Saturday, April 11, 2009

Penal Substitution Debate – Negative Concluding Essay

Penal Substitution Debate – Negative Concluding Essay
This final essay will first examine the responses my opponent gave to my cross-examination questions, while the remainder of the essay will be a summary of my thoughts of the entire debate.
1a) My first question sought to find out what Scriptural evidence could be offered in support of the notion God poured out His Wrath on Jesus (as described by the various respected Reformed pastors). My opponent's proof texts were as follows:

-Matthew 27:46 (“why have you forsaken me?”)
-John 3:36 (“he that believeth not...the wrath of God abideth on him.”)
-Romans 5:9 (“we shall be saved from wrath through him.”)
-1 Thessalonians 1:10 (“Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.”)
-1 Thessalonians 5:9 (“God hath not appointed us to wrath”)
-Lamentations 3:1 (“I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.”)
-Psalm 88:7 (“Thy wrath lieth hard upon me”)
My opponent's quotes from John 3:36, Romans 5:9, 1 Thes. 1:10, and 1 Thes. 5:9 are all interpreted with the understanding that, as my opponent put it, “either the wrath of God is against the Son or against us.” This is simply fallacious reasoning and improper exegesis to state that just because a passage states God's wrath is not on the Christian that it must have been re-directed onto Christ. What is also noteworthy is that throughout this debate my opponent seemed to want to shy away from the quotes of those Reformed authors I have quoted (on the grounds that Christ's physical death is sufficient), yet the very New Testament proof texts he offers deal with God's eschatological wrath, which is nothing short of hellfire. The two Old Testament verses given can simply be explained as not being Messianic, especially considering they are not quoted in the New Testament.
Matthew 27:46 appears to be the closest thing my opponent can offer in terms of clear evidence of Christ undergoing the Father's wrath. Having gone over this verse multiple times throughout this debate, it is very telling that this is the best Scriptural evidence the Penal Substitution side has to offer. Simply quoting Psalm 22:1 in full discredits such an interpretation:
1 My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, And from the words of My groaning?
As Catholic theologians have long maintained, the clear and proper interpretation of this is of the Father withdrawing His Divine protection which the Son up to the point of His Passion had enjoyed (cf. Matthew 26:52-54; John 7:30; 8:20; etc). The pains described later in this Psalm clearly alluded to (if not directly cross-referenced as) the physical and emotional pains Christ underwent during His Passion. None of these pains were in the form of God's wrath or a spiritual punishment (cf. Matthew 10:28).
1b) My second question asked whether atonement can be made without the use of Penal Substitution. My opponent responded by saying that while atonement in general “does not require a particular form,” he goes onto state “the case of God, however, is a special case.” There are two serious problems with this answer. First, no Scriptural support is given stating when it comes to God it is a “special case,” much less the specific form of “justice demands bloodshed.” Second, the very text I gave, Exodus 30:11-16, was explicitly dealing with making atonement to God for one's life.
He then errs when he argues that after David disobeyed the atonement instructions, he didn't try to collect the ransom money after all, but instead offered a sacrifice, supposedly proving blood offering was all that was acceptable. But that is fallacious, because atonement is only acceptable in so far as it is done according to God's instructions. If those instructions are not followed, then one is literally at God's mercy to try and appease Him in whatever way they can. With this in mind, the two objections my opponent later gives as to why the ransom system is not “a pure commercial analogy” falls through because of the simple fact God can accept ransom and atonement on whatever grounds He chooses.
Next my opponent discusses the ransom option available in the case of a negligent homicide, though offers no actual rebuttal to my point. He further states the ransom system is not wrong, but simply insufficient, and that “Christ's satisfaction was chiefly penal,” though no actual proof is given for this claim. The New Testament explicitly states Christ gave His life as a “ransom,” without qualification of it being insufficient (quite the contrary), and the fact is making a ransom is distinct from Penal Substitution. The fact the ransom Christ offered was his own life (ie the value of His life, not His death per se) doesn't change anything. I want to repeat, the fact Christ's giving of His life is said to be a ransom contradicts the notion of Penal Substitution, because ransom is specifically distinct as a means of making appeasement/atonement by setting a “buyout price” rather than simply a legal transfer of death penalty. This leads to one very important conclusion of how Christ's sacrifice connects to the Old Testament:
1 Peter 1:18For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
Lev 17:11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life.
