Wednesday, February 6, 2013

T.F. Torrance: The Womb of the Incarnation, pt 10


The birth of the Son of God did not occur in a historical and cultural vacuum; rather, there is a “prehistory” of the incarnation in God’s historical dialogue with Israel. To investigate the mediation of Jesus Christ within the context of historical Israel is in keeping with Torrance’s scientific approach to theology, wherein the reality under study is investigated, not in isolation, but within the matrix of relations that constitute its being and identity. On the other hand, to view Jesus apart from ancient Israel is to obscure the interrelations within which the mediation of revelation and reconciliation becomes intelligible. 

Torrance’s view of Israel as the “womb of the incarnation” provides a number of useful insights into the mediation of revelation and reconciliation. Particularly helpful is his conception of Israel as a “community of reciprocity” elected by God to establish a two-way movement of divine revelation and human response, wherein knowledge of God might be revealed in basic concepts, categories, and beliefs amenable to human understanding. Within the law and liturgy of Israel, God introduced permanent structures of thought and speech by which God may be appropriately known. By developing these “conceptual tools” within the matrix of Israel, God prepared mankind to apprehend the full self-disclosure of divine revelation in the incarnation of the Son of God. Torrance’s regard for these conceptual tools as the “essential furniture” of our knowledge of God is, perhaps, his greatest contribution to the understanding of Israel’s role in the mediation of divine revelation. 

In order for Israel to know God, its communal life and worship had to be transformed; therefore, God provided Israel a liturgical system of sacrifice and worship, so that a sinful people could come before God forgiven and sanctified in their covenant partnership and consecrated in their priestly mission to the world. Torrance’s description of the cultic liturgy as the “covenanted way of response,” that is, a divinely prepared “middle term” between the polarities of the covenant, highlights the gracious, loving condescension of God in providing Israel an appropriate means whereby even a sinful, rebellious nation might draw near to him in intimate, communal fellowship. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of the middle term between the polarities of the covenant; that is, as both high priest and victim, he embodies the cultic liturgy of Israel and constitutes in his incarnate union of divine and human natures the covenanted way of response between God and humanity foreshadowed in Israel. 

The law and sacrificial liturgy embedded in the covenanted way of response was painfully written on the heart of Israel, and carved into the flesh of the people, as symbolised by circumcision, so that it might be incorporated into their daily life and thought. Torrance describes Israel’s agonising ordeal as mediator of revelation and reconciliation as the “pre-history of the crucifixion” of Jesus Christ. In fulfilling its role as the suffering servant of God, Israel prefigured the suffering of Jesus Christ, the true Israelite, who recapitulated in himself the plight of the suffering servant for the benefit of all humanity. By penetrating the ontological depths of Israel’s existence, where humanity was estranged from God, and meeting humanity at the nadir of human rebellion, the incarnate Son used human sin and unworthiness to bind humanity to himself forever in unconditional love. In accomplishing his reconciling purpose in the face of the sin and betrayal of the cross, God revealed that he elected Israel to reject the Messiah, so that through its rejection of Jesus Christ, all humanity might be saved. 


Torrance’s discussion of Israel as the “womb of the incarnation” is consistent with important tents of his scientific theology, including the integration of form and being or the proper relation between epistemology and ontology. Moreover, his discussion of the tumultuous relation between God and Israel sheds light on the troublesome topic of the wrath of God. Finally, his discussion of the covenanted way of response foreshadows his discussion of the “vicarious humanity” of Jesus Christ. 

 Integration of Form and Being 

Taking a cue from Chung (2011:6, 7), we may note that the intertwining of revelation and reconciliation in Israel constitutes the “integration of form and being” that is a characteristic aspect of Torrance’s scientific theology. As Chung suggests, if we regard the conceptual-linguistic tools of revelation as “form” and the corporate heart of Israel as “being,” then we may regard form and being as intrinsically related in Torrance’s view of divine mediation in Israel. For Torrance, the integration of form and being constitutes the totality of the mediation of revelation (“form”) and reconciliation (“heart” or “being”) in historical Israel. Divine revelation (“form”) in Israel transformed the inner “being” of the nation, as the cultic liturgy was carved into the flesh of the people, as symbolised by circumcision. Moreover, the covenanted way of response to divine revelation, as expressed in the law and cultic liturgy, affirms Torrance’s assertion that faith, piety, and worship are integral to the epistemological process. As Torrance argues, we cannot know God apart from personal-communal faith, piety, and devotion.  

In addition, the relation between form and being can be viewed from a different angle in Torrance’s discussion of divine mediation in Israel. In Torrance’s scientific theology, epistemology follows ontology, that is, “knowing” follows “being.” This principle is historically realised in ancient Israel as the knowledge of God penetrates deep into the communal heart of the people, radically transforming the nation at the depths of its corporate being. Torrance’s discussion of the displacement of naturalistic and pagan concepts of God by the light of divine revelation in Israel affirms and complements his assertion that epistemology arises a posteriori in obedience to the demands of its object of inquiry. For Israel to know God, the alien concepts and antecedent conceptual frameworks of the nation’s corporate mind had to be burned away by the searing light of divine revelation in order for it to be the bearer of the oracles of God. 

The inherent unitary relation Torrance sees between epistemology and ontology, revelation and reconciliation, and form and being will be fully realised and enacted in Jesus Christ, who, in his incarnate constitution as God and man eternally joined in reconciling union, “embodies” the unitary movement of revelation and reconciliation in historical Israel. Torrance’s discussion of the covenanted way of response as a “middle term” between the polarities of the covenant, that is, as a “vicarious” means through which a sinful nation could respond appropriately to a holy God, foreshadows his discussion of the “vicarious humanity” of Jesus Christ, who, as God and man joined in reconciling union, “vicariously” embodies and enacts the covenanted way of response between God and humanity, in place of, and on behalf of, all. 

 Divine Wrath in Israel 

God’s provision of the means of response to the divine initiative facilitates greater appreciation for divine grace in God’s relations with humanity, as revealed in Israel. As Torrance argues, God’s unswerving commitment to Israel was not dependent on any salutary quality that made Israel worthy of communal relationship with a holy and righteous God; rather, divine graciousness toward Israel was prior to, and independent of, any worthy response by the people. 

