Penal Substitutionary Atonement

Penal substitution (sometimes, esp. in older writings, called forensic theory) is a theory of the atonement within Christian theology, developed within the Reformed tradition (and the Lutheran tradition, to a lesser degree). It argues that Christ, by his own sacrificial choice, was punished (penalized) in the place of sinners (substitution), thus satisfying the demands of justice so God can justly forgive the sins of men. It is thus a specific understanding of substitutionary atonement, where the substitutionary nature of Jesus’ death is understood in the sense of a substitutionary punishment.

Penal substitution derives from the idea that divine forgiveness must satisfy divine justice, that is, that God is not willing or able to simply forgive sin without first requiring a satisfaction for it. It states that God gave himself in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer the death, punishment and curse due to fallen humanity as the penalty for our sin.

I will present the Orthodox response to this theory, but at least wanted to start this thread out of the thread started by SteveVH about belief in Jesus. Thoughts?

A few quick points:

The Orthodox (and Catholic) view of the atonement is also substitutionary; it is not, however, forensic or penal.

Perfect satisfaction for sin, even by way of substitution, leaves no room for divine forgiveness or pardon.

It is unjust both to punish the innocent and to allow the guilty to go free.

The finite suffering and temporary death of one is disproportionate to the infinite suffering and permanent death of many.

The grace of perfect satisfaction would appear to confer on its beneficiaries a freedom to sin without consequence.

It destroys the perfect ontological relationship between the Persons of the Blessed Trinity.

It would be helpful, I think, to get a full definition and description of the Catholic view and the Orthodox view.

I was expecting it much later today! :thumbsup:

I will respond once I get the kiddos off to school!

Thanks again

In Rom. 6 we get a picture that we are slaves to sin, which is death. We are able to overcome this bondage by uniting ourselves to Christ in baptism. Because of this we are freed from bondage and death, “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, certainly also we shall be of the resurrection….” (Rom. 6:5)

There are two way of redeeming something, either by buying it back, or by defeating the one who holds it. Rom. 6:6 indicates which of these Christ accomplished on the cross: “…knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be rendered inactive….” We also see this same concept in the Old Testament examples of redemption, most obviously in how God redeemed Israel Egypt. He didn’t come in and buy them back from Pharaoh, God forcefully took them from him. They were freed from bondage by force.

It is this understanding that we have reflected in our Paschal hymns, that Christ defeated death by death and on those in the tombs bestowed life. It was a defeat of Satan who held us bound to death with our sins. Christ invades our world and takes back what is His. St. Irenaeus shows that this was the view of the early Church:

“For if man, who had been created by God that he might live, after losing life, through being injured by the serpent that had corrupted him, should not any more return to life, but should be utterly [and for ever] abandoned to death, God would [in that case] have been conquered, and the wickedness of the serpent would have prevailed over the will of God. But inasmuch as God is invincible and long-suffering, He did indeed show Himself to be long-suffering in the matter of the correction of man and the probation of all, as I have already observed; and by means of the second man did He bind the strong man, and spoiled his goods, and abolished death, vivifying that man who had been in a state of death. For at the first Adam became a vessel in his (Satan’s) possession, whom he did also hold under his power, that is, by bringing sin on him iniquitously, and under color of immortality entailing death upon him. For, while promising that they should be as gods, which was in no way possible for him to be, he wrought death in them: wherefore he who had led man captive, was justly captured in his turn by God; but man, who had been led captive, was loosed from the bonds of condemnation (Against the Heresies,” Book 3, Chp. 23).”

In this understanding, Christ defeats death in us with His life, uniting us to Him, and overcoming Satan and death with His Life.

