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Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
1. (n.) The act of mediating; action or relation of anything interposed; action as a necessary condition, means, or instrument; interposition; intervention.

2. (a.) Hence, specifically, agency between parties at variance, with a view to reconcile them; entreaty for another; intercession.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

me-di-a'-shun, me'-di-a-ter:


1. The Terms

(1) Mediation

(2) Mediator

2. The Principle of Mediation


1. Negative Teaching in the Old Testament

2. The Positive Teaching: Early Period

3. Prophetic Mediation

4. Priestly Mediation

5. The Theocratic King: the Messiah

6. The Suffering Servant

7. Superhuman Agents of Mediation

(1) Angelic Mediation

(2) Divine Wisdom



1. The Synoptic Gospels

(1) Christ as Prophet

(2) Christ as King

(3) Christ as Priest (Redeemer)

2. Primitive Apostolic Teachings

(1) The Early Speeches in Acts

(2) Epistles of James and Jude

(3) 1 Peter

3. Epistles of Paul

(1) The Need of a Mediator

(2) The Qualifications

(3) The Means, the Death of Christ

(4) The Resurrection and Exaltation

(5) The Cosmic Aspect of Christ's Mediatorship

4. Epistle to the Hebrews

5. The Johannine Writings

(1) The Fourth Gospel

(2) The Epistles

(3) The Apocalypse



I Introductory.

1. The Terms:

(1) Mediation:

"Mediation" in its broadest sense may be defined as the act of intervening between parties at variance for the purpose of reconciling them, or between parties not necessarily hostile for the purpose of leading them into an agreement or covenant. Theologically, it has reference to the method by which God and man are reconciled through the instrumentality of some intervening process, act or person, and especially through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. The term itself does not occur in Biblical literature.

(2) Mediator:

The term "mediator" (equals middleman, agent of mediation) is nowhere found in Old Testament or Apocrypha (English Versions of the Bible), but the corresponding Greek word mesites, occurs once in Septuagint (Job 9:33 the King James Version, "Neither is there any daysman betwixt us," where "daysman" stands for Hebrew mokhiach, "arbitrator," the American Standard Revised Version, the English Revised Version margin "umpire" (see DAYSMAN); Septuagint has ho mesites hemon, "our mediator," as a paraphrase for Hebrew benenu, "betwixt us"). Even in the New Testament, mesites, "mediator," occurs only 6 times, namely, Galatians 3:19, 20 (of Moses), and 1 Timothy 2:5 Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 12:24 (of Christ).

2. The Principle of Mediation:

Though the actual terms are thus very rare, the principle of mediation is one of great significance in Biblical theology, as well as in the Jewish-Alexandrian philosophy. It corresponds to a profound human instinct or need which finds expression in some form or other in most religions. It is an attempt to solve the problem raised by (1) the idea of the infinite distance which separates God from man and the universe, and (2) the deeply felt want of bringing them into a harmonious relation. The conception of mediation will differ, therefore, according to whether the distance to be surmounted is understood ethically or metaphysically. If it be thought of in an ethical or religious sense, that is, if the emphasis be laid on the fact of human sin as standing in the way of man's fellowship with God, then mediation will be the mode by which peaceful relations are established between sinful man and the absolutely righteous God. But if the antithesis of God and the world be conceived of metaphysically, i.e. be based on the ultimate nature of God and of the world conceived as essentially opposed to each other, then mediation will be the mode by which the transcendent God, without Himself coming into direct contact with the world, is able to produce effects in it through an intermediate agent (or agents). The latter conception (largely the result of an exaggerated Platonic dualism) exerted an important influence on later Jewish thought, and even on Christian theology, and will come briefly under our consideration. But in the main we shall be concerned with the former view, as more in harmony with the development of Biblical theology which culminates in the New Testament doctrine of atonement. Mediation between God and man as presented in the Scriptures has 3 main aspects, represented respectively by the functions of the prophet, the priest, and theocratic king. Here and there in the Old Testament these tend to meet, as in Melchizedek the priest-king, and in the Suffering Servant of Deutero-Isaiah, who unites the priestly function of sacrifice with the prophetic function of revealing the Divine will. But on the whole, these aspects of mediation in the Old Testament run along lines which have no meeting-point in one person adequate to all the demands. In the New Testament they intersect in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who realizes in Himself the full meaning of the prophetic, priestly, and kingly ideals.

