Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Penal Substitution - Post Debate Comments

This post is where people are free to ask any questions or make any comments about the Penal Substitution debate between Turretin Fan and myself. I'll try to answer all questions (so long as they are within reasonable parameters).


Rachel said...

Affirmative concluding essay - this is really useful and i would like to locate some of your quotes, particularly Contra Faustus so that I can quote some of the PSA ideas in the writings of the early fathers for a piece of work that I am doing defending PSA. I'm familiar with CEEL but had trouble finding quote - wondered if you could write me a pathway to navigate so that I can quote accurately for a footnote - no obligation - thank you
Blessings Rachel

Nick said...

I'm not sure what specific quote you are talking about, but the one I remember being quoted was this one:

See paragraph #7.

I talked about this in my Negative Rebuttal paragraph 1C.

Most of the quotes that the debate had should be easily found with a Google search. Finding them by starting off in ccel can be hard and confusing if you're new to navigating ccel.

Rachel said...

Thank you so much

Fascinating reading your debate - I'm working out just how much a true protestant I am ;)

Anonymous said...

I note from my quick trawl through the debate that the case for the affirmitive seems to equate any substitutionary atonement as espoused by many Fathers with PSA. This is not the case as Nick points out. Catholics view the atonement as substitutionary, and even that Christ was punished for our sinfulness is obvious from scripture and tradition. Scripture says the wages of sin is death after all. Christ died.

The need for God the father to have exacted a punishment for satisfaction, and then that this punishment was the damnation of Christ the Son by God the Father is where we go our seperate ways.

Protestants may argue that God needed satisfaction because of his justice, but this again is obviously not the case from scripture. God relents from time to time. He accepts offerings from time to time. "My ways are not your ways" he says. I think in insisting on punishment as satisfaction we are very much making God in our image.

Nick said...

I agree that it is wrong to assume PSA simply because a Father mentioned an element of substitution. The fallacy is that not all substitutionary language entails PSA, and the quotes more or less had to presume that.

Christ was not 'punished' in the sense a judicial transfer of guilt occurred, but rather in that assuming our fallen nature He became subject to the penal consequences of fallen nature. You are correct though that the true punishment sin deserves is not temporal death, but eternal death in hell, so that is where Protestants were led and concluded that Jesus was effectively damned in your place.

Young One said...

could you interact a bit with the use of Hebrews 9:22?

From what I've read, Catholics believe that Jesus didn't HAVE to die on the cross (though it was the most excellent way). But Hebrews 9:22 seems to directly contradict that.

I saw your opponent mention this verse in his defense as well. If shedding blood is NECESSARY, does that make Catholicism's view of the atonement insufficient? If Jesus could have simply been obedient all His life in order to gain the merits necessary, wouldn't that contradict this verse?

Thanks for your time.

Nick said...


Thanks for your comment, sorry for not getting back to this sooner. I'm not sure why this required me to approve, because I thought I turned that off.

Anyway, Heb 9:22 is only true in so far as that's how God established things, especially though the Mosaic Law. There is no divine requirement requiring blood, blood is a created thing. Rather, God set up the forgiveness rules that way, and that's why it's necessary for Salvation.

You are correct, His Passion was not strictly necessary in the divine order of things, but God saw this as the most 'fitting' of all options.

John said...


I am impressed by th depth of the matters considered in the debate, and am sometimes left to scratch my head to understand. I am an attorney by training and not a theologian. So the comments I make come from within such limitations.

Mostly I feel compelled to respond to the Affirmative Rebuttal Essay.

The passover lamb was in no way a penal sacrifice, but more in the nature of a covenantal sacrifice: when you and your household are sprinkled with the blood of the covenantal sacrifice, you will receive the covenantal protection of God from the depredations of the Angel of Death.

The whole argument derives from a primitive understanding that the spirit of life is contained in the blood, and life, all life, is from God, being the ultimate component of creation. The blood of the animal contains the Spirit of Life which being from God is in its essence, the Spirit of God. To access this "lifeblood" you must kill the animal and spill its blood. Not a penal sacrifice by any stretch but a releasing of the Spirit of God into the world.

I will break down my other responses into separate posts.


John said...

God doesn't smell aromas nor see smoke. Nor does God need to see the smoke to verify consumption!?! A sacrifice is not for God's sake but for the sake of the one sacrificing.

