The Lamb that Was Slain

I was in second grade at St. Christopher’s School in Midlothian, Illinois. The ink was still drying on the documents of the Second Vatican Council in Rome and I was preparing for my First Holy Communion in the Catholic church with about 30 to 40 other children (those were the days of big class sizes) who were often giddy with excitement at the thought of the parties and presents that followed this rite of passage. I was hoping for my first wristwatch.

We had a lay teacher that year, but when it was time to cover religion one of the nuns came in to instruct us. There were a few things we needed to learn before we could partake of the communion host—deep things, spiritual things, mysterious things.

My parents had used the sign of the cross—the tradition of touching one’s right hand to forehead, chest, and shoulders in the pattern of a cross before and after prayer—to help teach us the doctrine of the Trinity. The more I learned about the Trinity, the more convinced my young mind became of something I’d already had a taste of when I was told that God had no beginning: there were some things about God that I would probably never understand.

So there I was in a small ocean of children sitting in old wooden desks. I don’t know how long my hand had been up, but in my seven-year-old mind it seemed like close to a half hour. Finally, the sister called on me.

“Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?” I asked her.

She answered in a tone that almost seemed to imply that I should have already known the answer.

“To open the gates of heaven,” she said.

I did not know quite what to make of her response. I had expected something—well, a little less cryptic.

But wasn’t Jesus already in heaven before He came down to die on the cross? I thought. Why couldn’t He have simply opened its gates while He was still up there? What did coming down here and dying have to do with opening Heaven’s gates?

I was too embarrassed to pursue the issue, and besides, the teacher seemed to be in a hurry. So I did what I’d learned to do whenever I encountered religious teachings that did not make sense to me: I figured it was my problem; there were some things about God I simply would never understand.

It would be nearly ten years before my question was answered in a way that made sense to me.

The Cross and the Church

They say the plot of a typical romantic comedy goes like this: “Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back.” And how does the boy lose the girl? Very often it is due to some kind of misunderstanding. She misinterprets something he says, or she thinks she catches him in a compromising situation with a competing female, or is convinced by a rival male that she should question the boy’s motives. The plot devices are endless, but the bottom line is that communication is obstructed, and the relationship is interrupted.

When it came to the history of the church’s grasp of the doctrine of salvation, the plotline was very similar. If, for a moment, we allow the cross of Jesus to represent all the Bible says about salvation, the first nearly 1,500 years of church history went something like this: “The church meets the cross. The church loses the cross. The church gets the cross back.” The loss occurred when the communication of the Gospel became more and more obstructed over generations. The essential truths of salvation through Christ became muddled. They were buried in mysterious words and phrases that were not adequately explained. And for countless people, the result was that their relationship with the Savior degenerated into superstition. The story had a happy beginning, and during the 16th century Protestant Reformation, at least, a happy ending. But in between there was a period of, if not complete darkness, then a very dim and unfocused perception.

They Didn’t Get It, Either

Here is a universal rule: when it comes to spiritual truth, people are naturally dense.  This was especially true of the apostles of Christ prior to the Day of Pentecost, which finally came in the second chapter of the Book of Acts. When I think about how slow they were to grasp the ultimate goal of Christ’s mission, it makes me feel better about my lack of spiritual perception as a second grader (not to mention all my lack of discernment years later). It also makes me a bit less judgmental toward those for whom the truth of salvation got out of focus during the Middle Ages.

How many times did Jesus explain to His apostles that He would go to Jerusalem where He would be betrayed to the religious authorities, put to death, and then rise from the dead? And how many times did the apostles fail to get it?

According to Matthew, the first time came right after Peter declared his faith that Jesus was the Christ, and Jesus made a pretty big deal out of it. But then Jesus went on to explain why He came.

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

[Matthew 16:21-23, English Standard Version]

In the very next chapter in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John with him high up on a mountain and reveals His glory to them (Matthew 17:1-9). Elijah and Moses miraculously appear and strike up a conversation with Jesus. According to Luke’s gospel, they discussed what would happen to Jesus in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). And just when Peter got all excited and suggested they make three tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, the voice of God the Father thundered from heaven, Peter, James, and John fell face-down in fright, and by the time Jesus got them back on their feet Elijah and Moses had vanished. Then Mark informs us:

And as they were coming down the mountain, he [Jesus] charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean.

[Mark 9:9-10, English Standard Version]

They still didn’t get it! Even for some time after Christ’s resurrection it was still sinking in. But by the Day of Pentecost—as people today might say—they so got it!

Helping Others Get It

Not only did the apostles finally get it, but so did those they taught. After Pentecost, a large number of foreign-born Jews remained in Jerusalem to learn about their new faith, and this led to the usual list of interpersonal issues. The apostles soon became frustrated as some new Christians started bickering over the distribution of food within the church at Jerusalem, so they asked the offended parties to nominate “seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3) to be appointed stewards—the first deacons of the church—to make sure things were done fairly.

As it turns out, not only were these men qualified as restaurant mangers, but boy, could they preach! The next two chapters of the book of Acts focuses on the exploits of two of these deacons whose job description was “to serve tables” (διακονεῖν τραπέζαις, diakonein trapezais; Acts 6:2). The first of these, Stephen, faces down hostile unbelievers, giving the first apologetic sermon in the early church, and becomes church’s the first martyr (Acts 7). In the ensuing wave of persecution, Philip heads north and introduces the Gospel to the Samaritans with amazing results. Then an angel tells him to go south toward Gaza, and he runs into a court official of the queen of Ethiopia, a Gentile eunuch who is in the process of converting to Judaism while returning from worshiping at Jerusalem and reading the book of Isaiah as his chariot moves down the road.

And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?

“For his life is taken away from the earth.” And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.

[Acts 8:29-35, English Standard Version]

I love it when a highly intelligent person like this Ethiopian official has the Bible spread out in front of him and admits he needs help to understand it. Then I don’t feel so bad for all the times I’ve felt clueless about the meaning of Scripture.

We have no reason to believe that Philip had a Ph.D., but we know he had the Holy Spirit. The apostles and their pupils could understand what the Old Testament teaches about Christ because God was opening their minds and enlightening their hearts, and now they could explain it to others. In fact, this very chapter of Isaiah that the Ethiopian was trying to understand would prove to be one of the linchpin texts that would help hold together the church’s ability to understand why Jesus had to die on the cross.

Christ, Our Example

Years later, when the Apostle Peter wrote to Christians to tell them how to live, he used the same part of the book of Isaiah from which Philip preached to the Ethiopian to explain the ramifications of what Jesus had done for them. The Christian life is no bed of roses; when the Holy Spirit calls us to trust in Christ, He also calls us to suffer.

In 1 Peter 1:19, the apostle refers to Christ with Isaiah’s image of the lamb led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7), but in declaring that we’ve been redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” he is adding some words of his own that connect the death of Jesus directly to the sacrificial system in the Law of Moses which required that only physically perfect lambs be offered as sacrifices. So for Peter, Jesus fulfilled the true meaning of the Old Testament sacrifices, but how? Well, in the next chapter, he writes:

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

[1 Peter 2:21-23, English Standard Version]

In the last five verses of 1 Peter 2—the first three of which I have just quoted—Peter either alludes to or directly quotes Isaiah 53 five times. That chapter, part of a long section in Isaiah written in poetic form, is sometimes called “The Song of the Suffering Servant.” (One of the best commentaries you can get, by the way, to help explain all this to you is The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary, by J. Alec Motyer.)

We have been called to follow Christ’s example, says Peter. Because He suffered, we should expect to suffer as well. We won’t have to go out of our way to look for suffering; people who do that aren’t spiritual, they’re masochists. Suffering will find us, even when we are most undeserving of it, and when it does we can be confident that we are following in the footsteps of our Savior.

Unfortunately, that’s where some people stop. They say something like, “Ah-ha! So that’s why Jesus had to die on the cross! He came to be our example.” They make the example aspect of Christ’s mission it’s whole purpose, and when they do that they completely miss it.

But Peter did not stop there. He obviously did not think that the whole point of Isaiah 53 was merely that Christ was a good example of how to suffer without complaining. No, Christ’s suffering had a unique purpose that all our sufferings will never have. Peter continued:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

[1 Peter 2:24-25, English Standard Version]

Christ did not die simply to show us how to suffer. His suffering was not some kind of end in itself. He suffered for our sins. He bore them in His own body.

But what does that mean? His wounds somehow healed us, but how? Some people would have us believe we shouldn’t concern ourselves with how Christ’s death helps, but only that it helps us—”the how,” they tell us, is not all that important. Peter, Paul, and the other apostles would tell as that those people don’t know what they’re talking about.

Christ, Our Substitute

To understand what Peter was trying to say, we must understand the source of his teaching. In this case, everything he says at the end of 1 Peter 2 echoes the following prophecy in the book of Isaiah:

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

[Isaiah 53:4-6, English Standard Version]

Hebrew poetry is based on parallelism, the practice of repeating the same basic statement in different words for rhetorical effect. Such repetition can also help to remove ambiguity. Here it serves to leave no doubt that there was something that should have happened to us that happened to Christ instead. He endured something that should have been our experience. He took our place. He was our substitute.

Consider the following more literal alternative translation of these verses from another book I highly recommend:

Surely our sicknesses—he bore them,
and our pains—he suffered them.
Yet we considered him as one stricken,
as one struck down by God and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
and crushed for our iniquities.
The punishment for our salvation lay upon him,
and by his wounds, healing came to us.
We all have strayed like sheep
each of us has turned to his own way.
But Yahweh has caused to fall upon him
the iniquity of us all.

[Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach, Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution, (Wheaton, IL, USA: Crossway Books, 2007), 54.]

The cross of Christ lies at the core of the Gospel, and as he prophesied, Isaiah made it clear that the essence of that cross is the Christ Who takes our place on it. We committed sins, and as a result, He took a beating.

The implications of this may seem rather obvious to some people. At this point, however, believe it or not, there are those who still ask, “Why?” What is the connection between our sins and what Christ suffered? The answer is not palatable to everyone.

Christ, Our Penal Substitute

If I sin and you are punished, you might find that unfair. If someone commits a crime and another person goes to jail, or is executed, we would call that a miscarriage of justice. These concepts are fundamental to the law that is written in all human hearts, which the Apostle Paul tells us is actually the universal awareness of God’s moral law (Romans 2:14-15).

But what if someone deliberately takes the place of a guilty person, allows himself to be convicted of that person’s crimes, and willingly accepts the resulting sentence? In fact, what if the Judge Himself, after pounding the finality of the criminal’s guilt and condemnation with his gavel, steps down from his bench, allows Himself to be stripped of His robe and be sent off to bear that penalty Himself?