Christ is considered the reality which the Old Testament sacrifices point to. Christ did take our place in death and defeat it, and thus He did substitute Himself in our place who were to die. The whole sacrificial nature of Christ’s death is clearly portrayed in Hebrews 9 and 10: “But He, having offered one sacrifice for sins in perpetuity, ‘sat down on the right of God….’” (Heb. 10:12). St. Peter also indicates this, “knowing that ye were not ransomed with corruptible things…but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot….” (1 Pet 1:18-19)

From the liturgical material of the Church, we understand that the one Old Testament sacrifice which points to the nature of Christ’s purpose on the cross is the Passover Lamb. It was this sacrifice, the central sacrifice by which the Israelites were redeemed from Egypt, that illustrates how Christ with His sacrifice redeems us from the bondage of Satan and death. Death passes over those who have eaten Him and as St. John Chrysostom so graphically says, smeared His blood on the doorpost of our mouth. The liturgical material on Pascha speaks frequently of Christ being the “new Pascha”, in that we have been brought from death to life.

To that end, all the sacrifices in the OT point even if they were for other purposes. They also all were icons pointing to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, where His body was broken and His blood was poured out that as St. John says in John 6, we might eat His flesh and drink His blood. In His flesh and blood is true life. To eat, He must be sacrificed and Satan is defeated.

I will have to let a Catholic present their view of the atonement. I don’t want to present a misunderstanding. :slight_smile:

Penal substitution requires us to believe that God punished Jesus (in place of punishing us). It asks us to reason that God is only just and not merciful.

The Catholic view of substitutionary atonement, credited to Anselm and refined by Aquinas, sees satisfaction not as a debt paid to God, but as an act of salvific love by Christ. In Christ’s free sacrifice of self, God found an act of love so greater than the ‘debt’ owed by humanity that the debt was satisfied rather than paid. Whereas God is merely a businessman – a fastidious bookkeeper, as it were – in the penal substitution model, He’s a loving Father in the Thomistic model. Christ gives his life freely; the act of the divine Second Person of the Trinity giving up his life for us provides a superabundance of merit; God sees this act of love, and it is greater than any ‘debt’ owed to Him; and therefore, “through His stripes we are healed.”

Ok now I can respond!

I adhere to the Substitutionary atonement. Within that model there are a few theories out there.

The one that I believe is Penal Substitution Atonement. Being in the Arminianism camp, I find
the penal to fit more closely with Scripture. No of course it is only a theory as all the other models. My faith tradition, Evangelical, goes two way. The first is Penal and Governmental is the second view held. Both theories fall under Substitutionary Atonement.

Penal Substitution is a theological viewpoint within Christianity that maintainsJesuswas legally punished in place of the sinners.* That is, he took the place of the sinner. It is “penal” in thatChristsuffered the penalty of the Law, taking the “penalty” of the Law. It was substitutionary in that Christ took our place on thecross when he bore oursins*(1 Pet. 2:24) and became sin on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21).

I can go more in depth if anyone wishes. :slight_smile:

1 - If Christ died for, and is our solution to, our sins against God the Father, then what about our sins against Christ? He’s just as much God as the Father is; or our sins against the Holy Spirit? With penal substitution, God is pitted against God, either dividing God (and thus destroying the Trinity) or saying that Christ isn’t fully God.

  1. If God’s justice demands that He punish sin, then there is a higher force than God—necessity—which determines what God can and cannot do. If that I do “A” then God must do “B.” If I sin, God must punish. He does not have the freedom to do otherwise. Thus God’s actions are bound and controlled by something outside of Himself, i.e. my actions. This becomes even more confusing if we add in the Calvinistic notion that God foreordained my sinful actions in the first place, thus forcing Him to respond to them. Furthermore, it is often argued by the Reformed that God is sovereign and doesn’t have to save anyone if He chooses not to. On the other hand, He does have to punish sin. So God has to punish sin, but He doesn’t have to save sinners. It’s very interesting that justice (or at least what the Reformed see as justice) becomes the defining characteristic of God rather than love. Justice forces God to respond to our actions, but love does not.

