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John Stott’s The Cross of Christ is one of those books every Christian should read. While there are parts I don’t agree with (for example, Stott’s treatment of impassibility), the book as a whole is a masterful treatise on the glories of the cross.

In chapter 7, Stott looks at the four principal New Testament images of salvation.

  • The shrine (propitiation)
  • The market (redemption)
  • The court of law (justification)
  • The home (reconciliation)

This beautiful chapter on "The Salvation of Sinners" ends with a masterful summary of the four images (198-99):

First, each highlights a different aspect of our human need. Propitiation underscores the wrath of God upon us, redemption our captivity to sin, justification our guilt, and reconciliation our enmity against God and alienation from him. These metaphors do not flatter us. They expose the magnitude of our need.

Second, all four images emphasize that the saving initiative was taken by God in his love. It is he who has propitiated his own wrath, redeemed us from our miserable bondage, declared us righteous in his sight and reconciled us to himself.

Stott shows that texts like 1 John 4:10; Luke 1:68; Rom. 8:33; and 2 Cor. 5:18 teach this precious truth.

Third, all four images plainly teach that God's saving work was achieved through the bloodshedding, that is, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ.

Again, Stott reminds us of the most important texts that make this point: Rom. 3:25; Eph. 1:7; Rom. 5:9; Eph. 2:13; Col. 1:20.

The chapter concludes with a much needed word for our day. Everyone who marginalizes penal substitution by calling it a "theory," everyone who minimizes this doctrine by making it just one aspect of the atonement, everyone who shies away from this teaching in a misguided effort to rescue the love of God, everyone who undermines this essential truth by refusing to declare it confidently in plain, unambiguous terms, should pay careful attention to this concluding paragraph:

So substitution is not a "theory of the atonement." Nor is it even an additional image to take its place as an option alongside the others. It is rather the essence of each image and the heart of the atonement itself. None of the four images could stand without it. I am not of course saying that it is necessary to understand, let alone articulate, a substitutionary atonement before one can be saved. Yet the responsibility of Christian teachers, preachers and other witnesses is to seek grace to expound it with clarity and conviction. For the better people understand the glory of the divine substitution, the easier it will be for them to trust in the Substitute.

Is there more than one thing to say about the atonement? Absolutely. Are there a variety of implications and applications that can be drawn from the cross of Christ? Of course. But none of them make sense if Christ did not die in our place to assuage the wrath of God. Penal substitition is not a theory–one suggested idea that may or may not be true. Penal substitutionary atonement is the hope of sinners, the heart of the gospel, and the good news without which all other news regarding the cross is null and void.

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83 thoughts on “Substitution Is Not a “Theory of the Atonement””

  1. Floyd says:

    Simon, you can claim “Absolutely wrong” all you wish, but until you can support your “no” from Scripture, you have no standing. All the early Church Fathers bow to the authority of Scripture and do not hold it themselves.

    You have given no argument from Scripture, yet.

  2. Gabriel says:

    Still looking for a response to these 6 problems with Penal Substitution, which are based on Scripture:

    (1) Jesus’ crucifixion was unjust, not just. Jesus’ death is analogous to Stephen’s death in Acts 7 (an unjust death at the hands of sinners), not Herod’s death in Acts 12 (a just death at the hands of God). The parallels Luke makes between Jesus’ death and Stephen’s death are clear. 1 Peter 2:18-25 also makes it clear that Jesus died unjustly, not justly. The resurrection is the fulfillment of divine justice, as the reversal and restitution of Jesus’ unjust suffering and death.

    (2) Jesus did not suffer and die so that we could avoid suffering and death. Jesus suffered and died so that we could suffer and die IN HIM, and rise in him. Isaiah 53:5 says that “By his wounds we are healed from our wounds,” not “By his wounds we avoid being wounded.” Penal Substitution distorts the logic of the text here.

    (3) Scripture gives us a clear and consistent shape of the sacrificial system in which it is sinner’s, not representatives of the justice system, that kill sacrifices. See the following ten examples from those sacrifices that deal with sin: In a Burnt Offering (Lev 1:5, 1:11) the sinner/offerer, slays the sacrifice. In a Peace Offering (Lev 3:2, 3:4, 3:13) the sinner slays the sacrifice. In a Sin Offering (Lev 4:4, 4:14, 4:24, 4:29, 4:33) the sinner slays the sacrifice. In the Passover, it is not God that kills the sacrificial lamb, it is the Israelites themselves that slaughter the lamb. The blood of the lamb then averts the wrath of God when He comes by, but the function of the lamb is not to bear or exhaust the wrath of God in place of the Israelites. Sinners kill the sacrifice, the sacrifice then averts the wrath of God. Propitiation means wrath aversion, not wrath satisfaction. We see this on the cross, as Jesus suffers the sin of sinners against himself, he says “Father forgive them, thus averting the legions of angels that he could call down and kill his oppressors.

    (4) The heart of the gospel is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Biblical gospel, as Paul makes explicit in Galatians 3:8, is God’s covenantal promises to bless all nations through Abrahams descendants. Gods’ promises are ultimately fulfilled in Jesus’ resurrection, as Paul makes clear in Acts 13:32, “we preach to you the good news (gospel) of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus from the dead.”

    (5) Forgiveness is not displaced punishment. When I forgive my wife, it is not that I withhold wrath from her because my wrath has been satisfied elsewhere. Forgiveness means that through Christ we have the power to repair the damage the relationship has suffered, because God has restored the damages our sin has caused by the power of Jesus’ resurrection. Penal Substitution defines forgiveness as displaced punishment, rather than restoration of a damages relationship.

    (6) Whenever we talk about Jesus’ death as a “judgment” it must be in connection with Israel’s judgment, Israel’s punishment, Israel’s exile. Jesus suffers the curse just as Israel suffers the curse, as Daniel 9 makes clear, “Indeed all Israel has transgressed Your law and turned aside, not obeying Your voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him.” Jesus drinks the cup of bitterness to the dregs just as Israel drinks the cup of bitterness to the dregs, as Isaiah 51:17 makes clear, “O Jerusalem, You who have drunk from the Lord’s hand the cup of His anger; The chalice of reeling you have drained to the dregs.” The logic is not “instead of” but “just as.” The category of substitution does not really work here. To use the category of substitution is to divorce the cross from the Biblical historical narrative.
The difference in Jesus’ suffering and Israel’s suffering is that of justice. Whereas Israel suffers the curse justly, Jesus suffers the curse unjustly. This is why Jesus’ death brings about the reversal of the curse. Because Jesus unjustly suffered the curse, Justice demands the reversal of the curse, the reversal of Jesus’ unjust death, hence the resurrection.

  3. Lois Westerlund says:

    Thank you, Floyd. Since heresy existed in the early church at the time the epistles were written, why assume that the Church Fathers got everything right? Secondly, I do not know how anyone can read the canon of Scripture and not see the wrath of a holy God against sin. Beginning with the cherubim wielding flaming swords guarding the former Eden-home of our disobedient and now-fallen first parents, it continues in the holiness of the tabernacle where death is meted out to those who profane that worship; it is demonstrated in the sad history of idol-worshiping Israel, and expressed in piled-up horrific images in the prophets, It is clear that our God is a consuming fire. absolutely holy. The just judgment of God is explicitly stated in the New Testament. Thirdly, when Jesus begins his preaching of the message of the Kingdom, he begins with the word, “Repent!” (Matt, 4:17) Those who are captive and just need ransoming do not need to repent. Sinners do. Where can the guilty turn for hope? To the One who has borne our judgment.

  4. Floyd says:

    Gabriel, you questions suggests that you have not read the literature so as to know the arguments. Additionally, you do not based your arguments on a proper exegesis of Scripture. I believe you need to do these two things prior to engaging arguments. There is no need for me to write long responses to your points if you have not read the literature and studied Scripture. I do not understand your point of coming on this website. If you disagree with Stott or DeYoung, take it up with them with a letter. I am sure DeYoung would be happy to give you an answer. However, if all you wish to do is be disagreeable, I doubt that he would answer you. It is not fruitful to argue for argument sake or because you want to win an argument. Here is a great paper on “What the Early Christians Believed about Penal Substitution:” If you do not agree, then write and publish a rebuttal paper. Much already has been said on the subject that you would only repeat. However, coming on this website just to be disagreeable service little purpose.

