This entry is part 1 of 15 in the series: ‘Pierced For Our Transgressions’ (Ovey et al)
- Biblical foundations of penal substitution 1 – Exodus 12
- Biblical Foundations of Penal Substitution 2 – Leviticus 16
- Biblical foundations of penal substitution 3 – Isaiah 53
- Biblical foundations of penal substitution 4 – Mark
- Biblical Foundations of Penal Substitution 5 – John’s Gospel
- Biblical foundations of penal substitution 6 – Romans
- Biblical Foundations of Penal Substitution 7 – Galatians
- Biblical Foundations of Penal Substitution 8 – 1 Peter
- Objections to Penal Substitution 1 – Bible
- Objections to Penal Substitution 2 – Culture
- Objections to penal substitution 3 – violence
- Objections to penal substitution 4 – justice
- Objections to penal substitution 5 – God
- Objections to penal substitution 6 – the Christian life
- Substutionary atonement: a note to preachers
“The doctrine of penal substitution states that God gave himself in the person of his Son to suffer instead of us the death, punishment and curse due to fallen humanity as the penalty for sin.” (Jeffrey, Ovey & Sach, Pierced for our Transgressions, p21).
A while ago, I summarised objections to the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement as set out and responded to by Jeffrey et al.
I’d now like to examine the biblical basis for this doctrine, using the same authors as guides.
But first, let’s just say again: penal substitution is not the only thing that the Bible says about the death of Christ. Scripture also teaches, for example, that the cross
- is the means by which Jesus triumphed over evil powers, Col 2:15
- offers an inspiring example to those who suffer unjustly, 1 Pet 2:21-23
- frees us from the power of sin, enabling us to live as new people, Rom 6:6
This chapter narrates the events of the first Passover. God’s people were to eat a meal in haste, for that very night they were to be led out of Egypt to freedom. The last in a series of plagues would strike, killing every firstborn son of the Egyptians, but the Israelites would be spared, because they had daubed the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. “When I see the blood, I will pass over you,” Ex 12:13.
The Passover lamb functioned as a penal substitute, dying in the place of the firstborn sons of the Israelites, in order that they might escape the wrath of God.
That penal substitution should be embedded in this, of all OT events, is highly significant. Not only is the Passover referred to again and again as a decisive moment in OT history (Num 9:1-14; Josh 5:10f; 2 King 23:21-23; 2 Chron 30:1-5; 35:1-13; Ezra 6:10-21), it also forms a vital part of the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham, Gen 11; 15; 17.
There is a double salvation in the Passover: from the tyranny of the Egyptians, and from the judgement of God. As far as the latter was concerned, it was the lamb that provided a substitute that would bear the penalty.
If it should be asked why the Israelites were subject to God’s judgment, and needed protection from it, the answer is found in Ezekiel 20:4-10 – they had participated in the idolatry of their Egyptian masters, and were no less deserving of God’s judgment.
The NT writers make a clear connection between the Passover and the death of Christ.
The Synoptic Gospels make this link in their accounts of the Last Supper (see, e.g., Mk 14:13-15). But the words of institution, instead of harking back to the sacrifice of the lamb, look forward to Jesus’ own death, Mk 14:22-24, which becomes the fulfilment of the Passover.
John’s Gospel gives us a countdown to the Passover as Jesus’ death approaches (Jn 12:1, etc). The meal recorded in Jn 13:2 may have been the Last Supper, but John does not spell this out. However, John does continue to make allusions to the Passover festival during his account of Jesus’ trial, Jn 18:28, 39, and the crucifixion itself, Jn 19:14, 31, 42. Then again, the reference to Jesus’ bones not being broken, Jn 19:35f, is an allusion to Ex 12:46.
The connection between Jesus’ death and the Passover is also made in 1 Pet 1:18f (note the references to ‘lamb’, ‘blood’ and ‘redemption’), and, very explicitly, in 1 Cor 5:7.
At the first Passover, it was by the substitutionary death of a lamb that the firstborn of the Israelites were spared God’s judgment. The NT writers regard Jesus’ death as in the same way, so that by it his people might be spared God’s wrath.