II. Mediation in the Old Testament.

1. Negative Teaching in the Old Testament:

We do not find in the Old Testament a fixed and final doctrine of mediation universally accepted as an axiom of religious thought, but only a gradual movement toward such a doctrine, under the growing sense of God's exaltation and of man's frailty and sinfulness. Such a passage as 1 Samuel 2:25 seems definitely to contradict the idea of mediation. Still more striking are the words of Job above referred to, "There is no umpire betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both," i.e. to enforce his decision (Job 9:33), where the Septuagint paraphrases, "Would that there were a mediator and a reprover and a hearer between us both." The note of despair which characterizes this passage shows that Job has no hope that such an arbitrator between him and God is forthcoming. Yet the words give pathetic utterance to the deep inarticulate cry of humanity for a mediator. In this connection we should note the protests of prophets and psalmists against an unethical view of mediation by animal sacrifices (Micah 6:6-8 Psalm 40:6-8, etc.), and their frequent direct appeals to God for mercy without reference to any mediation (Psalm 25:7; Psalm 32:5; Psalm 103:8, etc.).

2. The Positive Teaching: Early Period:

(1) Mediatory Sacrifice.

In the patriarchal age, before the official priest had been differentiated from the rest of the community, the function of offering sacrifice was discharged by the head of the family or clan on behalf of his people, as by Noah (Genesis 8:20), Abraham (Genesis 12:7, 8; Genesis 15:9-11), Isaac (Genesis 26:24 f), Jacob (Genesis 31:54; Genesis 33:20). So Job, conceived by the writer as living in patriarchal antiquity, is said to have offered sacrifices vicariously for his sons (Job 1:5). Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem (Genesis 14:18-20), is a figure of considerable theological interest, inasmuch as he was taken by the author of Psalm 110 as the forerunner of the ideal theocratic king who was also priest, and by the author of He as prototype of Christ's priesthood.

(2) Intercessory Prayer.

Intercession is in all stages of thought an essential element in mediation. We have striking examples of it in Genesis 18:22-33 Job 42:8-10.

(3) The Mosaic Covenant.

In Moses we have for the first time a recognized national representative who acted both as God's spokesman to the people, and the people's spokesman before God. He alone was allowed to "come near unto Yahweh," and to him Yahweh spake "face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend" (Exodus 33:11). He went up to God and "reported the words of the people" to Him, as to a sovereign who cannot be approached save by his duly accredited minister (Exodus 19:8). We have a striking example of his intercessory mediation in the episode of the golden calf, when he pleaded effectively with God to turn from His wrath (Exodus 32:12-14), and even offered to "make atonement for" (kipper, literally, "cover") their sin by confessing their sin before God, and being willing to be blotted out of God's book, so that the people might be spared (Exodus 32:30-32). Here we have already the germs of the idea of vicarious suffering for sin.

(4) Intercessory Mediation.

Samuel is by Jeremiah classed with Moses as the chief representative of intercessory mediation (Jeremiah 15:1). He is reported as mediating by prayer between Israel and God, and succeeding in warding off the punishment of their sin (1 Samuel 7:5-12). On such occasions, prayer was wont to be accompanied by confessions of sins and by an offering to Yahweh.