The fact is that human laws do not have any provision for such an occurrence. But God’s law does. All the lambs that were slaughtered by God’s command under the Law of Moses were little pictures of what He ultimately planned to do. When Paul wrote that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23, ESV), he was not trying to put a positive spin on things; he used the ironic metaphor of “wages” because it fit in with point he was trying to make at the moment, but he clearly understood that death is the penalty of sin. And that penalty, according to the uniform witness of the New Testament, was what God Himself had come down to bear in the person of Christ as our substitute.

Some people cannot bear the idea that this is what the Bible actually teaches about why Jesus died on the cross. They find the concept of bloody sacrifices in general highly distasteful, and the notion punishment for sin in particular unworthy of God. Some find the teaching of Scripture perfectly clear, but they reject it outright, like the heckler R.C. Sproul once encountered at one of his speaking engagements.

Some parts of the Bible are so clear and simple that they are offensive to those suffering from intellectual arrogance. A few years ago I was lecturing about how Christ’s death on the cross fulfilled the curse motif of the Old Testament. In the middle of my lecture a man in the audience interrupted me, saying loudly, “That’s primitive and obscene.” I asked him to repeat his comment so that everyone present could have the opportunity to hear his complaint. When he repeated it, I said, “You are exactly right. I particularly like your choice of words, primitive and obscene.” The entire history of redemption is communicated in primitive terms from the episode of the encounter of Adam and Eve with the serpent to the devastating destruction God visits on the chariots of Egypt in the Exodus to the crass and brutal murder of Jesus of Nazareth. The Bible reveals a God who hears the groans of all of his people, from the peasant to the philosopher, from the dull-witted to the sophisticated scholar. His message is simple enough for the most simplistic of his fallen creatures to understand. what kind of a god would reveal his love and redemption in terms so technical and concepts so profound that only an elite corps of professional scholars could understand them? god does speak in primitive terms because he is addressing himself to primitives. At the same time, there is enough profundity contained in Scripture to keep the most astute and erudite scholars busily engaged in their theological inquiries for a lifetime.

If primitive is an appropriate word to describe the content of Scripture, obscene is even more so. All of the obscenities of sin are recorded with clear and forthright language in the Scripture. And what is more obscene than the cross? Here we have obscenity on a cosmic scale. On the cross Christ takes upon himself human obscenities to redeem them.

[Sproul, Knowing Scripture, (Downers Grove, IL, USA: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 15-16.]

Such people accept the clarity of Scripture but reject its message. Others want to claim fidelity to Scripture but reject its clarity on this point. They come to biblical texts like Isaiah 53 (and there are plenty of others) and read what they plainly say, but then look for all sorts of ways to deny the truth of penal substitution. They just don’t get it! But the fifth verse of that chapter leaves absolutely no wiggle room.

But he was wounded (חלל, ḥālāl)
for our transgressions (פשׁע, pesha’);
he was crushed (דכא, daka’)
for our iniquities (עון, ‘avon);
upon him was the chastisement (מוסר, mûsār)
that brought us peace (שׁלום, shālôm),
and with his stripes (חבבורה, ḥabbûrâ)
we are healed (רפא, rāpā).

[Isaiah 53:5, English Standard Version]

This verse not only makes it plain that the coming Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ, was to act as our substitute by bearing our punishment, but that this was God’s way of ending the state of hostility that separated us from Him, and making us whole again. As Motyer wrote, “… ‘the punishment of our peace’ means ‘our peace-punishment,’ the punishment necessary to secure or restore our peace with God” (Ibid., 430). If Christ was not punished in our place, we could never have peace with God; we could never be saved.

They Got It!

After the New Testament was complete and the last apostle died, the Gospel message was passed on to the next generation. Over time, the bedrock of biblical teaching on salvation, Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement, would be eroded by various winds of doctrine, but more by neglect than anything else.

It probably started when Christian leaders were legitimately distracted by heresies concerning the person and nature of Christ that attached themselves to the church like burrs on a wool sock during the fourth and fifth centuries a.d. The need for systematic treatment of Christ’s atoning death was eclipsed by the more urgent requirement to carefully define the nature of the triune God and the relationship between Christ’s deity and humanity as found in Scripture.

But just because the church as a whole did not formulate carefully crafted statements about why Jesus died on the cross does not mean that there was no general consensus on the matter. In fact, it was because they clearly understood the meaning of the cross that they took Christ’s deity so seriously, because only God could fully pay the penalty for a multitude of sinners.

Sometime back in the second century, an anonymous author wrote a letter to someone named Diognetus. We’re not really sure who the recipient was, but the Epistle to Diognetus went on to be included in a body of literature known as the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, which were highly influential works attributed to the generation of Christian leaders that followed the apostles. It is clear from the following citation that the author had a vivid understanding of the fact that by suffering on the cross Christ had paid the penalty for our sins:

But when our unrighteousness was fulfilled, and it had been made perfectly clear that its wages—punishment and death [κόλασις καὶ θάνατος]—were to be expected, then the season arrived during which God had decided to reveal at last his goodness and power (oh, the surpassing kindness and love of God!). He did not hate us, or reject us, or bear a grudge against us; instead he was patient and forbearing; in his mercy he took upon himself our sins [τὰς ἡμετέρας ἁμαρτίας ἀνεδέξατο]; he himself gave up his own Son as a ransom for us [λύτρον ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν], the holy one for the lawless, the guiltless for the guilty, “the just for the unjust,” the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal. For what else but his righteousness could have covered our sins? In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone? O the sweet exchange [γλυκείας ἀνταλλαγῆς], O the incomprehensible work of God, O the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous man, while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners!

[Epistle to Diognetus 9:2-5, in Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, updated edition, (Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Baker Books, 1999), 547. Emphasis mine.]

The author makes clear something that many today try to avoid: to say that Jesus took upon Himself our sins means the he took our punishment. A little more than a couple of centuries later this language of the great exchange—our sins for His righteousness—would be echoed in a sermon by Augustine of Hippo (a.d. 354-430).

In a word, He died, because it was so expedient, that by His Death He might kill death. God died, that an exchange might be effected by a kind of heavenly contract, that man might not see death. For Christ is God, but He died not in that Nature in which He is God. … Forasmuch then as He is both God and man, being pleased that we should live by that which was His, He died in that which was ours. … What an exchange [qualia commercia]! What hath He given, and what received? Men who trade enter into commercial intercourse for exchange of things. … And who can enumerate all these exchanges? But no one gives life to receive death.

[Augustine of Hippo (a.d. 354-430), Sermon XXX.5 (Sermon LXXX in the Benedictine Edition), in Philip Schaff, ed., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Volume 6, (Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers, reprinted 2004), 351. Latin text added. Cf. “The Confessions of St. Augustine,” 10.43.68-79 in ibid., Volume 1, 162.]

“But no one gives life to receive death”—no one, that is, except Jesus.

During times when the Gospel was clearly understood, this idea captivated the thoughts of Christians. The more believers correctly grasped it, the more they talked about it. A millennium later Martin Luther returned to the idea of this wonderful exchange again and again in his vast body of writings (e.g., Luther’s Works, Harold Grimm and Helmut Lehmann, eds., [Philadelphia, PA, USA: Fortress Press, 1957], 31:351). The reason for this is clear: Christ’s penal substitutionary sufferings were the core of the Gospel message.

Finally Getting It

Sadly, there were long centuries when the Gospel was not clearly understood. Theologians came along who affirmed penal substitution, but denied the Bible’s teaching about how we receive its benefits, coming up with complicated sacramental systems in place of faith alone. Others denied it altogether. In some branches of the church, confusion still continues to reign on the question of precisely why Jesus had to die on the cross.

This confusion continued to reign in my own mind years after I first took communion as a boy, not that I gave it all that much thought. I didn’t get why Jesus had to die on the cross, but I did get the wristwatch I’d asked for.

In the coming years my youthful faith began to wither. Despite the fact that I would pray when I was in trouble, I began to consider myself an agnostic. And then something happened.

On a rainy Sunday night in the middle of December 1975, when I stumbled into LaGrange Gospel Chapel in LaGrange, Illinois, I still didn’t get it, but at least now I wanted to.  My dad had died ten months earlier, and now I was really searching for answers.

The church was holding its annual Christmas Sunday School program. The lights were out in the main auditorium as a movie played, so I groped my way to a seat in the back. When the lights came back on, I looked for the friend who invited me, but she was nowhere to be seen.

But I did see the the large plaque behind the pulpit, which announced to everyone there, “Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me. John 14:6″.

I remember thinking, “That sounds kind of narrow.” But God was drawing me to Himself that night (John 6:44).

I went out into the foyer, trying to figure out where to go next. A man with a broad smile was standing there. He extended his hand and told me his name: Grey Culberson.

“Have you accepted Christ as your personal Savior?” he asked.

I had never heard that question before and was not immediately sure what it meant. But it had something to do with Jesus, and in recent months I had come to believe that He was really was who He said He was. So after a moment of thought, I concluded there was only one appropriate response.

“I think so,” I said.

“Well you can know so!” replied Grey, smiling warmly.

I glanced back at the plaque on the wall.  It did not feel as though Grey was pressuring me, but something was—or some One.

I looked back at Grey. “Then I know so,” I said.

His expression indicated that he was not immediately sure what to say next, but he was not at a loss for words for long. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. Tucked inside was a little booklet.

“I like to keep these handy to share with people,” he said, extending the booklet to me. On the cover its title asked, Have You Heard of the Four Spiritual Laws?

I took it home that night and eagerly devoured it. When I came to a certain point in the booklet, it was as though a light went on inside my head. It said, “…God has bridged the gulf that separates us from Him by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross in our place to pay the penalty for our sins.”

In our place—”In my place, condemned he stood,” as I would later learn to sing. Suddenly I knew why Jesus had to die on the cross: He was my substitute. He took my punishment. There were some deep, spiritual things that I actually could understand, and now I understood the most important one of all.

And I have not been the same person since.


Comments

The Lamb that Was Slain — 59 Comments

  1. Ron,

    I don’t buy your position for all the reasons I listed in the other two blogs. Among other fallacies, you have merely restated the abiding Reformist calumnies against God that He is less just than most humans (by punishing an innocent man), that He is unable or unwilling to forgive as He has called upon His worshipers to do, and that He is somehow subject to a higher law than the law He imposes (presuming that the blood sacrifice of the Unblemished Lamb cannot be avoided).

    Sorry, nothing new here.

    John

  2. Ron – Thank you for your thoughts and your comment my blog. The atonement of Jesus Christ is a concept that is not rooted in reality but in mysticism and the supernatural. I cannot accept it because it is irrational. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts, though.

