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Substitutionary Atonement to Penal Substitution

Pablo Picasso Sleeping Peasants 150x150 Substitutionary Atonement to Penal SubstitutionPenal Substitution is actually a particular form of Substitutionary Atonement. I do not believe Penal Substitution to be Biblical.

Penal substitution is a sort of tit for tat type of punishment. If I got 15 years for involuntary homicide, my stand in would have to sit in for the entire 15 year sentence to atone for my sentence as a substitute. On their Penal Substitution page quotes Thomas Schreiner saying, “The punishment and penalty we deserved was laid on Jesus Christ instead of us”.  So Jesus bore the punishment we deserved for God’s righteous demand of judgment on sinners. Calvinism and by doctrine Arminianism hold that Jesus only atones for the Elect. Calvinism most often holds to penal substitution. Arminianism should hold to penal substitution if it is to uphold its doctrine. Many may say this is incorrect though.

If the penalty for sin is death, as some hold, then if the penalty for those who are in Christ has been paid, we would expect to see plenty of people from the 1st century walking around today. (This is a misinterpretation of death entering the world from Genesis 3 and Romans 5 to mean physical death when spiritual death is clearly meant.) If the penalty for sin at death is physical separation from God, eternal damnation in hell, then Jesus who sits at the right hand of God would still be pretty busy serving out eternal sentence after sentence in hell. Actually I hadn’t planned to fully discredit penal substitution. Does anything more need to be said? Maybe some of Hebrews will help.

Hebrews 9:24-26   For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

No, something all together different was going on. What follows I think is a good example of substitutionary atonement fulfilling John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

There is a nation with a dictatorial regime. Many are imprisoned in the fight for freedom. Some simply protest. Some go as far as killing some of the regime in their fight for freedom. Many in their struggle are caught and put into prison. Finally, the regime is overthrown. In comes a new leader who believes in democracy. He sets all those free who were imprisoned for believing in freedom, no matter how they resisted. 5 years later, a pocket of freedom fighters is found in one prison. They are immediately released because the price, overthrowing the previous regime, has already been paid for those who were imprisoned for belief in freedom.

God being a fair judge requires justice. Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient for all who come to believe in Him. His personal sacrifice for us paid a price greater than necessary to redeem more than all who will ever have been born on this planet. That I believe describes Jesus’ sacrifice as a substitute for the penalty we were to face, substitutionary atonement.

Penal Substitution comes from the idea of Election and a particular view of God’s attributes with regard to time. God, it is held, knows all future sins and then can punish them perfectly on the Cross. If you’re interested as to why this view of atonement does not depict the Biblical picture, check out the article Doctrine, the Bible and Time. In short, the writers of the Bible, in their writings, hold to a more human view of time. Augustine, Calvinists and Arminians hold to a Greek ‘omni’ view of God and time. They then apply this attribute of God back to the scriptures as they read. PLEASE NOTE. This is in no way a comment on the actual attributes of God with regard to time. It is simply observing the way the writers of the Bible wrote about time and the way the later church fathers, having assigned a timeless attribute to God’s knowledge, read the Bible. God’s attributes aside, applying a different ‘time’ lense to scripture than how they were written creates major difficulties.

For a look at Open Theism or the Open View which does hold that God does not see the future, but has perfect past and current knowledge, you may like the article The Bible – Open Theism. I’m still not convinced fully on the Open View. Currently, I’m liking the above idea which holds a different time lense on the Bible.


  1. Another name would be limited atonement. This says that Chirst only died for those who would be saved. Im not so sure this is a Armenian doctrine.

  2. -Limited Atonement – Jesus died only for the Elect. Calvinism
    -Unlimited Atonement – Atonement is available for all, but Jesus died only for the Elect in much of Arminianism. At least so says Wiki – . (I think this is because both Calvinism and some of Arminianism hold to the ‘omni’ view of time. God seeing the future perfectly can punish for only the Elect.)

    -Governmental Theory – Also could be interesting. Christ did not receive the exact punishment required for our sins, but God publicly showed his displeasure by punishing his son.

    Yeah there’s probably a bunch more as well. Sounds like people have put a lot of thought into this topic over the years.

  3. Earlier this year, I had a debate on Penal Substitution against a Calvinist:

    I showed it to be illogical, unjust and unBiblical.

    You quoted John 3:16…but really FIRST John 3:16 is more powerful:
    “This is how we know what love is:
    Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.
    And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”

    NOTICE the parallelism! If Jesus “laid down his life for us” in a Psub sense, then that means we are called to Psub for fellow Christians…which is absurd. Thus, while there is a ‘substitutionary’ element in which one steps in to help another, it is not the specific “penal substitution” of classical Protestantism.

    Your page does not have a “email me of follow up comments” option, so I fear I’ll miss any further comments.

  4. Thanks for the comments. And for the quotes on the subject. I’m throwing up that link which I don’t think you will mind.

    If you’re receiving this mail, following comment threads for individual posts has been added.

  5. “It is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” You have missed the truth that it is the fact that the law of God has had an addition made to it AFTER Jesus’ crucifixion. No person has nor will be exonerated of the guilt of all sins by not obeying this addition of law to the exacting specifics required of each. What you need to do is find out what this law is and the only Way you can obey it. Otherwise you will not make it.

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