Penal substitution

Penal substitution

Penal substitution is a theory of the atonement within Christian theology, especially associated with the Reformed tradition. It argues that Christ, by his own sacrificial choice, was punished (penalised) in the place of sinners (substitution), thus satisfying the demands of justice so God can justly forgive the sins. 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.

Differing doctrines

Advocates that propitiation and expiation are false categories when applied to the triune God: if God forgives us in and through Christ ("Christ pays our debt") then the cost has been borne by God in, as, and through Christ. For God to propitiate himself is expiation; because expiation is always self-propitiation as it means the forgiver paying the debt (here, the price of the sin) at his own expense. Hence Dietrich Bonhoeffer says grace is free, but is not cheap.

Finally, a view of human salvation which defines it in terms of once-and-for-all acquittal has to deal with its relationship to subsequent actions [Fiddes, Paul, "Past Event and Present Salvation: The Story of the Atonement" (1989)] and the lives of those not born at the time of the Paschal Mystery. [Wiles, Maurice "The remaking of Christian Doctrine (SCM 1974 ) p. 65.]


Christian theology teaches that critics overlook the repeated declarations of Jesus that he intended to die on the cross, and that his death was the very purpose for which he was born on the Earth (; ) conclude that God -- against whom mankind had sinned -- came to accept the penalty upon himself. Thus, they see no injustice in God choosing to come to Earth in order to take humanity's sin upon himself.

J. I. Packer [Packer, "What did the cross achieve?"] states that language must be used in a stretched sense. God is not a sixteenth century monarch, he says, and divine government is not the same as earthly government. He states that Christians should regard all truth of God as an "apprehended mystery", and always hold that God is greater than our formularies. He holds, nonetheless, that penal substitution can be described a model in a way comparable to how physics uses the term. He defines for theology the term model as "explanatory constructs formed to help us know, understand, and deal with God, the ultimate reality." He states that the "mystery of God is more than any one model, even the best, can express." He states that "all the knowledge we can have of the atonement is of a mystery which we can only think and speak by means of models." To Packer, the biblical models are presented as being inspired by God and given to us as "knowledge of the mystery of the cross." The theologian Stephen Sykes has interpreted Packer's account of penal substitution as being presented as a metaphor.

Theologians who advocate penal substitution are keen to define the doctrine carefully, rather than, as Packer says, crudely. The primary question is, he says, not the rationality or morality of God but the remission of one's sins. He suggests that it be seen not as a mechanical explanation (how it works) but rather than kerygmatically (what it means to us).Packer (1773): p. 88.] Denney contends that the atonement should not be seen forensically (though as Packer says, Denney avoided the term "penal" in any case). [James Denney, "Atonement And The Modern Mind", (Hodder And Stoughton, 1903) p.271, as quoted by Packer in note 28 of his essay above] What matters in Packer's view is that "Jesus Christ our Lord, moved by a love that was determined to do everything necessary to save us, endured and exhausted the destructive divine judgement for which we were otherwise inescapably destined, and so won us forgiveness, adoption and glory". Thus, John Stott critiques loveless caricatures of the cross as "a sacrifice to appease an angry God, or ... a legal transaction in which an innocent victim was made to pay the penalty for the crimes of others" as being "neither the Christianity of the bible in general nor of Paul in particular" and further that "It is doubtful if anybody has ever believed such a crude construction." [John Stott, "The Cross of Christ", (IVP, 1986) p. 172]

Bible passages

The Bible includes, not merely the story of the Paschal mystery in the Gospels, but also the sources of ideas of the atonement. The Fathers often worked upon biblical quotations, [Justin Martyr "Dialogue with Trypho": "Cursed is everyone who hangeth on a tree" - Deuteronomy 21:23; "Cursed is everyone who continues not in all things that are written in the book of the law": Deuteonomy 27:26, quoted in Galatians 3:10-13] from both Testaments, describing Christ's saving work, sometimes adding one to another from different places in Scripture. [Gregory of Nazianzus quotes in the same passage Galatians (above), 1 Corinthians 15 (the "new Adam") and Hebrews 5:8 (obedience through suffering)] Calvin made special appeal to the Suffering Servant passage in it has been argued that there are, in fact, different models of penal substitution [N. T. Wright, [ "The Cross and the Caricatures"] "Fulcrum" (Eastertide 2007)] in which ideas of justification work together with redemption and sacrifice (expiation). Thus: "For all alike have sinned and are deprived of the divine glory and all are justified by God's free grace alone through his act of redemption in the person of Christ Jesus. For God designed him to be the means of expiating sin by his death, effective through faith. God meant by this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had overlooked the sins of the past, showing that he is himself just and also justified anyone who puts his faith in Jesus."