  3. You mentioned parallelism in this fine post about substitutionary atonement. And because your post was about the gospel, it got me to thinking when a light bulb went on in my understanding about some gospel verses from John that involve parallelism. I had thought John was written in a way I could never relate to or understand, in many places. Or if I could understand what was being said, it just struck me as a strange way of putting it.

    One day I was thinking about the words, “which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God,” and it came crashing down on me that John was saying there is nothing, nothing, nothing we can do to effect the new birth in us, or in anybody else. There is nothing from the information in our DNA to our conscious determination which can bring it about. Nothing from the microscopic, cellular level of our body all the way to the soul which inhabits that body can cause the new birth. It’s all of God. And at that point I was able to comprehend my total inability and God’s complete work in this process. Thanks for this reminder of the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ. He did for us what we could not ever do.

  4. Excellent historical theological brief summary of substitutionary atonement. If there is not a turn around (I guess this would be repentance) in much of evangelicalism I wonder if we might be headed for another dim period.

    I like your universal law: “when it comes to spiritual truth, people are naturally dense.” That is me. After 30 years as a Christian, which even included a B.A. Degree in Biblical Studies, I finally starting getting it about 6-7 years ago when I went back to historical evangelicalism as articulated in the Reformers. Does anybody remember that event about 500 plus years ago? Apparently those truths are irrelevant to many today. Ron, I thank you for an informative and enjoyable article.

  5. John, I looked for the other blogs you were talking about, but couldn’t find them. If you have already answered this, then please bear with me. I am curious.

    Why do you believe that Christ died? What was the purpose of His death?

    Thanks,
    Mrs. Webfoot

  6. John

    Let me start by telling you my tone is casual and cordial. (sometimes it is hard to discern online)

    John 17 clearly teaches that the Captain of our salvation was under incredible stress about drinking “the Cup”. So much so that it caused him to sweat blood. I am not going to discuss all the passages in the Bible that declare God pouring his wrath out of “a cup”, but I have some questions.

    Was the theo-anthopos, the Godman stressed about being called names and being mocked? I tend to think not, as school children can handle that.

    Was he stressed about being slapped and beaten? I doubt tha,t as plenty of people have been beaten for a cause and endured it patiently.

    Was the fear of the excruciating pain of scourging, crucifiction and death what caused him to sweat blood? Unlikely….as history has recorded many, many martyrs who went to their death, even by fire, sing hymns.

    Clearly Christ is not less brave than his sheep. The answer is that the infinite Godman was going to endure the eternal punishment for many. Because of His love, Isaiah teaches that it pleased the father to “crush” him. Crushed as in a winepress when God’s wrath (Revelation) is being poured out.

    Respectfully
    Dave

  7. Forgive me…I got the priestly prayer of Christ mixed up with the prayer in the garden…it is not John 17 but rather Matt 26.

  8. Dave,

    You quoted Isaiah: “Because of His love, Isaiah teaches that it pleased the father to “crush” him. Crushed as in a winepress when God’s wrath (Revelation) is being poured out.”

    Isaiah is a prophet and a poet, and is not above using metaphor to describe the undescribable. God was not pleased to see Jesus crushed. I don’t know exactly what God felt, but I assure you it was not pleasure.

    I cannot say with precision what Isaiah intended to communicate, but as I feel certain that God did not feel the “pleasure” Isaiah describes, I think it fair to say that the balance of his ‘servant songs’ are just as metaphorical and so open to interpretation.

    Let me also concede that I am not at all clear on why Jesus died on the cross or how such a death is connected to the forgiveness of sin, I will admit that it is a mystery. I will not however buy into an interpretation which paints a picture of God the father which is at odds with the picture of God which Jesus provided in his incarnational role (“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. … No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”

    John

  9. John said:
    Let me also concede that I am not at all clear on why Jesus died on the cross or how such a death is connected to the forgiveness of sin, I will admit that it is a mystery.

    Hi, John,
    First, thank you for your honest answer. You don’t know why Jesus died on the cross.

    Why do you call it a “mystery” though? Doesn’t the Bible reveal anything to us about why Christ died?

    I think that it does.

    1 Corinthians 15:3
    For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

    1 Thessalonians 5:10
    He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.

    He died for our sins.

    Then, John, isn’t the reference to God’s pleasure there in Isaiah another way of saying that it was God’s will? It’s not that He got some kind of sick enjoyment from the death of Christ. I don’t think that the pleasure of God in the death of His Son has anything to do with having a good time.

    Here is what Paul says in the NT.:

    Ephesians 1:5
    he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—

    Ephesians 1:9
    And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ,

    Thank you, John, for the links. I’ll take a look at the blogs.

    Hey, have a good rest of the weekend.

    Mrs. Webfoot

  10. John,

    Thanks for responding to my post in part. I am not going add anything else. I am in accord with Mrs. Webfoot. Cheers, have a good Sunday and please consider the possibility that you might be in error, as this blessed truth is most freeing when we embraced.

    Dave

  11. Then, John, I woke up with this little “niggly” in my mind about what you have said.

    If, as you say, the reason for Christ’s death is a mystery, why are you making such strong assertions about penal substitutionary atonement in the first place?

    It seems that you would not speak out so strongly against something you don’t understand – or that you think is a mystery.

    I’m not sure how to help you resolve your congative dissonance on the subject. I’m not sure I can. I hope that you and I both are given greater insight into this mystery of why Christ died. I hope to understand it in a deeper way.

    The words of a hymn come to mind. “Oh, believe it, oh, receive it, ’tis for thee.”

    Thank you for being a good sport and sharing your thoughts.

    God bless you, John,
    Mrs. Webfoot

  12. Mrs. Webfoot,

    I may not know the details of God’s plan regarding Jesus death and resurrection, but my heart tells me that the notion of penal substitutionary atonement is wholly unsatisfactory as an explanation. I may not know the subtle and complex truth, but I can spot an obvious simple falsehood.

    I guess my passion on this point arises from my perception that it diminishes Jesus’ core message of mercy and compassion, and it makes God out to be all too similar to the gods of Greek and Roman mythology.

    I also suspect that the worst aspects of Christian Fundamentalism are founded on the principles of penal substitutionary atonement. It suggests that violence and bloodshed are acceptable in certain circumstances, and that the claims of justice can, on occasion, supersede God’s call for mercy. Violence in any form is reprehensible to God, and, mercy and loving compassion are always the proper response to the circumstances of sin and injustice.

    For me salvation is all about mercy and nothing about justice, yet the theory of penal substitutionary atonement, in a bizarre twist of logic, begins the process of salvation with God imposing a peculiar notion of justice (killing an innocent man), requiring a human sacrifice (when the Old Testament rejects human sacrifice as an abomination), and inexplicably rejecting more merciful options, i.e., simple forgiveness.

    By the way, I am not feeling any significant dissonance on this issue, because I am comfortable with mystery – until God decides to let me in on the truth.

    The hymn which comes to mind for me is “Come and Mourn With Me Awhile.”

    John

  13. Mrs. Webfoot

    Consider shaking the dust off you shoes.(unless you are being lead by the Spirit) You have spoke well and you have spoken the truth, it appears to have been rejected.(for now) “Persuasive words” and human entreaty do not compare with the simple message of the cross. It has always been offensive……and it always will.

    Dave

  14. Some random thoughts:

    John’s point about this sounding like Greek and Roman mythology is interesting, because what he says sounds all too familiar in pagan mythologies, and turns him off, is the same exact idea CS Lewis said was one of the cosmic nudges toward his conversion to Christianity from atheism.

    I just read about God being pleased to crush the suffering servant. It appears to me that it was YHWH who was pleased, which would not exclude the Second Person of the Trinity right off the bat.

    Hebrews does say that for the joy set before Him Jesus endured the cross, despising (thinking of little account) the shame. The end of Isaiah 53 is like this verse from Hebrews. God was pleased because of the final outcome, and for the glory and honor given to the Servant who accomplished so much by being crushed. The Servant’s days were prolonged, and He was satisfied with the results of His crushing. It is these things which pleased YHWH — these ends. It pleased God to crush Christ because He would be glorified by it, Christ would receive honor and glory for it, and it would be used to justify the many.

    In short, God was pleased to crush Him, because . . . and you need to read to the end of the chapter to see the final picture, and the end of the story. God was not pleased to crush Him simply to crush Him.

    This chapter in Isaiah is consistent with all the NT teaching. “He made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, in order that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”

  15. “I also suspect that the worst aspects of Christian Fundamentalism are founded on the principles of penal substitutionary atonement. It suggests that violence and bloodshed are acceptable in certain circumstances, and that the claims of justice can, on occasion, supersede God’s call for mercy.”

    The NT seems to keep the rights and responsibilities of the Church and the state totally separate, unlike the theocracy in the OT. This is one reason I don’t find looking into theonomy too attractive.

    It is the teaching of the NT that it is the civil magistrate who bears the sword to punish evildoers and to reward the righteous.

    I admit there are some Christian fundamentalists who get out of whack here, but it seems to me that the main problem occurred around 300 AD and continued for over 1000 years. And that was the co-mingling of the Church and the state on earth in the form of the Holy Roman Empire.

    But the Bible clearly endorses the rights of the civil magistrate – and that includes the sword. And the use of the term “sword” can only mean some kind of violence is justified by the Bible.

  16. John:
    By the way, I am not feeling any significant dissonance on this issue, because I am comfortable with mystery – until God decides to let me in on the truth. >>>>

    John, I appreciate your response, but I think I’ll bow out. You don’t have to “feel” the dissonance. It is there.

    I repeat. You said you think that why Christ died is a mystery. Then you speak confidently about that death as if you did not think it to be a mystery.

    You confidently say what the reason cannot be, all the while saying that it is a mystery.

    That is a contradiction, and you should “feel” some cognative dissonance about it.

    Why you don’t is a mystery to me.

    Hey, take care,

    Mrs. Webfoot

  17. John,

    The only way you can hold your position that God never uses violence is to ignore vast portions of Scripture, including “the flood in the time of Noah (Gen. 6-8), the biblical accounts of the plagues in Egypt (Exod. 8-12) [not to mention the violent destruction of Pharoah’s army in the Red Sea], the death of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10; cf. Num. 3:4), the plagues among the Israelites in the wilderness and on numerous other occasions (e.g., Num. 11:33-35; 25:1-9; 2 Sam. 25:15-25; 1 Chr. 21), the rebellion of Korah and his men and the subsequent plague in the Israelite camp (Num. 16), and the destruction of the Assyrian army (Isa. 37:33-38:2; 2 Kgs 19:32-37).” (Jeffery, Ovey, and Sach, Pierced for Our Transgressions, 237.)

    The authors go on to answer your objection in some detail.

