A Critique of Penal Substitution

Retired Pastor and Graduate of Fuller Seminary teaches Sunday School every Sunday at Park Christian Fellowship, Chino, California. Here you can dialogue with Bob on essays and classes Bob has authored over the years.

Re: A Critique of Penal Substitution

Postby sasha » Sun Aug 05, 2012 12:18 pm

This attachment about the PS was awesome. I've rarely read a refutation of it offered so logically and convincingly. thank you!

Also I think the main point (as I see it) turns on whether God uses Christ to receive well deserved punishment or whether Christ's participation -- albeit only as a victim, not as a perpetrator -- of our sin/cruelty is crucial. Moltmann was very useful for me here. When he wrote in The Crucified God that Jesus became "brother of the damned" he articulated something I had already intuitively felt. It was by sharing the consequences of our sin, being in the same place we get to when we've sinned -- that we are ABLE to know we're loved anyway and thus ABLE to trust him and thus ABLE to turn our lives around. As was pointed out, WE needed that assurance, that reassurance that even in our worst -- he was there. It is like God joined an AA group if you like, experiencing the full affects of life-long alcoholism or addiction -- and sharing the pain of withdrawal and recovery -- although he never took a drink. Seeing him at that meeting, we can know a) he understands and b) we're not condemned and c) just how much we matter to him! Moreover, as hard as the route is out of hell, we're never alone. Otherwise despair is way too tempting! We fail so often and even, more horribly, want to fail -- that without him always being where we are we'd give up on ourselves in a heartbeat. The ressurection suggests that his love is more powerful than our despair and even though all we do (as Julian of Norwich wrote) is sin, so long as we keep letting him pick us up and repent and keep going we're going to get there because nothing can separate us from the love of God that is ours through Jesus Christ. Thus my sin just doesn't have the stamina -- endurance, however willed or entrenched, once I fully trust the One's whose love is always stronger. My sin can't compete with his Love -- and i think that is what the PS misses and what this wonderful critique of it affirms. Exactly, salvation is from sin, not from punishment. That is a critical distinction -- and if we are saved from punishment, then must keep on avoiding sin. But i think the point is here that it is not God that punishes us -- which again, the PS strongly suggests (if not outright states). It is an ontological point really -- sin is its own punishment. It is an act or state or thought or way of being which is against Life/Love and therefore will inevitably and eventually (because the consequences may very well not be immediate) hurt, maim, kill us. Sin hurts us more in a way than the one we sin against. It is like sin is a virus or infection that unless treated, will make us sick -- it is not that God 'does the sickness to us' any more than if we throw ourselves off a cliff God makes the ground attack us. Punishment may simply be not preventing the outcome of our actions. In the 'off the cliff' analogy we may think someone is not suffering for what s/he's done because they haven't hit the ground yet. The flight down may even be enjoyable! Our vision of a person's entire life is truncated. We see only parts of lives and even of our life. If we are indeed immortal beings -- then 'inevitable' acquires whole new resonance. But trust in Christ makes it possible both to see that we are sitting in sin (because we're loved and accompanied anyway) and get out of it (because Christ knows away out of hell, a way past the cross and he gave us proof of life beyond the suffering of 'getting better' -- new life, resurrected life, abundant life. In short, he gives understanding, forgiveness and hope.

Whatever -- gone on here -- sorry! Just loved this explanation. Thank you again Bob for such a well thought through rebuttal to a doctrine that I believe misrepresents both God and Christ! How could God be other than Christ when Christ said, 'when you see me you see the father' and at the same time, also said, 'when you do it for the least of these, you do it for me'. Yahweh, or the I AM, that Christ also claims to be -- is with 'the least of these' -- not just Jesus, the individual. That is one of the most damning (sorry) elements for me in the PS -- it seems to separate God and Christ.

xoSasha

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Re: A Critique of Penal Substitution

Postby BBBrad007 » Mon Aug 06, 2012 3:51 am

Bob, can you make that attachment about PST available on the web? I'd like to share it with some friends.
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Re: A Critique of Penal Substitution

Postby Bob Wilson » Tue Aug 07, 2012 1:01 pm

Sasha, thanks, it's always nice to know kindred spirits who see it similarly.

Brad, you're welcome to put a link to the attachment on the EU site. I'm unfamiliar with how to put in on the "web."
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Re: A Critique of Penal Substitution

Postby BBBrad007 » Tue Aug 07, 2012 1:37 pm

Bob, I tried posting the URL for that PDF file on Facebook but it didn't work. I think people have to log in to this forum before they can view it.

