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The Error of Penal Substitution: Jesus Did Not Die in My Place
By Bob Myhan
Penal Substitution is that theory of the atonement that says that God demands the payment of the penalty for sin by a substitute in order to remain just while justifying man. In other words, God cannot justly forgive man unless the punishment for sin is suffered by a substitute for man. And, according to the theory, Jesus is that substitute. He died in your place and in mine that you and I might be justified (or forgiven) and God might remain just.
It seems to this writer that, if the theory were true, either Calvinism or Universalism would follow because salvation would then be unconditional.
Calvinism posits that all humans are born totally and hereditarily depraved, that God unconditionally elected certain individuals to salvation, that the atonement was limited to the elect and that all the elect will persevere to the end. Universalism holds that, since Jesus died for all, all will be saved. Both affirm that all those for whom Jesus died will be saved because their sins were punished in the person of Jesus. However, Jesus was not a substitute but a sacrifice.
What one is willing to sacrifice for a person or cause is an indicator of the love he has for that person or cause. The life of a living thing is in the blood thereof (Lev. 17:11). Therefore, to shed the blood of a living thing is to sacrifice the life thereof. The sacrifice of Jesus’ life was the ultimate demonstration of the love of God (Rom. 5:1-11; 8:31-39; John 3:16) and of Christ (John 15:13; 1 John 3:16) for humankind.
If the Son of God had come into the world immediately after the sin of Adam and Eve, there is no way anyone could ever have appreciated the love of God. And one could hardly reciprocate a love that he does not appreciate. For this reason, God incorporated the idea of sacrifice into religion so that, in the fullness of time, His love could be demonstrated—through the sacrifice of His Son—so that man could appreciate it and would be motivated to reciprocate it.
The Old Testament was taken out of the way and the New Testament was dedicated by the pouring out of Christ’s blood and the sacrifice of His life (Col. 2:14; Heb. 10:1-10; 9:16-18).
The shedding of Jesus’ blood in His death on the cross also reveals “the goodness of God” that “leads you to repentance” (Rom. 2:3-4), it provides a focal point for man’s faith in God and in His Son (Rom. 3:21-26) and only the shedding of the precious blood of Jesus the Lamb could demonstrate the magnitude of sin (Rom. 8:1-4).
Some who are neither Calvinists nor Universalists also hold this theory but these seem to this writer to be inconsistent. If Jesus was punished for the sins of anyone, then those for whose sins He was punished will not be punished. Nor would they need forgiveness. Furthermore, eternal security would then be unconditional. If this is not the case, why is it not?
Therefore, Jesus did not die in my place or yours. It was His place and His alone, to die on that cross. He died on the cross, not as punishment but as a sacrifice for sin. He did this that we might realize both the enormity of sin and the magnitude of His love and His Father’s love for us and that we might be motivated to love them in return.
Yes, we were “redeemed by the blood of the Lamb” but only in the sense that His blood purchased our release from sin by providing the conditions of our forgiveness.
Who is "email"?
- First, the notion of "Penal Substitution" is most closely and most commonly recognized as a Calvinistic doctrine, also known as the Reformed Tradition:
Ideally, I should avoid that name to avoid any association with that heresy; however, it seems that Calvinism really goes further. They believe that Jesus was a moral substitute, that He became guilty in our stead. I believe that He was punished in our stead, but God never considered Him to be guilty or a sinner. So, I have unwisely argued for the term "Penal Substitution", even though I would not accept what most Calvinists and others would associate with that term. I apologize for that confusing usage below.
- The entire article is based on the logic that if Jesus was punished for my sins, then everything was sealed at the cross or shortly thereafter. If I grant that is true, then I agree that everything is really some form of "fatalism" from that point forward. Naturally, "once saved always saved" (i.e., Calvinism) or Universalism would continue from that point forward. But, if that original presupposition is defeated, then the article has no power.
- Incidentally, the reasoning of the article well expresses my concern for saying that our sins' guilt was transferred to Jesus. At that point in time, everything would have been settled. There would be no degree of freedom after that point. There would no longer remain any room for movement or judgment. All of my sins would have either been transferred or not, and I would be saved or lost regardless of my actions, which occurred after that point, because sin is the basis of our condemnation. Yes, that belief does necessarily lead to Calvinism or Universalism (your pick), and I see no way around it. (Sin condemns, and if the actual sins are transferred, then no more condemnation can be made, Romans 6:23.) Consequently, I reject John Calvin's and other's extreme position that Jesus bore our sins' guilt and hung on the cross as the world's ultimate sinner. ... This represents one extreme explanation of our justification, and I reject it, for the very reasons that Bob Myhan demonstrates. But, there are 2 other positions, and Bob goes to another extreme by denying all forms of just substitution.