    The objection entails more than that violence is morally reprehensible, and hence unworthy of God. Certainly, the death of Jesus did involve sinful acts by other human beings, such as the violence of the Roman soldiers and the Jewish Sanhedrin, and the cowardice of Pontius Pilate (Mark 14:65; 15:1-20), which the Bible views as reprehensible (e.g., Acts 7:52). However, at the same time, God chose to use these wicked deeds to accomplish his righteous purposes.

    At the heart of this objection is the claim that violence cannot solve the problem of violence; instead, it compounds the problem by adding another evil to the list of those it seeks to conquer. To this we respond in three ways.

    First, Jesus was fully aware that a violent death awaited him in Jerusalem, and deliberately set himself on that course. He explained to his disciples on the way that ‘the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him’ (Mark 10:33-34). If the above critics were right, then Jesus made a terrible mistake. He should have taken steps to avoid such violence (and the Gospels are clear he had every opportunity to do so), knowing that, in Steve Chalke and Alan Mann’s words, ‘violence…wherever it is employed…begets the very thing it seeks to destroy.’

    Second, the entire Old Testament sacrificial system was violent, but nonetheless had redemptive benefit. Moreover, in Numbers 25 the violent execution of Zimri by Phineas was not only rewarded with ‘a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honour of his God’ (v. 13), but is also specifically identified as the means by which thousands of Israelites were spared from the ongoing effects of a plague.

    Thirdly, there are important differences between the death of Jesus and other acts of violence perpetrated by sinful human beings against each other and against God. Because of these differences, penal substitution is not simply a case of adding one more act of violence to the list. For example, Jesus laid down his life willingly (John 10:17), whereas the violence perpetrated by sinful people involves acting against the will of those harmed by it. Again, human violence is usually motivated by selfishness — we pursue our own good even when it causes harm to others. By contrast, it was a selfless act of God the Father to give his Son, motivated by his love for us (John 3:16) and his desire for his Son’s glory (John 17:1, 5). Still again, human violence is a violation of justice, whereas the Bible declares that the death of Christ was ultimately the supreme demonstration of God’s justice (e.g., Rom. 3:25-26).

    There is one final problem with this objection. Even those who reject penal substitution on the grounds of the above objection must concede that the death of Jesus, with his flogging, the crown of thorns, and the appalling suffering of death by crucifixion, was extremely violent. Few would deny that in some sense it was also redemptive. The so called ‘myth of redemptive violence’ is, in the case of Jesus’ death, no myth at all.

    [Ibid., 238-239.]

    As I see it, John, this is where you are left: no matter how you spin it or slice it, you are left with an atonement that is every bit as violent as penal substitution. Unless you believe that the cross had no redemptive value or significance whatsoever, then you are left with a God who used extreme violence to accomplish His salvation just as we who accept the clear biblical teaching of penal substitution are. Simply labeling it a “mystery” does nothing to change this; it only serves to make your moralistic objections appear highly equivocal.

  18. I need to note that I was in some sense invited to this blog, so I am not here to disturb folks who share a consensus position on penal substitution – though I enjoy the challenge to articulate my position against those who hold the opposing position with sincerity, heart, and passion.

    In response to Ron’s last point, I think there is a difference between interpreting God’s actions as making use of circumstances of human violence which God otherwise finds offensive, and asserting that God employs violence which would otherwise not occur except for the will of God. Genesis clearly explains that the Flood was a response to the violence which God saw as such an awful corruption of creation (6:11-13) that starting over seemed the best option to God. I honestly think that that of all sins, God abhors violence the most.

    There is no doubt that biblical writers often vindicated violence as divinely sanctioned. The problem is that Jesus, as the Incarnation of God in the world, did not sanction violence but instead commanded mercy, forgiveness, and love.

    My relationship with Jesus leads me to the understanding that Jesus abhors violence and would never sanction it,especially not by his followers.

    There is no doubt that the New Testament asserts that Jesus died for the forgiveness of sin. The scriptural explanations given are equivocal. If the explanations weren’t equivocal, then why have church fathers and theologians over the last 2,000 years disagreed about how to explain it?

    It appears that we are both wedded to our doctrinal positions, and that we both accept and assert our beliefs with confidence that our respective positions fairly reflect the truth and properly exalt God.

    That being acknowledged, do you think that my lack of belief in what you accept as “correct” doctrine regarding penal substitution will impact my salvation?

    John

  19. John,

    You wrote:

    I need to note that I was in some sense invited to this blog, so I am not here to disturb folks who share a consensus position on penal substitution – though I enjoy the challenge to articulate my position against those who hold the opposing position with sincerity, heart, and passion.

    And I would say that you’ve been as respectful as possible under the circumstances—i.e., considering how deeply you disagree with my position.

    You wrote:

    In response to Ron’s last point, I think there is a difference between interpreting God’s actions as making use of circumstances of human violence which God otherwise finds offensive, and asserting that God employs violence which would otherwise not occur except for the will of God. Genesis clearly explains that the Flood was a response to the violence which God saw as such an awful corruption of creation (6:11-13) that starting over seemed the best option to God. I honestly think that that of all sins, God abhors violence the most.

    In your first sentence here you seem to imply that God would never employ violence Himself. But in your second sentence, you acknowledge that the Flood was God’s response to human violence. But was not also the drowning of the entire human race except for eight people a violent act on God’s part?

    You wrote:

    There is no doubt that biblical writers often vindicated violence as divinely sanctioned. The problem is that Jesus, as the Incarnation of God in the world, did not sanction violence but instead commanded mercy, forgiveness, and love.

    These two sentences, taken together, would seem to imply that you do not believe in the plenary inspiration of Scripture. You seem to indicate that those biblical writers who vindicated violence as divinely sanctioned were just plain wrong. If that’s the case, then you are able to simply dismiss a great deal of biblical evidence as being on some level uninspired, aren’t you? In which case we are no longer really arguing about what the Bible teaches, but which of its teachings you are willing to accept.

    As far as your statement, “Jesus, as the Incarnation of God in the world, did not sanction violence,” I would first point you to my above quotation of what Jeffery, Ovey, and Sach wrote about Jesus’ attitude toward going to the cross. Second, Jesus frequently indicates that violent judgment from God will come to unrepentant non-believers when He says such things as, “…but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea,” (Matt. 18:6, ESV), and “…do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell,” (Matt. 10:28, ESV). Thirdly, and very sadly here, Jesus made it quite clear that a violent judgment from God would be the result of the Jewish people’s rejection of Him when He said:

    And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

    [Luke 19:41-44, ESV]

    You wrote:

    My relationship with Jesus leads me to the understanding that Jesus abhors violence and would never sanction it,especially not by his followers.

    Well, as much as I deplore violence between human beings, and as much as I tremble when I think about the coming violent judgments from God upon unbelieving sinners, my relationship with Jesus leads me to the opposite understanding. In my opinion, this is because my relationship with Jesus is based upon His word, the Bible, which I believe to be fully inspired and inerrant, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21. I take Him at His word, trusting not only everything He said, but also that He said everything in it. Frankly, and not wishing to appear judgment here (although I realize I may be failing miserably on this point), I think this is the difference between your relationship with Jesus and mine that is producing this difference between us.

    You wrote:

    There is no doubt that the New Testament asserts that Jesus died for the forgiveness of sin. The scriptural explanations given are equivocal. If the explanations weren’t equivocal, then why have church fathers and theologians over the last 2,000 years disagreed about how to explain it?

    I do not believe the Scriptural explanations of it are equivocal in the least. I highly recommend the book by Jeffrey, Ovey, and Sach from which I’ve been quoting as but one of several very good treatments of this subject that demonstrate otherwise. I think one source of disagreement subsequent to the completion of Scripture—and subsequent to the early church—is one that seems to be the source of disagreement between you and me: you do not seem to give all Scriptures equal weight as being God’s word, with the result that you have developed a kind of “canon with the canon” that elevates certain things (in this case, non-violence) above all else, and makes them a measuring rod by which to judge other Scriptures. In addition, you and I also disagree about the way you absolutize the concept of non-violence as being the only correct representation of God’s character. Because you have both of these things (a canon within the canon, and an absolutist concept of non-violence), I don’t see how verses such as “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image,” (Gen. 6:9, ESV), can have any place in your theology, even though the Genesis account gives a precise theological basis for the death penalty, viz., retribution for destroying an image-bearer of God.

    You wrote:

    It appears that we are both wedded to our doctrinal positions, and that we both accept and assert our beliefs with confidence that our respective positions fairly reflect the truth and properly exalt God.

    I have no reason to disagree with you on this point.

    You wrote:

    That being acknowledged, do you think that my lack of belief in what you accept as “correct” doctrine regarding penal substitution will impact my salvation?

    Well, let me first say that I am not the Judge of the universe, I do not try to separate the wheat from the tares, and I do not have any way of knowing whether you have eternal life or do not. So please do not take anything I write here in other than a hypothetical sense, preferably about someone else completely.

    Having said that, I would also emphasize that I believe that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Assuming that you are on board with the “grace” part and the “faith” part (if you’re not, we have a serious problem!), that leaves the question of what we mean by “Christ alone.” Here’s what I mean by it: on the cross, Jesus finished all the work that was necessary for my salvation. It is crucial to understand that His work put away my sins, so that I no longer have to answer for them before the judgment seat of God on the last day. Does God still discipline me for sins I commit? Yes, because he now deals with me as a son (per the author of Hebrews). But He offered one perfect sacrifice for all time, and then sat down at the right hand of God, indicating that the work of salvation is finished.

    As far as I can see it, there is only one cogent explanation for why His sacrifice counted for me: because He suffered in my place, bearing the punishment that I deserved. In this sense, I feel I can confidently say that penal substitution is the Gospel, and that any denial of it is, at some level, either an outright denial of the Gospel (at worst), or a very poor understanding of it (at best).

    Now, can someone be saved with a very poor understanding of the Gospel? Why, certainly! I cannot answer for you. I do not know whether the issues you take with penal substitution are due to rebellion against the Gospel itself, or just your misunderstanding of it, and so I don’t know whether they will impact your salvation. But I do believe that there are those for whom the denial of penal substitution will be eternally decisive.

  20. Nick,

    I came across your debate with TurretinFan while researching this blog post and skimmed through it. This post is designed to be the second in an extended series on the atonement (the first, if you’re interested, was titled “Behold, the Lamb”), and I was not planning on mounting a defense of the doctrine until later when I hope to take up objections such as yours in whatever detail I can. Here I was simply interested in declaring it, along with showing the role it has played in my own Christian life.

    Now that you’ve commented here, I went back and took another look at the debate. There’s a lot to read there, but what I did review confirmed my initial impression: you have not raised any points that have not already been covered in the extant literature, and your alternative interpretations of key passages are quite answerable. In fact, I think TurretinFan gave a good account of himself in your debate.