  5. Simon says:

    Floyd, the Protestant view of penal substitutionary atonement and the scriptural passages they use to substantiate this view are well known. I have read the article. I am familiar with Protestant arguments in support of penal substitution. However, unlike for the ransom and victor views, there is not one passage in the scriptures that clearly and unambiguously state that man’s problem is the infinite offense that he caused to God through sin and that Christ was sacrificed on behalf of man to appease God’s wrath and therefore procure forgiveness and eternal life. There is not one passage that frames the atonement directly in this way. On the other hand, Christ himself refers to his work of atonement in St Mark’s gospel as a “ransom”. Hebrews 2 sets out Christus Victor in no uncertain terms. All the passages used in support of a penal view can and were interpreted in other ways. The Fathers all frame humanity’s problem as sin and death. St Basil is not the final authority, but he agrees with Chrysostom, Athanasius and the vast majority of the Fathers. The overwhelming view of the Church is authoritative. If someone within the Early Church had posited the penal view as a dogma, as Protestants do, I’m almost certain that this would have been quashed in a Council. As it turns out the theory came into maturity with Protestantism and they were already outside the Church. The Church’s liturgical tradition also bears no witness to the penal view. My wife is RC and in preparation for the Eucharist they sing “dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus come in glory”. The Creed says that Christ descended into Hades. What does this mean and why is it on the Creed? The doctrine of Christ’s descent into hell is a corollary of the ransom view. He enters into Hades in order to free those who are in bondage to death. By his death he has trampled down death and freed us from our bondage to it. Iconography of Christ’s descent show him leading Adam and Eve out of the tomb, a metaphor for humanity as a whole. I remind you that this is a dogma of the Church. Notice how the Reformed are either uncomfortable or outright reject this statement in the Creed. So what we have is universal agreement in the Church until a few medieval scholastics in the West redefined the atonement. This penal view of the atonement was brought to its fullness by the supreme scholastics – the Reformers. The penal view is an abstraction. It does not at all deal with the ontological reality of sin and death. That should be a huge clue that this theory cannot be true.

  6. Simon says:

    Floyd, Kruger’s article citing the Epistle to Diognetus is wrong. The Epistle states clearly that Christ was offered as a “ransom”. This is not substitutionary unless you think that His ransom was in place of us being somehow ransomed. That makes no sense. It is a surprisingly poor argument. But to whom was Christ ransomed? To God himself? This does not make any sense. The Fathers seem to say that Christ was ransomed to the devil, or to sin and death (e.g. see St Basil’s statement above). They do not say that he was ransomed to God or that his death appeases God’s offended justice. The Epistle of Diognetus does not say this either. It is not a statement in favor for penal sub.

  7. Floyd says:

    Simon, you are beating a dead horse.

  8. Gabriel says:

    Floyd, my intention is not to be disagreeable. I am truly sorry if I came across that way. My questions are legitimate questions and I think my arguments reasonable and Scriptural, so I think it is entirely appropriate that I post them on a forum meant for discussing the atonement. We are all seeking truth together. But thank you for your suggestion to write to DeYoung. I doubt he will have the time to respond, but maybe I’ll give it a shot.

  9. Floyd says:

    Simon, Gabriel, as I said earlier, from what you write, it does not appear that you have read sufficiently to respond to, to challenge the Reformers, and to understand present Evangelical scholars. You also have not shown that you understand exegesis of the text, because I do not see that in your responses. When you do cite Scripture, which is rare, you do not explain the text and its meaning in its context. You ignored passages DeYoung, Stott, and I cited, especially 2 Corinthians 5:21. That passage alone clearly explains substitutionary atonement. Other texts are just as clear (1 Peter 2:24) as are the symbols in the OT such as the Passover (and the NT bread and wine) and the Lamb (See also Isaiah 53). The meaning of the word “propitiation” lends to penal substitution. In Romans 3:25, the word often translated as propitiation has the literal meaning of “mercy seat” (GK: hilasterion). That is “who God put forth as a propitiation (mercy seat), by His blood.” This Greek word appears in only one other place in the NT – Hebrews 9:5 when it refers to the golden slab on top of the Ark of the Covenant, the mercy seat. Both passages speak of the supreme sacrifice of Christ on our behalf (substitution), His life for ours to save us from our sins. That is substitution clear and simple. These supreme examples demonstrate that Jesus is not only the mercy seat, but the sacrifice, and the High Priest offering the sacrifice (Hebrews 9:11). A proper exegesis as this undeniably and clearly explains penal substitution. This is the kind of exegesis you need to do to support your conclusions. You fail to do this.

    You continue to contest DeYoung and Stott’s book as though they do not accept the atonement or the biblical doctrine of ransom when both do as do the Reformers and Evangelical Protestants. You do not seem to understand that atonement, ransom, and penal substitution all refer to the same thing.

    When I cite an article, you only focus on a single cited author without explaining his writings. You ignore everything else in the article. That is not giving due attention to the entire article. How do you expect a dialog when you fail to engage what people state and interact with their statements? You have failed to do that with mine. That is the reason I said that you are beating a dead horse. You go off on tangents of your own and ignore what anyone else writes. You claim you have read certain early authors, but you deny that they write on penal substitution when they do. You do not seem to understand the biblical view or even the Evangelical view of penal substitution, but you attempt to refute what it is not. That is the straw man to which I refer. Gabriel, you also raise straw man arguments, and demand a response to them. No one will want to interact with you when you make such demands and when you show that you have not done your literary homework. You also cite passages without interacting with them.

    You need to read scholarship and become acquainted with the Evangelical view of penal substitution. You also need to pay attention to what others write and interact with it. Otherwise, you do not make your point, and nobody will listen to you. It is to your advantage that you understand how Evangelicals understand penal substitution, because it does not appear that either one of you do understand it. What you write does not reflect an understanding. If one cannot and does not come to grips with our human condition and what it took God to do by offering up His only Son to die on the cross on our behalf, one cannot really come to grips with the depths of God’s grace and mercy.

  10. Simon says:

    Floyd, you are beating a dead horse. All those texts you cited do not state the penal sub position straightforwardly. Period. You must interpret them with the use of Protestant exegesis. You admit this. Furthermore, Passover IS NOT a symbol of penal sub. It is the symbol, literally, of the release from bondage of God’s people. This is exactly the same imagery used by the likes of Chrysostom when he preaches his Paschal ( I.e. Passover) homily. Think also of the Day of Atonement in the Old Testament. Here a goat or bull was sacrificed. For what? To make a holy meal between God’s people and God. It was a reconciliation. The Israelites were not thinking “we really are terrible individuals, so lets take it out on the goat!” No. The sacrifice was made in order for it to be eaten, a holy meal with God. This is exactly the reality of the Eucharist. This fulfillment of the Old Testament type is in Christ’s sacrifice and the sacrament he instituted. No where is penal sub even hinted at in this scheme.

    I’m afraid that it is you Floyd who has failed to understand the Apostolic deposit, i.e. the scriptures as they have always been understood by the Fathers. I have read books such as “Pierced for our Transgressions”. I am familiar with the Reformed view. You, it seems, have not even bothered to read what the early church fathers have to say about the atonement. Perhaps you should.

  11. Gabriel says:

    Floyd – thanks for your response. In order to focus our discussion on one issue at a time, let’s ask this question: was Jesus’ death just or unjust? Penal Substitution requires that Jesus’ death was just, that he died to satisfy the wrath/retributive justice of God. This is not a straw man argument, it is an argument put forth by penal substitution advocates such as Donald Macleod, who says on p.185 of Christ Crucified, “Christ’s death was just, because it was the death of the voluntary, divine sin-bearer, whose sacrifice satisfied God that it was right for him to forgive the sin of the world.”