3. Prophetic Mediation:

Samuel represents the transition from the ancient seer or soothsayer to the prophetic order. The prophet was regarded as the organ of Divine revelation, to consult whom was equivalent to "inquiring of God" (1 Samuel 9:9)-a commissioner sent by God (Isaiah 6:8 f) to proclaim His will by word and action. In that capacity he was Yahweh's representative among men, and so could speak in a tone of authority. Prophetic revelation is essential to the Old Testament religion (compare Hebrews 1:1), which by it stands distinguished from a mere philosophy or natural religion. God is not merely a passive object of human discovery, but one who actively and graciously reveals Himself to His chosen people through the medium of the authorized exponents of His mind and will. Thus in the main the prophet stands for the principle of mediation in its man-ward aspect. But the God-ward aspect is not absent, for we find the prophet mediating with God on behalf of men, making intercession for them (Jeremiah 14:19-22 Amos 7:2, 5 f).

4. Priestly Mediation:

Mediation is in a peculiar sense the function of the priest. In the main he stands for the principle in its God-ward aspect. Yet in the early period it was the man-ward aspect that was most apparent; i.e. the priest was at first regarded as the medium through which Yahweh delivered His oracles to men, the human mouthpiece of supernatural revelation, giving advice in difficult emergencies by casting the sacred lot. Before the time of the first literary prophets, the association of the priests with the ephod and the lot had receded into the background (though the high priest theoretically retained the gift of interpreting the Divine will through the Urim and Thummim, Exodus 28:30 Leviticus 8:8); but the power they lost with the oracle they gained at the altar. First they acquired a preferential status at the local sanctuaries; then, in the Deuteronomic legislation, where sacrifice is limited to the Jerusalem sanctuary, it is assumed that only Levite priests can officiate. Finally, in the Levitical system as set forth in the Priestly Code (which regulated Jewish worship in the post-exilic times), the Aaronic priests, now clearly distinguished from the Levites, have the sole privilege of immediate access to God in His sanctuary (Numbers 4:19, 20; Numbers 16:3-5). God's transcendence and holiness are now so emphasized that between Him and the sin-stained people there is almost an infinite chasm. Hence, the people can only enjoy its ideal right of drawing nigh unto God and offering sacrifice to Him through the mediation of the official priesthood. The mediatorship of priests derived its authority, not from their moral purity or personal worth, but from the ceremonial purity which attached to their office. All priests are not on the same level. A process of graduated sanctity narrows down their number as the approach is made to the Most Holy Place, which symbolizes the presence chamber of Yahweh.

(1) Out of the sacred nation as a whole, the priestly tribe of Levi is elected and invested with a special sanctity to perform all the subordinate acts of service within the tabernacle (Numbers 8:19; Numbers 18:6).

(2) Within this sacred tribe, the members of the house of Aaron are set apart and invested with a still higher sanctity; they alone officiate at the altar in the Holy Place and expiate the guilt of the people by sacrifice and prayer, thus representing the people before God. Yet even they are only admitted to the proximate nearness of the Holy Place.

(3) The gradation of the hierarchy is completed by the recognition of a single, supreme head of the priesthood-the high priest. He alone can enter the Holy of Holies, and that alone once a year, on the Day of Atonement, when he makes propitiation not only for himself and the priesthood, but for the entire congregation. The ritual of the Day of Atonement is the highest exercise of priestly mediatorship. On that day, the whole community has access to Yahweh through their representative, the high priest, and through him offer atonement for their sins. Moreover, the role of the high priest as mediator is symbolized by his wearing the breastplate bearing the names of the children of Israel, whenever he goes into the Holy Place (Exodus 28:29).

