Christ’s Passion: Sufferings of every kind

The heart of the “Passion” lies in its historical (etymological) meaning. “Passion” comes from the Latin root passio “to render.” So when we suffer, we have to submit to causes that deprive us of our freedom or well-being.

When I was at the 1993 Congress of Philosophy in Moscow, I attended a session where the French philosopher,Paul Ricoeur, “one of the most distinguished philosophers of the twentieth century,” (Stanford Encyclopedia) spoke on “suffering.” He spoke in English. After he had used the word “suffering” several times, I noticed that his context nothing to to do with the English meaning of “suffering,” namely, extreme distress or pain. I studied the mesmerised faces of the audience. It seemed to me that even if he had talked backwards, they would’ve accepted it as Gospel. Hopefully the backward flip that I have done with my prospective sermon has faired a little better.

As I had some familiarity with Ricoeur’s philosophy, I was pretty sure that his “suffering” had nothing to do with extreme mental or physical pain but rather with one of his important philosophical themes, namely “passivity in action” (See ENDNOTE). At question time, I asked him what he meant by “suffering.” The problem was, I said, that in French there exists the two words “subir” and “souffrir,” which originate from the same etymological root. “Souffrir” means “suffering”(extreme pain), while “subir” has the meaning, as in the King James Bible Version, of “suffer little children to come unto me,” (Mark 10:13), that is, let, or allow, them to come to me, or don’t take in action that will prevent them coming to me. So, when Ricoeur used the word “suffering,” he was thinking of “subir” (passivity). And what was Ricoeur’s response? He meant “subir” (passivity) not “suffering.” He had committed a common error in French-English, English-French translation called “faux amis”(false friends). (See Passivity and suffering in the passion of the Christ”).

Here is W.J.T. Shedd on Christ’s Passive Obedience (See Shedd’s “Vicarious Atonement“).

“[Passive obedience] denotes Christ’s sufferings of every kind—the sum total of the sorrow and pain which he endured in his estate of humiliation. The term passive is used etymologically. His suffering is denominated “obedience” because it came by reason of his submission to the conditions under which he voluntarily placed himself when he consented to be the sinner’s substitute. He vicariously submitted to the sentence “the soul that sins, it shall die” and was “obedient unto death” (Phil. 2:8). Christ’s passive or suffering obedience is not to be confined to what he experienced in the garden and on the cross. This suffering was the culmination of his piacular [expiatory] sorrow, but not the whole of it. Everything in his human and earthly career that was distressing belongs to his passive obedience. It is a true remark of [Jonathan] Edwards that the blood of Christ’s circumcision was as really a part of his vicarious atonement as the blood that flowed from his pierced side. And not only his suffering proper, but his humiliation, also, was expiatory, because this was a kind of suffering.”

“The satisfaction or propitiation of Christ consists either in his suffering evil or his being subject to abasement. Thus Christ made satisfaction for sin by continuing under the power of death while he lay buried in the grave, though neither his body nor soul properly endured any suffering after he was dead. Whatever Christ was subject to that was the judicial fruit of sin had the nature of satisfaction for sin. But not only proper suffering, but all abasement and depression of the state and circumstances of mankind [human nature] below its primitive honor and dignity, such as his body remaining under death, and body and soul remaining separate, and other things that might be mentioned, are the judicial fruits of sin.”


1“Ricoeur’s account of the way in which narrative represents the human world of acting (and, in its passive mode, suffering).”
Kluge Prize Winner 2004 – Paul Ricoeur Acceptance speech of Paul Ricoeur – December 2004

“I identify myself by my capacities, by what I can do. The individual designates himself as a capable human being—and, we must add, as a suffering human being, to underscore the vulnerability of the human condition.”

3 thoughts on “Christ’s Passion: Sufferings of every kind

  1. You may agree with Edwards that Christ’s circumcision was part of the atonement, but I do not. That view is reductionist in that it fails to distinguish the aspects of ministry. Christ also fulfilled prophecy, received worship, cast out demons, and healed the sick. Only being hung on the tree as a curse for the sake of humanity and shedding his blood in death was the atonement. To say that circumcision was part of the atonement is not much different than saying a carpentry injury of Jesus was part of the atonement also, which I reject as well.

    • Alex

      Many were crucified besides Jesus. A Christian understands,imperfectly of course, that the crucifixion of our Lord was infinitely different from other crucifixions. Similarly, the circumcision of our Lord was a much more profound event than the circumcision of Abraham. Here is an excerpt from S Lewis Johnson – Genesis 17:9-27 The Sign of the Abrahamic Covenant, which I think requires much pondering.

      It’s long for a comment but that should not be a bother.

      Click to access 32_SLJ_Genesis.pdf

      To circumcise was to cut off the foreskin of the male or female sex organ. Now in the Old Testament, the circumcision of females is not referred to at all but it did exist. The circumcision of the male is the important thing. Now the circumcision or the act of circumcising was something that was practiced not only in Israel, but also among other nations, in Egypt, for example, but there was something very different about the circumcision of the heathen or the pagan. And the difference was simply this, that this circumcision is associated with a covenant. It has a specific meaning, and so we will bear that in mind when we talk about circumcision. It has to do with the cutting off of the foreskin of the male sex organ.

