Did Jesus Die because of Joy or Indifference? Part 2

In the last post we raised the question of whether Hebrews 12:2 teaches that Jesus endured the cross because of the joy that would be his if he went to the cross and secured the salvation of his people by his atoning death, or whether Jesus endured the cross instead of retaining the joy that was already his. In Part 2 we challenge Kenneth Wuest’s argument for the latter interpretation.

First, while anti certainly carries the meaning “instead of” (substitution) or “in the place of” (exchange) in some passages, the only argument Wuest marshals against “because of” (cause), is that the sense of substitution or exchange is the predominant one in the NT. He treats this predominance as a slam-dunk argument, but actually this argument is unconvincing for at least one reason. The predominance of a particular usage of a Greek preposition should not be considered inarguably decisive unless the exceptions to that usage are exceedingly rare. In this case, however, there are several other occasions of anti being used causally, including Luke 1:20; 19:44; Acts 12:23, and 2 Thessalonians 2:10. All of these uses of anti clearly express cause. A solution to this dilemma, then, cannot be found purely on a syntactical basis.

Second, Wuest is so focused on the preposition anti, that he ignores the immediate context of both passages he cites, both Hebrews 12:1-2 and Philippians 2:1-11. Hebrews 12:1 uses the same phrase as in 12:2, “set before” (“the race set before us” and “the joy set before him”) to refer to the “race of faith” that lies before the Christian. Following Wuest’s reasoning, the race of faith for the Christian would be something already finished, which the Christian already possesses, not something lying ahead of him. And yet, that is clearly not the case. The race of faith lies before the Christian, just as the joy for which Christ endured the cross lay ahead of him. The race that Jesus ran is the race that believers run in union with him (Rom. 6:3-5). Believers run the race of faith motivated by joy (1 Thess. 2:19) because Jesus did the same.

Third, only the causal sense of anti properly parallels the phrase “despising the shame” later in 12:2. Jesus did not “disregard” or “count as nothing” (kataphronesas) the disgrace of the cross in a vacuum. He did not do so in a noble and tragic sense of destiny. Rather, he considered the indignity of the cross as little or nothing in light of the magnitude of joy he would experience by atoning for the sin of mankind, and bringing his children into eternal glory with him (1 Pet. 2:9). His attitude toward the shame of the cross was the result of his appreciation of the joy available to him.

Fourth, in the immediate preceding context of Philippians 2:5-8 (verses 1-4), Paul explicitly exhorts the Philippian believers to be like-minded so that they might make Paul’s joy full! In other words, the motivation for the believers in Philippi to become unselfish and of one mind was to make Paul’s joy complete. Additionally, the Apostle John is motivated to proclaim and write about Christ for the fullness of joy that would result (1 John 1:4; 2 John 2:12). This does not sound like a dispassionate appeal to indifferent selflessness.

The Scriptural basis for Wuest’s idea of a dispassionate Jesus, then, seems rather thin. A question worth asking is, “Where did this idea of duty-based love arise? In Part 3, we will look at the influence of Immanuel Kant on the Christian conception of love.

About Mark Farnham
Professor of Apologetics and Director of the Pre-Seminary Major at Lancaster Bible College, Lancaster, PA. Founder and Director, Apologetics for the Church (apologeticsforthechurch.org). PhD in Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia; ThM in New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

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