    But Scripture explicitly states over and over again that Jesus’ death was unjust. I already mentioned 1 Peter 2:18-25, and Stephen’s unjust death, which Luke presents as a clear parallel to Christ’s. I will also point out Luke 23:40-41, in which the penitent thief says that he and Jesus are “under the same sentence of condemnation. And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” Notice, his logic is not “in my place condemned he stood” but rather “he and I are suffering the same condemnation, me justly, him unjustly.” That is the significance of Jesus’ death, that he alone without sin, alone dies unjustly, thereby meriting the reversal and restitution of his unjust death in the resurrection. Jesus does this so that we can die in him, thereby dying to sin and living to righteousness (Romans 6). Jesus’ death is not “penal” in the penal substitution sense, because it is unjust, and it is not “substitutionary” in the penal substitutionary sense, because we have to participate in Jesus’ death. We have to take up our cross and follow Jesus, not let Jesus die on the cross so we wont have to.

    Penal substitution advocates are simply ignoring the Scriptures on this point in order to bow the knee to their own philosophy.

    Here is Augustine, Chrysostom, and St. Thomas on the injustice of Jesus’ death, and how the injustice of Jesus’ death functions as the mechanism by which sin, death, and the devil lose their power of humans:

    Augustine states that the cross is where the devil lost his right of death over Humanity because he unjustly killed the Son of God in whom there was no sin:

    “It is not then difficult to see that the devil was conquered, when he who was slain by Him rose again. It is something more, and more profound of comprehension, to see that the devil was conquered when he thought himself to have conquered, that is, when Christ was slain. For then that blood, since it was His who had no sin at all, was poured out for the remission of our sins; that, because the devil deservedly held those whom, as guilty of sin, he bound by the condition of death, he might deservedly loose them through Him, whom, as guilty of no sin, the punishment of death undeservedly affected. The strong man was conquered by this righteousness, and bound with this chain, that his vessels might be spoiled, which with himself and his angels had been vessels of wrath while with him, and might be turned into vessels of mercy. ”

    John Chrysostom says the same:

    “It is as if Christ said, ‘Now shall a trial be held, and a judgment be pronounced. How and in what manner? He (the devil) smote the first man (Adam), because he found him guilty of sin; for it was through sin that death entered in. But he did not find any sin in Me; wherefore then did he fall on Me and give Me up to the power of death? . . . How is the world now judged in Me?’ It is as if it were said to the devil at a seat of judgment: ‘Thou didst smite them all, because thou didst find them guilty of sin; wherefore then didst thou smite Christ? Is it not evident that thou didst this wrongfully? Therefore the whole world shall become righteous through Him.’”

    Thomas Aquinas says the same:

    “Christ’s Passion delivered us from the devil, inasmuch as in Christ’s Passion [the devil] exceeded the limit of power assigned him by God, by conspiring to bring about Christ’s death, Who, being sinless, did not deserve to die. Hence Augustine says (De Trin. xiii, cap. xiv): “The devil was vanquished by Christ’s justice: because, while discovering in Him nothing deserving of death, nevertheless he slew Him. And it is certainly just that the debtors whom he held captive should be set at liberty since they believed in Him whom the devil slew, though He was no debtor.”

  12. Simon says:

    Gabriel, great quotes from church history. The penal sub advocate finds no joy when mining the Fathers for early corroboration of their views. Less still is the scriptural evidence. The penal view must be distilled through the use of Reformed exegesis, which is far from obvious.

  13. Floyd says:

    Gabriel, it seems that you have already reached a conclusion without interaction or discussion with me. This approach seems to suggest that such a discussion would not be fruitful, because whatever I put forth you would refuse to entertain and seek to challenge from your own set of presuppositions.

    Let me begin by stating that your question raises the logical fallacy of a false dilemma or dichotomy. It assumes that there is no other option. You cannot begin an argument or discussion based on a logical fallacy. The question is based on a faulty premise and inevitably leads to a faulty conclusion. To begin with this question is to begin with faulty reasoning.

    Besides, your question is really the wrong place to begin. Such a question is way down the line from a beginning point concerning the question of justice. For example, definition of terms first must be entertained prior to any such discussion. If we are discussing Christ and His death, then that definition begins with God and His word. That means you must first search the Scriptures and its original language to exegete the theology of justice, especially God’s justice. If this search and discovery is not the beginning point, then its understanding and application would be irrelevant, because it would begin with man and not with God. God is the source of justice, and what He declares about it is the final word. Therefore, if we do not begin with Him and His word, we begin at the wrong place.

    You continue to quote men and their meanings of justice. While other men may give us insight into the Scriptures, they do not speak with inspirational authority and are themselves subject (and claim to be) to the Scriptures. Furthermore, when you cite Scriptures, you fail to explain them from the view of the authors and their intent. You ignore their contexts, and thereby ignore their meaning within those contexts. If you do not begin there, then you have neglected the word of God.

    Another thing you neglect is the original languages and the meaning they elicit within the cultural contexts in which they were written and spoken. Are you aware that the word justice and righteousness derive from the same Greek root and both describe the nature and character of God? Also from this root word arises such teachings a judgment and justification. Before you even begin with your question, you must entertain the biblical understanding of justice and its correlation of righteousness, judgment, and justification. If you do not, you cannot rightly come to grips with God’s justice.

    Third, to begin to understand justice and to use it rightly within the context of your question, you need to understand how all Scriptures use it within the respective contexts in which the term is used. That is, you must treat justice systematically within the entire word of God. God is always consistent with the disclosure of Himself in His word. That means that we would find consistency in the meaning and application of justice in His word.

    You see how your question requires much more than simply the asking. Underlying the asking of it lies much more doctrine and truth that the question presupposes. Unless these doctrines and truths are called out and treated, your question cannot be entertained without totally ignoring God and all He is. Furthermore, you cannot entertain the question you asked apart from all of Scripture and from the nature of God Himself. Justice arises from the righteousness of God. Unless we come to terms with the righteousness of God in what and how He discloses to us in His word, we cannot rightly pose your question.

    You really need to do your research beginning with the Scriptures. Rather than cherry picking passages and simply citing them, you need to treat all of Scripture and explicate them. If one does not do this, then one heads in the wrong direction and will come to the wrong conclusion about God’s justice. You also need to understand the word justice and its corollaries in the original languages (Hebrew and Greek). You must also place yourself in the shoes of the original readers. Otherwise, you would be reading into Scriptures that which is not there, using faulty reasoning, and drawing wrong conclusions.

    What I have written lays the groundwork for a discussion on God’s justice. Unless there is common ground for a beginning point, then all we would be doing is quibble over opinions and our opinion of other men’s word. I do not believe that would be fruitful, given what we face at the end of our lives and our response to the gospel of God in Christ. If one fails to come to grips with and believe the gospel rightly understood, one’s destiny would not be sure.

    If you can agree to the preceding principles, then I would love to dialog with you, but not in this forum. We can exchange e-mails and converse accordingly.

  14. Gabriel says:

    Floyd, thanks for your response. I appreciate your ruthlessness and diligence in pursuit of a proper definition of God’s justice and righteousness. I would just note that this kind of skepticism regarding the definition of God’s justice cuts across all atonement theories. In other words, if you doubt my explanation of the atonement because you are unsure of the definition of God’s justice, then you also have to doubt penal substitution. If you are going to suspect that Augustine, Aquinas, and Chrysostom are treating God’s justice incorrectly, then you should also (far more so) suspect that guys like DeYoung, John Piper, and DA Carson are treating God’s justice incorrectly.

  15. Floyd says:

    Gabriel>>>”Floyd, thanks for your response. I appreciate your ruthlessness and diligence in pursuit of a proper definition of God’s justice and righteousness. I would just note that this kind of skepticism regarding the definition of God’s justice cuts across all atonement theories. In other words, if you doubt my explanation of the atonement because you are unsure of the definition of God’s justice, then you also have to doubt penal substitution. If you are going to suspect that Augustine, Aquinas, and Chrysostom are treating God’s justice incorrectly, then you should also (far more so) suspect that guys like DeYoung, John Piper, and DA Carson are treating God’s justice incorrectly.”

