ἐξιλασμὸν and the Aaronic Anti-type of Christ is Wisdom 18.20-25

Several things that I will restate for you: The Wisdom Corpus holds a wealth of contextual information for the New Testament Thought World, more especially of Paul the former Pharisee. Further, for Church Theologians, it provided fodder for the ancient Christological Debates, and could possibly do so today. Rightly or wrongly, they have been used to varying degrees to justify views of Christ and the Godhead

I want to discuss a portion of Wisdom which I believe contains a thought echoed by Paul and may have helped to shape a viewpoint on the Christ-event.

New Revised Standard Version Old Greek
20 The experience of death touched also the righteous, and a plague came upon the multitude in the desert, but the wrath did not long continue.

21 For a blameless man was quick to act as their champion; he brought forward the shield of his ministry, prayer and propitiation by incense; he withstood the anger and put an end to the disaster, showing that he was your servant.

22 He conquered the wrath not by strength of body, not by force of arms, but by his word he subdued the avenger, appealing to the oaths and covenants given to our ancestors.

23 For when the dead had already fallen on one another in heaps, he intervened and held back the wrath, and cut off its way to the living.

24 For on his long robe the whole world was depicted, and the glories of the ancestors were engraved on the four rows of stones, and your majesty was on the diadem upon his head.

25 To these the destroyer yielded, these he feared; for merely to test the wrath was enough.

21 σπεύσας γὰρ ἀνὴρ ἄμεμπτος προεμάχησεν τὸ τῆς ἰδίας λειτουργίας ὅπλον προσευχὴν καὶ θυμιάματος ἐξιλασμὸν κομίσας ἀντέστη τῷ θυμῷ καὶ πέρας ἐπέθηκε τῇ συμφορᾷ δεικνὺς ὅτι σός ἐστιν θεράπων

22 ἐνίκησεν δὲ τὸν χόλον οὐκ ἰσχύι τοῦ σώματος οὐχ ὅπλων ἐνεργείᾳ ἀλλὰ λόγῳ τὸν κολάζοντα ὑπέταξεν ὅρκους πατέρων καὶ διαθήκας ὑπομνήσας

23 σωρηδὸν γὰρ ἤδη πεπτωκότων ἐπ᾽ ἀλλήλων νεκρῶν μεταξὺ στὰς ἀνέκοψε τὴν ὀργὴν καὶ διέσχισεν τὴν πρὸς τοὺς ζῶντας ὁδόν

24 ἐπὶ γὰρ ποδήρους ἐνδύματος ἦν ὅλος ὁ κόσμος καὶ πατέρων δόξαι ἐπὶ τετραστίχου λίθων γλυφῆς καὶ μεγαλωσύνη σου ἐπὶ διαδήματος κεφαλῆς αὐτοῦ

25 τούτοις εἶξεν ὁ ὀλεθρεύων ταῦτα δὲ ἐφοβήθη ἦν γὰρ μόνη ἡ πεῖρα τῆς ὀργῆς ἱκανή

This story is a theological expansion on Numbers 16.41-50. This passage is important because it shows Aaron as the one standing between Life and Death for the people is Israel, and thus the entire priesthood (Numbers 16.48). The High Priest is pictured placating the wrath of God, standing in front of the coming wrath, protecting the still Living using the fires of atonement.

In Wisdom, the unnamed blameless Savior steps forth into the middle of the plague with the shield/weapon of his divine service bringing with him prayer and propitiation by the burning of incense. He took upon himself the anger of God and ended the plague. The word used is ἐξιλασμὸν, meaning atonement or in Protestant-speak, propitiation.We find the same idea and related word in 1st John:

This is real love– not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. (1Jo 4:10 NLT)

ἐν τούτῳ ἐστὶν ἡ ἀγάπη, οὐχ ὅτι ἡμεῖς ἠγαπήκαμεν τὸν θεὸν ἀλλ᾽ ὅτι αὐτὸς ἠγάπησεν ἡμᾶς καὶ ἀπέστειλεν τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ ἱλασμὸν περὶ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν.

There are several comparisons here between the speculative Aaron and the interpreted Christ. First, in his selfless love, both proved themselves as qualified servants of God. Further, they didn’t defeat the wrath with strength, but by appealing to the compassion of God (Romans 2.23-26). Further, there is that bit about ‘cut off.’

To me, anyway, this is a picture of atonement which could have easily been used of Christ by the primitive Church, informing them of the meaning of the sacrifice of a Crucified Messiah who stood between the dead and the living, life and death, and ended the wrath of God.

Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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