God’s faithfulness toward stiff-necked, rebellious Israel, coupled with his divine love, unconditioned by the response of his covenant partner, may bring reassurance to believers, for God’s love is not constrained by any particular unworthiness that would prevent our entering relationship with him. Such is in keeping with the New Testament teaching that God reconciled us to himself at the cross while we were still sinners (Rom 5:8). In light of God’s unswerving faithfulness toward Israel, believers can be assured that God’s commitment to us is steadfast, despite human sin, and is in no way conditioned by our response. 

Moreover, Torrance’s description of Israel as the “bearer of the oracles of God,” broken time and again on the wheel of divine providence, sheds light on the troublesome topic of the “wrath” of God, seemingly poured out so frequently on Israel. Torrance shows us that divine wrath towards Israel was not merely punishment for idolatrous disobedience to God’s commands. Rather, underlying the wrath of God was his determined plan for Israel, as mediator of revelation, to be not only a light to the nations but also the matrix of interrelations, or corporate “womb,” for the incarnation of Jesus Christ; thus, in order to safeguard the incarnation, Israel’s idolatry had to be thwarted. The wrath of God unleashed on Israel, therefore, served God’s greater, loving purpose for all nations. Even the difficulties associated with perennially troublesome topics like the slaughter of the Canaanite children (Dt 7:1-2; 20:16-17) can be eased somewhat by Torrance’s view of Israel as the mediator of divine revelation. In order for the fallen mind of Israel to be healed of its inherent tendency to idolatry, Israel needed to be safeguarded from the pagan practices of its neighbours, so that it would not learn their “abominations” (Dt 7:19) and threaten its role as mediator of the knowledge of the true God. Thus, the slaughter of the pagan inhabitants of Canaan was in the service of God’s greater revelatory, salvific purpose for all humanity. Israel’s failure to follow God’s command to destroy the pagan inhabitants of the land contributed to their recurring idolatry and repeatedly brought God’s righteous anger and judgement upon the nation. 

 Preparation for the Light Coming into the World 

Perhaps the most compelling feature of Torrance’s view of Israel as the “womb” of the incarnation is his discussion of the divinely provided permanent structures of thought and speech necessary for the mediation of the knowledge of God. As Torrance rightly argues, without the crafting of “the essential furniture of our knowledge of God” in historical Israel, the revelation of God in Jesus Christ would have been incomprehensible. Israel’s role as light to the nations is finally fulfilled in the coming into the world of the one true Israelite, Jesus Christ. The early Church arose first among the Jews, people who were intimately familiar with the words, concepts, and thought forms that arose in response to God’s gracious self-revelation in Israel; thus, they were historically and culturally prepared for the incarnation of the Son of God. While the nation as a whole rejected him, the first followers of Jesus Christ recognised their Messiah, particularly after the resurrection. When he talked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, for example, the risen Jesus explained to them all that the scriptures (i.e., the Old Testament) had said concerning him, thereby setting his mission squarely in the context of ancient Israel. Finally, in the breaking of bread, the Emmaus disciples recognized him (Lk 24:13-35). Such a revelation would not have been possible had not God prepared in Israel a conceptual matrix of thought and speech, both oral and written, by which they could apprehend the coming of the Son of God among them. In subsequent years, the disciples would declare that the scriptures that arose in ancient Israel, that is, the Old Testament, bear witness to Jesus Christ (e.g., Acts 2:25ff). 

Torrance helps us to see that all the trouble and travail of Israel was in the service of God’s eternal plan to bring the True Light to the nations in the person of Jesus. As Torrance argues, Israel’s puzzling vacillation between faithfulness and idolatry, with concomitant blessing and punishment, was the inevitable result of divine revelation pressing for understanding and articulation in the corporate mind of a sinful and rebellious people. The history of God’s dialogue with ancient Israel, therefore, must be regarded as the tumultuous preparation for the reception of the incarnate Word of God in the midst of a recalcitrant nation. To be sure, the incarnate Son of God is the central character of the Old Testament record of God’s dealings with Israel, for these scriptures bear witness to Jesus Christ (Jn 5:39). Jesus is the pivot point of salvation history. The Old Testament points forward, in anticipation, to the Light that was coming into the world (cf. Jn 1:9), while the New Testament bears witness to that Light.

T.F. Torrance: The Womb of the Incarnation, pt 9

The New Covenant 

In the fullness of time, Jesus Christ is identified with the suffering servant. According to Torrance, the incarnation must be understood in this context, wherein the Son of God gathers up in himself the prehistory of the mediation of reconciliation in Israel and the concomitant intensification of Israel’s conflict with God. The “prehistory of the crucifixion” in Israel (cf. above) prefigured the suffering of Christ, the one true Israelite, who recapitulated in himself the plight of the suffering servant in order to stand in the gap, in the midst of Israel, on behalf of all humanity. As Torrance notes, from the moment of Christ’s birth, the road ran straight to the crucifixion (cf. Lk 2:34, 35). Beginning at Bethlehem, the contradiction between humanity and God was set for its fulfilment. The intense conflict between God and humankind, vicariously embodied in Israel’s historical dialogue with God, reached its climax in the incarnation of Jesus Christ (Torrance, 1992:29; 2008:50; Colyer, 2001a:67, 68). Torrance (1992:29, 30) continues:
Hence, throughout the earthly life of Jesus the fearful tension he embodied ... and the reconciling love of God which he incarnated, advanced toward their climax in the crucifixion and resurrection of the Messiah, when all things in Israel and in humanity as a whole, were set within the frame of the new covenant of forgiveness and reconciliation through the body and blood of Christ. 