    [Your comment has not been posted, so I post it above]

    Gabriel, unfortunately you read into my remarks altogether by assuming “ruthlessness” and “skepticism regarding the definition of God’s justice…” You also assign “doubt” to me and assume I am “unsure of the definition of God’s justice.” Then you assume my suspicion of the Church Fathers and Evangelicals you cited. These are complete misinterpretation of my remarks and raising straw men and attacking them. All that you stated is so far from the truth. You presume falsely and without merit. You failed to reply to anything I wrote, which demonstrates that you are really not interested in a discussion but simply in arguing your point without entertaining what anyone else says.

    Therefore, my last question to you is, “Why are you here?” DeYoung gave a book review, and I see nothing in what you state that even enjoins it. You impugn DeYoung, Piper, and Carson without justification. You do not even explain why you even bring them up. So, why are you here? No further dialog with you serves any useful purpose. Bye. Do not reply to me again, since your last reply demonstrates you misunderstood what I wrote and you read into my remarks. Go away.

  16. Lois Westerlund says:

    The comments from those who do not believe that the atonement is Jesus taking our condemnation as a substitute for us talk about other aspects of His accomplishment on the cross: He is the Victor who triumphed, He has set us free from our slavery to sin, He defeated death. All true! I agree. We sing the same hymns. Only the concept of substitution is missing. The problem is not with seeing Jesus as Victor, the problem is only seeing that! There is a reason for the omission of Christ as a sacrifice offered in our place–it humbles us. It leaves no standing for our pride. It brings us face to face with our sinfulness. As Paul lays out in ch. 1 of Romans, we have suppressed the truth that can be known from the created world, we have failed to acknowledge our Creator. Professing to be wise, we are fools. Our pride finds this truth intolerable. And so, when theology ceases to be Biblical, the first doctrine to go is the doctrine of sin. Here, in this discussion, I see the influence of the NPP, which minimizes sin and judgment, a point made by many critics of this theology. Lacking a grasp of how offensive sin is to our Holy God, we do not need to understand the cross as the place where Christ became sin for us and bore our judgment. in unfathomable mercy. Christ the Victor is fully Biblical; Christ as only Victor is not.

  17. Lois Westerlund says:

    Those who reject an understanding of the Atonement as Christ willingly taking our place speak of other aspects of His work: He is the Victor, He has freed us from our sins, He has conquered death. All true! I agree;. We sing the same hymns. It is the omission of the truth of substitution that is the problem–not what is said, but what is not said. There is a reason for this. Seeing the necessity of Another’s taking our condemnation leaves us guilty. There is no standing for our pride. We are helpless sinners, disobedient children who have beyond remedy offended our holy, just Creator. When theology begins to lose its biblical moorings, the doctrine of sin is the first to go. We find it too disturbing. I see the influence of the NPP in this discussion. The NPP minimizes sin and judgment, a point made by many critics of this theology. Proclaiming Christ as Victor, because of His death on the cross is Biblical; proclaiming only His victory is not.

  18. Gabriel says:

    Hi Lois,

    Thanks for your comments. No one here is minimizing sin or judgment. The questions are rather (1) How is sin done away with? (2) And how is God’s wrath averted? The answer to (1) is that our sin is done away with by our dying in Christ. Not Christ dying instead of us, but us dying in Christ. Jesus died so that we can die to sin and live to righteousness, not avoid death. The category of participation, not substitution, is much better here. The answer to (2) is that God’s wrath is averted by a propitiatory sacrifice, that is, an innocent sacrifice dying at the hands of sinners. But God’s wrath does not kill the sacrifice. Follow the shape of the Passover ritual closely. It is sinners that kill the sacrificial lamb, and then the blood of the lamb that averts the wrath of God. The wrath of God does not kill the lamb. Similarly, on the cross, it is sinful men that put to death the innocent Jesus. Jesus then averts the legions of angels that are at his disposal, by praying “Father forgive them.” Sinners kill the sacrifice, the sacrifice averts the wrath of God, just like the Passover. The wrath of God is not upon Jesus, the wrath of God is at Jesus’ disposal. So the problem is that Penal Substitution is putting an act that never happened (God’s wrath killing Christ our Passover) at the heart of the gospel. That is not the heart of the gospel. The heart of the gospel is Jesus’ resurrection, as the fulfillment of God’s covenantal promises to restore and renew the world from Adam’s sin and curse (see Galatians 3:8, Acts 13:32). See also the sermons in Acts, in which the apostolic preaching of the cross always takes the shape of “sinners killed him, but God raised him.”

    Furthermore, I’d argue that in fact penal substitution does a great deal to minimize sin and judgment. I used to go to a church that strongly taught penal substitution, and its members would sin Monday through Saturday, then praise Jesus for being punished for their sins on Sunday. This lifestyle flowed from the theology, which taught them that the central problem with sin was not sin itself, but God’s imposed punishments on sin. Otherwise, as long as they avoided God’s wrath against sin, sin was a fun and happy thing to be enjoyed. This demonic view of sin resulted from a theology that minimized sin’s utterly self-destructive character, and relegated the problem with sin only to God’s destructive response to sin. But the fact is, even if God never lifted a finger to punish sin (which He does), sin would still destroy sinners, and Jesus would still need to die on the cross and rise again to set us free from it. Punishment, therefore, though merited by sin, is not the central problem with sin, and not the central reason why Jesus needed to die on the cross.

  19. Floyd says:

    Gabriel, why are you here? You continue to make false, unsubstantiated, and unsupported statements about Christ’s death. You will not find one shred of evidence from Scripture (and you have given none) to support you point of us “dying in Christ” instead of Christ dying for us. Your refutation of “Christ our Passover” is also wrong and false. Scripture clearly informs us that He was, “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Both the translation and the Greek attest to the truth of Christ as out Passover “for us.” The entire context focuses on Christ as the believer’s Passover. And as I wrote sometime earlier, the entire intent of the Passover IS substitution and nothing less. I do not see even a superficial exegesis of any passage you cite. As I said before, you cannot claim anything but opinion if you do not accurately exegete the Scriptures. When you make the refutation of Christ as our Passover, you fail to cite a single passage.

    You are also wrong about simply the resurrection only being the heart of the gospel. The Apostle Paul refutes your claim when he writes to the Corinthian church, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

    You make a false bifurcation between Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection where Paul does not do so. Paul says all three events as the gospel by which we are saved. You speculate and misread the Scriptures, because you fail to exegete them or you cite none to support anything you claim. You have also failed to read this passage where it clearly claims “Christ died for us.” That part speaks loudly of penal substitution. It cannot be interpreted any other way.

    So again, I ask you, why are you here? What are you trying to accomplish? You are presenting another gospel, a false one, a gospel foreign the the Scriptures, a gospel that makes light of sin and gives merit to fallen men.

  20. Gabriel says:

    Floyd, I am here because this is a discussion forum on the atonement, and I have done quite a bit of research on the subject. Lois replied to my comments with a very valid concern, that sin and judgment need to be emphasized in a proper formulation of the atonement, so I replied to her. I affirm that Christ is our Passover, of course. I affirm that Christ died for us, of course. Those things are obvious from my comments, and not even under dispute. The point I made regarding the Passover is that the function of the lamb is to avert the wrath of God, not to suffer the wrath of God, so we should believe the same of Christ our Passover. Dying in Christ is a massive theme of the New Testament. We have been baptized into Christ’s death (Romans 6). We are crucified with Christ (Galatians 2). We are to take up our cross and follow Christ. He who loses his life will find it. “In Christ” is the most prevalent way of talking about Christians in the New Testament, with over 200 uses of the phrase. We are having respectful dialogue and disagreement, that is what these forums are for.

  21. Lois westerlund says:

    Apologies to all for the duplicate comment. I thought it had failed to post, so rewrote and resubmitted.

    Thank you, Gabriel. Your response leaves me with the following questions (in no particular order )::

    1. If our sin is done away with by our dying with Christ, which is dying to our sin, then how is salvation not by our own effort? And if we can save ourselves, why did Christ have to die?

    2. Where does this leave the biblical teaching of regeneration? John writes that we are not born of the will of man, and Paul says we are dead in sin and made alive by faith,which is a gift of God.