  2. The Old Testament sacrificial system was not a picture of penal substitution. God was not pouring out His wrath on the animals in place of the Israelites. He didn’t vent His righteous judgment on the animals, sending them to hell in place of the Israelites. On the contrary, they were killed honorably and as painlessly as possible. Their life (i.e. their blood) was offered to God as a sweet smelling aroma. The resulting meat was good and holy—not just worthless carrion fit for dogs and vultures. Such is also the case with Christ’s sacrifice: it is a holy offering of blood to the Father, not a means whereby God can vent His wrath.

  3. A quick perusal of the psalms and prophets will reveal that the word “justice” is usually coupled with “mercy.” Justice really means to show kindness and deliverance to the oppressed, and to right the wrongs done to them. True justice is destroying our oppressors—sin, death, and Satan—not punishing us for the sins to which we are in bondage.

  4. Propitiation should not be thought of in the classical pagan sense, as if our God were some angry deity who needed appeasing and could only be satisfied through a penal sacrifice. It’s really quite different. Propitiation (Greek hilasterion) is also translated “mercy seat.” The mercy seat covered the ark of the covenant, which contained a copy of the Ten Commandments—the Law. While the Law cried out against us and demanded perfection and showed us our shortcomings, the mercy seat covered those demands and our failure to live up to them. Was the mercy seat punished for our sins? Of course not. Likewise, Christ’s blood was not the punishment demanded by justice, but rather the ultimate mercy seat, covering and forgiving our sins. This is why “propitiation” is sometimes more accurately translated as “expiation” in some versions of the Bible. (“expiation” implies the removal of our sins, while “propitiation” implies appeasing an angry deity.)

  5. With penal substitution, God Himself does not show the unconditional love that He commands us to show one another. There is a big condition attached: God must have an “outlet” to vent His wrath. His “self-giving” love is only made possible by His “self- satisfying” justice.

  6. With penal substitution, the debt is not really forgiven; it’s just transferred. But we are commanded to forgive as God forgave us. If my brother offends me, should I demand justice and vent my wrath on someone else? Should I beat myself up? No, obviously we are to simply let it go and graciously accept the offense.

continued…

I don’t know if I’ve heard “substitutionary atonement” described as well as this. Very beautifully described. Sometimes it has a tendency of sounding to transaction oriented.

  1. According to penal substitution, God is angry with us because of our sins. But once He expresses His wrath in His Son, He is no longer angry with us. Now He loves us as He loves His own Son. In other words, He changes. First He’s angry with us, then He changes His mind and decides to love us. But how can this be if God is love? How can a God who is infinite, self-giving love ever vary in His degree of love towards us? Besides, not only is God love (1 Jn 4:8, 16), but He’s also unchanging (Mal 3:6) and doesn’t change His mind (Num 23:19).

  2. According to penal substitution, salvation is made possible only by a legal exchange. We are counted “just” and “forgiven” only because God’s wrath has been poured out on Christ instead. Since hell is said to be a punishment for sins, and since our sins have already been punished in Christ, we are free to go to heaven. The resurrection then becomes simply a nice bonus, nothing more than a “proof” that Christ is divine.

  3. Was it Christ’s physical suffering or spiritual suffering which atoned for our sins (according to penal substitution)? If physical, then anyone who has suffered physically more than Christ (and there have been plenty in the history of our race), is exempt from hell, since they already paid for their own sins. If it was Christ’s spiritual suffering that counts, then He didn’t need to be incarnate. (After all, the demons will be punished without needing bodies.) The incarnation becomes just an “add-on” to help us out a little more.