This proves that the sacrificial value is in the life-blood, not in the death itself, nor in the transfer of punishment. The ransom-atonement value is attached to the value of His life. This passage reveals that OT sacrifices operated on a ransom system rather than on a Penal Substitutionary one. What is just as important is that the Hebrew term for “ransom” (H3724) is derived from the term for “atonement” (H3722). This further solidifies the fact atonement should be seen in terms of ransom (ie “commercial analogy”) rather than transfer of judicial punishment. To further prove that it is not the death itself where the value is, it is important to note that the one who killed the animal and the one who sprinkled the blood were not usually the same person. For example:
Leviticus 4: 27 If a member of the community sins unintentionally... 29 He is to lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and slaughter it at the place of the burnt offering. 30 Then the priest is to take some of the blood with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar. 31 He shall remove all the fat, just as the fat is removed from the fellowship offering, and the priest shall burn it on the altar as an aroma pleasing to the LORD. In this way the priest will make atonement for him, and he will be forgiven.
This method of the sinner slaughtering while the priest is the one who makes atonement is the norm, but it certainly makes no sense in a Penal Substitution framework where the transfer of death penalty is where the true value and atonement rests. The priest needs a slaughtered animal, but it is not the death itself that effects the atonement, rather it is in the offering of the life-blood. The only time the priest slaughters is if the offering is due to his personal sin or if it is for the nation as a whole who cannot all kill the animal at once. Thus the true value of Christ's sacrifice is in the (active) offering up of His life, and not in the death itself.
1c) My third question asked why Moses' form of atonement in Exodus 32:30 (cross referencing Deuteronomy 9:16-21 & Psalm 106:19-23) worked for Moses but could not work for Christ. The biggest shortfall of my opponent's response was he failed to link Exodus 32:30 with Deuteronomy 9, despite the fact it is a clear cross reference to the same event of making intercession for the golden calf scandal.
On top of this, my opponent's commentary on Exodus 32:30ff itself fell short of a consistent and reasonable interpretation. He states: “Moses apparently offered himself as a victim to atone for the sins of the people, but whether that was what Moses was trying to offer or not, God rejected his offer...
The first questions is where did Moses “apparently offer himself as a victim to atone”? If my opponent interpreted the phrase “blot me out of thy book” as a way of saying “kill me instead,” that is a serious misunderstanding of the passage, which is saying nothing of the sort. Rather, that phrase is akin to the notion of 'the captain goes down with his ship.' If my opponent is saying Moses meant some other offering than killing him in their stead, then this proves Moses understood atonement could be made apart from Penal Substitution (which would undermine his own thesis). What is even more problematic is my opponent says “God rejected his offer,” but the text does not say the “offer” was rejected on the grounds Moses offer was not good enough, but rather on the grounds of the most anti-Penal Substitution response imaginable: “Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.” Whatever the offer might have been, Penal Substitution was excluded in God's eyes.
The rest of his response consisted in recapitulating what I already affirmed: that Christ's offering is infinitely superior to Moses' offering. My only point was: if Moses could atone without Penal Substitution, then why not Christ? This is what was missed by my opponent.

1d) My fourth question asked for “quotes where an Early Church Father teaches concepts such as God pouring His Wrath upon Jesus, being forsaken by God in the sense of divine punishment, suffering more than a physical death, using “descended into hell” in a sense of undergoing damnation, etc.” I will briefly comment on the quotes my opponent provided:

-Augustine – On the Trinity – Book IV, Chapter III: This quote speaks of the “double death” we deserved being satisfied by Christ's “single death.” But he is clear this is physical death only, “clothed in mortal flesh, and in that alone dying,” contradicting the Reformed authors above who stated His physical death was nothing compared to the spiritual one he suffered when God poured out His wrath on Him. Calvin explicitly states, “nothing had been done if Christ had only endured corporeal death.” Augustine then quotes the “forsaken” passage, but does not interpret it as God's wrath nor something Christ literally suffered in the sense of divine torments, but rather a symbolic sign displayed outwardly in Christ's flesh of what our own souls suffer inwardly. Christ's outward (physical) sufferings were “wrought a mystery as regards the inner man, and a type as regards the outer,” meaning it signified the spiritual pain a sinner suffers as well as the bodily pain they will suffer in the future.
My opponent quotes St Augustine's comments on Psalm 88, but the passage states God's wrath passes over the Body of Saints and Head which is Christ, and it only rests on sinners.
-Leo the Great – Sermon 68: Here we see St Leo interpret “forsaken me” in the same sense the Church has always interpreted it: “Jesus, therefore, cried with a loud voice, saying, 'Why have You forsaken Me?' in order to notify to all how it behoved Him not to be rescued, not to be defended, but to be given up into the hands of cruel men.” This not only fully supports the Catholic interpretation, it directly contradicts the Reformed authors quoted earlier (as well as my opponent himself).