For Torrance, the Sinaitic covenant becomes “new” when it is finally cut deep into the heart of Israel’s existence, that is, into the “inner man. This is precisely what occurs in Jesus Christ (Torrance, 1956:309). Once the old covenant came to be enacted in the flesh of Israel in the person of Jesus, becoming a total “circumcision” that penetrated into the heart of the “inner man,” the new covenant was inaugurated and a new and living way to God was opened up in the humanity of the Son of Man. For Torrance, the ultimate self-giving of God to Israel, narrowed down in “historical particularity” to one particular Jew, meant the “universalization and transcendence” of the Old Testament form of the covenant, so that redemption takes on the cosmic dimensions of a new creation (Torrance, 2008:48, 52). Nevertheless, as Kruger (1989:45) notes, Torrance does not regard the “new” covenant as an abrogation of the “old”; rather, the essential pattern God established at Sinai (“I will be your God, you will be my people”) is fulfilled in the new covenant and raised to a higher level of intimacy and communion through the outpouring of the Spirit. 

Penetrating the Ontological Depths of Israel 

Torrance (1992:30, 31) notes that Jesus did not come as a “political” Messiah who would reshape the social, economic, and political structures of Israel. Rather than effect change at the surface level of Israel’s life, Jesus, as Son of God incarnate as Son of man, penetrated into “the ontological depths of Israel’s existence where man, and Israel representing all mankind, had become estranged from God, and there within those ontological depths of human being to forge a bond of union and communion between man and God in himself which can never be undone.” Torrance continues:
Jesus did not come, therefore, to reorganise the human, social and political structures on the surface level of Israel’s life, which could not touch the forces of evil underlying them but only provide them with a new disposition of structures to use for their own ends, for he knew that those forces of evil are most deadly when they clothe themselves with the structures of what is right and good. He came, rather, to penetrate into the innermost existence of Israel in such a way as to gather up its religious and historical dialogue with God into himself, to make its partnership and its conflict with God his own, precisely as they moved to their climax with the Incarnation, and thus in and through Israel to strike at the very root of evil in the enmity of the human heart to God. 

Rather than effect change merely at the surface level of human existence, argues Torrance, Jesus penetrated into the heart of Israel, gathered its conflicted existence to himself and, thereby, transformed it. At the cross, through the reconciliation between God and humanity wrought there, God encounters, suffers, and triumphs over the enmity entrenched in the human heart (Torrance, 1992:31). 

Israel Elected to Reject the Messiah 

As God drew a “circle of reconciling love” around Israel, notes Torrance (1992:32), it was separated from all other nations and brought into a unique partnership of covenant love with God. Israel was called to be the “earthly medium” and “human counterpart” of both divine revelation and reconciliation. Israel, therefore, was given a “vicarious mission and function” for the purpose of the reconciliation of all mankind. Yet, just as the mediation of revelation triggered an ongoing, agonising struggle in the life of Israel, so also did the mediation of reconciliation. Torrance continues:
[I]n the progressive embodiment of his self-revelation to Israel and in his patient remoulding of its existence and life in the service of divine revelation to all men, God became locked in a profound struggle with Israel. The Word of God pressed hard upon Israel throughout its history, informing its worship with the knowledge of the living God and impregnating its way of life with divine truth, thereby evoking obedience but also provoking disobedience, in order to lay hold upon both as the instrument of its ever-deepening penetration into the inner recesses of Israel’s being and soul and understanding, thus preparing Israel as the matrix for the Incarnation of the Word in Jesus Christ. 

According to Torrance, God gave himself to Israel and assumed the nation into covenant partnership with himself, thus revealing, in the midst of the people, God’s will to be humanity’s God despite human sin. Even in the face of Israel’s rejection, God bound himself to the people in covenant love, so that Israel was unable to escape its covenant partnership with God. As Torrance argues, Israel was called to be the “covenanted vis-à-vis” on earth in the movement of God’s reconciling love for all humanity (Torrance, 1992:32).  

Israel’s persistent attempts to break free of its covenant partnership with God, however, merely intensified its recalcitrance and sharpened the tension between God and humanity. As Torrance (1992:32, 33; cf. 2008:49) observes:
In that state of affairs the mediation of divine reconciliation to all mankind in and through the people of Israel could be worked out only in the heart of its conflict with God in such a way that its deep-seated human estrangement from God became the very means used by God in actualising his purpose of love to reconcile the whole world to himself. 

According to Torrance, human resistance and estrangement were incorporated into God’s gracious plan for the reconciliation of humankind. Noting that this is one of the ways of God that is difficult for us to appreciate, Torrance finds something quite similar after the Last Supper, when the disciples denied and abandoned Jesus when he was taken prisoner by the authorities. Out of fear for their lives, the disciples left Jesus utterly alone, separating themselves from him by an “unbridgeable chasm of shame and horror,” for they had forsaken and betrayed the very love whereby he had bound them to himself. Yet, in enacting the new covenant for the remission of sins by giving them his body and blood in the bread and wine of the Holy Supper, Jesus meant the disciples to understand that even their denial of him (e.g., Peter; Mt 26:34) was the very means by which he bound them to himself. The disciples finally realized, therefore, that Jesus’ passion was not for the holy saint but, rather, was precisely for the sinner. As Torrance argues, “It was their sin, their betrayal, their shame, their unworthiness, which became in the inexplicable love of God the material he laid hold of and turned into the bond that bound them to the crucified Messiah, to the salvation and love of God forever” (Torrance, 1992:33, 34). 

For Torrance, this is surely how we must understand God’s election of Israel to be the bearer of divine revelation and reconciliation. Urging that we clap our hands over our mouths and speak with fear and trembling within the forgiving love of God, Torrance (1992:34) asserts that “Israel was elected also to reject the Messiah”:
If the covenant partnership of Israel with God meant not only that the conflict of Israel with God became intensified but was carried to its supreme point in the fulfilment of the Covenant, then Israel under God could do no other than refuse the Messiah. 

In Jesus Christ, it is revealed that the election of one for all becomes salvation for all in the rejection of one for all. The events surrounding the cross of Christ reveal what was happening to Israel in its election by God. According to Torrance (2008:52):
The election of Israel as an instrument of the divine reconciliation, an instrument which was to be used in its very refusal of grace so that in its midst the ultimate self-giving of God might take place, meant, then ... that Israel was elected to act in a representative capacity for all peoples in its rejection of Christ.  