    Meanwhile, I would also point out that the version of the satisfaction theory that you present in your side of the debate seems to be based on a presupposition that I reject, since I do not find it in Scripture: viz., that righteous suffering is inherently meritorious, and thus Aquinas wrote, “Now it is clear that any man, established in grace, who suffers for righteousness’ sake, merits salvation for himself by that very suffering (Matt. v. 10)….Hence Christ through his passion merited salvation not only for himself but for all his members” (Summa Theologica, iii. Q. xlviii. art. i., cited in Henry Bettenson, ed., Documents of the Christian Church, 2nd ed., [New York: Oxford University Press, 1967], 145. Emphasis mine.). Under this scheme, Christ’s sacrifices were atoning only because He was able to offer enough meritorious works (in the form of His sufferings) to offset our sins. On the contrary, Christ’s death did not make satisfaction for sin because of any merit that is always inherent in righteous suffering and thus it was simply a good work that offset our bad works, but rather because in His righteous state He was able to satisfy God’s justice by paying the penalty that was due to us for breaking God’s law.

  21. Ron,

    Again church father and theologians have disagreed over the correctness of Penal Substitution for 2000 years. I hardly think that the book by Jeffery, Ovey, and Sach is the final, decisive and correct word on the matter.

    In response to your last couple of paragraphs, I have to ask: if “Jesus finished all the work that was necessary for my salvation (and mine). It is crucial to understand that His work put away my sins (and mine), so that I no longer have to answer for them before the judgment seat of God on the last day” then how could anything I do in this world undo His saving work – especially if my decisively mortal sin is my inability to accept the truth of a mere doctrine which I believe fails to properly exalt God?

    John

    died for your sins,

  22. John,

    You wrote:

    Again church father and theologians have disagreed over the correctness of Penal Substitution for 2000 years.

    And again, you are incorrect on this point for a couple of very good reasons:

    (1) The first real substantive and explicit disagreement over the meaning of the atonement itself came in the 11th and 12th centuries, when both Anselm of Canterbury and Pierre Abélard both broke from the ransom theory (i.e., ransom-to-Satan theory) of the atonement while also disagreeing with each other (posthumously, in Anselm’s case, since he was dead by the time Abélard wrote) over the atonement’s specific meaning. Up until that time I would say that the penal substitution theory had been more-or-less assumed up until the beginning of the Middle Ages, and gradually became displaced by the ransom theory during the Low Middle Ages (i.e., A.D. 500-1000). But you don’t find any real debate or disagreement, at least not in the formal sense, until Anselm.

    (2) Although penal substitution is repeatedly indicated by various references in the Apostolic, Ante-Nicene, Nicene, and Post-Nicene Fathers, it was not actually formulated as a theological doctrine until the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. This in turn led to the famous reaction by Socinus, who advanced arguments similar to yours against penal substitution, and we’ve basically been rehashing that same debate for the past four centuries, not 2,000 years as you indicate.

    You wrote:

    I hardly think that the book by Jeffery, Ovey, and Sach is the final, decisive and correct word on the matter.

    I never said it was. I simply wrote, “I highly recommend the book by Jeffery, Ovey, and Sach from which I’ve been quoting as but one of several very good treatments of this subject…”

    You wrote:

    In response to your last couple of paragraphs, I have to ask: if “Jesus finished all the work that was necessary for my salvation (and mine). It is crucial to understand that His work put away my sins (and mine), so that I no longer have to answer for them before the judgment seat of God on the last day” then how could anything I do in this world undo His saving work – especially if my decisively mortal sin is my inability to accept the truth of a mere doctrine which I believe fails to properly exalt God?

    I am having a difficult time discerning precisely how many questions you are asking here, so I’ll try to deal with what you ask in the following pieces. First:

    […] then how could anything I do in this world undo His saving work […]?

    As I understand Scripture, if you are truly saved, then it cannot.

    Second:

    […] especially if my decisively mortal sin is my inability to accept the truth of a mere doctrine which I believe fails to properly exalt God?

    Here’s where my grasp of what you’re trying to ask gets murky, so I’ll just go with what I think you’re saying. To wit:

    Did I say that your rejection of penal substitution was a “decisively mortal sin” (assuming here that what you mean by “mortal sin” is something along the lines of an unforgivable sin)? I think I was quite careful to state that your rejection of penal substitution may be due to a misunderstanding instead of a rebellious spirit, and thus for you it may not be eternally decisive. In other words, for all I know you very well may be a true Christian. I cannot judge your spiritual state or predict your eternal destiny, but I do have to make a decision about how to treat you, and for now I would rather err on the side of charity and assume that you are a brother in Christ, until you give me reason to doubt it. This being the case, you may never come around to my point of view and agree with me about penal substitution, but this does not automatically mean that you will not wind up in heaven where you will find out that I am right! :)

  23. Ron,

    And I see you as a brother in Christ. Your answer was to the point – but just to clarify my question, it seemed that earlier you were suggesting that whether one believes in penal substitution may affect one’s salvation. Your most recent answer suggests that so long as one’s objection to the doctrine is based on misunderstanding, their salvation is secure, if they were ever saved at all. Hmm. If all the good thoughts and deeds of a lifetime cannot contribute one bit to one’s salvation, how can believing in an incorrect doctrine cost one’s salvation. The math is all wrong. Just a thought.

    Hopefully we shall meet in heaven and both of us will learn the truth of the matter, from God’s perspective, if it is God’s will.

    But you raise yet another point when you suggest that you have to “make a decision about how to treat” me. It seems to me that as Christians we are called to love one another, and yet if we were enemies in any sense of the word, we would be called to love each all the more, and pray for good to come to each other. So I am not so sure there is a decision to be made. We are always ambassadors for Christ. And we are to pray without ceasing that each of our hearts will feel the loving embrace of God.

    Peace,
    John

  24. John,

    You wrote:

    …it seemed that earlier you were suggesting that whether one believes in penal substitution may affect one’s salvation. Your most recent answer suggests that so long as one’s objection to the doctrine is based on misunderstanding, their salvation is secure, if they were ever saved at all. Hmm. If all the good thoughts and deeds of a lifetime cannot contribute one bit to one’s salvation, how can believing in an incorrect doctrine cost one’s salvation. The math is all wrong. Just a thought.

    It depends on the incorrect doctrine that is in question. I do not believe that anyone’s salvation depends upon a particular view of the days of creation in Genesis 1, or of the question of which type of church government is most biblical. But there are core doctrines without which one cannot expect to be considered a Christian, and therefore cannot be saved. For example, Jesus said, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24, ESV). In Greek, the phrase translated “I am he” is actually simply “I am” (egō eimi, ἐγώ εἰμι), and when he uses it a little later in John 8:58 it becomes clear to his hostile audience that He’s actually referring to Himself as the “I AM” of Exodus 3:14, Yahweh, and so they try to stone Him. So what Jesus is saying in John 8:24 is that one cannot deny His deity and expect to be saved.

    No, our faith is not meritorious. Just because we believe the right things does not mean that we deserve to be saved. On the other hand, our faith is only as good as its object. If you put your faith in a false Jesus, or a false salvation that He did not obtain (e.g., salvation by works), then you do not have saving faith.

    You wrote:

    […] But you raise yet another point when you suggest that you have to “make a decision about how to treat” me. It seems to me that as Christians we are called to love one another, and yet if we were enemies in any sense of the word, we would be called to love each all the more, and pray for good to come to each other. So I am not so sure there is a decision to be made. We are always ambassadors for Christ. And we are to pray without ceasing that each of our hearts will feel the loving embrace of God.

    I agree with your sentiment here, so I’ll need to clarify my meaning. When I talk about deciding how to treat people, I’m specifically referring to whether I should try to have the kind of relationship with them that I can have with a brother or sister in Christ. If you were not a brother in Christ, then there would be things we would not have in common. The best way to show you Christian love, in addition to general respect and kindness, would be to look for opportunities to introduce you to my Savior. On the other hand, I would not be able to share the Lord’s Supper with you, or expect you to fully understand my uniquely Christian beliefs and practices. But assuming that you are a brother in Christ, I do not need to urge you to put your trust in Christ, and I can freely partake of communion alongside you. This is essentially what I was trying to say.

  25. John:
    My relationship with Jesus leads me to the understanding that Jesus abhors violence and would never sanction it,especially not by his followers.>>>>>

    How do you explain the Jesus of the Bible who is both the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the Lamb that was slain?

    If you read the book of Revelation, you will see the Lion in action. If you read the Gospels, you will see the Lamb of God Himself, the God-Man, slain for the sins of the world.

    I’m not sure where you are getting your Jesus from.

    Yes, I should just stay out of it, but this is fascinating.

    Thank you all for your comments.

    God bless,
    Mrs. Webfoot

  26. Mrs. Webfoot,

    Should I then infer that you think Jesus is a proponent of, or is at least sanguine with violent solutions?

    You ask rhetorically where I could possibly get the idea that Jesus abhors violence.

    OK I’ll bite:

    The Jesus I read about in the Gospels did not lift a hand in his own defense, healed his attacker, told his followers to put away their weapons, advocated turning the other cheek, and repeatedly advocated forgiveness of enemies, repeatedly.

    The Jesus I read about in the Gospels said that we are to love one another as he loves us. He advocated that we should be merciful as our Father in heaven is merciful (not violent as our Father in heaven is violent).

    The Jesus I read about in the Gospels never once called upon his followers to take up arms or even to defend themselves with violence.

    And as for the images of the Book of Revelation, given the symbolic nature of the book, (do you really think that the final battle between the transcendent God and Evil will be fought out on a physical plain?), I cannot personally rely on its images as endorsing violence by the followers of Jesus. Nor, I might add, would I rely on those images as being suggestive that Jesus has a positive regard for violence.

    And even if I were to conclude that Revelation accurately portrays the actual physical battles God will undertake against Evil, I would not find in such conduct any license for human violence, nor would I conclude that Jesus would wield such power with anything but the most profound regret, disappointment, and sorrow.

    But perhaps you interpret these things differently.

    John

  27. John:
    OK I’ll bite:>>>>

    I can’t say you didn’t warn me.

    John, you seem to be putting a lot of limits on what Jesus HAS to be so that you are willing to follow Him.

    If you believed that He was willing and able to execute judgment on Satan and his followers, using real violence in the real world to acomplish that, would you follow Him?

    If He thought that sending unbelievers to Hell was a good thing, would you follow Him?

    Matthew 23:33
    “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?

    Would you follow this Jesus of the Gospels who thought that “snakes” and “vipers” belonged in hell?

    Would you follow the Jesus who told people to fear the One who could send them to hell?

    Matthew 10:28
    Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

    I suppose that for you, hell is just another metaphor?

    Yes. I think that the final battle will be real, and fought in the heavenlies and on earth.