- The article ends by Bob trying to have his cake and eat it too. He pleads for "redemption" and "purchasing" without any "payment" in any real sense. The last part of his article contradicts the middle.
- Bob incorrectly uses "sacrifice". Sacrifice indicates something that is given up. For example, I "sacrifice" so my kids can go to school. That means I give up my money, time, alternatives, etc. Just because something is a sacrifice, that doesn't make it inherently atoning or justifying. It is an incomplete thought to assert that Jesus' death was a sacrifice and not a substitution. Ok, if it was not a substitution, then what was it? A sacrifice only indicates what His act cost Jesus, not what it did for us! ... Through repeated connection with atonement and justification, the Bible usage of sacrifice has taken on the connotation of providing justification, but such usage presumes that a sacrifice provides justification. So, how does a sacrifice provide justification, if it does not satisfy the "righteous requirement"? Why could the blood of bulls and goats not take away sins? Why was it impossible? Was it only because God loved us more than bulls and goats? Was it only because sin is uglier than the blood of bulls and goats? Or, was there something more going on?
- Just because the cross demonstrates God's love and the ugliness of sin, that does not necessarily mean that is all that it does. It can do other things too. It may fulfill other requirements too! Just as Calvinists say that being saved by faith eliminates baptism, Bob makes the same styled assumption. One function does not eliminate other functions, just as one requirement does not eliminate other requirements. ... Bob spends a lot of time showing that the cross demonstrated Christ's love and the ugliness of sin, and then he assumes that necessarily eliminates any other function or demonstration.
- The article overlooks the fact that Jesus' suffering capital punishment on a tree does not mandate substitution for my sins - and certainly not immediately. The supposition that penal substitution requires atonement and that immediately are 2 huge assumptions. My sins were not necessarily atoned in that instant on the cross, but the author assumes it must have occurred then, if any form of penal substitution took place. However, something more could happen and must happen, which partly includes me.
Elaboration: (Correcting assumption #1, which is: Jesus' death necessitated our atonement, if any form of penal substitution is true.) Animals died every day during the OT period (for food, at the "hands" of other animals, etc.), but no atonement occurred. People die every day in the NT age, even innocent people (i.e., babies), but no atonement occurs. People may even suffer innocently when other people should suffer (i.e., child abuse), but no atonement occurs. An innocent child might even knowingly, willingly give his or her life for his guilty parent, but no atonement will occur. Jesus could have taken bodily form and allowed Himself to be killed for any other reason, but no atonement would have occurred. Only the Lawgiver and Judge has the right to recognize and accept any sacrifice as a valid substitution. And, if the Judge does not accept the substitute, then it does not count (Malachi 1:6-14)!
(Correcting assumption #2, which is: If any form of penal substitution occurs, it must occur when the penalty is suffered by the substitute.) Furthermore, I know of no requirement (by revelation or implication from revelation) for this assumption. Where is its proof?
Alternatives: If we reject all forms of penal substitution, then either fatalism is true, or the cross has NO just relation to our salvation. I see no other option but the 2 horns of this dilemma. In other words, if Calvinism is wrong, and if the author is right, must we not therefore conclude that there was no relation to Jesus' sacrifice and God's just nature? If so, this flatly contradicts Romans 3:24-26:
"whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."
Although God's love was evident in the cross (John 3:16), it was not merely His love and the ugliness of sin that He was demonstrating (Romans 3:25, 4; Deuteronomy 32:4). (Otherwise, how was there any element of "forbearance" in God justifying the OT saints before the cross? Romans 3:25; Hebrews 9:15 Were they not pardoned by His fiat back then?) There must have been some just reason for the cross! So, what was it? How did the cross demonstrate God's righteousness and justice ("that He might be just")? If Jesus was not a moral substitute (i.e., sins transferred to Jesus' account), and if He was not a penal substitute in any way, then how did His sacrifice satisfy God's justice? Even if we take it all figuratively, the figure must represent something.
There may be fourth option, but I do not know it. It seems the only possible explanations are: 1) Moral substitution - Full transference of sins' guilt. 2) Penal substitution - Innocent death and suffering, but no transference of guilt. 3) No substitution - Justice was not satisfied in any way by Jesus' death. He died for other reasons, but not for God's justice. There was no real "propitiation" (satisfaction of wrath, see: Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; I John 2:1-2; 4:10) in any sense. ... If Bob's article does not argue for this 3rd position, then for what is it arguing?
Since Jesus' sacrificial death neither immediately or ever mandates any man's justification, it is incorrect to dismiss every notion of penal substitution, because it might lead to Calvinism or Universalism. It does not so necessarily lead, and penal substitution without transferring of sin is the only explanation that I think harmonizes all the passages.
What do you think? Thanks for the good article!