To be the sphere in which the Son of God freely allowed himself to be crucified meant that Israel could only fulfil God’s gracious purpose by rejecting Christ and condemning him to death. This is not to suggest, Torrance argues, that God made the Jews guiltier than others; rather, through them, God exposed humanity’s hatred of grace, drawing it out at the cross in all its intensity, so that Christ, as the Lamb of God, might take away the sin of the world in “holy and awful atonement.” According to Torrance, Jesus bore the infinite guilt, not only of Israel, “but of all mankind revealed in the guilt of Israel,” thereby acquitting and justifying the ungodly, Jew and Gentile alike, and even bearing away the guilt of those who, representing all humanity, actually carried out his terrible crucifixion (Torrance, 2008:53). 

As Peter announced on the Day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:23), the rejection of the Messiah is exactly what God intended in his determination to deal with sinful humanity at its worst, even at the point of its ultimate denial of the saving will of God. At the cross, Jesus took upon himself all the sin and guilt of Israel, including Israel’s scorn and rejection. According to Torrance, if Israel was blinded in its role as the servant of God (cf. Is 42:19), and, hence, could not help but react as it did, it was blinded for the sake of all humanity. “The Jew” vicariously represents our own rejection of God, so that reconciliation might also be ours. The ultimate refusal of God which took place in Israel was the very means by which the loving God achieved final victory over sin, for by the cross, humankind was reconciled to God (cf. 2Cor 5:19). As Torrance notes, “Our indebtedness to the Jew and our faith in Jesus Christ are inextricably woven together in the fulfilled mediation of reconciliation” (Torrance, 1992:34, 35; 2008:49, 50, 53). Therefore, Jesus must not be detached from ancient Israel or the incarnation from its “deep roots in the covenant partnership of God with Israel.” To detach Jesus from ancient Israel, argues Torrance, is to obscure the nexus of relationships within which God’s self-revelation in Christ becomes intelligible. If we are to know Jesus Christ, we must seek to understand him “within the actual matrix of interrelations from which he sprang as Son of David and Son of Mary, that is, in terms of his intimate bond with Israel in its covenant relationship with God throughout history” (Torrance, 1992:3, 23; cf. Colyer, 2001a:69).

T.F. Torrance: The Womb of the Incarnation, pt 8

Intensification of the Covenant 

According to Torrance (1992:75), the institution of the cultic liturgy, set out in the Torah and interpreted by the prophets, reinforced Israel’s separation from other nations as “a people imprinted with a priestly character and invested with a vicarious mission” as mediator of divine revelation and reconciliation. This was not, however, a mere formal rite designed to guarantee propitiation between God and the people. Torrance writes:
[T]he covenanted way of response had to be worked into the very flesh and blood of Israel’s existence. It had to be impregnated into its understanding and sculptured into its very being. It had to be built into the reciprocity between God and Israel and be allowed to control the whole pattern of its life and mission in history. 
For Torrance (1960a:121), the covenanted way of response had to be “translated from the realm of symbolic ritual into the actual existence of His people,” for the covenanted way of response was never intended to be a dead liturgy or an empty ritual. He continues:
The worst thing that could be done with such a covenant would be to turn the symbolic ritual into an end in itself, as a means of acting upon God and bending His will to serve the ends of men. That is precisely what Israel tried to do again and again, so that God sent the prophets to protest against their use of the Cult and to demand obedience rather than sacrifice. 

As Purves (2001:63) notes, by its very nature, the covenanted way of response was intended to be written on the hearts of the people and incorporated into their existence in such a way that Israel was called to pattern its entire life after it. Similarly, notes Colyer (2001a:100), if Israel was to be a light to the nations as mediator of revelation and reconciliation, the vicarious way of response provided the people by God had to be embodied in Israel as a whole, that is, in the totality of Israel’s existence as a people charged with a priestly and vicarious life and mission. 

As God drew nearer to Israel in reconciling love, Israel’s sin was not only revealed but also intensified. As Torrance notes, this was not an accidental feature of the covenant: “[God] used the suffering and judgement of Israel to reveal the terrible nature of sin as contradiction to God’s love and grace, to uncover the deep enmity of humanity in its persistent self-will before God in his divine self-giving.” The intensification of Israel’s sin was incorporated into the “full design” of the covenant, Torrance argues, for “it was the will and the way of God’s grace to effect reconciliation with man at his very worst,” that is, in a state of stiff-necked rebellion against God. “In that ordeal,” notes Torrance, “the word and the cult were not mere letter and liturgy, but were worked out into the very existence of Israel,” as indicated in Deutero-Isaiah (Chapters 40-55) and Jeremiah (Torrance, 1992:28, 29; 2008:47). In this regard, argues Scandrett (2006:59), Torrance sees a connection between sin and human suffering, for Israel’s condition of enmity and rebellion against God was always the occasion for its suffering. For Torrance, notes Scandrett, sin may be regarded as the “disease,” with suffering the inevitable “symptom,” from which Israel (and all humanity) needs to be healed. 

As Torrance argues, in unswerving love for Israel, God worked out a way of reconciliation that did not depend on a worthy response from humanity, but made Israel’s sin and rebellion the means by which he bound it to himself in “unsullied communion.” God used the history and suffering of Israel to reveal his infinite love for humanity and to serve his unrelenting purpose of forgiveness and reconciliation, until his love achieved its ultimate purpose of final union and communion of humanity with God in Jesus Christ (Torrance, 1992:28, 29; 2008:47). More succinctly, Torrance shows how a sovereign and gracious God can use even human sin as a means of further address to his people (cf. Kruger, 1989:60). 

The great sign of the covenant was circumcision, notes Torrance, whereby the covenant was “cut into the flesh” of the people as the sign that the promises of God would be fulfilled in the life of Israel only as the word of God was “translated into its flesh,” that is, into its very existence. Circumcision was the sign that the covenant had to be written into the heart, in the “‘crucifixion’ of self-will” and the “putting off of ‘the enmity of the flesh.’” Astonishingly, however, the more God gave himself, Torrance argues, the more he forced Israel to be what, in its sin and self-will, it truly was: a “rebel.” Because the self-giving of God intensified the enmity and contradiction between Israel and God, Torrance argues that Israel was, in fact, “the suffering servant.” Israel suffered as it was broken, remade, and realigned into conformity with the covenant will of God. For Torrance, the whole concept of the “suffering servant” represents the activity of God, whereby he begins “to draw together the cords of the covenant” between himself and Israel (Torrance, 2008:47-52). 