    I think it is safe to say that the apostle Paul had a similiar idea. Not all Christians agree about when that will be, but I am certainly not alone in thinking it will be a battle fought on this earth.

    2 Thessalonians 1:6-8 (New International Version)

    6God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you

    7and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.

    8He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

    I agree that Jesus will not “enjoy” doing what has to be done, but God will be satisfied.

    Jesus will be the One doing the punishing.

    Feel free to disagree. I’m not sure what you do with these Scriptures, though – or any, for that matter.

    Hey, take care, okay,
    Mrs. Webfoot

  28. Ron,

    I largely agree with your post, if anything, I would add more reasons to why Christ died (as I’m sure you probably would too). The book, “50 Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die” (Originally published as “The Passion of the Christ”) is very helpful in explaining this.

    As for your comment on my blog, thank you. The Gospel section was actually borrowed from Mark Driscoll’s blog. http://www.marshillchurch.org/about/the-gospel

  29. Mrs. Webfoot,

    Jesus is Lord and he will sit in judgment. I am OK with that, and even if I were not, God is God and I am not. And I am OK with that too.

    What Jesus can and will and must do, he will do. Jesus does not seek my counsel on how he will deal with sinners. But to say that God will be satisfied that sinners perish in hell is so narrow and incomplete as to be untrue from my perspective. That he should loose a single soul to hell will not result in the “satisfaction” of the Good Shepherd who seeks the single lost sheep, and who desires the salvation of all of God’s children. It will be a sorrowful moment for God and all those who love God, whether they are saved or damned. The Day of Judgment will be a awful day, because it will be day the Lord gives up hope for some of us.

    As for which Scriptures we pay most attention to, I can only say that I try to listen to what Jesus has to say to me, and his message to my heart is not about threats and violence, though such words are there. Jesus tells me that the Kingdom of God is near, that the New Jerusalem is not a place of judgment, fear, or damnation, but a place of healing, of healing which spreads out from his throne like a river, of healing which is freely available to all the nations.

    Just as you tenaciously embrace a God of violence, destruction, fear and judgment and leap to the defense of your image of God, I hear: BE NOT AFRAID, words which God says over and over; and love one another, and forgive, rejoice, pray without ceasing, and be thankful in all circumstances.

    You feel inspired to lift up those Scriptures which point to the awful power of God and the Judgment of Jesus, while I feel inspired to lift up those which feature the loving kindness of God and the servanthood of Jesus. You lift up Scriptures about threats and intimidation, and I lift up those that console. You lift up those Scriptures which suggest the vengeance of the Lord and I lift up those Scriptures which call us to imitate the love and compassion of the Lord. There are no Scriptures which call us to imitate the judgment of the Lord, or otherwise call you and I to violence in the name of the Lord.
    You focus on judgment and I pray for forgiveness.

    It may be that we both see important aspects of the true God, and we just celebrate those parts which are addressed to our own hearts. It seems that our respective hearts have heard from the Lord and that we are happy with what we have heard. I am OK with that.

    I do not know what hell is or heaven for that matter, I just know that it is God’s will that I spend eternity with him. I can only hope and pray that it should happen.

    John

  30. John,

    You wrote:

    Just as you tenaciously embrace a God of violence, destruction, fear and judgment and leap to the defense of your image of God […]

    Hitherto we have all managed to keep this discussion fairly civil. I am happy to say that you have also done your part with your irenic contributions. But this remark, along with the overall tone of your most recent comment, represents a rather harsh turn in my view.

    I went back to re-read the comment from Mrs. Webfoot to which you responded, and far from any justification for your response I found these words from her regarding coming judgment:

    I agree that Jesus will not “enjoy” doing what has to be done, but God will be satisfied.

    I think this belies the bloodthirsty image you have painted on her view of God.

    It is difficult for those of us who believe in penal substitution to adequately convey the fullness of our understanding of God’s nature. We believe, no less than you do, that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). We obviously differ on how the love that is essential to God’s nature relates to His response to sin, nevertheless, we believe, just as you, that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23). We apparently differ on the propriety of warning people that death will come to the wicked, nevertheless, we believe, as I’m sure you do, that whenever God does punish sin, it is in some sense His “strange work,” His “alien task,” (Isaiah 28:21, NIV). The acts of divine judgment that punctuate redemptive history stand out in sharp contrast to the overall progress of redemption itself. God continually showers His common grace on all mankind, and His saving grace on those who will inherit eternal life. True, sinners continue to reap what they sow, and both evil and tragedies occur that remind us that we live in a fallen world, but who can deny that each new day is an act of mercy and grace from God?

    No one’s heart breaks more for the fate of the lost than the heart of the person who believes in penal substitution. No one is more keenly aware that the suffering Christ bore on his or her behalf properly belonged to him or her, and not Christ, than the one who believes in penal substitution. No one is more eager to see other sinners spared from eternal suffering, and come into the blessedness of eternal life through Christ, than the Christian who believes in penal substitution.

    I would just ask you to be patient with us, and I hope that other commenters here will show the same patience toward you and anyone else who disagrees with our view of the atonement. Please try not to respond to the caricatures about penal substitution that you may have heard, but wait until the full story is told, and the picture is complete. This is but the second of a series of blog posts for me, and I look forward to the opportunity to respond to concerns such as the ones you have raised here.

  31. Ron,

    I agree that the tone of my last comment was overly harsh and embarrassingly self-righteous – I thought so almost immediately after I submitted it. For that I apologize, especially to Mrs. Webfoot.

    But the underlying theme I hold onto, and that is the point that whatever Jesus will do with me or anyone else on the Day of Judgment is not anything I have control over. So too, the battle between God and Evil – both of which are too far above my paygrade to be concerned about. So I spend little time worrying over those big questions and trust that the Lord will do whatever it is He sees is fit and proper.

    In the meantime, I look to the words of Scripture to find out what I am supposed to worry about, and that appears to me to be responding to the call to loving kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.

    As for communicating the Gospel to others, again, there being little that anyone can do about the disposition of their souls, I focus on the call to love God and love one another – to follow Jesus. That is all I can do. People can respond to this call for a variety of reasons, including fear of the Lord. But I want to think that I do so out of gratitude for the presence of God in my life. How cool is it that God pays attention to me! And just like I wanted to make my earthly parents smile on me and take pride in me, I wish to make my heavenly parent smile and take pride in this son as well. Not for fear, but out of love.

    I am sure that this is true in great measure for all Christians. We all want to please our Lord.

    Perhaps, the difference between our theological focus comes down to the fact that I just cannot bring myself to spend time hand wringing over Judgment.

    John

  32. John, I think I understand where you are coming from. I hadn’t ever thought that someone might get the impression from the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement that those who believe it would justify or condone violence.

    FWIW, I don’t.

    I don’t think that I focus on judgment. It is one of many aspects of the person of Christ.

    He is our loving and gracious Savior. He is our Shepherd, our Friend, and all the other things we see in Scripture about Him.

    He is also the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

    Hey, thank you for responding to what I said.

    Again, this is very interesting. Please don’t be annoyed with my questions. They are not meant to annoy.

    God bless,
    Mrs. Webfoot

  33. John, to be honest, when I was in my late teens/early twenties, I wanted to throw my Bible against the wall when I heard about OT commands to slay little children and totally innocent animals.

    My change in perspective came about as I realized there was a “full measure” to sin (what God said to Abraham, I think, about the nations which would be destroyed after 400 years of enslavement to Egypt). That God was longsuffering with the nations Israel was commanded to dispossess.

    That there were people of faith in those nations whom God rescued (Rahab), and people, who, while they may not have had faith, made peace with Israel so they could live (the Gibeonites). What I’m saying is, I learned these nations were well aware of what God did in leading Israel out of Egypt, and were warned about the impending doom, and chose to not surrender, for the most part. If they repented, and there is at least one example who did – a woman – they would have been spared.

    And I also remember that the Church is not under a land covenant such as the nation of Israel was, and that the Church does not have the same rights and responsibilites as the government is given, according to how I read the NT. This was not the case w/OT Israel.

    My current view is God views human government as the vehicle with the right to administer violence – as a defense and protection against aggressors, or else capital punishment for crimes that warrant it. But His mercy is also available to the transgressors of the law. While there may be temporal consequences, these same people who may get their just temporal deserts can still receive God’s eternal mercy – and I guess because eternal mercy is much more important than getting temporal consequences, such as lethal injections, or killing terrorists, I am not prone to view all violence with quite the level of abhorrence which you seem to have. Murder, abortion, acts of terrorism, yes, but not all violence.

    Both eternal mercy and getting temporal consequences that are just, and are violent, are not mutually exclusive, in my mind.

    Just saying how I’m thinking. Thanks for being willing to share in this forum.

  34. John: Thank you for your kind, gracious response. Since there is so much in it with which I agree, and since I think you already know where I’m coming from, and since others here have also expressed themselves in similar fashion, I’ll just leave it at that.

    Lynn: Your comments call to mind the recent book, Show Them No Mercy: Four Views on God and Canaanite Genocide, edited by Stanley N. Gundry, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003). For the reasons you cite along with a few others, I consider the word “genocide” a terrible misnomer. But what really struck me was your account of how the biblical accounts in question affected you. One of the contributors to the book I just mentioned, C.S. Cowles, argued that the early Israelites totally misunderstood God’s will. His view appears heavily influenced (or at least fortified) by a person who had the same initial reaction you did—the one that made you want to throw your Bible at the wall. This person had apparently gotten about half-way through the Old Testament and then put the Bible aside, never to pick it up again, offended as he was by its violent portions. For some reason it seems that Cowles believes that his own approach of denying the plenary inspiration would have helped this person somehow. I have my doubts.

    Cowles is making a transparent appeal to the emotions at this point rather than a rational argument, but it works on a lot of people. I think your testimony shows that it is not necessary to water down the authority of Scripture in order for the Holy Spirit to apply it to people’s hearts.

  35. John, I want you to know that I hear your heart cry.

    I also hope that you will believe me when I say that I am very concerned about violence and injustice. It is something that weighs on my heart all day, every day, all the time.

    If I did not believe that God hears the cry of the oppressed, including their cry for justice against their oppressors, I would not be able to get out of bed in the morning, let alone do the things that I do. I have heard their cries, even as they have cried in my own ears in a real, literal sense of the word cry.

    If I did not believe that God made a way of escape in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, life would not be worth living for me.

    I hope you hear my heart, and don’t just get annoyed at my words. Okay? :-)

    God bless you,
    Mrs. Webfoot

  36. I think you should read the debate a bit more closely, because TFan did not actually address a lot of my Scriptural exegesis.