    3. You say the Passover lamb serves to avert, not satisfy, the wrath of God. How does killing an innocent lamb so that his blood can protect the household avert, i.e., turn away, God’s anger? On what basis? Their obedience? That is plausible, but why kill an animal, since God loves all His creation? More plausible to me is that the shed blood satisfies the old covenant, the law which requires holiness or death. The death of the lamb looks forward to the death of “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” as John the Baptist says. The fulfillment of the blood requirement of the old covenant means we are set free to live a new life of love. “without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins.”

    4. Why does God the father turn away from his beloved son on the cross? Is it not because at that moment, He is bearing our sin, being “made sin for us”. (1 cor. 5:21)

    5. How could the death of Jesus be only caused by the action of wicked men, and not the fulfillment of scripture, which we are repeatedly told that it was? God did not spare his son
    but delivered him up for us all. (can’t look up ref. at the moment)

    One further comment : i submit that the problem of the church members you write about was not their theology, but their heart. The more we contemplate the cost of our forgiveness to our sinless Savior, the more we grow in love for Him, and the more we desire to please him in all our ways, with his help.

    6. We are indeed in Christ. We died with Him, and live a resurrection life, empowered by the Spirit within. That is our calling, though we often fail. To place us in the Son, in union with Him is God’s act of grace. But is that not only possible because we have been accounted righteous, by faith, as Abraham was, and that, “Therefore being justified br faith we have peace with God” ?

    7. I am very glad to hear that you do not minimize sin and judgment, but is not your focus on the destructive results of sin (certainly true!) a humanizing of sin, a viewing it from man’s point of view, rather than from God’s? Adam and Eve lost their fellowship with God because of a single act of disobedience. Moses saw, but was not allowed to enter the promised land.

    Comment is out of order; this device did it. I miss my computer. I wanted to end with it.

  22. Floyd says:


    1. Please find the word “avert” and its corresponding Greek or Hebrew meaning anywhere in the Bible.
    2. Please explain how Passover means “avert” anywhere in the Bible.
    3. You cite but do not exegete (which you continue to disregard) Romans and Galatians. You cited them in the context of Passover and avert. Please show in these passages the word (translated from the Greek) “avert” or words of similar meaning. Please also explain how Passover arises from Paul’s intent in these two passages. In fact, show where the word or even the intent of Passover appears in Romans or Galatians or that Paul even discusses it. Specifically cite the context of his intent in writing these two letters. If you cannot show this, then you are reading into these passages and simply giving your opinion and not the intent of the author.
    4. You mentioned earlier in a post that God did not kill the Passover lamb but Israel did. God gave the Israelites the commandment to do so. If they did not, they wold suffer His wrath of death in the same way the Egyptians would. According to your theology, that would make God a conspirator and complicit in the act. Furthermore, according to your theology, that would mean that God substituted or placed Israel in His place in terms of the direct act of killing a Passover lamb.
    5. You mentioned that “in Christ” is the most prevalent way of talking about Christians in the NT. Please exegete each of these within the proper contexts and show how the author means averting the wrath of god. Point out one of these phrases where it related directly to the Passover.

    You read your own meaning into these passages without citing Greek or Hebrew meaning, without citing context and the intent of the author.

  23. Gabriel says:


    Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful questions and comments. I apologize for the length, but you asked some meaty questions.

    1. Participation in Jesus’ death does not imply any sort of self-salvation. Listen to how Paul contrasts participation in Christ’s death, that is, experiencing “fellowship in his sufferings” and “being conformed to Christ’s death” with “righteousness derived from the Law” in Philippians 3:

    “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

    Notice how Paul uses the category of “Participation in Christ’s death” to oppose the idea of self-salvation through works-righteousness. Something is wrong in our theology if the phrase “participation in Christ’s death” implies self-salvation through works righteousness.

    Participation in Jesus’ death still necessitates Jesus’ death. If Jesus did not die, then we could never be “baptized into his death” (Rom 6:3).

    Jesus does not go to the cross so that we will not have to. Rather, Jesus says, “take up your cross and follow me.” Paul says in Galatians 2 that he has been “crucified with Christ,” and the word he actually uses is “co-crucified.” The term “substitution” really distracts from the concept of “co-crucified.”

    2. I agree. Did I say anything that implied disagreement with this?

    3. “How does killing an innocent lamb so that his blood can protect the household avert, i.e., turn away, God’s anger?” Innocent parties who have suffered crimes don’t deserve wrath. They deserve restitution, that is, the reversal and restoration of the damages they have suffered. By spreading the blood of the unblemished lamb on the door, the people were identifying themselves as the innocent victims of the Egyptian’s crimes. They were identifying themselves as “God’s firstborn,” (Exodus 4:22). But there is a problem here. The Israelites themselves are not truly innocent in the sight of God (there is none righteous, not one (Romans 3)), so how can they claim that what they suffered at the hands of the Egyptians was unjust? They can’t, unless a truly innocent life, a lamb, which is Christ, God’s true firstborn, suffers with them and for them. Only Christ deserves freedom from slavery, and only Christ deserves resurrection from death as the restitution of his unjust death, which is why only Christ can free those who are slaves to sin and death.

    4. The notion that “God turned his face away from the Son” is kind of like the notion “God helps those who help themselves.” It is something Christians say all the time, but it isn’t in the Bible. In fact, Psalm 22, which Jesus cites from the cross, explicitly states the exact opposite in verse 24. “For God has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from him; But when he cried to Him for help, He heard.” The cry of dereliction in verse 1, “Why have you forsaken me” is not an expression of the way things objectively are, but how the speaker of the Psalm feels. As we read the rest of the Psalm, we see that the speaker overcomes these feelings of forsakenness and temptations to despair by recalling God’s covenant faithfulness throughout Israel’s history. The objective reality is that God is faithful, not that He has forsaken the afflicted, that is what Psalm 22 is about.

    2 Corinthians 5:21 – Here’s what I think is the correct understanding of this verse via paraphrase, “God made Jesus, who knew no sin, into the manifestation of sin on our behalf, so that we sinners might become the manifestation of the righteousness of God in Jesus.” In other words, the crucifixion of Jesus was the greatest sin in the history of the universe. It was the manifestation of sin, because it was the murder of the only truly innocent human in history, who was God incarnate. But Jesus himself could not have become sinful, or a sinner (even on Penal Substitution, if Jesus actually became a sinner, he would immediately lose his infinite worth and be unable to make satisfaction to God). I could say more here, but for purpose of length, I will only continue if would like me to in a future comment.

    5. Jesus’ death definitely happened according to the sovereign, predestined, will of God. But that does not at all imply that Jesus suffered the wrath of God. “Jesus died according to the sovereign plan of God, therefore God punished Jesus,” is a non-sequitur. We would also have to say “Abel died according to the sovereign plan of God, therefore God punished Abel.” No, Abel was unjustly murdered by Cain.

    6. Yes. I agree.

    7. Actually, an emphasis on the self-destructive nature of sin is the most theocentric view. It affirms that God is the only source of true happiness and that humans are designed to love Him alone. So, when humans rebel against God, they therefore necessarily rebel against their own design, necessarily resulting in self-destruction. Notice that Adam and Eve suffer shame and marital disunion as a result of their sin before God ever enters the Garden (Genesis 3:7).

    Furthermore, a view that says God needs to punish in response to sin is to make God needy of sinful man. The truth is, that God did not need anything from humans before the Fall, and God does not need anything from humans after the Fall. When humans fell, God lost nothing he needed. To say “God needs to punish me” is just as arrogant as to say “God needs to save me.” Both statements say, “God needs me.”

  24. Floyd says:

    Gabriel, you claim the following, “The category of participation, not substitution, is much better here.”

    Participation is not a category. It is a Greek feminine noun. Neither the context nor the grammar lends to the translation of “participation.” Please show this Greek word used to render your translation “participation.” Also explain how the context allow the word “participation” when this word is not rendered from the Greek in any other translation in the verse you failed to cite. Please explain why you use this English translation when the translation you render uses the word “fellowship.” Paul use the Greek word 13 times in all of his letters. Should all places be translated “participation?” Why or why not? Again, you fail to provide an exegesis of the passages you cite, thereby not providing adequate support for your theories and theology.

    Please tell us your credentials in Greek and Hebrew for being able to translate the passages you quote. While you are at it, please provide us the sources for your interpretation. I believe we have a right to know.