But are you still happy with it after having it critiqued here?

If you are and you gave me permission to post it on the following site http://www.jesus-wept.net I'd do it.

But before giving me permission make sure you have a good look my at site because I have not shied away from some very controversial subjects and you might not want your name and article posted there.

I will not be offended if you say no, but will be looking forward to it being posted somewhere on the web.

Perhaps Cindy would post it on her site?

memberlist.php?mode=viewprofile&u=543

Not quite sure where she stands on the issue though.

She seems to be more sane than I am.
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Re: A Critique of Penal Substitution

Postby Bob Wilson » Tue Aug 07, 2012 1:47 pm

I'm sorry I'm illiterate about URLs. Please feel free to reproduce it any way you know how. The PS piece continues to be representative of my outlook, and I'm too old to worry about anyone who has a different view. Being posted on your site needn't imply that we necessarily share the same outlook on everything, but I'm fine if someone assumed that. I see the two pages as outlining unavoidable difficulties with PS, more than specifying the alternative, which I'm still seeking to refine. That's one reason I'm still comfortable with it.
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Re: A Critique of Penal Substitution

Postby BBBrad007 » Tue Aug 07, 2012 1:54 pm

Bob Wilson wrote:I'm sorry I'm illiterate about URLs. Please feel free to reproduce it any way you know how. The PS piece continues to be representative of my outlook, and I'm too old to worry about anyone who has a different view. Being posted on your site needn't imply that we necessarily share the same outlook on everything, but I'm fine if someone assumed that. I see the two pages as outlining unavoidable difficulties with PS, more than specifying the alternative, which I'm still seeking to refine. That's one reason I'm still comfortable with it.


Thanks Bob. I still might ask Cindy if she will do it though. Some people are quite hostile to what I've written on that site, and I'd hate to see such a great little article be maligned because of me.
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Re: A Critique of Penal Substitution

Postby Melchizedek » Sun Aug 26, 2012 4:22 pm

I need to review this material again, as I recently read a book endorsing universalism using biblical logic that hangs heavily on a penal sub model. I have a few questions for them about various points of their view, and I'll need some intelligent questions to ask about this component in particular.
Belief doesn't change what is true, it only puts one in line with what is already true.
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Re: A Critique of Penal Substitution

Postby ZhuGeLiang » Mon Aug 27, 2012 7:39 am

Greetings :)

I will need to do a lot of review myself --

I am curious though how PS or the other alternatives put forth here...
deal with the humanity of Jesus ... The reason I ask this is because I seem to notice
an overabundance of mentioning the divinity of Jesus that might seem to minimize
or reduce the humanity of Jesus...

Was Jesus a sinner? well, I will have to find time to think this over too...
since in the near future I wish to introduce my perspective of what the meaning of sinner is ..
since at this time I do not use "sin" or "sinner" in my writings ...

Also I will really be looking forward to the review of Barth ....

Just thinking quickly and out loud to myself (to remind me )
Athanasius makes a very strong position for the complete humanity of Jesus ...
and through my own theological research I have come to a tentative position ...
that Jesus was identical to me as a human --- including my personal autonomous behavior ...
depending on how one translates sarx in John 1....

thanks for the 2 page document and the other posts ! really stimulating ...

all the best !
愿主耶稣的恩惠与所有的圣徒同在!阿们!(Rev 22:21)
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Re: A Critique of Penal Substitution

Postby Bob Wilson » Mon Aug 27, 2012 3:45 pm

Hothosegz,

Did you mean my P.S. paper mentioned Jesus' divinity in "overabundance"? Can you specify which lines you have in mind? While this paper assumes the traditional view, I didn't think it much addressed the issue of Jesus' deity, or argued from it to question P.S. I have addressed such questions of Trinitarian views on several other threads, and take the minority view here that what crucially matters (including to universalists) is that Jesus accurately represents Jesus' character, rather than hangs on the precise ontological nature of God.
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Re: A Critique of Penal Substitution

Postby ZhuGeLiang » Mon Aug 27, 2012 8:05 pm

Greetings :)

My meaning about the abundance of expressing the divinity of Jesus ... was from my impression
of reading all of the posts in this thread... ;)

This is not a critique just my impression thus I asked this question ...