  4. Contra penal substitution, the Bible tells us that one person can- not be punished for another. each one shall die for his own sins: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”
    But every one shall die for his own iniquity. (Jer 31:29-30) Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin. (Deut 24:16) The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. (Ezek 18:20)

  5. God said: “In the day you eat the fruit, you will surely die” (Gen 2:17). He did not say “I will kill you” but rather “you will die.” To walk away from God (i.e. to sin) is by definition, death. Death is the realm of “Not God.” likewise, if I pull the plug on my own life support system, the result is death. No one else is killing me. If I jump off the roof, after being warned by my mother not to, and I end up breaking my leg, does that mean that my mother broke my leg? No, that was simply the result of my own choice. Christ gave Himself up to death. If death is an active punishment from God, then Christ was punished by His Father (per penal substitution). But if death is the result of sin, then it is an outside enemy, and not God’s own wrath.

  6. If death is a punishment for sin rather than a result of sin (continuing with the last point), then it makes little sense to speak of being united with Christ. St. Paul says that we were united together in the likeness of His death (Rom 6:5). He also says “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:20). If death is a punishment, then St. Paul is saying “Christ and I have been punished together.” But again, why would two people be punished for one person’s sins? Perhaps it makes more sense to say that Christ, in union with our humanity, experienced the consequence of death, and through His death, defeated death for all of us. Besides, if we really believe that Christ defeated death, then we certainly can’t say that death is a punishment sent from God, or else we’d be forced to say that Christ defeated something that God willed for us. But Christ and His Father are not at war with each other. on the other hand, I will certainly confess that there is a substitution as well. Christ experienced the consequence of sin (i.e. death), as a substitute for us, so that we don’t have to experience the ultimate consequence sin (i.e. eternal death). But note that Christ is taking on the consequence of sin in our place, rather than the punishment for sin in our place.

  7. If the apostles taught penal substitution as a central part of their gospel, then it seems almost entirely inconceivable that the generations that came after them and spoke the same language had, worldwide, managed to universally forget the major and central part of the gospel and replace it with something else entirely.

This is a very interesting thread and I am enjoy your comments, however, I am still left wondering what atonement view you subscribe to, if there is one.

This gives the Catholic view (there is an illustration and you will have to go to the link to view it):

calledtocommunion.com/2010/04/catholic-and-reformed-conceptions-of-the-atonement/

The Catholic conception of Christ’s Passion and Atonement is that Christ offered Himself up in self-sacrificial love to the Father, obedient even unto death, for the sins of all men. In His human will He offered to God a sacrifice of love that was more pleasing to the Father than the combined sins of all men of all time are displeasing to Him, and thus made satisfaction for our sins. The Father was never angry with Christ. Nor did the Father pour out His wrath on the Son. The Passion is Christ’s greatest act of love, the greatest revelation of the heart of God, and the glory of Christ.1 So when Christ was on the cross, God the Father was not pouring out His wrath on His Son; in Christ’s act of self-sacrifice in loving obedience to the Father, Christ was most lovable in the eyes of the Father. Rather, in Christ’s Passion we humans poured out our enmity with God on Christ, by what we did to Him in His body and soul. And He freely chose to let us do all this to Him. Deeper still, even our present sins contributed to His suffering, because He, in solidarity with us, grieved over all the sins of the world, not just the sins of the elect. Hence, St. Francis of Assisi said, “Nor did demons crucify Him; it is you who have crucified Him and crucify Him still, when you delight in your vices and sins.”2 The Passion is a revelation of the love of God, not the wrath of God. The fundamental difference can be depicted simply in the following drawing:3

Was that for me, Aslan? That should be in post #5.

It is worth reading this best researched work on the subject by Rev. Dr. Stephen Finlan: Problems With Atonement, The Origins of, and Controversy about, the Atonement Doctrine.

REVIEW: catholicbooksreview.org/2006/finlan.htm

GET A COPY: litpress.org/Products/5220/problems-with-atonement.aspx

I don’t see it in that way. The the Israelites would sacrifice unto God for Him to keep is wrath from descending upon them. God is not pitted against God. God is the only perfect sacrifice that cancel cancel the debit of sin completely. By sending Jesus, He also sent Himself. That shows tremendous mercy for us

  1. If God’s …

Do you believe our sins merit God’s wrath? If there is no punishment for our transgressions then we descend into chaos. Correct? It would be like a person doing homosexual acts and then stating well God made me this way so how ca. He punish me. We correct our children out of love. If we break the law we a punished.

