Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Is God the Father or is Jesus the actual High Priest? (More Problems with Penal Substitution)

I know I've written a lot about Penal Substitution lately, but I believe I've come up with yet another devastating proof against the Protestant heresy of Penal Substitution which I must share. Don't worry, this will be brief. 

Basically, my argument is that the doctrine of Penal Substitution makes God the Father the High Priest, which is impossible for two reasons. First, the High Priest offers sacrifice up to God, and yet if God the Father is 'at the top' of the hierarchy of existence already, then there can be nobody left to offer sacrifice to. So philosophically it's nonsense to say God the Father is or could be the High Priest. Second, the Bible plainly says that Jesus is the High Priest (Heb 2:17; 4:14-15; 8:1, etc), and as part of the Incarnation.

According to the error of Penal Substitution, the innocent person or animal receives the full punishment the sinner deserves. In the case of the Levitical Sacrifices, the animal was put to death, and Protestants see this as the Priest inflicting the punishment upon the animal which the sinner deserved. Ignoring the fact that putting the animal to death wasn't even an essential job of the priest for making atonement (since the sinner could put the animal to death, Lev 4:4-5; 4:15-16; 4:24-25), even Protestants agree that as High Priest Jesus was never pouring divine wrath upon Himself. So the Protestant is ultimately in a bind: they cannot say the Father was inflicting the punishment when inflicting the punishment was the job of the High Priest. (Note that "inflicting the punishment" is the Protestant view, not the Catholic one.) This problem is compounded by the fact that on the Day of Atonement, it was the High Priest who 'imputed the sins' (using Protestant terminology) onto the scapegoat, which likewise does not parallel the Protestant idea of God the Father 'imputing our sins' onto Jesus. 

The only 'escape' for the Protestant is to say something to the effect that Jesus and the Father were effectively acting as one person, but that's the heresy of modalism, collapsing the Three Persons of the Trinity into one person. Only Jesus suffered and only Jesus was High Priest. PSub causes Christ's High Priesthood to fall by the wayside into irrelevance, in more ways than one.


Daniel said...

I love this blog!

Michael Taylor said...


I have to say you've outdone yourself. Now the Father is the High Priest and you think that we think this?

In all honesty, I'm not really sure I even understand this argument here. It seems to be based on a super-strict parallelism between the role of Jewish high priest and anything and everything that has to to with Psub.

I really can't critique this because I honestly don't get it.

Perhaps you could supplement it with a bulleted list of premises so I can follow along with the logic.

Sincerely confused,


Nick said...


The Protestant view is that God the Father did two things: (a) imputed our guilt to Christ, and (b) dumped His wrath upon Christ. Yet these two 'functions' belong to the office of High Priest, and only Jesus is the High Priest.

Protestants have never said the Father was the High Priest, but the two 'functions' they assign to the Father is unintentionally a confusion of roles. The Father 'receives' sacrifices, He does not 'perform' the sacrifice.

JohnD said...


I think you go astray when you say that on PSA the high priest had to impute guilt.

1. PSA believers do not usually hold that guilt was actually transferred to animals but rather that the OT sacrifices foreshadow and point toward Christ's sacrifice.

2. The high priest inflicted the punishment that God the Father ordained in his giving of the commandments. It is reasonable to believe that when the high priest becomes the sacrifice, the secondary agents inflicting punishment would have to be different, but the primary one is still God (Acts 4:28).

3. The parallel between the OT high priest and Jesus is not strictly relevant because Jesus becomes the high priest and the sacrificial offering.

John D.

Marty Luther said...

I have just skimmed through a few articles and Nick sounds like a very angry Catholic. Why are you so angry at Protestants? In what way are they hurting you?
We are only witnessing to the Truth as found in the Scriptures (John 17:17) and the Truth shall set you free. You and the Catholic Church do your fellow Catholics a great disservice by not submitting to His Truth.

Marty at ThinkonHisTruth

Anonymous said...

That's funny, Marty, because I haven't seen you witnessing anything from Scripture, only speculating about Nick's emotional state. Why don't you explain to us why the Protestant account of the Atonement is more in agreement with Jesus as high priest than the Catholic account, or, if you don't think so, either congratulate Nick on his insight or leave this post for what it is and spare us from more inane and off-topic comments.

Hymenaeus said...

JohnD said:
"The parallel between the OT high priest and Jesus is not strictly relevant because Jesus becomes the high priest and the sacrificial offering."