  25. Floyd says:


    Let’s tackle your six “problems.” First, they are problems for you and not for a biblical student. Second, you frame your “few things” unbiblically and demonstrate that you do not have a clear understanding of the atonement. Third, you fail to pose a question or even show there is a problem from a biblical perspective. Fourth, you fail to interact with Scripture. You simply make a claim and give a biblical citation without a quote and without explaining the citation within its context and according to the author’s (Paul) intent. Unless you interact with any cited biblical passages, all your claims are no more than assumptions and opinions and not biblically focused explanations. Therefore, your claims are invalid from a biblical view.

    However, let us begin with your first claim:

    CLAIN ONE: “(1) Jesus’ crucifixion was unjust, not just. Jesus’ death is analogous to Stephen’s death in Acts 7, not Herod’s death in Acts 12 (the parallels Luke makes between Jesus’ death and Stephen’s death are clear). 1 Peter 2:18-25 makes it clear that Jesus died unjustly, not justly.”

    You bring together four disparate passages from four unrelated contexts: Acts, Luke, and 1 Peter. You fail to explain why they should be related. You fail to interact with the passages and explain what they mean. You fail to give the author’s intent. You claim that Peter makes your claim clear without even quoting it or interacting with it to show it does. You give no support for how Peter makes things clear.

    Simply to quote a passage is no defense for a claim. Satan quoted a lot of Scripture with Jesus. The Scriptures were right, but Satan was wrong. You claim that Jesus death was analogous with Stephen’s and not Herod. Yet you fail to understand one very significant difference between Jesus and Stephen. Jesus was sinless and the perfect Son of God. He was also God Himself. Stephen was a sinner whose sins separated him from God and God’s just punishment on sin and sinners. Christ’s death paid the penalty for his sins. Stephen confessed Christ as the substitute (Christ died for his sins). Stephen was innocent in the eyes of man but not in the eyes of God. He was a sinner. Your analogy fails.

    SECOND CLAIM “(2) Jesus did not suffer and die so that we could avoid suffering and death. Jesus suffered and died so that we could suffer and die IN HIM, and rise in him. Isaiah 53:5 says that “By his wounds we are healed from our wounds,” not “By his wounds we have avoided being wounded.”

    This claim is the logical fallacy of straw man. You assume an argument based on your opinion and not from interaction with the biblical text. You then make an unsupported claim by using the prepositional phrase “IN HIM,” Then you quote still another passage without interacting with it. You fail to cite the version for your quote. Just making a claim and quoting a passage is an incomplete argument because it brings assumptions to your single premise. You then fail to support your premise with argument. Your argument fails for the above reasons.

    THIRD CLAIM: “(3) Scripture gives us a clear and consistent shape of the sacrificial system in which it is sinner’s that kill sacrifices. See the following ten examples…”

    Again, you commit the same error by not interacting with the passages you cite. That is, you fail to explain them and to show how they support your claims. You are wrong again. I already answered this one in a previous posting, anyway. This argument fails because you bring assumptions to the Scriptures, and wrongly read your opinion into the Scriptures instead of allowing the Scriptures to speak for themselves. Is there a question?

    FOURTH CLAIM: Exactly, what is your point within the context of your other claims? Is there a question?

    FIFTH CLAIM: “(5) Forgiveness is not displaced punishment. When I forgive my wife, it is not that I withhold wrath from her because my wrath has been satisfied elsewhere. Forgiveness means that through Christ we have the power to repair the damage the relationship has suffered, because God has restored the damages our sin has caused by the power of Jesus’ resurrection.”

    Another straw man argument. Who is making counter claims to precede your above claims? What is your point? You simply throw these statements out with no context. Is there a question here?

    SIXTH CLAIM: “(6) Whenever we talk about Jesus’ death as a “judgment” or as a “punishment” it must be in connection with Israel’s judgment, Israel’s punishment, Israel’s exile…” “To use the category of substitution is to divorce the cross from the Biblical historical narrative.”

    Non sequitur logical fallacy. Your unsupported conclusion does not follow from your claims. Enough said on this one. Your claims and conclusions are not valid in that they do not form a coherent syllogistic argument.
    All of your claims fail for the reasons stated. I do not know exactly what you are trying to say, because you fail to provide a major premise from which all of your points follow. Your claims are disjointed and unrelated ones, making your total argument incoherent and confusing.


    You do not seem to understand that:

    a. You cannot read your opinions and theology INTO Scripture.
    b. You must interact with Scripture passages and explicate them (call them out) before you can reach an interpretation of them
    c. You do not have any hermeneutical principles to guide your interpretation. You simply state opinions.
    d. You do not interpret Scripture but simply state your opinions. Presumptive opinions do not count. Interpretation is based on interaction with Scripture and not on personal opinion.
    e. Your opinions and your unnamed sources are the basis for your conclusions and Scripture is not.
    f. Your assumptive loosely formed premises and conclusions are not valid because they are not based on interaction with Scripture and because they are faulty syllogisms.

    You need to return to interaction with Scriptures for forming your theology on the atonement or any other doctrine. You have not done this with any of your posts. You can make one post after another, but unless they show you understand and interact with Scripture, they are uninformed and in error.

  26. Lois Westerlund says:

    Gabriel, thank you for your lengthy reply. My responses, briefly:

    1. Regarding participation in Jesus’s death, I cannot do that because He is God and I am not. I am a creature. While I do have fellowship with Christ in his sufferings, while I do claim that I have died with him and risen to new life in him, this claim of experience comes about ONLY because God. in sovereign mercy, allows me to identify with His son. It is my identification, by faith, that allows me to know the that I have been made right with God, because His son took my place.
    2. Your view of the Lamb, that it was a symbol of Israel’s innocence, astonishes me. You write that as they spread the blood of the slain lamb on the door, they were identifying with the innocent lamb, as innocent victims of Egypt. If they were, would they need to be protected from the Angel of Death? And as you say, they are not innocent. So how does identifying with a lamb take away their guilt? Claiming to the firstborn of God–which is Biblical language–only makes them more culpable. The Levitical law states that sacrificial blood is required to protect the priest entering the Holiest of Holies. That is just one example of a major truth that runs through the canon.
    3. You reject the Church’s reading of Christ’s quoting of Psalm 22 on the cross. A reading of the entire Psalm, other Psalms, and Isaiah will support a reading that this forsaking was unavoidable when Christ became sin for us; Psalm 22:24, which speaks of God’s faithfulness, in context, refers to the risen Christ proclaiming that he was raised from the dead.
    4.I do not understand your reading of 2 Cor. 5:21: “God made Jesus, who knew no sin, into the manifestation of sin on our behalf, so that we sinners might become the manifestation of the righteousness of God in Jesus.” I understand you have more you could say, but it sounds like you are playing word games in order to deny the reality that is stated. Sin was manifest from the first disobedient act, and we had no righteousness to manifest.
    5.True, that Abel died according to the sovereign will of God and Abel was not punished for our sins, but it is not said of Abel that he died in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled, which is said of Jesus, who Himself says it is necessary that He be killed and rise again the third day.
    6.I cannot agree that seeing sin in terms of its effect on humans is a more theocentric view of sin than seeing it, in its nature, as an offense against a holy, and just God.
    7. I also cannot follow how the just consequences of our actions make God into a God that needs man. He does not, and never did. His justice demands that sin be punished, that actions have consequences. Without a world where this true, we have only nihilism. I am so thankful that God is not only holy and just, but He is love. At a cost we can never begin to grasp, He, in the person of His Son, satisfies justice and brings the sinner into peace. And makes us sons. And promises us eternal life. And plants His Spirit within. (Romans 5:1)
    I am writing in some haste; I hope my tone has not been harsh. I am not the Greek scholar Floyd is–I only can use concordances and commentaries. I am just attempting to see the logic of your position on its own terms.

  27. Floyd says:

    Gabriel, your most recent post reads, “Furthermore, a view that says God needs to punish in response to sin is to make God needy of sinful man. The truth is, that God did not need anything from humans before the Fall, and God does not need anything from humans after the Fall. When humans fell, God lost nothing he needed. To say “God needs to punish me” is just as arrogant as to say “God needs to save me.” Both statements say, “God needs me.”

