Posted: Mon Jun 17, 2013 5:18 pm
by JasonPratt
I was just talking about this in another thread recently, although I've written more extensively about it somewhere else on the forum (which I ought to dig up).

But since it seems relevant I'll port the relatively briefer version back over here. :mrgreen:

Although I generally agree [with the contention being made in the other thread], Abraham's covenant with God didn't involve Abraham actually making the covenant -- God was the only one who went through the split sacrifices, so neither Abraham nor his descendants could void the covenant by misbehaving. The Mosaic covenant could be breached, because the people took it with God and bound their descendents to it (which they then almost entirely broke, Moses included); but St. Paul (and the Hebraist if they aren't the same person) stresses hard that the Abrahamic covenant remains intact and cannot be broken on pain of God's death. In fact, if Abraham or his descendents break the covenant, God still has to die! -- which is what happens. :) But since God Himself was innocent of the breach, the death wasn't permanent (as a death due to sin would be apart from the grace of God, Who on the cross is dying for the sake of sinners anyway).

This is probably what accounts for the language seeming to point toward penal substitution in the scriptures: in order to keep His side of the covenant God must bear the burden of the sin of Abraham and Abraham's children, which includes all the children Abraham will ever have either naturally or spiritually, as many as the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the shore.

There are several other interrelated issues going on there, too, such as the Father making the covenant not with Abraham at all but with Abraham's seed meaning Christ. (I forget at the moment whether this is in Hebrews or Galatians.) But since all rational beings descend from Christ the action of God, Christ pays for the sin of all rational beings in order to keep the covenant made with the Father. But then if God doesn't bring all the children of God to salvation, God breaks the covenant made with God!

So insofar as there's something like a penal substitution, it isn't about the Son convincing an angry Father to relent, but about God demonstrating that He intends to keep His promise to reconcile all the children of Abraham, which via Christ (as the descendant of Abraham by the flesh through Mary) includes all the spirits created by the Father of Spirits. That's the sense in which the Son pays for our sins, or one of the senses. (I can think of others, too.) If God permanently killed a sinner or otherwise let the sinner "die the death", He'd be breaking the Abrahamic covenant, so the innocent Son with Whom the Father made the covenant enacts the validity of the covenant by giving His life for the sake of keeping the covenant.