I think it ought to be relevant since the author of Hebrews is so insistent on it. After all, if Jesus is both priest and victim, it would make more sense that Jesus would take on the qualities essential to each because if he did not take on the essential qualities of one of them, he would not have been given that title. Therefore, if the laying on of hands as symbolizing the imputation of the sins of the people to the sacrificial victim is an essential element of sacrifice, it would seem to follow that Jesus Christ in his priestly act would have been the one to "impute" the elect's sins to himself, or he could not properly be called a priest. I think the next step for the Protestant commentator would be to explain that this imputation is not an essential priestly function or that Nick has failed to appraise how Christ was the author of this imputation.

Serena said...

I wondered if you comment on this video. It is and Eastern Orthodox priest comparing the Orthodox view of salvation with Penal Substitution.

Marty Luther said...

You are also clearly a very angry person Anonymous. Just a cursory skimming of the articles reveals a pent up anger that is oozing out. I was just asking why so much anger.
Sorry that it is off topic and thanks for patiently and kindly enduring my diversion from the topic. I figured there was no other place to put this comments, so, I decided to put it on the most recent post. Sorry also for taking up your valuable time to read my blabbering and then to comment on it...

I have skimmed several articles of Nick's on this subject and I can easily see that he abhors the Calvinist view, but I am having a hard time determining what his Catholic view is because he is so busy attacking the P view that he rarely presents the C view. Perhaps he can post a summary sometime. My big question is that if Christ did not take the punishment for your sins, then how do you deal with them and their punishment?

Marty from ThinkonHisTruth

Hymeneus said...

My own opinion of the video is that it is not really a fair comparison because the video's author is not addressing the same questions. The "Orthodox view of salvation" is more a description of conversion than atonement, and I doubt that he intends it as a technical theory of the Atonement in the first place. I think the main point of the video was the difference in emphasis, with the implicit argument that the second account is more moving. However, he never really explained how he views the Atonement. A Protestant subscribing to PSA and double imputation and so on could view the video and easily go away agreeing with the second account while not feeling that the first was challenged.

Anonymous said...

Well, Marty, I can think of a couple of a posts where Nick does give some idea of his conception of Atonement.

If you wanted a positive formulation of Nick's own views, you should have asked him that from the beginning. Instead, you just attacked his emotional state and his character, much like those who, whenever they find themselves in disagreement with someone, call the frightened homophobes clinging to guns and religion. This is considered bad manners and unchristian behavior. Please reread your post and ask yourself honestly if it was worth posting.

Marty Luther said...


Thanks for the links.

I actually stumbled across this site as I was looking for something. If you want to see the anger that I believe is obviously there, all you need to do is substitute the word Catholic whenever you see the word Protestant and you will quickly see the emotions coming from Nick.

Sorry if you are offended by my un-Christian behavior.

Marty from ThinkonHisTruth

Anonymous said...

It's possible that Nick really is an angry person deep down, but I think you're misreading him. He might say cartoonish things such as "the thought of giving up PSub causes Protestants to cower in their boots because they know that with it topples their pet doctrine, sola fide," or things in a similar tone, which might be perceived as boastful or demeaning, but I don't think his posts ever sound bitter or full of malice.

Please consider also that the invective style is not totally serious so take it with a sense of humor. It's really par for the course in this medium, and for any potential insensitivity on Nick's part, considering that his blog is devoted primarily to anti-Protestant apologetics, he still is much sweeter than the average blogger devoted to anti-Catholic apologetics (from my experience). And no matter how bitter and angry someone sounds, I wouldn't dismiss their arguments out of hand for that reason.

Really, what anger do you see in this post? That he called PSA a heresy? If something's a heresy, it's a heresy. I hope you wouldn't assume I'm an angry person if I called Arianism a heresy. If you feel you've been wronged by anyone's behavior here, by all means, express your grievances, but if all you intend to do is make accusations about people's emotional state, mental health and so on, it is better to remain silent because it is not good manners on your part and it is not conducive to good discussion.

Nick said...


I agree with what Anonymous has been saying. What you're interpreting as 'angry' is simply my 'strong feelings' about a topic. It's ok to be passionate about a subject without being 'angry'. I suspect you either haven't seen subjects being tackled before or maybe you didn't suspect the whole Protestant paradigm could be turned on it's head so easily. My methodology is to stick as close to Scripture as possible, since I have no problem playing the "Bible Alone" game, because as my many posts show the Bible thoroughly supports Catholicism while not supporting Protestantism in the slightest. So I'm not 'angry', I'm just sounding the alarm. I'm saying Protestants have been under a mistaken notion that their theology was actually Biblical, but as I've analyzed their key doctrines from their proof texts, I'm no longer stunned to find no reasonable and fair Biblical proof at all. PSub is a perfect example. They say the essence of the Cross is the Father dumping His Wrath on Jesus. That's the Protestant experts that say this. But you can look all over the New Testament, especially the Gospels, and not find this at all. That's scandalous that this kind of error gets to slide.

