Thursday, February 1, 2018

Did Jesus die as a martyr? - More problems with Penal Substitution

Martyrdom refers to being persecuted unto death for the sake of serving and witnessing to God. It is one of the highest honors precisely because it involves sacrificing your very life for a higher cause. This concept is important when thinking about the Atonement of Jesus, because it establishes the principle that God is pleased by faithful obedience, not by death itself. Nor does martyrdom in any way suggest God is upset with you or punishing you. Here are some verses to consider:
Brothers, became imitators of the churches that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets. (1 Thess 2:14-15)
Paul is saying that Jesus was persecuted unto death, as were the prophets. And Christians are not to be shocked if they experience the same. This makes little sense within the Protestant view of the cross (Penal Substitution), since in that view Jesus was judicially punished, not persecuted unto death Penal Substitution is contrary to the character of persecuted/martyr, and it also makes no sense if Christians are expected to face a similar form of death. 
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. (Psalm 116:15)
From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight. (Psalm 72:14) 
Why is the death of saints a "precious" thing to God? This makes no sense within a Penal Substitution framework, since nobody aside from Jesus would be capable of this. But within the Catholic-Biblical understanding of atonement and sacrifice, the lesson here is plain: precious in God's sight is the act of offering up their life for his sake, particularly due to martyrdom.
and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Heb 12:24) 
Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. (Matthew 23:34-35)
Why does the blood of Abel "speak" so eloquently to God? Because Abel gave up his life in service to God. Abel was not acting as a Penal Substitute, but rather as a witness (which is precisely what the term "martyr" means in Greek, and used in that way in places like Acts 22:20; Rev 2:13; 17:6). And since Jesus is being compared to Abel here, the comparison only works if their death/offerings were of the same kind. The term "righteous blood" can only refer to their deaths being unjust, and thus their merit before God comes from their martyrdom. One other interesting note is that in the Matthew 23:34 reference above, Jesus says that the Jews will end up killing and "crucifying" some of the prophets and apostles. This is strange if the whole point of Penal Substitution was that Jesus was crucified in our place, taking the punishment we deserved. You'd think this is the last thing Jesus would say, or that the Father would allow. 

For another great example, consider my recent post on how this martyr theme factors into Romans 3:25 and Isaiah 53. In these verses and other posts I've done on Penal Substitution, I don't think Protestantism is honest enough with itself to see that their view of the Cross is quite simply wrong, and even twisted. But hopefully if we can get the word out we can change minds.


JohnD said...


I have followed your work on PSA over the years. Have you considered doing a series responding to William Lane Craig's biblical and philosophical defense of the doctrine? He presents his studies in a forthcoming book on the atonement, but a lot of his thoughts are expressed in his Defender's class.

You can watch the videos here:

He exposits some of Turretin's thoughts on the atonement in this lecture explaining the Penal Substitution view.

Anyway, food for thought! I think Craig's work is going to lead to some revival of the doctrine among evangelicals (it may not just be Calvinists stressing the doctrine for example).

John D.

Nick said...

Hi John,

I am not sure if I've seen that lecture or not, but I do recall that when I listened to Craig's defenders lectures he was an embarrassment on the justification by faith alone talks. He gave the talk like he had never studied the issue in depth, like he didn't even prepare for the lecture, as if he just assumed it was true this whole time and so thought there was nothing to it. I like Craig, he is one of the few folks who is 'nice' and not a jerk, but he doesn't seem to have any expertise with defending Christian doctrine or exegesis. His expertise is in philosophy and 'proving God exists'.

JohnD said...

Re: I like Craig, he is one of the few folks who is 'nice' and not a jerk, but he doesn't seem to have any expertise with defending Christian doctrine or exegesis.

I can assure you he's studied the doctrine of atonement in fine detail as his lectures will show. His book will defend the traditional Protestant view of penal substitution. I think it's going to "bring it back" to the mainstream evangelical world which seemed to be drifting away from it. Obviously, the Calvinists never forgot it.

Nick said...


I'm not seeing where Dr Craig is specifically defending Penal Substitution. If anything, it looks like he's trying to be honest with the Biblical data, and so what he seems to be constantly saying is very much compatible with the Catholic view.

In this lecture that I'm listening to, he doesn't seem to make any mentions of imputation, God's wrath poured out on Jesus, etc, and instead focuses on Sacrifice as a ritual and such. If he writes a book, I think it will actually hurt Penal Subtitution, because I think he will be constantly admitting that Psub isn't that clear in the Bible, while what Catholics would call "Satisfaction" is in the Bible.

That said, at time stamp 36:10 on the above link, Craig explicitly denies that when a soul dies they go either to heaven or hell, but rather just wait in some waiting room until the final judgment. For now, heaven and hell are empty, in his view. That's a HUGE theological error and very sloppy theology that has been repeatedly addressed throughout the centuries.

The way he talks in other lectures, he seems to have been reading this blog or similar blogs. He is pretty obviously steering away from the standard Protestant presumptions like imputation. And given that these talks were done just last year, it's highly probable he did some googling and came across the many posts I and others have done on this on various websites, before giving the talks.