Whatever the Biblical nature of any sacrifice, its ultimate purpose is not to accomplish anything for God - God is complete and cannot be added to or enhanced - unless one accepts the notions of process theology!?!

The purpose of every sacrifice is to impact whoever is doing the sacrifice; we give up what we have (an unblemished lamb or two partridges, or a monetary tithe) to communicate that we worship the Lord in the way we have been taught is properly deferential. It is how one worships.

I may need to smell the aroma, or see the smoke, to confirm I have consummated my gift to God. And there is a metaphorical completeness that the aroma and the smoke rise above, out of sight, where God resides - but that is for me, and perhaps for my fellow worshipers. God needs none of this - I do.

God is neither appeased, satisfied nor pleased by a sacrifice. The sacrifice is our act and it moves us closer to God - it does not move God closer to us.


John said...

As for Mt 27:46, there is simply no disputing the fact that Jesus the Jew was reciting the Jewish Psalm 22; he was praying from his heart a prayer that concludes with a strong expression of confidence that God hears and does not turn away from the afflicted, and that not only will one's afflictions be vindicated, but that God will eventually be worshiped by all those who are living and those who have died, incuding both the afflicted and those causing the affliction!

Where is the notion of abandonment here?

To conclude that Jesus had been abandoned by his Father in Heaven, or that he felt abandoned by his Father in Heaven one must ignore the Psalm Jesus was praying - and the fact that he was indeed praying - i can't imagine a more hopeful thing one could do when on the brink of certain death!

Such a conclusion also ignores the fact that Jesus is, was, and always will be a member of the Trinity; he remains in communion with the father and the Holy Spirit at all times.

Abandonment is simply not a possibility.


John said...

Wrath is a human emotion which we tend to impose on God by anthropomorphism.

Whatever God feels it transcends human understanding and human vocabulary. Wrath may be the best word available to the writers of Scripture to described what they discerned, but it could never accurately capture the essence of what is was meant to communicate.

Whatever God feels, it is not the human emotion of anger - if for no other reason than because Jesus says that if "you are angry with a brother you will be liable to judgment...[instead] be perfect therefore as your heavenly father is perfect!"


John said...

All of the arguments in favor of penal substitution overlook what is to me the critical point that Jesus did not effect salvation by his death, whatever the fashion, but by his post death resurrection - by his defeat of death.

This is not to minimize his death, or how it came to pass, only to suggest that had he merely died, Christianity would have no message and no substance - merely the fact that the sins of the world led to the brutal death of yet another.

Penal Substitution, keying as it does solely on the crucifixion, virtually ignores the role of the resurrection in accomplishing salvation. It is wholly inadequate to explain the intent and purposes of God.

I don't know the truth of the matter, and I haven't yet reached any firm conclusions as to what it means that Jesus "died for our sins" or that his "blood was poured out for the forgiveness of sin" but I know that penal substitution makes no sense as an explanation whatsoever.


John said...

Penal Substitution is not only incorrect as an explanation for the death of Christ, it is a reprehensible idea altogether.

It no only denies the importance of mercy in God's plan, it makes a travesty of the any notion one might have of justice. Moreover, the theory makes God subject to something beyond himself (i.e., whatever law it is that requires just payment for sin).

from my perspective it seems awfully primitive for the true and transcendent God to require the blood sacrifice of a perfect sacrificial victim. (It seems almost animistic.)

Penal Substitution is utterly irrational. Why would a god who not only has the power to forgive, but mandates that its devotees lead lives of forgiveness, abandon forgiveness as a modus operandi in this instance and instead require punishment - and worse yet, vicarious punishment?

The whole notion of penal substitution is a complete dishonor to everything Jesus taught.


Nick said...


Thank you for taking interest. Your comments on the Opening Affirmative (ie my opponents first essay) appear to be very similar to my own thoughts.

I agree with you as far as God not being subject to change (immutable), not really smelling aromas and such, but I didn't want to get too "philosophical" in this debate. I wouldn't have had enough time and it would have been a lot more complex. I thought it more productive to stay on the "antropomorphic" level.

I feel your pain as far as seeing how people rush to embrace Psub when in fact it is problematic on so many fronts. What you have said thusfar though would make me think you would enjoy the second set of essays just as much.

Anonymous said...