    All of thee are straw man logical fallacies. That is, you raise a “view” to which you attribute to no one. That makes it a straw man. Whose view? Then you claim something as “truth” based on an assumption and your own authority. You give no support for your statement. How do you know this is true? Afterwards, you engage in still another logical fallacy of ad hominem by assuming arrogance on the part of an unnamed quoted person. This claim again raises the logical fallacy of the straw man. You assume someone says or believes such things without citing who holds such “views.” If you attempted to reply to Lois, you failed to address her inquiries with the above. The entire set of statements you write are incoherent because of hasty generalizations, ill-defined terms, and unsupported assumptions.

    Gabriel, through all the discussions here, one thing is missing with yours: coming to terms personally with Christ’s atonement for yourself. If you get the atonement wrong, you also get salvation wrong, because salvation of the lost is the outcome of the atonement. Furthermore, if you get the atonement wrong, you will not come to grips with the meaning and message of the gospel, that is, “Christ died FOR [υπερ, huper] (instead of, behalf of, in the place of, substitution) out sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3) just as the Passover lamb was in the place of the sinner.

    All have sinned and possess real guilt as sinners. Romans 5 discloses that we are saved by Him from God’s wrath (5:9). Jesus’ one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men (5:18). It is for all men in the sense of Christ’s sufficiency and not that all will be saved. That sufficiency substitutes for our lack of sufficiency due to our sinful state. The whole of the chapter clearly focuses on the penal substitutionary death of Christ. Unless you see Christ as your substitute, you will never understand Paul’s meaning of justification by faith (5:1) and subsequent peace with God. That peace is not some sort of internal or emotional peace but the ceasing of war with God, which God brings about.

  28. Floyd says:

    Gabriel>>>”The answer to (1) is that our sin is done away with by our dying in Christ. Not Christ dying instead of us, but us dying in Christ. Jesus died so that we can die to sin and live to righteousness, not avoid death.”

    Such a notion as the above is Barthian (Karl Barth an early 20th century theologian). As such, it removes the objectivity of the atonement. Lewis and Demarest, in their “Integrative Theology,” state, “Barth’s failure to distinguish the objective provisions from their actual subjective reception at the moment of faith also fails to fit the scriptural data.” The same applies in Gabriel’s miss-translation of the Greek “koinonia” in Philippians 3 as “participation” in this passage and others. Rather than the more accurate translation of “fellowship,” Gabriel uses “participation” to place more emphasis on individuals than on Christ.

    Barth uses it, also, which leads me to suspect that Gabriel subscribes to Barthian theology. Such a use takes the objectivity out of redemption and conflates the symbolic with the reality. This goes beyond the limits of Scripture and turns it into metaphorical readings as Augustine used to treat it. The crisis and victorious life doctrines of AB Simpson, Hannah Whitehall Smith, WE Boardman, and the Keswick movement followed Barth’s lead toward a “higher life” theology, which is mystic and destructive in that it promises much but delivers little. It leads to a life of presumption

  29. Gabriel says:

    Lois and Floyd,

    I am responding to you both, but using Lois’ numbering to keep things organized. Floyd, I am not a Barthian. Barth was a strong advocate of penal substitution.
    Augustine, Chrysostom, and CS Lewis are my favorites as far as theologians go.

    1. If you have fellowship in Christ’s sufferings, and you have died with him and risen to new life, then you have participated in Christ’s death, in the sense of “participation” that I am using. But then you also say that Christ died in your place. Well, which is it? Does Christ die so that you can die in Him, or does Christ die so that you wont have to? What do you think Jesus means when He commands you to take up your cross and follow him?

    Understand, by “participation” I do not mean synergism, by which our will acts with God’s will in our salvation. I agree with Jonathan Edwards that we contribute nothing to our salvation but the sin that makes in necessary. We have already seen how Paul uses “participation in Christ” language in Philippians 3 to oppose self-salvation through works-righteousness. If we are thinking like Paul, then “dying in Christ” and being “co-crucified” with him should not at all imply self-salvation.

    Romans 6:1-4 “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” I’m sorry, but “substitution” does not at all capture what Paul is talking about here.

    2. If the function of the Passover lamb is to suffer the wrath of God, then we should expect the Israelites to tie the lamb outside the house for the night in expectation that God (or His “destroyer”) would come by and kill the lamb instead of the firstborn of the household. But this is not what happens. Instead, the Israelites themselves, the sinners in need of redemption, slay the Passover lamb. The blood of the lamb then averts the wrath of God when He comes by, but the function of the lamb is not to bear or exhaust the wrath of God in place of the Israelites. Here is a rule, if your atonement theory leads you to expect different rituals than those in the Bible (like penal substitution) then your atonement theory is wrong.

    Similarly, in the event of the crucifixion we see that it is not God raining down fire and brimstone on Jesus, it is very clearly sinful men that are torturing and killing him. Jesus suffers and dies directly under the sins of sinners. In the sacrifice that gives all the other sacrifices in the Bible their meaning, sinners slay the sacrifice. The wrath of God does not slay the sacrifice. The literal wrath of God is at Jesus’ disposal, as he can call down legions of angels on his torturers in order to save Himself, and he does not do it. He averts the wrath of God when he says, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34),” which gives us the ultimate referent for the Biblical definition of propitiation.

    Leon Morris, a prominent scholar within the Reformed tradition, says, “We must examine the meaning of the Greek verb that has traditionally been translated ‘to propitiate’ or ‘ to make propitiation,’ and which is rendered in some other way in most recent translations. This verb, ‘hilaskomai, is in common use in Greek in general and it means the turning away of anger.” The other word Paul uses for propitiation is hilasterion, which Morris defines as the “means of turning away wrath.” Morris says, “nothing deals with salvation from the divine wrath other than hilasterion, which means, ‘the averting of wrath.’” JI Packer agrees, “What is a ‘propitiation?’ It is a sacrifice that averts wrath.” These scholars define propitiation exactly the way I do: wrath aversion. Where I disagree with Morris and Packer is in their assumption that propitiation means “wrath aversion via wrath exhaustion.”

    Just because the Passover lamb averts the wrath of God, it does not then follow that the lamb dies under the wrath of God (it obviously doesn’t). If I pull a kid out of the street and save him from getting hit by an oncoming bus, it does not follow that I was therefore hit by the bus.

    3. Psalm 22 – It is not that I reject the teachings of the “Church” that you mention (whatever Church that is), it is that your Church rejects what the Bible says in Psalm 22. Psalm 22:24 explicitly states that God has not hidden his face from the afflicted. To disagree with this, at this point, is to simply disobey Scripture in order to bow the knee to whatever “Church” you are mentioning.

    4. 2 Corinthians 5:21 – Tom McCall of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, in his book “Forskaken,” defends that Paul’s language that Jesus “became sin” means that Jesus became a sin offering. Recall that in every version of the sin offering in the Torah, it is the sinner that kills the sacrifice, not a representative of the justice system. That may be an easier way to understand why this verse does not lend support to penal substitution.

    5. That “Jesus died in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled,” provides no evidence that Jesus suffered the wrath of God.

    6. “His justice demands that sin be punished, that actions have consequences.” I agree that God punishes sinners. I disagree that God punishes innocent people instead of sinners, which is the definition of injustice. Also, God does not punish sinners to ensure that their sin will have destructive consequences, for sin would have destructive consequences even if God never lifted a finger to punish sinners (if you do not affirm this, you simply do not take sin seriously). Second, God does not punish to restore a need within Himself. When humans sinned, God lost nothing that He needed, contrary to what John Stott claims on p.152 of Cross of Christ, “The one thing God could not do in the face of human sin was nothing.”

  30. Gabriel says:

    Here are some helpful quotations from Augustine’s “On the Trinity.” Notice that Jesus’ death is always counted as unjust, and it is the injustice of his death that is the mechanism by which we are freed from sin, Satan, and death. Notice also, that Augustine still maintains that we are saved from the wrath of God. For Augustine, us being saved from the wrath of God does not at all imply that Jesus died justly under the wrath of God.