  1. The Old Testament sacrificial system was not a picture of penal substitution. God was not pouring out His wrath on the animals in place of the Israelites. He didn’t vent His righteous judgment on the animals, sending them to hell in place of the Israelites. On the contrary, they were killed honorably and as painlessly as possible. Their life (i.e. their blood) was offered to God as a sweet smelling aroma. The resulting meat was good and holy—not just worthless carrion fit for dogs and vultures. Such is also the case with Christ’s sacrifice: it is a holy offering of blood to the Father, not a means whereby God can vent His wrath.

He kept His wrath at bay. They knew they deserved the wrath, yet they pleaded with God the spare them. The sacrifices were never sufficient enough. They always had to do so. Jesus was the eternal sacrifice.

  1. A quick perusal of the psalms and prophets will reveal that the word “justice” is usually coupled with “mercy.” Justice really means to show kindness and deliverance to the oppressed, and to right the wrongs done to them. True justice is destroying our oppressors—sin, death, and Satan—not punishing us for the sins to which we are in bondage.

If we refuse salvation are we not punished?

  1. Propitiation should not be thought of in the classical pagan sense, as if our God were some angry deity who needed appeasing and could only be satisfied through a penal sacrifice. It’s really quite different. Propitiation (Greek hilasterion) is also translated “mercy seat.” The mercy seat covered the ark of the covenant, which contained a copy of the Ten Commandments—the Law. While the Law cried out against us and demanded perfection and showed us our shortcomings, the mercy seat covered those demands and our failure to live up to them. Was the mercy seat punished for our sins? Of course not. Likewise, Christ’s blood was not the punishment demanded by justice, but rather the ultimate mercy seat, covering and forgiving our sins. This is why “propitiation” is sometimes more accurately translated as “expiation” in some versions of the Bible. (“expiation” implies the removal of our sins, while “propitiation” implies appeasing an angry deity.)
  1. With penal substitution, God Himself does not show the unconditional love that He commands us to show one another. There is a big condition attached: God must have an “outlet” to vent His wrath. His “self-giving” love is only made possible by His “self- satisfying” justice.
  1. With penal substitution, the debt is not really forgiven; it’s just transferred. But we are commanded to forgive as God forgave us. If my brother offends me, should I demand justice and vent my wrath on someone else? Should I beat myself up? No, obviously we are to simply let it go and graciously accept the offense.

continued…

  1. His love for us is unconditional. Our sins, our doing, damage our relationship. God does not stop loving us when we sin. Justice still must come. We all must account for sins. We repent of them and by the sacrifice of Jesus, those sins are forgiven and forgotten by His Love and Mercy

7.But that is exactly what makes Jesus’ sacrifice so amazing! He canceled our debit by taking it on himself. “having canceled (exaleipho) out the certificate of debt (cheirographon) consisting of decrees (dogma) against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (Col. 2:14)
There is no doubt that the Lord Jesus paid the price of our redemption on the cross in that he dealt with the legal debt we owe to God due to our breaking God’s law.

“When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit." (John 19:30).

In the Greek, the words “It is finished” are a single word: tetelestai.* It is most significant because it comes from the Greek word*teleo, which means “complete, fulfill; carry out, pay out.”

What is important in our discussion is that the word has been used regarding paying a legal debt.* Please consider this . . .

“The sixth word or saying that Jesus spoke from the cross was the single Greek work tetelestai which means It is finished.*Papyri receipts for taxes have been recovered with the word tetelestai written across them, meaning “paid in full.”*This word on Jesus’ lips was significant. When He said, “It is finished” (not “I am finished”), He meant His redemptive work was completed. He had been made sin for people (2 Cor. 5:21) and had suffered the penalty of God’s justice which sin deserved.