Something must be said of the sacrificial system, through which alone the priest exercised his mediatorial functions. For his mediatorship did not depend on his direct personal influence with God, exercised, for instance, through intercessory prayer (intercession is not mentioned by the Priestly Code (P) as a duty of the priest, though referred to by the prophets, Joel 2:17 Malachi 1:9). It depended rather on an elaborate system of sacrifice, of which the priest was but an official agent. It was he who derived his authority from the system, rather than the system from him. The most characteristic features in the ritual of P are the sin offering (chatta'th, Leviticus 4; Leviticus 5; Leviticus 5 6:24-30) and the guilt offering ('asham, Leviticus 5; Leviticus 6; Leviticus 6 7; 14; 19), which seem peculiar to P. These are meant to restore the normal relation of the people or of individuals to God, a relation which sin has disturbed. Hence, these sacrifices, when duly administered by the priest, are distinctly mediatorial or reconciliatory in character, i.e. they make atonement for or "cover" (kipper) the sin of the guilty community or individuals. This seems the case also, though in a far less degree, even with the burnt, peace, and meal offerings, which, though "not offered expressly, like the sin and guilt offerings, for the forgiveness of sin, nevertheless were regarded.... as `covering,' or neutralizing, the offerer's unworthiness to appear before God, and so, though in a much less degree than the sin or guilt offering, as effecting propitiation" (Driver in Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible, IV, 132). We must beware, however, of reading the full New Testament doctrine of sin and propitiation into the sacrificial law. Two important points of difference may be noted: (1) The law does not provide atonement for all sins, but only for sins of ignorance or inadvertence, committed within the covenant. Deliberate sins fall outside the scope of priestly mediation. (2) While sin includes moral impurity, it must be admitted that the chief emphasis falls on ceremonial uncleanness, because it is only violation of physical sanctity that can be fully rectified by ritual ordinance. The law was essentially a civil code, and was not adequate to deal with inward sins. Thus the sacrificial system in itself is but a faint adumbration of the New Testament doctrine of Christ's high-priestly work, which has reference to sin in its widest and deepest meaning. Yet, in spite of these limitations, the priestly ritual was, as far as it went, an organized embodiment of the sin-consciousness, and so prepared the way for the coming of a perfect Mediator.

5. The Theocratic King: the Messiah:

On another plane than that of the priest is the mediation of theocratic king. Yahweh was ideally the sole king of Israel. But He governed the people mediately through His vicegerent theocratic king, the agent of His will. The king was regarded as "Yahweh's anointed" (1 Samuel 16:6, etc.), and his person as inviolable. He was the "visible representative of the invisible Divine King" (Riehm). The ideal of theocratic king was most nearly represented by David, the man after Yahweh's own heart (compare 1 Samuel 13:14). This fact led to Yahweh's covenant-promise that David's house should constitute a permanent dynasty, and his throne be established forever (2 Samuel 7:5-17; compare Psalm 89:19-37). The indestructibility of the Davidic dynasty was the basal conviction on which the hope of a Messiah was built. It led to attention being further concentrated on one preeminent King in David's line, who should be the Divinely accredited representative of Yahweh, and reign in His name. As a Divinely endowed human hero, the Messiah will possess attributes which will qualify Him to mediate between God and His people in national life and affairs, and so inaugurate the ideal age of peace and righteousness. He is portrayed especially as the Royal Saviour of Israel, through whom the salvation of the people is mediated and justice administered (e.g. Isaiah 11:1-10; Isaiah 61:1-3 Psalm 72:4, 13 Jeremiah 23:5, 6; Jeremiah 33:15, 16).

6. The Suffering Servant:

In the wonderful figure of exilic prophecy, the Suffering Servant of Yahweh, the principle of mediation is exemplified both in its man-ward and God-ward aspects. In its man-ward aspect, his mission is the prophetic one of being God's anointed messenger to men, His witness before the world (Isaiah 42:6, 19; Isaiah 43:10; Isaiah 49:2; Isaiah 50:4, 5; 61:1-3). But the profound originality of the conception of the Servant lies chiefly in the God-ward significance of his suffering (Isaiah 53). The Servant suffered vicariously as an atonement for the sins of the people. His death is even said to be a "guilt-offering" ('asham, Isaiah 53:10), and he is represented as making "intercession for the transgressors" (Isaiah 53:12). Here is the profoundest expression in the Old Testament of the principle of mediatorship.

