and the Spirit’s application, that we are transferred from Adam to Christ. The priestly and covenantal categories of Scripture demand that we view Christ’s work as definite.

I totally agree, and wrote my whole dissertation under Dr Wellum, attempting to tease this out from all of Scripture. Therefore, I find it interesting that to date, I have not found a substantive refutation of the priestly argument. Let me know if you know of any.

For opposing views on From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, see the reviews of Jason Duesing and Robert Yarbrough. Interestingly, in his helpful review, Duesing does not address (read: have space to address) Wellum’s chapter. For those who have read the book, or may read the book, I’d be interested to hear what you think.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

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