The Servant of the Lord 

Israel’s corporate role of suffering servant is gradually associated in the mind of the people with one individual who identifies himself with the nation’s suffering. Torrance sees the vicarious embodiment and mediation of the covenant beginning to come to expression in the Isaianic “servant of the Lord,” as particularly and poignantly illustrated in Isaiah 53. Here the mediatorial and priestly figures of Moses and Aaron respectively, and the notions of guilt-bearer and sacrifice for sin, are conflated to provide the “interpretive clue” for the intercessory and vicarious role of the servant in the redemption of Israel (Torrance, 1992:75, 76; 2008:51, 52). For Torrance, notes Scandrett (2006:55, 56), this is the “penultimate stage” of mediation in Israel and reflects Torrance’s image of the “ever-deepening, spiral movement” of divine revelation (cf. Torrance, 1992:8). Torrance’s treatment of the Isaianic material, argues Scandrett, demonstrates his understanding of the “unifying and narrowing thrust of the Old Testament toward the ultimate goal of the Incarnation.”  

Moreover, the “fundamental antinomy” (Scandrett, 2006:60) between Israel’s sin and God’s holiness will be gathered up and reconciled in this one individual, for, as Torrance (1992:75, 76; 2008:51, 52) argues, the servant of the Lord is the “hypostasised actualisation” of the divinely provided way of covenant response set forth within the flesh and blood existence of Israel; that is, the entire covenanted way of response is gathered up in this one individual (cf. Scandrett, 2006:56).  Moreover, Torrance sees a messianic role envisioned for the servant, wherein both mediator and sacrifice, as well as priest and victim, are combined in a form that is both representative and substitutionary, as well as corporate and individual in its fulfilment. 

For Torrance, the Isaianic writer is struggling to articulate a vision wherein the servant of the Lord is identified with Israel as a whole, the divine Redeemer (goel) is identified with the Holy One of Israel, and the roles of Servant and Redeemer are combined and spoken of together.  Torrance argues, “It is as though the prophet wanted to say that the real servant of the Lord is the Lord himself who as goel-Redeemer has bound himself up in such a tight bond of covenant kinship with Israel that he has taken upon himself Israel’s afflicted existence and made it his own in order to redeem Israel.” For Torrance, this implies an actual state of incarnation which finally takes place within the matrix of Israel in the birth of the Son of God to the Virgin Mary (Torrance, 1992:76; cf. Colyer, 2001a:100). Thus, while Israel itself is the suffering servant, assumed into oneness with the word of God, in the servant songs of Isaiah, it is evident that the word becomes one with Israel, becoming more and more “one Israelite,” for that is the only way in which the word assumes human nature and existence into oneness with itself. For Torrance, therefore, the suffering servant is primarily to be understood as “the Word” identifying himself with Israel, and becoming “one particular Israelite, an individual person, the Messiah” (Torrance, 2008:51, 52). 

As Scandrett (2006:61) notes, Torrance clearly identifies the suffering servant of Isaiah Fifty-Three with Jesus Christ. For Torrance, the suffering servant acts from within the ontological depths of Israel’s troubled, sinful existence and, therefore, “vicariously” on behalf of Israel, that is, “as Israel in a participatory sense” (Scandrett, 2006:63). As Scandrett rightly emphasises, “The Servant’s suffering moves beyond the forms of Israel’s covenanted way of response to penetrate the essential disjunction which exists between God and Israel because of sin” (emphasis in original) and, thereby, “binds” himself to Israel in such a way as to reconstitute the nation’s relation to him so that “their true end is fully and perfectly realised in unsullied communion with himself (Torrance, 1992:29). As will be shown below (cf. Chapter Six) the servant’s participatory, ontological penetration into the depths of Israel’s existence in order to bind the nation to himself in communion is paradigmatic for Torrance’s understanding of the atoning reconciliation of Jesus Christ. 

For Torrance, argues Scandrett (2006:57, 58), the repeated juxtaposition of the Isaianic servant of the Lord and the Holy One of Israel is of new and critical importance in regard to divine revelation in Israel. “Most remarkably,” notes Scandrett, it juxtaposes God and humanity in a single individual. Moreover, it brings together the legal and sacrificial  dimensions of Israel’s life [as represented by Moses and Aaron], which, together, form the “two complementary poles” of the people’s entire existence, as encompassed in the covenanted way of response in Israel. “In emphasizing the juxtaposition of these entities as pointing beyond itself toward a single reality,” argues Scandrett, “Torrance’s basic commitment to the centrality of the Incarnation is once again made clear.” In addition, the juxtaposition of the servant of the Lord and the Holy One of Israel brings together in an unprecedented way the liturgical concepts of Mediator and Sacrifice with the moral and legal concept of Redeemer. For Torrance, argues Scandrett, this marks a “stunning development in the mind of Israel regarding the character and role of the Messiah as a Mediator between God and humanity.” This “new combination of forms” by which the Word of God revealed in Jesus Christ can be apprehended shows the “progressive, unifying, and narrowing character” of God’s self-disclosure to Israel, wherein the Servant of the Lord and the Holy One of Israel are brought together, as the “ever deepening, spiral movement” (cf. Torrance, 1992:8) of revelation progresses toward its goal in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

T.F. Torrance: The Womb of the Incarnation, pt 7.

Divine Holiness and Communal Transformation 

In regard to his scientific theology, Torrance finds a basic epistemological principle in the “profound reciprocity” established in the intertwining of revelation and reconciliation in Israel that accords with his fundamental methodological axiom that realties must be known in accordance with their natures. All genuine knowledge, argues Torrance, requires a “cognitive union of the mind with its object,” wherein estrangement and alienation are removed, so that we may know reality only in accordance with its nature. The nature of the object of inquiry determines the “mode of knowing” appropriate to it, as well as the behaviour required toward it. To know God in strict accordance with the divine nature as it is disclosed to us requires an adaptation of our personal relations toward him. “Knowing God requires cognitive union with him in which our whole being is affected by his love and holiness. It is the pure in heart who see God.” For Torrance, we cannot know God without love (Torrance, 1992:25, 26).