Recent controversies

Most recently, controversy has arisen over the strict doctrine of penal substitution in which Socinus's argument about the justice of God has been raised: namely, whether it constitutes "cosmic child abuse." [An expression used by Steve Chalke in his book "The Lost Message of Jesus" (Zondervaan 2003)] ProponentsFact|date=August 2008 of penal substitution reject Socinus's charge out of hand because he also rejects the trinity, in which there is substantial unity between the God the Father and God the Son and which, in their view, breaks the analogy.

The debate has largely been conducted in evangelical circles, [See Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey, and Andrew Sach, "Pierced for our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution" (IVP, 2007) to which the N. T. Wright, has responded in "The Cross and the Caricatures."] though the dismissal of the doctrine of penal substitution on moral grounds by the Anglo-Catholic Jeffrey John in a broadcast talk during Holy Week has drawn fire in his direction.



*Gustaf Aulen, "Christus Victor" tr. A.G. Hebert (SPCK 1931)
*Jean Calvin, "Institutes of the Christian Religion"
*James Denney "Atonement And The Modern Mind", (Hodder And Stoughton, 1903)
*F. W. Dillistone, The Christian Understanding of the Atonement (Nisbet 1968)
*Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey, and Andrew Sach, "Pierced for our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution" (IVP, 2007).
*Paul Fiddes, "Past event and Present Salvation : the Story of the Atonement (1989)
*Stephen Finlan, "Problems With Atonement: The Origins Of, And Controversy About, The Atonement Doctrine", ISBN 0814652204
*J. N. D. Kelly, "Early Christian Doctrines" (Adam & Charles Black 1968)
*Norman McIlwain, 'The Biblical Revelation of the Cross', EAN 9780955102905 [ Online Edition]
*Leon Morris. "The Cross in the New Testament" (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965) Chap. 8 The Cross in the Epistle to the Hebrews.
*Leon Morris, "The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross", 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998).
*J. I. Packer, "Celebrating the Saving Work of God" (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster, 1998) chap. 8 "What Did the Cross Achieve?" Chap. 9 Sacrifice and Satisfaction.
* J. I. Packer, "Knowing God" (Downer’s Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1973) chap.15 "The Wrath of God"; chap. 18 "The Heart of the Gospel".
* Robert L. Reymond, "A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith" (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998) Chap. 17 The Character of the Cross Work of Christ.
* John Stott, "The Cross of Christ" (Downers Grove: IV Press, 1986).
* Stephen Sykes, "The Story of the Atonement" (DLT 1997)

ee also

* Atonement
* Satisfaction
* Substitutionary atonement
*New Perspective on Paul

External links

* [ Pierced for our transgressions]
* [ The Cross and the Caricatures] by N. T. Wright— a response to Robert Jenson, Jeffrey John, and "Pierced for Our Transgressions"
* [ Christ Our Penal Substitute] by R. L. Dabney
* [ Revisiting Penal Substitution] (pdf) by Kevin D. Kennedy
* [ The Theology of the Atonement] (pdf) by I. Howard Marshall
* [ The Logic of Penal Substitution] by J. I. Packer
* [ Nothing But the Blood: More and more evangelicals believe Christ's atoning death is merely a grotesque creation of the medieval imagination. Really?] by Mark Dever
* [ A Scandalous Attack on The Cross] by Martin Downes
* [ Penal Substitution Refuted] by John Miley
* [ Rethinking Penal Substitution] by Paul Owen
* [ Penal Substitution vs. Christus Victor] by Derek Flood
* [ The Meaning of the Atonement] by Mark M. Mattison
* [ "Did Christ Pay for Our Sins?"] by R. Dennis Potter (Mormon view) from the Web Archive
* [ The Biblical Revelation of the Cross (Online Edition): A Bible Study of the Atonement of Jesus Christ - the Righteous Servant]

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