Also from a post in another thread -- I followed it to James Alison .. which became an unexpected
surprise -- concerning the death of Jesus ...

http://girardianlectionary.net/res/jbw_ch4a_jbw.htm
also another link .. sorry for the brevity of this post since I am in a hurry to go outside ...

Really appreciate this Forum very much ! For me after numerous years this Forum and the members
are Refreshing summer breeze on a hot Summer evening .. Kudos to everyone for sharing so many
Invaluable gems, diamonds and rubies...

all the best !
愿主耶稣的恩惠与所有的圣徒同在!阿们!(Rev 22:21)
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Re: A Critique of Penal Substitution

Postby ZhuGeLiang » Mon Aug 27, 2012 10:25 pm

quick brief note ...

I am attempting to develop a Theological perspective
that has 3 main pivotal points for over arching view ..

The Genesis narrative (1-3) using narrative since i cannot think of another term at this time

The Incarnation (John 1 etc... )

The Eschaton ... which includes my view of the Grand Dance at the Eschation (Revelation )

this involves .. no traditional view for said "Fall " and no Curse either ..
option to understand said Original Sin --

humanity of Jesus along with divinity ... miaphysis...
reference my God incarnated as "mud" since mud evokes emotive feelings concerning it ..
while Adam was created from "dust" of the earth ...

Cross and Atonement need more reflective study ...

Grand Dance at Eschaton ... Egalitarian perichoretic koinonia within Trinitarian fellowship
which should be the "model" for human relationships ...

Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Restoration ...

very sketchy outline ... thus very interested in your paper concerning PS

all the best !
愿主耶稣的恩惠与所有的圣徒同在!阿们!(Rev 22:21)
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Re: A Critique of Penal Substitution

Postby Caleb Fogg » Mon Oct 22, 2012 7:43 am

Bob,

Recently finished your papers on Jesus' Interpretation of Gehenna, and the critique of penal substitution. Again, both excellent. On the P.S. front, just came across another recent book for my reading list: "Atonement, Justice and Peace: The Message of the Cross and the Mission of the Church", by a professor named Darrin W. Snyder Belousek." He is also critical of P.S. and seems to be within fairly "evangelical" parameters. Here is a blog post he did on Scott McKnight's Jesus Creed blog. He makes some excellent points in the comments as well. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2012/05/17/justice-and-peace-and-atonement/. Wondering if you or anyone else is familiar with Belousek?
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Re: A Critique of Penal Substitution

Postby Bob Wilson » Wed Oct 24, 2012 9:26 am

Caleb,

Though I follow Jesus' Creed, Belousek is new to me. I appreciate the link, and am interested to pursue more on his approach.
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Re: A Critique of Penal Substitution

Postby BBBrad007 » Sun Oct 28, 2012 11:25 am

I haven't read all the posts above as I don't have time at the moment so forgive me if the following is already covered.

Jesus becoming sin was figurative, not literal.

"The key to the understanding of the whole subject is to remember that the sacrifice represents the sin – not the sinner, not the penalty, but the sin. If this fact is borne in mind, much misunderstanding and error will be avoided. In the type and in the anti-type sin is treated as though it was a tangible, real thing, and is killed, carried away and utterly destroyed, clearly prefiguring the final result of redemption: No more anything accursed (Revelation 22:3)." (Taken from "The Sacrifice of Christ: Typified in the Law" by Arthur P. Adams http://www.biblestudentsnotebook.com/bsn364.pdf)


If like that bull a person killed their sin, or like that goat, sent their sin away, the sacrifice was acceptable to God and so forgiveness was granted.

I think the same is true of Jesus death on the cross. If because of Jesus we start putting the old man to death, if we send our sins away, atonement has been made.

Sure, we are not perfect. But we don't have to be perfect to be accepted by God. (PSA says we have to be perfect. Clearly rubbish. http://sbcimpact.org/2008/10/23/can-god-look-upon-evil/ ) We only have to trust Jesus, that is enough. God is incredibly kind and gracious. As for worrying about whether we really are trusting Jesus or not, I think that is a non-issue. God talks about future things as if they have already happened. He has reconciled the world to himself (hasn't literally happened but is as good as done) . That gives me great hope. I'm not concerned about whether or not I will go to hell. I'm just happy that the whole world will be reconciled and that I am apart of that.
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Re: A Critique of Penal Substitution

Postby Username » Sun Oct 28, 2012 12:57 pm

Oops, there I go again. Sorry.
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Re: A Critique of Penal Substitution

Postby jack dortignac » Mon Mar 04, 2013 4:05 pm

When your two page Critique includes all the scripture references, it is twelve pages long. ;)

Thanks for posting that. I realize it's been some time since anyone has commented on it, and I did read all the comments.