Here again we find Torrance’s theological holism. For Torrance there is no “head-heart” dualism; rather, theology must be engaged both rationally and devotionally if we are to truly apprehend the nature of the Object of inquiry. For Torrance, theology is not merely an academic endeavour to be practiced in isolation from communal worship and personal piety; rather, theology and doxology, academics and personal devotion, form a single integrated whole, wherein knowledge of God is developed with the full engagement of both head and heart. As stated above (cf. Chapter Two), Torrance insists that true knowledge of God must be developed within the context of faith and godliness. Similarly, Torrance (1992:26) writes:
To know God and to be holy, to know God and worship, to know God and to be cleansed in mind and soul from anything that may come between people and God, to know God and be committed to him in consecration, love and obedience, go inseparably together. 

As we draw nearer to God, argues Torrance, the more “integrated” our spiritual and physical existence becomes, and the more integrated our spiritual and physical existence becomes, the more we are able to draw nearer to God. Torrance finds this principle at work in the ascetic theology of the patristic era, where stress was laid upon askesis, or “spiritual discipline in mind and life,” to facilitate an understanding of God worthy of him. Torrance sees this principle at work in Israel, wherein “intensifying conflict” and “deepening conformity” with God were being worked out in time and space. The unconditional self-giving of God required an unconditional response on the part of Israel: “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Lev 19:2). By entering “relations of holiness” with God, the foundation and character of Israel’s existence as God’s “peculiar people” were affected in distinctive and idiosyncratic ways (Torrance, 1992:26, 27). Torrance continues:
Israel was the people which became so intimately involved with the holy presence of God that it was completely spoiled for any naturalistic existence as an ordinary nation, but became the means through which God worked out in the midst of the nations a way of reconciliation with himself in which the tensions embedded in man’s alienated existence are resolved and the peace of God is built into the whole of creation. Israel thus became the people impregnated with the promise of shalom for all mankind. 

As Colyer (2001a:62) notes, for Israel to know God, its communal worship, life, and thought had to be cleansed and transformed, so that Israel might be moulded into an appropriate medium of revelation and reconciliation for all humanity. Similarly, Kruger (1989:71, 72) notes that revelation and reconciliation go together as surely as God gives himself to fallen Israel and summons the nation into communion with himself. For Torrance, notes Kruger, the mediation of revelation achieves its end and completes the circle of its own movement in and through reconciliation between God and “carnal” Israel. Likewise, as Chung (2011:6) rightly notes, for Torrance revelation is not merely a business of cognition; it also involves and affects the entire corporate life of the nation. As Chung (2011:8) argues, the “key” to understanding the agonising reciprocity between God and Israel is the realisation that, unless the corporate heart or being of Israel is changed, the people’s innate weakness will “eclipse” the revelation of God and prevent the fulfilment of their role as the corporate medium of divine revelation. Hence, rather than engage Israel in a merely “tangential fashion, rippling the surface of its moral and religious consciousness” (Torrance, 1992:15), the searing light of divine revelation penetrates deep into the depths of Israel’s existence in order to transform the corporate heart of the nation. Not only does the intense reciprocity between God and Israel transform the nation, but also brings forth what Chung (2011:8) describes as “appropriate forms of articulation and a renewed being,” so that the nation may become the “ordained medium of God’s self-revelation.” “The participative response of Israel in her critical self-revision,” notes Chung, “constitutes the movement of human understanding to divine revelation.” Chung’s observation is consistent with Torrance’s scientific theological emphasis on faith, piety, and devotion as essential aspects of the epistemological process. 

From the above, we see that the reshaping and restructuring of Israel’s corporate existence, not only in terms of language and conceptual structures but also in terms of “mind,” “heart,” “soul,” and “being,” is a vital aspect of Torrance’s view of the mediation of revelation and reconciliation. Torrance’s emphasis on the transformation of Israel’s corporate “being” as a result of the nation’s encounter with God reflects not only the two-way movement of revelation and response in Israel but also the inseparability of “knowing and being” in Torrance’s scientific theology (cf. Kruger, 1989:68). Thus, we can confidently assert that, for Torrance, the mediation of revelation and reconciliation in Israel are two aspects of a single, unitary reality that is both epistemological and ontological in character. As will be shown in subsequent Chapters of the present thesis, as in Israel, the mediation of revelation and reconciliation of Jesus Christ is also both epistemological and ontological in character. 

The Covenanted Way of Response 

In electing Israel to be the mediator of revelation and reconciliation, Torrance argues, God knew the people would not be able to fulfil the provisions of the covenant by walking before God in perfect holiness. Nor would Israel be able to worship God in an appropriate way, for the covenant between God and Israel was not a covenant between God and a holy people; it was a covenant of grace between God and a sinful, rebellious people. According to Torrance, the validity of the covenant did not depend on a “contractual” fulfilment of its terms on the part of Israel; rather, it was a “unilateral covenant,” which depended solely for its fulfilment on “the unconditional grace of God and the unrelenting purpose of reconciliation which he had pledged to work out through Israel for all peoples [and therefore] it depended upon a vicarious way of response to the love of God which God himself provided within the covenant.” No matter how rebellious and sinful Israel became, it could not escape the covenant love and faithfulness of God, an aspect of the covenant brought out so poignantly in Hosea. As Torrance notes, the covenant was conditioned only by the “unstinted outflowing love of God in the continuous act of grace, of grace for grace” (Torrance, 1992:27, 28, 74; 2008:46, 47). 