-John of Damascus - An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith (Book IV): It should come as no surprise that St John interprets “forsaken me” in the same manner as the rest of the Fathers, stating clearly: “For neither as God nor as man was He ever forsaken by the Father, nor did He become sin or a curse.” This sentence makes it clear St John excludes any such interpretation which would indicate God's wrath or any other such divine punishment ever being on Christ. When he says “appropriating, then, our person and ranking Himself with us,” that means He took on our flesh and lived as one of us, though nothing in that quote indicates this was anything close to a Penal Substitution (quite the contrary).
Given what has been presented above as patristic evidence for what the Reformed tradition teaches regarding Penal Substitution, it is clear that the Fathers had nothing of the sort in mind. None of them came anywhere near saying God's wrath was poured out on Christ, or that Christ underwent the equivalent of damnation, or that Christ's outward/physical sufferings were nothing compared to the spiritual ones inflicted on his soul as divine punishment. What is most astonishing is that most of the patristic quotes my opponent cites actually explicitly contradict his own position.
1d) My fifth and final question addressed the issue of Nestorianism, which I argue is a theological ramification of Penal Substitution. Because I had suspicions on whether my opponent understood these ramifications, I asked this question: “Can the statement 'God died on the cross' be understood in a truly orthodox sense?”
My opponent was first asked to give simply a yes or no answer, his response: No.
He went onto clarify his answer: “Standing alone, the comment that 'God died' is facially heterodox, although it can be qualified to some other meaning. The Orthodox way to describe it is 'Jesus Christ died on the cross.' ”
This answer is material heresy (as opposed to formal heresy) and is embracing a form of Nestorianism. To say “God died” is heterodox, while “Jesus died” is orthodox, is Nestorian in that it makes 'God' and 'Jesus' in this context two separate persons.
There is an orthodox sense which “God died on the cross” can be understood. Death is not a ceasing of existence but rather the separation of body and soul (which the Divine Nature is not composed of, thus cannot experience death). Since God the Son had a human nature, He certainly could die, and did, but that simply means His human body separated from His human soul, not that the Divine Person of the Son or His Divine Nature ceased to exist or was somehow changed.
With the above explanation in mind, the Early Church Father's my opponent cites in support of his position can be properly understood. Ambrose is clearly speaking of the fact the Divine Nature cannot experience pain or death, in contrast to the human nature. Ambrose quotes 1 Corinthians 2:8 where it says they “crucified the Lord of glory,” which is equivalent to saying the Lord God, the Son, was crucified and died. The St Leo quote says this just as clearly: “He Who underwent death is the same as He Who never ceased to be eternal.” The “He” in this sentence is God the Son.
The Theodoret quote states it in the clearest terms in
condemning those who believe “the Godhead of the only begotten Son suffered, instead of the manhood which He assumed.” The Godhead is the divine nature, which cannot experience suffering, while the Person of God the Son suffered and died in His assumed human nature.

2) I will now offer a recap of the entire debate, touching on all the points I consider decisive against the Penal Substitution position.
2a) The Old Testament sacrifices were shown to not operate in a Penal Substitution framework. My opponent had virtually no response to this fact. Sacrifices such as the sin offerings, scapegoat, Passover, and pre-Mosaic offerings all pointed away from what one would expect to see in a Penal Substitution framework. Since Christ was prefigured in all these sacrifices, there can be no doubt the serious problems this puts my opponent in as far as Scriptural support is concerned.
2b) While my opponent seemed to shy away from the various descriptions of the Father pouring out His Wrath on Jesus, I have referenced numerous respected Reformed theologians and pastors who openly advocate such a view. They make it clear the importance of this aspect of Christ's suffering was second to none.