Nick said...


You said: "I think you go astray when you say that on PSA the high priest had to impute guilt."

That's the Old Testament model of Leviticus 16 on the Day of Atonement. It was a function of the HP's office.

You said: "1. PSA believers do not usually hold that guilt was actually transferred to animals but rather that the OT sacrifices foreshadow and point toward Christ's sacrifice."

I don't see how this is relevant, nor do I see how you could really say there wasn't actually any guilt imputed when the death and sprinkling on the altar were very real events.

You said: "2. The high priest inflicted the punishment that God the Father ordained in his giving of the commandments. It is reasonable to believe that when the high priest becomes the sacrifice, the secondary agents inflicting punishment would have to be different, but the primary one is still God (Acts 4:28)."

I don't follow your logic here because you seem to be saying Jesus ceases to be HP when the HP "becomes the sacrifice". The Biblical model is that Jesus was BOTH sacrifice and HP at the SAME time. The Bible even says Jesus is acting as HP this very moment in Heaven.

You said: "3. The parallel between the OT high priest and Jesus is not strictly relevant because Jesus becomes the high priest and the sacrificial offering."

I agree with Hymeneus here. This comment of yours is perfectly logical from the PSub perspective, but the very point of my post is that PSub nullifies/castrates Christ's High Priesthood as something really irrelevant and having no place in the Atonement equation. But the heavy emphasis that the Epistle to the Hebrews gives on Christ's HP shows that this isn't tangential or superfluous at all.

That Jesus is both HP and Sacrifice does not entail the functions/operations of either are lost. As I said, God is the recipient of the deeds of the HP and recipient of the sacrifice, so it makes zero sense to suggest the Father did the imputing and slaughtering.

Marty Luther said...

OK, fair enough. Thanks for the insight.

I will read when I am able and would like to post comments when I get the time. Thanks. Marty

Christie said...


Would you say that the punishment in hell comes from actual sins or original sin?

I ask because on the C2C blog, Bryan Cross writes that God can't punish an innocent person for sins he didn't commit as if he were guilty.

But being born in the state of original sin doesn't make one per se GUILTY, since guilt is a disorder in the will cause by a disorders act of that will (sin). So wouldn't it be impossible for God to punish a person who only has original sin (and not actual sins, hypothetically)?


Nick said...


The suffering a person endures in hell is directly proportional to the actual sins they commit. The worse the sins committed, the worse the suffering. If a person hasn't sinned of their own free will (i.e. actual sin), then they wont have any suffering to endure. A person who dies in Original Sin alone, typically unbaptized infants, would be the primary example of this.

Since Heaven is a super-natural (i.e. beyond natural) destination, it is not owed to anyone, just as the fact we are not owed a vacation to Disneyland just because we live in the US. But just because you're not owed a trip to Disneyland does not mean you must automatically go to jail. The only way you can go to jail is if you commit a crime.

With the case of Original Sin, Adam lost for his whole family the special gift of a vacation to Disneyland, leaving them to live at home. His family is not destined for jail, just a boring life at home. But anyone in his family that commits sin/crime will be subject to jail.

The term "Limbo" means "on the fringe of," and this refers to being on the outer fringe of hell. Since the only options for after life are being united to God or separate from God, then it can be loosely said that infants without baptism go to hell, but the Church has always been clear this is not hell in the sense we typically mean, namely hellfire. This Limbo is the outer ledge, where a person experiences no pain but is deprived of the Beatific Vision.

Steve Finnell said...


If men sincerely believe they know the truth, does that belief render God's word null and void?

Eve sincerely believed Satan when he told her she could eat from the tree in the middle of the garden and she would not die. (Genesis 3:1-24)

Did her sincerity keep her from death? No it did not.

If men sincerely believe that water baptism is not essential for salvation, does that invalidate what Jesus said in Mark 16:16....has been baptized shall be saved..?

Does man's sincerity nullify the words of Jesus.

Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding.

Should you trust the sincerity of your own understanding or should you simply trust in the Lord.

Pride was Satan's downfall. Pride has a tendency to make men believe that their sincerity invalidates the word of God.