The gracious nature of God’s relationship with Israel becomes more apparent when the covenant is contrasted with a “contract,” as helpfully noted by Kruger (1989:40, 41; cf. Torrance, J., 1970:51ff). Unlike a contract, that is, a “bilateral” agreement that requires fulfilment by both parties to be valid, the covenant God established with Israel was a “unilateral” agreement that depended solely upon the faithfulness of God for its fulfilment. In a unilateral movement of divine grace, God fulfilled the covenant “from both sides,” not only by freely entering into relationship with sinful humanity but also by graciously providing the means whereby sinful humanity could respond to the divine initiative. As Kruger correctly notes, “God filled Israel's hands with His own provision so that Israel could draw near to God in worship and communion. [God] provides what He requires.”                        

As Torrance (1992:73, 74) notes, in his love and mercy, God provided the means whereby weak and beggarly Israel could respond to the love of God, so that the liturgy of atonement might be incorporated into the ongoing life of the people. In an act of sheer grace, God provided Israel the all-important “middle term” between the “polarities of the covenant” (i.e., God and humanity), that is, a “covenanted way of response,” so that the people might respond in a vicarious way to God’s grace. This divinely-prepared way of sacrifice replaced the very best humanity could offer, as in the paradigmatic case of the sacrifice God provided for himself in lieu of Abraham’s offering of Isaac (Gen 22:1ff). As Torrance notes, God graciously and unilaterally provided for his people the means by which they could respond to him as covenant partner, so that Israel could come before God forgiven and sanctified in their covenant partnership and consecrated in their priestly mission to the world as mediator of revelation and reconciliation. Torrance (1960a:16) describes the covenanted way of response as a way “of response to his Will, a way of obedient conformity to His Covenant which He is pleased to accept as from his people in the Covenant.”  

In regard to God’s provision of the means of response to the divine initiative, we believe that Torrance’s concept of the “covenanted way of response” facilitates greater appreciation for divine grace in God’s relations with humanity, as revealed in Israel. As Torrance argues, God’s sovereign commitment to be God for Israel was not dependent on any salutary quality that made Israel worthy of communal relationship with a holy and righteous God; rather, divine graciousness toward Israel was prior to any worthy response by the people. God willingly entered relationship with a stiff-necked, rebellious people, so that he might be their covenant partner. At Sinai, God declared, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Ex 20:2). Only after he had declared himself their God, did God stipulate the means by which the people were to respond to his covenant love (Ex 20:3ff). God’s covenant commitment to his people was both prior to, and unconditioned by, any appropriate response on the part of Israel; that is, God’s covenant commitment was an act of sheer grace. In the words of Torrance’s younger brother, James, “[T]he indicatives of grace are always prior to the imperatives of law and human obligation” (Torrance, J., 1970:56). 

The covenanted way of response God provided Israel, however, did not imply that Israel’s liturgical sacrifices had any power to undo iniquity or expiate sin. Rather, argues Torrance, the function of the sacrificial system was to bear witness to the fact that, while the Holy One of Israel could not be approached apart from atoning reconciliation, God himself had promised to provide the propitiation for the sin of the people. Noting that the great sacrifice on the Day of Atonement occurred behind the veil in the Holy of Holies, Torrance argues that the hidden, mysterious nature of the ritual teaches us that atonement lies hidden in the mystery of God’s own being, where we are not at liberty to intrude. Yet, the cultic liturgy of sacrifice and offering gave the minds and hearts of the people something to lay hold of, even as it pointed far beyond itself to that which God alone could and would do for his people (Torrance, 1992:36). 

The pattern of the covenanted way of response becomes clear in the establishing of the covenant between God and Israel at Mount Sinai. According to Torrance, the covenant relationship between God and Israel “came to rest upon the twin foundation of the Sinaitic law and the Levitical liturgy, as represented supremely in Moses and Aaron, prophet and priest in essential complementarity and unity” (Torrance, 1956:307). Noting that even in its Sinaitic form, the covenant remains essentially a covenant of grace, Torrance (1996b:194) sees God as providing his people “a way of obedient response to his loving-kindness, a way of cleansing and restoration to fellowship with himself.” He continues:
In spite of their sin God did not give up his people but maintained with them a covenant of grace, in which he allied himself with his creatures as their God and Saviour, and committing himself to them in paternal kindness took them into communion with himself as his dear children.  

The vicarious means by which Israel was to respond to God was elaborated in the ordinances of worship described in the Pentateuch. According to Torrance (1992:74):
Not only the general pattern of the cult but the details of the liturgy were clearly designed to bring home to the people of Israel that they were not to appear before the Face of God with offerings embodying their own self-expression or representing their own naturalistic desires, or with kinds of sacrifices thought up by themselves as means of expiating guilt or propitiating God, for that was how the heathen engaged in worship, as ways of acting upon God and inducing his favour. Thus no unprescribed oblation, no uncovenanted offering, no strange fire, no incense of their own recipe, and no ritual of their own inventing, were to be intruded into their worship of God. 

Here Torrance highlights the “judgement” of grace. God’s gracious provision for Israel of the covenanted way of response carries with it a judgement and a verdict on human offerings to God. The completeness and sufficiency of God’s provision of what he requires renders all human offerings redundant (Kruger, 1989:41). The cultic liturgy was designed to witness to the fact that only God can expiate guilt, forgive sin, and bring about propitiation between himself and his people. Thus, the sacrifices, offerings, and oblations, as well as the priesthood itself, constituted the “vicarious way of covenant response in faith, obedience and worship” which God graciously provide in his steadfast love for his people (Torrance, 1992:74, 75). 

From the above, we argue that Torrance’s discussion of the mediation of reconciliation emphasises the “gracious,” “unilateral,” and “vicarious” nature of the covenanted way of response that God provided Israel, so that a sinful nation could approach a holy God in appropriate and reverent worship. These essential aspects of the mediation of reconciliation in Israel bear directly on Torrance’s understanding of the mediation of Jesus Christ. For Torrance, as Scandrett (2006:33) correctly argues, the covenanted way of response that God provided Israel sets the stage for a true understanding of God’s redemptive acts in history. While the revelation of God in Jesus Christ is “categorically unique,” for Torrance, notes Scandrett, “the Old Testament progressively reveals a pattern of relationship between God and Israel that is ultimately recapitulated and fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.” This “basic hermeneutical assumption,” argues Scandrett, has profound implications for understanding Torrance’s view of the mediation of Jesus Christ in the economy of salvation. In agreement with Scandrett, we note that the “vicarious way of covenant response” God provided Israel will finally be fully realised and faithfully enacted in the incarnate Son of God, who, as both Lamb of God and High Priest, vicariously embodies in his incarnate constitution as God and man joined in atoning reconciliation the covenanted way of response between God and humanity.