To John.
Since you are an attorney maybe you can understand this. The law of God only serves the purpose of making a sin accountable to God. Paul describes this condition as the law serving as a school master or teacher.
You are correct that the concept of PSA, substitutionary atonement and all other theories of salvation which have the concept "in place of" to describe Jesus' crucifixion are errors. What points out these theories as error is the law of Gen. 9:5 NIV. This law prevents any direct benefit by the death of any human male caused by bloodshed.
Theodore A. Jones

John said...

Interesting that you point to a pre-Law law. Do these pre-Mosaic rules still hold sway in the wake of the gift of the Law to Moses? In the wake of the New Covenant in Jesus' Blood?

I don't have the answer here, I am just cogitating.


Anonymous said...

A rule of law is a rule of law. Gen. 9:5c NIV is only relative to Jesus' crucifixion. And you need to note Heb. 7:12 that a change has been made to God law AFTER Jesus' crucifixion. The constant by a rule of law is that taking any human male's life by bloodshed creates the residual of give account. But it is only relative to Jesus' crucifixion that each man too must account directly to God regarding one man's life taken by bloodshed. Since there is a residual requirement outstanding relative to any man's life taken by bloodshed the theory of substitutionary atonement by a rule of law is not perfectible.
Theodore A. Jones

John said...


Your last post seems to suggest several points with which I cannot agree: (1) that once enshrined in the law, a law becomes fixed and permanent; (2) murder is a unique crime, requiring an accounting to God which cannot be avoided; (3) Gen. 9:5c is only meaningful in the context of Jesus' crucifixion.

I think point (1) is not valid; Paul states that in the wake of the Risen Christ All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial. The Church in Acts reduces the Law to a mere 4 or 5 requirements.

In Christ we have but one commandment, "Love one another as God loves us." All our actions must be guided by this new Law.

According to Scripture the Law does change, and what was once forbidden (e.g. eating unclean food) may one day become acceptable.

I also think point (2) is not valid. Murder is a sin like any other, and subject to forgiveness like any other. God's mercy knows no limits - even the murder of God on the Cross is subject to forgiveness, and even without the repentance of the murders ("Father forgive them...").

The defining characteristic of God, as made clear in the life, death and teachings of Jesus, is mercy and compassion, and not justice and enforcement of the rules (whatever rules one thinks should be enforced). There is a place for justice and a value to rules, but ultimately they are both trumped by God's paramount characteristic of mercy. Humans are called to be perfect and to be merciful as is God in heaven; we are not specifically called to be just or to abide by the rules.

As for point (3) I think God is always outraged when the Spirit of life which God breathed into each of God's creatures is snuffed out - whether it be the life of Jesus on the cross, the victim of a drive-by shooting, a victim of pancreatic cancer, an unborn fetus, or Saddam Hussein. Life is the reflection of breath and Spirit of God within us, and God is deeply offended when it ceases. That being said, I think God is most offended when life is taken by violence - thus God called forth the Great Flood in the days before there was even a Law for humans to break. I think God abhors violence above all other crimes.


Theodore A. Jones said...

To John,
I have been reading through several of your comments and at the close of your last comment you state that "Life is the reflection of breath and Spirit of God within us,". One of the most contentious arguments in the record God has ever had with a bunch of people is over the presumption of "Spirit of God within us." See Jn. 8. None of God's children are natural descendants and every natural descendent is not a child of God. See Jn.1:13. One thing about Jesus that sets him apart as absolutely unique is only him being the only begotten son of God. Regarding that he says that the natural born must be born again of God or be disallowed entry into the kingdom of God, what is the designated process of being born again of God?

John said...

Everything and every creature and every human being is a creation of God. And the breath of life into the first Adam records the entry of the Spirit of God into Adam, Eve and their offspring through the generations. Whether one accepts that as recorded history or as metaphorical, it is truth: we do not exist but for the creative action of God and we do not live but fr the breath of God within us.

The fact that we are all God's creation makes all God's children. Surely Jesus has a unique status but that is not the point. Each human being has the right to claim God as creator and parent. Whether each cooperates and asserts the claim is another issue altogether, the point is that the inheritance is there for each and every one of us to claim.

How is one born again? Through baptism by the Spirit - which I interpret as the reconnection of the Spirit within to the Holy Spirit of God.

If you are asking for the mechanics, then I cannot answer - for me such things are a mystery, which God will reveal to me if I should ever need to know.