On top of the numerous quotes already given, last year two huge Reformed conferences were held with well known Reformed pastors such as R.C. Spoul, C.J. Mahaney, and John Piper. They gave lectures on Christ's atonement, and made comments such as these:
“What prevents us from seeing God is our heart. Our impurity. But Jesus had no impurity. And Thomas said He was pure in heart. So obviously He had some, some experience of the beauty of the Father. Until that moment that my sin was placed upon Him. And the one who was pure was pure no more. And God cursed Him. It was if there was a cry from Heaven – excuse my language but I can be no more accurate than to say – it was as if Jesus heard the words 'God damn you', because that's what it meant to be cursed, to be damned, to be under the anathema of the Father. As I said I don't understand that, but I know that it's true.” (R.C. Sproul. Together for the Gospel. April 17, 2008. Louisville, KY. Session V - The Curse Motif of the Atonement. Minute 55:01)
“Hell is all about echoing faintly the glory of Calvary. That's the meaning of hell in this room right now. To help you feel in some emotional measure the magnificence of what Christ did for you when he bore not only your eternal suffering, but millions of people's eternal suffering when His Father put our curse on Him. What a Saviour is echoed in the flames of hell. So that's what I mean when I say hell is an echo of the glory of God, and an echo of the Savior's sufferings, and therefore an echo of the infinite love of God for our souls.” (John Piper. Resolved Conference 2008. Session 8 – The Echo and Insufficiency of Hell. Min 40:00)
“This moment in Mark chapter 15 [i.e. “My God, my God”], it is this moment, it is what takes place in this moment that delivers us from hell. This agony, this scream, is what delivers all those who turn from their sin and trust in the Savior from hell. On the cross, Jesus experienced hell for us. He experienced hell for us, bearing God's wrath and eternal punishment. And because He did, Heaven awaits all those who turn from their sin and trust in Him. He screamed the 'scream of the damned' [i.e., “forsaken me”] for us. Listen, this scream should be our scream. … This scream should be my eternal scream. He takes upon Himself my sin, the wrath I deserved for and against my sin, He screams the 'scream of the damned' for me.” (C.J. Mahaney. Resolved Conference 2008. Session 11 - The Cry From the Cross. Min 46:35)
“There are four ways that you can measure the love of God in Christ heard in the 'scream of the damned' … and all four of them are infinite, and they all point to the infinite value of the 'scream of the damned'. Now it's bigger than this, and the quote you just heard from 'Spectacular Sins' is my effort to get at it. Hell exists, sin exists, Heaven exists, cross exists, everything exists to magnify the worth of the 'scream of the damned'. Everything. That's the point of the universe.” (John Piper. Resolved Conference 2008. Session 12 - The Triumph of the Gospel in the New Heavens and New Earth. Min 00:15)
It is very clear how they are interpreting “My God, why have you forsaken me,” it is interpreted as the scream which the damned souls in hell scream, and that Jesus screamed it in their place.
These Reformed authors are unequivocally clear as to what Christ had to suffer. The sufferings described have no basis in Scripture and go above and beyond the emotional and physical pains the Gospels and New Testament clearly reveal.
2c) One issue that greatly disappointed me throughout this debate was the overall lack of engagement in any substantial Scriptural exegesis by my opponent. At the outset of this debate, I addressed the major Protestant proof-texts, and I showed they came nowhere near either advocating or demanding Penal Substitution. My opponent not only failed to interact with the exegesis I gave, he failed to offer any new and relevant Scriptural evidence of his own. Given this is a debate, the only way that this can be interpreted is that those popular Penal Substitution proof-texts fall very short of proving what is required of them. This debate was about Scripture more than anything, and my opponent repeatedly acknowledged this, yet the record shows I examined and commented upon far more passages than my opponent did.
After Psalm 22:1, I consider the issue of Christ “drinking of the cup” to be the next most important text that was considered in significant depth this debate. Yet, after careful examination, there is no doubt that since the disciples were to undergo “drinking” and “baptism” after the example of Christ, then not only was Penal Substitution not what was signified, such a notion was precluded.
One text which (unfortunately) received less interaction that I expected was Isaiah 53. Verse 5 is especially significant in that it uses a conspicuous word, “chastise,” rather than an expected term like “punish,” which is the exact opposite of what we would expect for a Penal Substitution text. Proverbs 3:11-12 uses the same Hebrew word for “chastise,” which is a passage quoted in Hebrews 12:6,10 and applied to Christians. There is an important distinction between the concept of chastisement and punishment, and the Reformed tradition has always (rightly) recognized it. The words of John Calvin state it succinctly:
For the sake of distinction, we may call the one kind of judgment punishment, the other chastisement. In judicial punishment, God is to be understood as taking vengeance on his enemies, by displaying his anger against them, confounding, scattering, and annihilating them. By divine punishment, properly so called, let us then understand punishment accompanied with indignation. In judicial chastisement, he is offended, but not in wrath; he does not punish by destroying or striking down as with a thunderbolt. Hence it is not properly punishment or vengeance, but correction and admonition. The one is the act of a judge, the other of a father.
…To have a short and clear view of the whole matter, we must make two distinctions. First, whenever the infliction is designed to avenge, then the curse and wrath of God displays itself. This is never the case with believers. On the contrary, the chastening of God carries his blessing with it, and is an evidence of love, as Scripture teaches [footnote 370: Job 5:17; Prov. 3:11; Heb. 12:5].(Institutes Bk3:Ch4:Sec31,32)
So, rather than Christ receiving divine punishment while Christians receive chastening - which is what Penal Substitution requires - Scripture actually applies the same concept to both. And Scripture brings out this point even more clearly:
Hebrews 5: 7During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him
This is precisely how Isaiah 53:5 is to be understood when it says: “The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.” The Protestant scheme simply cannot do justice (no pun intended) to what Scripture has to teach about the nature of Christ's sufferings.