The substitution of voluntary, deliberate, human sacrifice for that of unwilling beasts elevates the sacrificial idea to a new ethical plane, and brings it into far more vital and organic relation to human life. The basis of the mediatorship of the Servant seems to be the principle of the solidarity or organic unity of the people, involving the ideal unity of the Servant and the people he represents. In the earlier servant-passages the Servant is identical with the whole nation (Isaiah 41:8; Isaiah 44:1 f, and often), and the unity is therefore actual, not ideal merely. In other passages, however, they are clearly to be distinguished, for while the people as a whole is unfaithful to its mission, the Servant remains faithful and suffers for it. Whether in Isaiah 53 the Servant is the pious remnant of the people or is conceived of as an individual we need not here consider. In either case, the tie between the Servant and the whole nation is never completely broken; the idea of their mystical union is still the groundwork of the prophet's thought. In virtue of this ideal relation, the Servant is the representative of the nation before God, not in a mere official sense (as in the case of the priest), but on the ground of personal merit, as the true Israel, the embodiment of the national ideal. On that ground God can accept his suffering in lieu of the deserved penalty of the whole people. We have here a wonderful adumbration of the New Testament doctrine of atonement through the One Mediator, the Son of Man, the representative of the race.


7. Superhuman Agents of Mediation:

In later Judaism, the growing sense of God's transcendence favored the tendency to introduce supernatural intermediaries between God and the world.

(1) Angelic Mediation.

Not until post-exilic times did angels come to have theological significance. Previously, when God was anthropomorphically conceived as appearing periodically on earth in visible form, the need of angelic mediation was not felt. The "angel" in early narrative (e.g. Genesis 16:7-11) did not possess abiding personality distinct from God, but was God Himself temporarily manifested in human form. But the more God came to be conceived as "the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity," the greater was the need for mediation between God and the world, and even between God and His servant the prophet. In post-exilic writers there is an increasing disposition to fill up the gap between God and the prophet with superhuman beings. Thus Zechariah receives all Divine instruction through angels; and similarly Daniel receives explanations of his dreams. We do not in the Old Testament hear of angels interceding with God (God-ward mediation), but only as intermediaries of revelation and of the Divine will (man-ward mediation). Modern Jewish scholars deny that Judaistic angelology implied that God was transcendent in the sense of being remote and out of contact with the world. So, e.g., Montefiore (Hibbert Lectures, 423-31), but even he admits a "natural disinclination to bring the Godhead downward to human conditions," and that "for supernatural conversations angels formed a convenient substitute for God" (p. 430). The doctrine of angels had no influence on the New Testament doctrine of mediation, which moves on the plane of the ethical, rather than on the basis of the merely physical transcendenee of God.

(2) Divine Wisdom.

Of more importance as a preparation for theology of the New Testament is the doctrine of Wisdom, in which the Jews found "a middle term between the religion of Israel and the philosophy of Greece." In Proverbs 8:22-31 Wisdom is depicted as an individual energy, God's elect Son, His companion and master-workman (Proverbs 8:30) in creation, but whose chief delight is with the children of men. Though the personification is here purely ideal and poetical, and the ethical interest predominates over the metaphysical, yet we have in such a passage a clear proof of contact with Greek thought (especially Platonism and Stoicism), and of the felt need of a mediator between God and the visible world. This mode of thought, linked to the Hebrew conception of the Divine Word as the efficient expression of God's thought and the medium of His activity (Isaiah 55:11 Psalm 33:6; Psalm 107:20), has left its mark on Philo's Logos-doctrine and on the New Testament Christology.