I'm very comfortable with the things you put forth, and I would say I lean heavily in the same direction.

So...

I would like to ask how the verses speaking of redemption, tie in? How do you understand the concept of redemption; redeemer; redeem?

Thanks for any feedback.
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Re: A Critique of Penal Substitution

Postby Bob Wilson » Tue Mar 05, 2013 10:23 am

Jack,

Thanks for your feedback. I look forward to meeting you. I fear my expertise and insight on "redeem" is not up to speed. I recall from Fuller Seminary that the Hebrew root word was associated with securing a slave's freedom by paying the price. But its' use soon broadened to signify a rescue, or freeing, where no price was indicated. Thus, while its' connection with Jesus' death can be consistent with P.S., it need not imply that. The cross is associated with rescuing or freeing us from sin. I sense that the challenge is discerning what it frees us from (simply the penalty, or sin itself's control, etc) and how it enables such a rescue. Since I see much emphasis on producing a righteous life, I am skeptical that it is sufficient to understand redemption's rescue as simply cancelling the penalty or consequences of our sinful choices.

Grace be with you,
Bob
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Re: A Critique of Penal Substitution

Postby jack dortignac » Tue Mar 05, 2013 10:24 pm

Bob Wilson wrote: I sense that the challenge is discerning what it frees us from (simply the penalty, or sin itself's control, etc) and how it enables such a rescue.



Ahh, I appreciate that. Makes sense!

Our Father, sent his Son, to take the brutal abuse at the illegal trial and unjust sentence without complaining, willingly laying down His life, and then publicly forgiving His assailants and tormentors, when understood as such, empowers us to walk in love, in harmony with the command to love God above all, and love our neighbor, who He loves, = Redemption from sin.

Ro 8:31 What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?

I'm very much looking forward to meeting you, too.
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Re: A Critique of Penal Substitution

Postby DaveB » Mon Dec 11, 2017 10:11 am

This wonderful teaching from Hebrews, that we are all acquainted with, speaks to me about the little word 'for' in "Christ died for us". I do agree with the rebuttal of PS in the above thread; however, the explanation of what 'for' means, if it is not a word of 'substitution', makes sense to me after reading this:

"Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. "

BUT - the death of Christ is of course not complete, as to its theological and existential meaning, without - He rose again!

So: we were in slavery all our life because of the fear of death, and of him who has the power of death; but Christ died and Rose again, to do away with the fear of death - we can see that He conquered it 'for' us, and we need fear it no longer. We too will die, and be raised to new life by the one who conquered death.

I'll try to sharpen the thought a bit, by saying that Christ's death AND resurrection were 'for' us in the above sense - and I"m sure there are many more facets to this jewel of truth.
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Re: A Critique of Penal Substitution

Postby Cindy Skillman » Mon Dec 11, 2017 6:31 pm

Great points, Dave!
. . . we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of everyone, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:10)

http://www.journeyintotheson.com
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Re: A Critique of Penal Substitution

Postby Paidion » Mon Dec 11, 2017 8:52 pm

Ro 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
1Th 5:10 who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.


Yes, Dave is correct in saying that that little preposition "for" is not about substitution.
The Greek word translated as "for" is ὑπηρ (hupār). It means "for the benefit of." Jesus died for our benefit.

If Paul had meant that He died as our substitute, he would have used the word αντι (anti) which means "instead of" or "in place of."
Actually there is one place in which most translations have it that Jesus gave His life as a ransom for many. In this case it is αντι (in place of) many. As far as I know, only Rotherham correctly translated it as "instead of many."

However, when we read it in context, we see that this is not referring to Jesus' death on the cross. It is also important to know, that according to lexicons, the word translated as "ransom" can mean "a means of liberation." Let's examine the passage with that in mind.

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those thinking to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men wield authority over them. But it is not so with you; but whoever wishes to be great among you is to be your servant, and whoever wishes to be chief among you is to be slave of everyone. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life in place of many as as a means for delivering many." (Mark 10:42-45)


When Jesus went about healing the sick, raising the dead, throwing dinner parties, and serving people in many other ways, he was giving his life here on earth as a means of delivering others from their hunger, sicknesses, and even physical death. In other words, He didn't live His life here on earth for Himself, but substituted it as a means of delivering others from their troubles.
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