    The issue of 1 Pt 2:24 being interpreted in context is one huge example, because most start the ‘context’ at v21, when in fact the context starts at v18. By leaving this out, you, pierced for our Transgressions, and others all miss the plain teaching of the text which is precisely the Catholic “satisfaction” view which you just denied.

    p.s. you should enable the option of “email me of follow up comments”

  37. Lynn,

    I decided a couple of years ago to adopt a stance of radical opposition to violence, such as war and state sponsored use of force including the death penalty and torture.

    Before that decision I was sure that Jesus abhorred violence and called for its elimination in the world. But I saw the world as fallen, and from a pragmatic perspective, concluded that some situations prudentially merited an appropriate level of violence; the non-violence which Jesus called for was simply not possible in the current circumstances. But I was never comfortable with my pragmatism and I didn’t think my compromise was pleasing to God.

    In recent years I have been horrified to hear so many Christians justifying violent responses not just from a pragmatic point of view but from a biblical perspective. The call for violence contains so much passion and anger, and its use is feted with such praise and satisfaction. There is not enough sorrow, not enough regret, not enough compassion.

    I think that perhaps violence, like vengeance, is reserved to God – not that God necessarily will invoke either, but they are reserved to the Lord. Humans are not equipped with sufficient wisdom and compassion to use them appropriately.

    So I have reached the conclusion that there are enough folks calling for more violence in the world – there is no need for me to join that chorus. Instead I choose to sing a different tune. Maybe I can tip the balance just a little bit occasionally.

    It may well be that the world is too far from the Kingdom to renounce violence altogether, but I do not see that as a reason for me not to oppose it, even if I am just one voice.

    John

  38. Hey, thanks, John. Now I REALLY freaked you out!

    I’m a missionary. I go to some pretty extreme places and do some pretty unusual things.

    So, anyway…no big deal…

  39. Ron and John:
    In response to John’s view about violence, I was reminded of my own progression in thinking about the Bible, and shared a little of that progress, but left out the first part, which kind of put me into a mental and emotional tailspin for a while.

    I was about 23 years old, and got a copy of CS Lewis’ Christian Reflections (a collection of his essays). One of these essays is his view of Psalm 109, which you both know is arguably the strongest imprecatory psalm, and you both know that Peter quoted from it when the apostles sought a replacement for Judas.

    I was surprised to find CS Lewis taking John’s (the John commenting in this thread) view on these matters. He flat out said God “condemns” these imprecatory prayers. Of course he contrasted what is in that Psalm 109 to the injunctions to “bless your enemies,” etc., as his justification.

    This confused me. I was being taught at the time, the doctrine of the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures, and I knew Peter quoted from Psalm 109 when they sought a replacement for Judas, so I was aware Peter and the others took it as prophetic, and not like CS Lewis would have taken it.

    But Lewis was so instrumental in solidifying my faith in Christ, I wondered what his views on the Scriptures were at the time. I also remembered in that essay, he called them “homicidal Hebrews,” and some place else he said the Bible is not the word of God; Christ is the word of God, and the Bible points you to Christ, in answer to someone’s question to him.

    I can’t tell you how much angst this created in me, and I almost can’t believe it over 25 years later, looking back on it.

    There’s a lot one has to grapple with, comparing the imprecatory psalms to the commands of Christ, and calling them both Holy Writ. A lot of understanding is needed to understand both in their proper contexts.

    I took this matter to a pastor of my church, who at the time reminded me that David and God both had great forebearance and patience with enemies, and apart from grace and mercy there is no reason to delay the judgment of enemies. He also told me we are not a theocracy as Israel was, and to take that into account.

    Mentally, I extrapolated what he said to the Church age, and basically came to the idea that the Church is in no way to advance with physical violence, but with the Great Commission, as the Scriptures indicate. However, there will be an end to this age, and great judgment to come, if my understanding of the prophets and Revelation is in the ballpark of accurate thinking.

    Ron, I may check out that book you mentioned.

    The bottom line now is – as much as I am grateful for and feel a keen affection for CS Lewis, and as much as I am in awe of his ability to reason, and his vast knowledge, I don’t agree with everything he said, and his views on the imprecatory psalms is one example. However, John, you are in good company – you probably agree with CSL in this matter.

    All that being said, we know in the end God’s desire is this:

    Regarding what looks to be Armageddon. There will be violence in this present age:

    Joel 3:10
    Beat your plowshares into swords, And your pruning hooks into spears; Let the weak say, “I am a mighty man.”

    What happens after the Lord returns:

    Isa 2:4
    And He will judge between the nations, And will render decisions for many peoples; And they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they learn war.

    Micah 4:3
    And He will judge between many peoples

    And render decisions for mighty, distant nations.

    Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares

    And their spears into pruning hooks;

    Nation will not lift up sword against nation,

    And never again will they train for war.

    God’s desire and will is for peace in the end, and an end to the violence of this age. And it will be accomplished.

  40. Nick,

    You wrote:

    I think you should read the debate a bit more closely, because TFan did not actually address a lot of my Scriptural exegesis.

    The issue of 1 Pt 2:24 being interpreted in context is one huge example, because most start the ‘context’ at v21, when in fact the context starts at v18. By leaving this out, you, pierced for our Transgressions, and others all miss the plain teaching of the text which is precisely the Catholic “satisfaction” view which you just denied.

    Fair enough, let’s look at the points you initially raised about 1 Peter 2:24 in your debate with TurretinFan. In your page titled, “Penal Substitution Debate – Negative Constructive Essay,” you wrote:

    3c) 1 Peter 2:24 says Jesus “bore our sins in his body on the tree.” Protestants look to this as clear evidence that the guilt of the elect was imputed to Jesus and punished in Him. However, the context paints quite a different picture:

    18Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19For it is commendable [χάρις, charis: favor, grace] if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 20But how is it to your credit [κλέος, kleos: fame, glory, praise] if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable [χάρις, charis: favor, grace] before God. 21To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
    22″He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”23When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

    The context clearly indicates the theme of Peter’s teaching is enduring unjust suffering, and that suffering unjustly at the hands of others for doing God’s will is what is meritorious in God’s sight. This context is definitely not Penal Substitution. This is in fact Peter’s theme throughout most of this Epistle (eg 3:3-4; 3:9-14; 3:17-18; 4:12-16).

    [The bold text yours; the Greek text and definitions are mine.]

    Now, you went on to say more in the same paragraph that ends my citation here, but at that point you introduce a new thought, and so I’ll treat that as if it were a separate paragraph and deal with it a little later. (I guess it’s just the English teacher in me coming out.)

    You make a couple of points in what I’ve just quoted that I will take issue with, beginning with what I perceive to be the main point your argument, which is to exclude penal substitution from the interpretation of 1 Peter 2:24. If I may state your argument as a syllogism, it seems to be as follows:

    Major Premise: The meaning of all statements in a given context are limited to its primary topic.
    Minor Premise: The primary topic of 1 Peter 2:18-25 is suffering unjustly at the hands of others.
    Conclusion: The meaning of 1 Peter 2:25 is limited to suffering unjustly at the hands of others.

    This is the first point I want to deal with from your last paragraph above. To me this appears to be a classic example of a logical fallacy known as a “false dilemma,” “false dichotomy,” or to cite the name of the category from D.A. Carson’s book, Exegetical Fallacies, (Grand Rapids, MI and Carlilse, UK: Baker Books and Paternoster Press, 2nd ed., 1996), “False disjunctions: an improper appeal to the law of the excluded middle” (90-92). Of course, the law of the excluded middle is simply the law of logic (actually, it’s one of the three “laws of thought” in philosophy) which states that an entity—let’s call it “A”—cannot be both “A” and “not A” at the same time. (The law also states or that a statement cannot be both true and false at the same time.) In other words, when we predicate something about an object (either its “A-ness,” or its veracity), there is no “middle ground”—it either is A or it is not; it is either true or it is false. (See Peter A. Angeles, Dictionary of Philosophy, [New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1981], 153).

    Yes, there are times when real conceptual dichotomies exist, but this is not one of those times. True, your logic can be stated as a valid syllogism, but since your major premise is false, so is your conclusion. There is nothing in the canons of literary context that dictates that an author cannot introduce a new thought within a given context, especially when that new thought serves to drive home the main point he is making in that context. The clear statement of penal substitution that I believe Peter makes in verse 24 actually underscores his point about enduring unjust suffering. Peter’s logic here goes like this:

    1. Be prepared to suffer under unjust masters, keeping your mind fixed on God (v. 18-19).
    2. If you suffer for for doing wrong, you have nothing to brag about (v. 20a).
    3. If you suffer for doing right, God will be pleased (v. 20b).
    4. But you are actually called to go much further by following Christ’s example (v. 21).
    5. Christ not only did right, but He suffered for the wrongs we did (v. 22-24a).
    6. And how did He suffer for them? He bore our punishment so that we might be saved from sin and united to Him (v. 24b-25).

    Not only do I believe that 1 Peter 2:24 can easily fit in with the flow of Peter’s thought when it’s interpreted as a statement of penal substitutionary atonement, but I also believe it cannot fit into Peter’s flow of thought when it’s interpreted your way. This leads to the second point I want to deal with from your last paragraph above. In that paragraph, you wrote:

    The context clearly indicates the theme of Peter’s teaching is enduring unjust suffering, and that suffering unjustly at the hands of others for doing God’s will is what is meritorious in God’s sight.

    [Emphasis mine.]

    I do not believe that Peter says anything that is even close to concept that suffering is inherently meritorious in God’s sight simply because it is “suffering unjustly at the hands of others for doing God’s will.” The concept of merit is entirely absent from the passage.

    The word translated “commendable” [χάρις, charis] never refers to merit in the New Testament. It is most frequently translated “grace.” It basically means “favor,” but in the New Testament it generally refers to “unmerited favor,” or, more to the point of New Testament theology, favor shown to those who actually deserve punishment. The way Peter uses it here is entirely consistent with his exhortation to follow Christ’s example, since it implies that by bearing up under unjust suffering, Christians are showing unmerited favor to their unjust masters just as Christ showed unmerited favor to them.

    The word for “credit” [κλέος, kleos] is an example of New Testament hapax legomenon—a word that is only used once in a given body of literature—so we are entirely dependent on literature outside the Bible to ascertain its meaning. In classical Greek it referred to “fame,” or “glory,” as it does in one of the Apostolic Fathers, 1 Clement 5:6, where the text says that Paul “gained the illustrious reputation [κλέος, kleos] due to his faith” (Roberts and Donaldson, eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1 [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, reprinted 2004], 6). The word generally refers to credit before men, not credit (let alone merit) with God.

    As the late German New Testament scholar Leonhard Goppelt wrote:

    To bear such pains, λύπαι [lupai], is χάρις [charis], grace, the demonstration of God’s love, not because he rewards the suffering as if it were an achievement, but because the suffering is an expression of the call to salvation, as is stated in v. 20b and given foundation in vv. 21-25.