T.F. Torrance: The Womb of the Incarnation, pt 6

The Prehistory of Reconciliation 

The prehistory of mediation in Israel involves reconciliation as well as revelation. According to Torrance (1996b:194), God chose Israel to be both the medium of revelation and “the special sphere of his redemptive acts leading throughout history to the fulfilment of his promise of salvation.” In keeping with the unitary, holistic character of his theology, Torrance (1992:24) sees the mediation of revelation and the mediation of reconciliation “intertwined” in God’s interaction with Israel; that is, “revelation and reconciliation belong together, so that we cannot think out the mediation of revelation apart from the mediation of reconciliation”  

God’s election of Israel to be the mediator of reconciliation must be viewed against the background of God’s eternal purpose in creating the universe. According to Torrance, God created the universe in order to pour out his love upon humanity and to enjoy communion with us. Notwithstanding the fall of Adam, God’s resolute purpose to commune with humanity is undeterred by human sin. Torrance (1957a:190) writes:
Behind all that we hear in the Gospel lies the fact that in creating man God willed to share His glory with man and willed man to have communion with Himself; it is the fact of the overflowing love of God that refused, so to speak, to be pent up within God, but insisted in creating a fellowship into which it could pour itself out in unending grace. Far from being rebuffed by the disobedience and rebellion of man, the will of God's love to seek and create fellowship with man established the covenant of grace in which God promised to man in spite of his sin to be His God, and insisted on binding man to Himself as His child and partner in love. God remained true and faithful to His covenant. He established it in the midst of the people of Israel, and all through their history God was patiently at work, preparing a way for the Incarnation of His love at last in Jesus Christ, that in and through Him He might bring His covenant to complete fulfilment and gather man back into joyful communion with Himself.  

In this statement, notes Kruger (1989:23), Torrance looks back to creation and eternity and then forward to Israel, and within Israel to the fulfilment of God’s redemptive purpose for humanity in Jesus Christ. Embedded in this passage are three essential points that are constitutive of Torrance’s doctrine of the mediation of reconciliation (cf. Kruger, 1989:23, 24): 1) Creation is an act of “overflowing love,” that is, an act of grace, whereby God freely wills to include humanity in communion with himself. 2) Redemption is not separate from God’s gracious, loving act of creation. Despite human sin, God remains “true and faithful” to his purpose in creating humanity for fellowship with himself. God is not “rebuffed” by human sin; rather, after the fall of Adam, God’s creative purpose for humanity becomes a redemptive purpose with an eschatological goal; God establishes a covenant of grace whereby he binds himself to man as “his child and partner in love.” In Kruger’s pithy words, “God is committed.” 3) Israel is chosen as the corporate medium of redemption, in the midst of whom, God is “patiently at work,” preparing the way for the incarnation of Jesus Christ, “that in and through Him He might bring His covenant to complete fulfilment and gather man back into joyful communion with Himself.” God’s resolute purpose in creating humanity for communion with himself, unwavering even in the face of human sin, is always in the background of Torrance’s discussion of Israel as the corporate medium of reconciliation.  

As Kruger (1989:27) notes, grace, creation, and redemption are interrelated throughout Torrance’s writings. For example, in an essay on baptism, Torrance (1960a:120, 121) writes:
When God made His Covenant of grace with Abraham it was none other than the Covenant of grace which He established with [the] creation of the world, and which took on a redemptive purpose with the rebellion and fall of man. But with Abraham that Covenant assumed a particular form within history and with one race elected from among all the races of mankind in order that God might prepare a way within humanity for the fulfilment of His Covenant Will for all men. 

In the light of human sin, God’s creative plan to pour out his love on all humanity takes on a redemptive purpose with the calling of Abraham (Torrance, 1971:141). The covenant of grace God established with the creation of the world begins to take definitive shape in human history in Israel, where God prepares the way for the salvation of all humanity. Torrance follows Barth (1957d:22ff; 1957f:28-31; 42ff; 1959:52ff) in asserting a relationship between creation and the covenant. According to Torrance (1959:lii):
As Karl Barth has interpreted it, the Covenant is the inner ground and form of creation and creation is the outer ground or form of the Covenant, and the very centre of the Covenant is the will of God to be our Father and to have us as His dear children. Creation is thus to be understood as the sphere in space and time in which God wills to share His divine life and love with man who is created for this very end.
For Torrance, the covenant of grace is intrinsically bound to creation. God established his covenant of grace at creation in his resolute purpose to create humanity in order to pour out his love in communion with us. Torrance (1959:li) refers to the covenant of grace established at creation as “the one all-embracing Covenant of the overflowing love of God.” As Kruger (1989:28 n. 22; 29, 30) perceptively notes, in contrast to Westminster theology, with its [dualist] separation of creation and redemption, Torrance seeks to allow the light of Jesus Christ to illuminate the mystery of creation and God’s covenant relation with humanity (cf. Torrance, 1959:lvi). To be sure, as Kruger rightly argues, Torrance is aligned with the Prologue of the Fourth Gospel [and the Nicene creedal assertion] that all things were made through the eternal Word who became flesh “for us and our salvation” (cf. John 1:1-3, 14). Nevertheless, as Kruger rightly contends, it is a weakness in Torrance’s writings that he fails to thoroughly develop his understanding of the relationship between creation and covenant, for redemption actually informs Torrance’s understanding of creation; that is, Torrance interprets creation in the light of God’s redemptive purpose in Israel and its fulfilment in Jesus Christ. 

In the following posts, we will consider four important aspects of the “prehistory” of the mediation of reconciliation in Israel: 1) Israel’s communal transformation in relation to God’s holiness; 2) the covenanted way of response provided for Israel by God; 3) Israel as the suffering servant, and 4) Israel’s rejection of the Messiah.

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