III. In Semi-and Non-canonical Jewish Literature.

In the Apocrypha, the idea of mediation is for the most part absent. We have one or two references to angelic intercession (Tobit 12:12, 15), a function not attributed to angels in the Old Testament, but prominent in later apocalyptic literature (e.g. Enoch 9:10; 15:02; 40:6). The tradition of the agency of angels in the promulgation of the law is first found in the Septuagint of Deuteronomy 33:2 (not in the Hebrew original), but was greatly amplified in rabbinical literature (Josephus, Ant, XV, v, 3). In The Wisdom of Solomon a bold advance is made toward the conception of Wisdom as a personal mediator of creation (especially 7:22-27). In later Judaism, the idea of the Word is further developed. The Targums constantly refer the Divine activity to the memera' or "Word" of God, where the Old Testament refers it to God directly, and speaks of it as Israel's Intercessor before God and as Redeemer. This usage seems to arise out of a reluctance to bring God into immediate contact with the world; hence, God's self-manifestation is represented as mediated through a quasi-personal agent. The tendency finds its full development, however, not among the Jerusalem Jews, but among the Jews of Alexandria, especially in Philo's Logos-doctrine. Deeply influenced by the Platonic dualism, Philo thought of God as pure Spirit, incapable of contact with matter, so that without mediation God could not act on the world. To fill up the great gap he conceived of intermediary beings which represented at once the Ideas of Plato, the active Powers of the Stoics, and the angels of the Old Testament. The highest of these was the Divine Logos, the mediator between the inaccessible, transcendent Being and the material universe. On the one hand, in relation to the world, the Logos is the Mediator of creation and of revelation; on the other, in his God-ward activity, he is the representative of the world before God, its High Priest, Intercessor, and Paraclete. Yet Philo's Logos was probably nothing more than a high philosophical abstraction vividly imaged in the mind. In spite of Philo's influence on early Christian theology, and even perhaps on some New Testament writers, his doctrine of mediation moves on quite different lines from the central New Testament doctrine, which is concerned above all with the reconciliation of God and man on account of sin, and not with the metaphysical reconciliation of the absolute and the finite world. The Mediator of Philo is an abstraction of speculative thought; the Mediator of the New Testament is a concrete historical person known to experience.


IV. Mediation and Mediator in the New Testament.

The relatively independent lines of development which the conception of mediation has hitherto taken now meet and coalesce in Jesus Christ.

1. The Synoptic Gospels:

The traditional division of Christ's mediatorial work into that of prophet, priest and king (very common since Calvin, but now often discarded) offers a convenient method of treating the subject, though we must avoid making the division absolute, as if Christ's work fell apart into three separate and independent functions. The unity of the work of salvation is preserved by the fact that "no one of the offices fills up a moment of time alone, but the others are always cooperative," although "Christ's mediatorial work puts now this, now that side in the foreground." "The triple division is of special value, because it sets in a vivid light the continuity between the Old Testament theocracy and Christianity" (Dorner, System of Christian Doctrine, English translation, III, 385;). These three aspects of Christ's mediatorship can be distinguished in the Synoptics, although the formal distinction is the work of later analysis.

(1) Christ as Prophet.

It was in the character of Prophet that He mainly impressed the common mind, which was moved to inquire "Whence hath this man this wisdom?" and by His reply, "A prophet is not without honor," etc., He virtually accepts that title (Matthew 13:54, 57). As Prophet, Christ is the mediator of revelation; through Him alone can men come to know God as Father (Matthew 11:27) and "the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 13:11). In all His teaching we feel that He speaks within the center of truth, and hence can teach with authority and not as the scribes (Matthew 7:29), who approach the truth from without. His teaching is part of His redemptive work, and not something extraneous to it, for the sin from which He redeems includes ignorance and error.

(2) Christ as King.

The official name "Christ" (equals Messiah, the anointed King) refers primarily to His kingship. The Messianic hope had taught men to look forward to the rule of God on earth instituted and administered through His representative. Christ was the fulfillment of that hope. Though He held an attitude of reserve in the matter, there can be no doubt that He conceived of Himself as the Messiah (Mark 8:27-30; Mark 14:16 f; compare His entry into Jerusalem as a triumphant king, Mark 11:1; the inscription on the cross, Mark 15:26). But it is also clear that He fundamentally modified the Messianic idea, (a) by suffusing it with the thought of vicarious suffering, and (b) by giving it an ethical and spiritual rather than a national and official significance. The note of His kingship was that of authority (Mark 1:27; Mark 2:10 Matthew 7:29; Matthew 28:18)

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