This entry is part 6 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
Paul teaches in Romans that the universal sinfulness of humankind provokes God’s righteous anger. This has both a present (Rom 1:18) and a future (Rom 2:5) aspect.
Moroever, Rom 1-3 makes it clear that God’s wrath is personal and active, and not merely the impersonal outworking of some inevitable process of cause and effect, as C.H. Dodd and others have taught. It is God’s wrath and it is from heaven (Rom 1:18). It is God’s judgment, Rom 2:5f, 16; 3:5, and God’s verdict, Rom 2:26; 3:7; 3:19. Death is God’s penalty for sin, Rom 1:32; 5:2-14; 6:23; 7:5; 7:11.
Christ set forth as a propitiation, Rom 3:21-26
This passage teaches that whereas all (Jews and Gentiles) are sinners, all may be justified through faith in Jesus. In the past, God left his people’s sin unpunished, but he has now demonstrated his justice by punishing their sin in Christ. He was set forth as a propitiation, turning aside God’s wrath by suffering it himself in the place of others.
That this passage teaches penal substitution can be seen from the following particulars:-
First, from the flow of Paul’s argument. Paul has already concluded that all are under judgment and liable to God’s wrath. He will go on (Rom 3:27-31) to speak of people being justified. The present passage shows how judgment and wrath have been dealt with: it is by Christ’s ‘blood’ (i.e. his death), Rom 3:25. He suffered the penalty for sin so that we might not have to.
Second, Paul has already confirmed in Rom 1:32 to that according to God’s ‘righteous decree’ we all ‘deserve death’. Accordingly when Rom 3:26 says that God’s wrath has been turned aside in a way that satisfies God’s justice, we must conclude that the punishment of sin has not been merely overlooked, but that it has been achieved in the death of Christ.
Third, these verses teach that with reference to those who lived before the coming of Christ, God was delaying his judgment of their sins until they could be punished in Christ. This is implied in the used of the word ‘forbearance’ in Rom 3:25.
Fourth, Paul’s use of the worth hilasterion, ‘propitiation’, supports the doctrine of penal substitution in this passage. The death of Christ was the means by which God’s wrath was turned aside. This meaning of the word was disputed by C.H. Dodd, who preferred to render the word ‘expiation’. The difference is that expiation has to do with what happens to sin, whereas propitiation has to do with what happens to God’s wrath. But Dodd’s position (which is, of course, linked to his curiously impersonal view of God’s wrath) has been refuted by scholars such as Leon Morris and Roger Nicole. Of course, the biblical idea of propitiation does not carry with it the pagan connotations the appeasement the malice of a petulant deity, but it still serves as an accurate representation of the work of Christ in relation to the very biblical doctrine of the wrath of God. And the context of Rom 3:25 makes it clear that God’s wrath – so apparent in argument leading up to this verse – has now been dealt with and removed; and it is equally clear that it has been dealt with and removed through the death of Christ. All this is not to say that propitiation cannot include addtional shades of meaning, including that of expiation: but the idea of the wrath of God being satisfied by Christ’s sacrificial death seems inescapable.
Christ handed over for our sins, Rom 4:25
Although not explicitly mentioned in the original Greek text, Christ’s death is clearly implied in this verse (cf. Rom 8:32). As has already been seen, death is Romans is the penalty for sin. Thus, when Paul states in this verse that ‘he was delivered over to death for our sins’, penal substitution is clearly in view.
Saved from God’s wrath, Rom 5:8-10
This passage contains two parallel statements, both referring to a future salvation from God’s wrath. Of course, Paul has already (in 3:21-26) settled the question of how this has been achieved, and his use of the word ‘blood’ in Rom 5:9 alludes to the earlier discussion.
God condemned sin in Christ’s flesh, Rom 8:1-3
Why is there now ‘no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (v1)? The answer is in v3 – God has condemned sin in Jesus’ flesh. In Moo’s paraphrase: ‘Believers are no longer “condemned”, v1, because in Christ sin has been “condemned”.’ This is a clear statement of penal substutution.
Substitution and participation
The teaching of Paul (and other biblical writers) includes the idea of the believer’s participation in Christ’s death, such that his death becomes theirs. See Rom 6:2-8; Col 2:20; Gal 2:20, and also 1 Pet 4:1. But it would be a mistake to suppose that this excludes the notion of substitution.
Based on Jeffery et al, Pierced for our transgressions, 77-88.