Sunday, December 4, 2011

Penal Substitution quote from

On a thread over at, it was asked whether Collossians 2  teaches penal substitutionary atonement (that Jesus was "punished" on the cross for our sins), which then led to a wider discussion of the nature of atonement period. It was asserted that not only Collossians 2, but also Isaiah 52 - 53 and others, teach this concept.

Someone asserted:
He is the good shepherd, who lays down His life for His sheep.

He redeems us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.

The righteous suffered for the unrighteous.

Which prompted this absolutely awesome reply by Alveus Lacuna:

You're missing the subtlety.

Yes, there is substitution. He takes the place for us. He is the sacrificial lamb. His perfection and righteousness goes in place of our sinfulness.

What is in dispute is whether or not there is a penal satisfaction, meaning that somehow God had to be healed of His anger. We can speak of God's anger against us in a sense, but not absolutely, as God requires no healing. He is complete and perfect. Rather we are the ones that require healing, and as we are healed, then our position towards God is rectified. Instead of moving against God's presence in a way that destroys us, like something coming into the earth's atmosphere can burn it up if the resistance is too great, we move seamlessly into His infinite presence. Also think of diving into the water versus doing a belly-flop. I hope you get my meaning.

Anyway, God is unchanging. So properly speaking, there is a change in us, not in God. That's the whole difference in the way we talk about it versus many Reformed thinkers. The Son didn't die to help the Father stop being pissed off at us. Then it's the Son saving us from the Father instead of from sin, death, and the Accuser.

There's too much of a confusion of terms here: penal, satisfaction, substitution, atonement, blah blah blah. Here is something very specific that Orthodoxy teaches against, and that is the teaching that the Son somehow affects a change in the Father; that we must be saved from the Father.

Indeed.  You may view the thread HERE.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

One of my pet issues.

In a way, Jesus' death was penal. That's to say, he was crucified (a criminal's death) between two real criminals.

It's just that punishment was not the purpose of it all.

David Garner said...

From God's perspective, that is. The Romans wanted to punish. God had something much greater in mind.

Jonathan Kotinek said...

What excellent perspective!

One of the teachings I remember from my first father confessor is that if you look at who demanded Christ's death, it was Death and us (in the sense that the mob that shouted "crucify him!" is us). Your illumination of the issue in pointing out God's changelessness gives further depth to the issue. Similarly, I've read that prayer doesn't change God so much as it changes us.

Thank you!

David Garner said...

Jonathan, you are welcome. I cannot take credit though -- this was a comment someone else left on a message board. My only addition to the discussion was to recognize what a great statement it was, ask its author's permission to re-post it, and post it here.

joel in ga said...

I appreciated reading this. It reminded me of C. S. Lewis's mentor George MacDonald who, also rejecting the idea of penal substitution, pointed out that suffering is not an offset for sin.

Also, the penal substitution seems rather like accounting. We owe a certain amount of suffering to God as payment for our sins. According to this theory, God does not forgive our debt, He transfers it to an innocent substitute who pays it off for us. It is as though you paid my credit card debt for me. If you did, I might be relieved and grateful, but I could not say that the credit card company was gracious and forgave me.

David Garner said...

That's right, Joel. The credit/debt analogy is fine as far as it goes, as is the courtroom/justice model. But taken to their absolute logical extremes, we end up with salvation that is no longer gift. Christ "earned it." He "paid the price." Etc. Which begs the questions raised in the quote I used for the basis of this post -- earned from whom? Paid to whom? I loved the quote specifically because it doesn't do away with the credit or courtroom models, but it just drills down to the problem with them -- at the end of the day, the theology that we must be saved from the Father is a grave error. And Christ did not pay satan (nor serve him justice), so the analogy breaks down.