      Now, notice in this opening statement in verse 9 that no details are given. The important thing is commitment to the covenant. God’s brand upon the males in Israel was circumcision. So He said you shall keep my covenant. He does not spell out details, because the fundamental thing is the commitment to the Lord, represented by obedience to this particular requirement. Now, I think that’s rather interesting because later on, at Mount Sinai, God will fill in a great deal by way of detail. He will set forth a whole manner of life encompassed in the Mosaic law. Now this may help us if we have difficulty in the relationship of the believer to the Mosaic law today.

      We mentioned the fact that it was practiced in other lands. So far as the origin of it is concerned, we do not really know its origin. Unfortunately, we just don’t have enough data. It is possible that it originated with this call of Abraham. Some have sought to support that and perhaps that’s true, but we do know this, that regardless of the source of the practice, it is only in connection with Abraham’s circumcision that covenantal relationships are set forth but what is its meaning, that’s the important thing. And I want to say I am not sure that I understand everything that there is to be understood, well I can say that about anything in the Bible, but especially about this question of circumcision. And let me also say this is a very difficult subject and I hope that you will try to follow as closely as you possibly can. It’s not easy to speak about the significance of this ancient rite. But I am going to suggest to you that the circumcising of Abraham and of the males in Israel included at least these four spiritual significances.

      First of all, it included or it referred to the removal of the body of the flesh. Now what I would like for you to do is to turn with me to the New Testament in order to read with me, the New Testament commentary upon circumcision as it pertains to the removal of the body of the flesh, and so will you turn with me to Colossians, chapter 2, and will you listen as I read verse 9 through 11, but 11 is the important verse and so I will begin reading as you find Colossians 2:11. “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised.”

      Now of course Paul is speaking metaphorically here, figuratively. “And in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.” And he explains in the verse that follows, “having been buried with Him in baptism” a baptism also made without hands probably, “in whom you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”

      So Paul is saying that when Christ died and when He was raised again, you were identified with Him, in His death, His burial, and His resurrection. That’s one of Paul’s great doctrines of union with Christ on the part of the believers. He is our representative. We share in all of the activity that was His, but in verse 11, he identifies this with the removal of the body of the flesh, so that in the identification with our Lord in his death, burial and resurrection, we are in the sight of God those who have had removed the body of the flesh.

      Now that is I think one of the primary significances of the work of circumcision. It was designed to be an illustration, a figure, even a type of what was accomplished when Jesus Christ died. So I suggest to you that circumcision was intended to refer to the removal of the body of the flesh. Now again without, for purposes of propriety, without going into details, there were natural impurities associated with the male sexual organ which circumcision was designed to correct. Furthermore, if you will remember that the male sexual organ is the source of the semen from which the generation of the race proceeds, you will see immediately that the idea back of circumcising has to do with the removal of impurities. And consequently too since it is the source of generation, the source of life, and the source of the propagation of life, it is suggested by God in this that what we have here is representative of the original sin of man and of its provision in the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that what is represented by circumcision has to do with the putting off of the old man and the putting on of the new, or the removal of the body of the flesh.

      Franz Delitzsch, one of the great interpreters of the Old Testament of the last century, after having cooperated with another writer in a book on the Pentateuch, wrote his own new commentary on Genesis and in that commentary, he wrote, “As sacrifice arose from the feeling of the need of an atonement, so did circumcision from the feeling of the impurity of human nature.” So represented then in the act of circumcision is an illustration. It is an illustration of the fact that in the death of Christ, we who are identified with him have been removed from the sphere of the old man and translated into the sphere of the new creation in Christ. Therefore you can see this is a very important thing.

      In the fifth chapter of the Book of Joshua, the children of Israel having forgotten to circumcise the males for a generation had to be circumcised again and the whole nation was circumcised and it took place at Gilgal, meaning “rolling,” and the idea back of that was the rolling away of the flesh. And it was to Gilgal incidentally in the conquering of the land that they always came back to, because it’s from the place of the denial of self and flesh that one gains victory in spiritual life. But there at Gilgal, God said that was the rolling away of the reproach of Egypt. So circumcision then signifies the removal of the body of the flesh.

      It signifies the removal of the reproach of the association that we have with the world, by nature, the purification that God intends to accomplish in the lives of all of his saints. In other passages, in the Old Testament, this becomes figurative and Moses will speak about, “circumcise the foreskin of your heart” and again the figurative sense of it is expressed in the fact that the heart is really the thing that lies back of this practice.

      Now, there are people who have difficulty with these matters, but you see God is trying to strike at the root of the problem of human nature. Thoreau, who was not noted for good biblical things, said, “There are a hundred men hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” Well, God was trying to strike at the root of evil, original sin, in giving them this right, so that they would think about this for they thought deeply about these things.

      • Hi Raph,

        It is important to remember that Christ’s sacrifice was the blood of the New Covenant (of the eternal covenant also since all the biblical sacrifices pointed to Him). The Law of Commandments and the sacrificial system which accompanied them functioned to show the need of forgiveness since no one could keep the Law perfectly.

        Also we humans need to put aside the flesh but Christ did not since He was perfect. I do not know how S. Lewis Johnson means Christ’s circumcision but to me it has nothing to do with the final atonement but only to the requirement of fulfilling every righteousness.

        It is an old Modernistic Idea that Christ’s life somehow was propitionary and we humans follow His example. No, Christ infiltrated our lost world and demonstrated His power and righteousness to indicate who He was. Then by the power of His indestructible life tasted death on our behalf. He is now raised and has the keys of death (to unlock death for humans).

        So, no, I do not think Jesus’ circumcision has anything to do with the atonement.

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