    [Goppelt, A Commentary on 1 Peter, J.E. Alsup, trans., F. Hahn, ed., (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), 195-196.]

    Now, on to the end of the paragraph, which I have yet to quote. In it, you wrote:

    What is even more significant here is that 1 Pt 2:22-25 quotes and alludes to Isaiah 53 (esp verses 5, 6, 7, 9, 12) more than anywhere else in the NT, thus it should be the main guide for interpreting Isaiah 53. Because 1 Peter 2 is not teaching Penal Substitution then Isaiah 53 cannot be teaching iteither.

    Here you are employing an exegetical methodology that is fundamentally flawed. There is no problem with using the New Testament as an aid for understanding the Old Testament. Nor is it necessarily wrong to look to one primary New Testament passage as a kind of locus classicus for interpreting a given Old Testament passage, although we should be cautious with such a practice. But there is a huge problem with limiting the meaning of any given Old Testament text to the way it is used by any given New Testament author. Establishing this as a general rule, which you are clearly doing here, will lead to ludicrous results.

    Take, for example, Hosea 11:1b, which is quoted in only one place in the New Testament. The verse as a whole reads: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (ESV). Matthew quotes the second half of the verse when he tells us that Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt, “and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son'” (Matthew 2:15, ESV). Matthew applies the verse to Jesus and only to Jesus.

    So if we apply your methodology, since Matthew 2:15 is the only NT interpreter of Hosea 11:1b, then Hosea 11:1b cannot teach anything that Matthew 2:15 does not also teach. And since Matthew 2:15 does not teach anything about Israel, then neither can Hosea 11:1b. But all one need do is read Hosea 11 as a whole to see that this is an utterly untenable conclusion.

    And if you think Hosea 11:1b is an isolated case, just read a little further in Matthew 2 to verse 18, where he quotes Jeremiah 31:15 in much the same manner. No, just because you do not think a New Testament passage is not teaching something is not sufficient warrant for concluding that any Old Testament passages it may be quoting does not teach it either.

    Now in point of fact, I believe a conclusive case has already been made for the fact that penal substitution is taught in both Isaiah 53 and 1 Peter 2. I further believe that, while it is not the only place, the aforementioned book by Jeffery, Ovey, and Sach, Pierced for Our Transgressions, makes such a case (see pages 95-97). I hope to go into that issue further in a future post.

    You wrote:

    p.s. you should enable the option of “email me of follow up comments”

    I’ll look into that.

  41. Mrs Webfoot,

    Thank you for speaking of your concern about all the injustice in the world. Perhaps, as you studied the doctrine of penal substitution, it elevated your righteous anger at injustice…precisely because that truth enlarges the attribute of the Justice of God. Many enemies of this doctrine diminish the this attribute while proclaiming concern for injustice. This truth demonstrates how “mercy and justice kiss”, how God is both “Just and the Justifier”.

    I have seen several times on other blogs in the blogosphere, God portrayed as one that should be pitied (to borrow language from Pink). A God who is illustrated as a beggar…begging and “knocking on the door” of everyone pleading with people, a triune God who has failed to save many people.

    God is not a failure, and Jesus accomplished is mission to “seek and save”…not to “seek and make salvation possible”. I heard it said if Jesus wants in the door of one’s heart He Kicks open the door….I know He did for me, as I am certainly no wiser or virtuous than someone sitting next to me in church who of their own self-will rejects Christ. I was dead until the Spirit regenerated me.

    Ron,
    Thanks for inviting me to the blog. Your knowledge of this solemn truth is humbling, and it convicts me that I need to meditate and study it more. You have proven yourself on this blog a gracious and polite host. I have learned after this discussion. Praise God that by His Spirit we can behold the beauty and love of Christ as He paid our debt….”paid in full” He utter from the cross.

    Dave

  42. Hi, Dave,
    Well, I was going to stay out of this for real this time, but this subject has really gripped me, especially lately.

    Dave:
    Thank you for speaking of your concern about all the injustice in the world. Perhaps, as you studied the doctrine of penal substitution, it elevated your righteous anger at injustice…precisely because that truth enlarges the attribute of the Justice of God.>>>>

    Yes. Actually, it’s more like it keeps me from getting TOO angry at injustice.
    I know that the justice “issue” is taken care of in Christ.

    I know that vengence is God’s and that He will repay those who harm God’s people.

    I was thinking about it this afternoon. I have been to some pretty intense places.

    The message that Christ took the punishment for our sins that we deserve so we can be reconciled to God is the only Gospel there is, as far as I’m concerned. I wouldn’t be interested in preaching any other. What for?

    If God’s justice isn’t satisfied fully in the death of His Son, that means injustice wins, it seems to me. His death itself would have been the greatest injustice, and nothing more.

    If God could have forgiven us anyway, why all the drama of the death of His Son? The explanations aren’t satisfying to me.

    Dave:
    I was dead until the Spirit regenerated me.>>>

    Yes!

    John 5:25
    I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.

    Dave:
    Praise God that by His Spirit we can behold the beauty and love of Christ as He paid our debt….”paid in full” He utter from the cross.>>>

    Yes! Paid in full. It is finished. He saved His people from their sins.

    Yes. It’s nice that Ron has opened up this discussion.

    I hope that this didn’t get too long. Sorry if it did.

    God bless,
    Mrs. Webfoot

  43. Dave:

    I find some of your comments intriguing, they raise fascinating issues and underscore the problem of taking analogies too far.

    You said: A God who is illustrated as a beggar…begging and “knocking on the door” of everyone pleading with people…I heard it said if Jesus wants in the door of one’s heart He Kicks open the door….”

    Did not Jesus describe himself as one of the least of these? And I must ask you: Is the pleading of a lover not an apt metaphor for God’s love and human free will?

    You assert that if God wants into your heart he will kick the door down – and yet how then do we explain the existence of unbelievers? Stronger doors? Disinterest on God’s part? he analogy breaks down here.

    While I accept the notion that God pleads for our love, with the true vulnerability that comes from allowing the other to say “no,” I reject the notion that is a failure at anything.

    While I accept the notion that all things are possible for God, I reject even the hint of a suggestion that God is not interested in or has given up on converting even the most recalcitrant of unbelievers. Even though God chooses to beg for our love (rather than compel it), the beggar will eventually prevail and our love will be all the more genuine for God’s patience – I am ever confident of this.

    I suppose we are getting way off topic here.

    Mrs. Webfoot, I apologize if you thought I was ever annoyed at your questions – I was not.

    A missionary?!? I should have known. Bless you.

    John

  44. John:
    Did not Jesus describe himself as one of the least of these? And I must ask you: Is the pleading of a lover not an apt metaphor for God’s love and human free will? >>>>

    John, I don’t mean to butt in here, but I guess that’s what I’m doing, meaning to or not. ;-) I took Dave’s words differently. What does a fireman do for someone who is in a burning house, unable to get to the door to open it, and in need of ressusitation? He kicks down the door and goes in for the rescue, doesn’t he?

    In the Bible we are said to be dead in our transgressions and sins. Some gentle, loving wooing would be wasted on a dead person. What the dead person needs is life! Then a person can hear the gentle voice of the Son of Man calling to them.

    Free will doesn’t help a person who is spiritually dead. Being raised together with Christ does.

    Notice what God.

    Ephesians 2
    Made Alive in Christ
    1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,

    2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.

    3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

    4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,

    5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

    Well, sorry to butt in, but I love this.

    John:
    A missionary?!? I should have known. Bless you.>>>>

    How would you have known until I told you? I get all kinds of reactions when I tell people. I’m not hearing the cries of imaginary friends. ;-) Don’t worry.

    God bless, John, and thanks for the interaction,

    Mrs. Webfoot

  45. Mrs. Webfoot,

    You are more engaging – not that you are not strong in your beliefs, but you have shown a willingness to listen and dialogue – qualities which I think fit a missionary well. Most folks on these blogs, me included, are often more interested in speaking than listening, and too often unwilling to dialogue with any degree of interest with others who hold different positions.

    John

  46. Ron!

    Thanks for this tremendous body of work on Atonement of the Lamb of God! I just saw your comment on my blog (around May 29) and apologize for not responding sooner, sir! Been totally immersed in the planning and execution yesterday, of our annual Charity golf outing.
    Bless you for your stand for Christ! Take care up there in the Collar counties! My mother in law lives in Lockport, so I know where Midlothian is, having taken Metra many times.
    Shabbat shalom in the Name of the King, Jesus.

    Bernie Lutchman
    psalm 27:4

  47. Bernie,

    Thank you for your encouragement. I do not live in Midlothian anymore, or even in the Chicago area, although most of my family and many of my friends do.

  48. Well Ron other than supporting a conjecture you have accomplished that. But there are problems with the conjecture.
    Gen. 9:5 NIV is a rule of God which disallows any direct benefit relative to any man’s life which has been taken by bloodshed.
    Something else too. “Sit until I make your enemies a footstool for you feet.” So in the chapel you mentioned relative to when you “got it” did you also notice the table in plain sight?
    “Thou preparest a table before Me in the presence of Mine enemies.” The conjecture of substitutionary atonement goes hand in hand with this table. Got it?

  49. Mr. Jones,

    None of the verses you cite have anything even remotely to do with the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, with which you obviously have never adequately studied. I see from your assault against this biblical doctrine on another blog that your modus operandi is to make obtuse, logically-incoherent declarations as if they were the most brilliant pearls of wisdom ever to drop from heaven, snidely berate the incredulous response you receive, and then proceed to deliver ever-more nonsensical prose in defense of whatever position you think you’re advocating. Please don’t waste our time in this fashion, or you will be banned.

  50. What is the sin that was repented of in Acts 2 in order to be added to the membership of the church Jesus is head of? You see Ronnie there cannot be any residual issue in regard to sin to be resolved after Jesus’ crucifixion if your conjucture is true, but there is and he even says so. See Jn. 16:8

  51. Theodore,

    The sin to be repented of in Acts 2 was the people’s rejection of Christ. You need to repent of it, too. Once you do, your evil conscience will be healed, your eyes will be opened, and you will be able to see that Christ’s payment for sins was only applied to your account once you trusted in Him, and that if you had not trusted in Him you would have died in your sins. So repent and believe!

  52. Thanks Ron, but with the measure used whom is judged? Any chance that you might have ever read this:
    “And for Your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.”
    Which is it do you think is acceptable to Him?
    “Oh, God, I am so very happy and glad your only begotten son, Jesus, was murdered and lost his life by bloodshed in my place” or “Oh, God, I am truly sorry Jesus, your only begotten son, lost his life by bloodshed when he was crucified.” And I am certianly convinced that it is not possible that the term “each man, too” excludes you, does it?

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