Did Jesus make a legal payment on the cross?* It certainly would seem so.

He took on our debt. A debt we could never pay in full. Praise His name!

I don’t want to write to much on this, since I am currently writing an article in which I touch upon it (and thus do not want to plagiarise myself). But a few points.

St. Anselm does not teach that Christ ‘satisfied the wrath of God.’ Christ satisfied God. According to him, sin can be atoned either through punishment (of the one who committed the transgression) or through satisfaction (from the one who committed the transgression or from another, on the transgressor’s behalf). Thus a person can pay your fine, but he cannot be punished as if he was guilty. Thus, punishment and satisfaction are not equivalents (aut poena aut satisfactio).* Calvin (and, to a lesser extent, Luther**) took St. Anselm’s doctrine as their starting point, but they added to it the idea of a ‘transfer of penalty,’ thus completely muddling St. Anselm’s doctrine.***

St. Anselm’s point was not that Christ was punished as if he was guilty, but that he offered God something that was much more worth than the punishment of any sin. He gave himself fully, in obedience, in thanks, in adoration.

But the one thing that bothers me most about Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) is that it renders incoherent St. Paul’s message in Galatians 2:19-20. For if Christ died instead of us, so that we didn’t have to, why must I be ‘crucified with Christ’? If, on the other hand, Christ is our representative, it makes much more sense.

  • Paul J. LaChance, “Understanding Christ’s Satisfaction Today” (The Saint Anselm Journal 2:1, 2004): 60-66 (esp, 6, cf. n.5). Also see J. Patout Burns, S.J, “The Concept of Satisfaction in Medieval Redemption Theory” (Theological Studies 36:2, 1975): 285-304 (esp. pp.286-289) and John D. Hannah, “Anselm on the Doctrine of Atonement” (Bibliotheca Sacra 135, 1978): 333-344.

** This never found its way into the basic confessions of the Lutheran tradition (Confessio Augustana and Luther’s Small Catechism).

*** See Paul Fiddes, Past Event and Present Salvation: The Christian Idea of Atonement (Westminster John Knox Press 1989): 98; Burns, “The Concept of Satisfaction in Medieval Redemption Theory,” pp.302-303; David A. Brondos, “Did Paul Get Luther Right?” (Dialog 46:1, 2007): 24-30 (esp. 25-26).

Keep in mind that penal, like the others, is a theory. There will be things proven correct and things that should be debated. :slight_smile:

This topic is something that I shouldn’t discuss - because I’m usually wrong.

As I understand it, Lutherans generally don’t descries to full on PSA - in that we don’t view Calvery as some a wrath-filled God visiting needless retribution upon His Son.

However, I have noticed that it’s dangerous for us to forget that God will indeed judge us - the quick and the dead. There will be much wailing and gnashing.

I am not educated very well on defining these things, but my initial belief would be that the Father allowed sin to fall on Jesus and compelled Jesus to receive it for the sake of sharing the love which they both have for one another. The concept of ‘all sin’ is harder to define. It was definitely all of what sin is, and He felt the physical result of sin through His persecutors, while also feeling the ‘weight’ of the result of all sin against His Father. Because the Father turned away from Him and had forsaken Him.

We can therefore, only receive the life that the Father gives Jesus through His merited forgiveness, or the life which the Father prepared for those who remain with their sins.

I dont necessarily subscribe to the notion that our sins keep adding and give more pain to Jesus during His passion. But that is a very difficult thing to articulate. He bore all sinfullness, but not explicitly all sins. What I mean is that Jesus did not bear all of the impact of each sin. He did not bear all of the pain of rapes, tortures, and so on.

That takes away from the genuine sharing in the suffering of the saints, who are able to merit glory, forgiveness to others (or intercession). Though our merit is not strictly merit, but gained from the merit from Jesus.

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