    “What, then, is the righteousness by which the devil was conquered? What, except the righteousness of Jesus Christ? And how was he conquered? Because, the devil found in Jesus nothing worthy of death, yet the devil slew Him. And certainly it is just, that we whom the devil held as debtors, should be dismissed free by believing in Jesus, whom the devil slew without any debt. In this way it is that we are said to be justified in the blood of Christ. For so that innocent blood was shed for the remission of our sins.

    And therefore Jesus conquered the devil first by righteousness, and afterwards by power: namely, by righteousness, because He had no sin, and was slain by him most unjustly; but by power, because having been dead He lived again, never afterwards to die.

    The devil was holding fast our sins, and through them was fixing us deservedly in death. Jesus discharged them, who had none of His own, and who was led by the devil to death undeservedly. That blood was of such price, that he who even slew Christ for a time by a death which was not due, can as his due detain no one, who has put on Christ, in the eternal death which was due. Therefore God commends His love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified in His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. Justified, he says, in His blood,— justified plainly, in that we are freed from all sin; and freed from all sin, because the Son of God, who knew no sin, was slain for us. Therefore we shall be saved from wrath through Him; from the wrath certainly of God, which is nothing else but just retribution.”

  31. Floyd says:


    First of all, you are wrong on Barth. While he uses the language of substitution, he diverts from it and does not hold to the biblical view on it as well as on other doctrines he held. In fact he substitutes the language of “dying in Christ” for Christ bearing the penalty for sin in our place, “He takes human being in unity with His own” (Church Dogmatics, II, 2, 123). His language may seem the same, but the theology behind his language is quite different. He is not a substitutionist at the core. You must then unknowingly adopt his view and that of the “higher life” movement, because you use the same language and ideas to express atonement.

    As far as Lewis goes, he is more the philosopher than a biblical theologian, and he holds loosely to doctrinal areas, one being the means of the atonement. In his colloquial and informal manner, he often skims doctrine and sometimes treats it lightly or in a secondary manner in light of accepting it in a general sense. Be that as it may, neither Barth or Lewis are the final authority. Rather, the Bible is. It is from the Scriptures we derive truth and not from men’s writings. You bring in Jonathan Edwards without citation.

    You cite Leon Morris and J. I. Packer without explaining how they are in any way connected to your view. You fail to cite your sources but quote both out of context. That is an invalid reply. You take Morris’s explanation of propitiation with realizing that he is talking of the same root word but as a verb in one way and as a noun in the other way. You fail to explain the actual literal meaning of the word Paul uses in Romans 3:25 (which you fail to cite), and you do not interact with the text to gather Paul’s meaning. Your fail to give proper citation for Tom McCall and show how he supports your notion of atonement. You continue to ignore the central principle of biblical interpretation – INTERACT WITH THE TEXT! Your argument is not valid and your approach to the Scriptures are wrong. You also take these authors out of theological context. They do not support your theory as you seem to intimate.

    You again engage in logical fallacies by raising the fallacy of false dichotomy, when after you present two supposedly opposite situations you ask, “Well, which is it?” You fail to defend or explain your own premise in your attempted contrast but simply pose a false dichotomy for the reader. This argument is also invalid.

    Again, when you discuss “participation,” you fail to reply to my inquiry to you about it, but you continue to repeat yourself without giving any explanation as to why you are right without examination of the context and the author’s intent. You also go off on another tangent (evasion) or straw man with your comparison with “synergism” as though someone holds to some sort of synergistic view. That is invalid. I take it that you do not have an answer, and so you ignore my inquiry. You also fail to answer my inquiry of showing me where “avert” or its meaning appears anywhere in the Bible. Again, you read into the text and are wrong in doing so.

    When it comes to the examination of your cited biblical passages, you gloss over them and again and again fail to exegete them. While ignoring my inquiry about Philippians 3, you simply repeat what you have said many times before without an examination of the text and grammatical and word usage. Repeating does not prove your point. It simply means you cannot get beyond repetition to interpretation.

    YOU FAIL TO INTERACT WITH THE TEXT to show that you understand it. You do not show that you do understand the intent of the author, the meaning of Greek words, the surrounding contexts, and the occasion for the author’s writing. You ignore all contexts. Reading into the text is opinion. Calling out the text is interpretation. You do not show that you know how to interpret Scripture. Rather you read your opinions into the Scriptural text rather than interpret it. You do that not only with Philippians (without citing the specific verse or Greek word) but also with Romans 6:1-4; Luke 23:34; Psalm 22; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Then you meander from one author to another without cohesive thought or conclusion. While you claim you are replying to me, you do not, and you do not reply to Lois either.

    Not only have you given no evidence from Scripture for your view on the atonement, but also you have not even made clear that you understand penal substitution. You continue to cite passages from the Bible, but you say nothing about those passages and fail to interact with the text in each case. Simply quoting a passage is not giving evidence and does not provide a valid response.

    After having read all of your responses, I do not read anywhere that you even show you understand penal substitution. You do not define or explain it. Rather, you hold up a straw man of penal substitution and attack it. Nowhere do I read where you write that you describe penal substitution. You just launch refutations against what you believe it to be. That is not a valid argument.

    You need to do your research, especially in the Bible, to come to an understanding of its true meaning. You fail to show your understanding of it and its application to life. You do not demonstrate that you have done your homework.

    I answered your 6 “problems,” and you are ignoring my reply after you repeated your request that I answer. Now reply to my postings of April 13 without saying that advocates just ignore Scripture. Please respond to my posting challenging your word “avert.” You have not provide an able reply. Please respond to my reply about your misapplication of “participation” as a “category” and the use of the Greek word you attempt (wrongly) to translate from the 19 times it appears in the NT. Please respond to my answer to your (I stress “your”) 6 problems I gave April 18 and my subsequent one. You have not responded to any of them.

    Your last response is, again, no more than your opinion and quoting others out of context. The entire post is a rambling non sequitur. Just quoting someone (and not accurately at that) proves nothing.

    Below is a summary of your numerous posts:

    a. You have failed to give the meaning of penal substitution
    b. You set up penal substitution as a straw man and refute this straw man
    c. You fail to interact with Scriptures for demonstrating that you understand them
    d. You wrongly cite others out of context without giving proper citations to their works
    e. You set up numerous straw man logical fallacies and attack them
    f. You attribute wrong positions to others
    g. You attempt to use other authors opposed to your view to attempt to show that they align with you
    h. You do not demonstrate that you understand the Greek or Hebrew words underlying the English translation. You cannot explain from the original languages why it should be translated a certain way
    i. You ignore biblical context in favor of your opinion. Opinion does not count
    j. You have not supported your position from Scripture.
    k. You fail to reply to others but engage in numerous logical fallacies (as cited) and go off on a tangent

    With that, I see no more value is this discussion.

  32. Lois Westerlund says:

    To all, especially Floyd and Gabriel,
    I thank all who have contributed to this discussion. I have learned from it. I did not realize the understanding of God the Son as our substitution iis as currently under attack as it seems to be. Secondly, I have realized that the rejection of penal substitution is more subtle and nuanced than it seems at first encounter. All of the Biblical language is used; the adherents of this position support it from Scripture and church history. The only aspect of the Cross they reject is God’s visiting His wrath on His perfect, sinless Son. Instead, he simply turns away his wrath. This is appealing–a just God who would never unjustly punish the innocent.
    Except that, for me, this God is not just. We all understand, even as children, the concept of justice. I am thankful I know and believe in a God who condemns evil. He does not say to the ISIS adherent who has beheaded a child in front of his parents because the child confessed Jesus, that, if that ISIS member will agree to participate in the death of Jesus and die to sin and live to righteousness, it will be okay. We can forget his heinous deed. Everything in me cries, “No!” Jesus told me to forgive my enemies, but that is because vengeance belongs to God. Wickedness is not okay.. The God who does not punish sin, is today’s God of Love, who is only Love. He is no longer Holy and Just and Love. Blessed be the God of our salvation. I have fled to the Son for refuge. He bore the curse for me.
    I, like Floyd, have no wish to continue the discussion, and hope I have not provoked responses. I wanted to express a final conclusion. This is how it looks to me. Peace.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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