As far as imputing guilt is concerned, not only did my opponent fail to establish this concept in the Old Testament, the closest New Testament evidence for the guilt of the elect being imputed to Christ was 2 Corinthians 5:19 (which fell well short of proving such a thing, as I previously noted).
2d) The Catholic understanding of Satisfaction (which was shown to be very different from the radically redefined definition of the Reformers) was shown to have solid Biblical support. On top of that, my opponent had no genuine explanation for why this couldn't apply to Christ, especially given the clear foreshadowing in some of the texts. The Catholic understanding of satisfaction is based on the Biblical term “propitiation” which means to turn away (appease) wrath, rather than re-directing that wrath on an innocent party. My opponent, for the great majority of this debate, failed to realize this distinction, and as a result frequently assumed passages relating to the atonement must automatically be advocating Penal Substitution. The Old Testament testimony, especially of Moses and Phinehas, proved beyond a doubt atonement could be made to God without requiring Penal Substitution. Given this, the Catholic understanding is the only correct way of understanding the key notion of “intercession,” as Jeremiah's own testimony makes clear: “Remember that I stood before you and spoke in their behalf to turn your wrath away from them” (18:20; cf. Sirach 34:19; 35:6-7).
2e) I made the argument that since Scripture teaches salvation can be lost, the implication is that Penal Substitution must be false because Penal Substitution when carried out systematically precludes the possibility of losing salvation. My opponent had no response to my passages, and the two texts he did deal with fell well short of a reasonable counter-interpretation.
2f) I also gave a list of philosophical and theological problems with Penal Substitution, but again received not much of a response either from Scripture or logical counter-argument.
2g) From the start of the debate, I planned to steer away from focusing on what the Early Church Fathers said. I approached the debate with this in mind because I realize my opponent's final authority is Scripture, and that's where this debate ultimately comes down to. That said, my opponent quoted the fathers over 20 times. Upon examination of the great majority of those quotes, they were easily shown to advocate nothing close to Penal Substitution, and in most of the cases the Father interpreted Protestant proof-texts the opposite of how a Protestant would interpret them! For the most part the Fathers simply affirmed the fact humanity is subject to the (temporal) punishment of death and decay and Jesus underwent these punishments by virtue of His Incarnation, not by a legal imputation of the sinner's guilt to His account.

Concluding Remarks:
In this debate, the burden of proof in proving Penal Substitution was upon my opponent, not me. The ultimate and final standard for judging this doctrine is Scripture, and my opponent failed to prove his case with Scripture. He failed in this regard on the following grounds: (1) to provide clear evidence of guilt being imputed; (2) to provide clear evidence for Penal Substitution taking place in the OT and the NT; (3) to interact with my very reasonable interpretations countering major Protestant proof texts; (4) to explain my clear Scriptural evidence of atonement being made without the use of Penal Substitution; (5) to show clear evidence for the Father pouring out His wrath on Jesus.
Being that we are in the final round of our essays means my opponent has no more opportunity to introduce any substantially new evidence, he can only clarify what has already been addressed up to now (including my final essay), thus there should be no doubt where the Biblical evidence points. The Biblical testimony points clearly away from Penal Substitution and strongly in the direction of Catholic Satisfaction.
While this point was only implicitly touched up in my previous essays, the doctrine of Penal Substitution is directly linked to the key Protestant doctrine of Sola Fide. If Penal Substitution is false, then Sola Fide is likewise false. This debate wasn't just about a different way of understanding the Atonement, it had much deeper underpinnings, namely holding up the most important doctrine of the Reformation: Sola Fide. If Sola Fide is the doctrine which determines whether the Church stands or falls, as the Reformers have always described it, then I would describe Penal Substitution as the doctrine that determines whether Sola Fide stands or falls. I believe Penal Substitution is not accepted based on solid Biblical exegesis, but rather accepted and presupposed in order to hold up an even more important and presupposed doctrine: Sola Fide. I don't believe any theologian would go down the path of advocating Penal Substitution in the first place, unless something greater was at stake. And the fact is something greater is at stake.
I want to conclude by thanking my opponent for having this debate with me. He showed respect throughout the entire debate and demonstrated his passion for this issue. My hope for this debate was to get my opponent, as well as others, to rethink the doctrine of Penal Substitution, because I as a Catholic honestly feel it does not represent the Truth, and in fact harms it.