This entry is part 9 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
A significant portion of Jeffrey, Ovey & Sach’s notable work, Pierced for our Transgressions, deals with various objections to the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. Read the book itself to get the full discussion. But here, as a taster, is a summary of how Jeffrey et al respond to those objections that cluster around the general complaint that penal substitution is ‘unbiblical’:-
1. ‘Penal substitution is not the only model of the atonement’
Response: true, and no proponent of the doctrine ever said that it was.
2. ‘Penal substitution is not central to the atonement’
Response: while it is agreed that some doctrines are more ‘central’ that others, penal substitution is important not least because so many others would be compromised if it were to be removed. For example, this doctrine is necessary to safeguard the justice and holiness of God, for to deny it is to suggest that God is willing simply to overlook evil when he forgives someone.
3. ‘Penal substitution diminishes the significance of Jesus’ life and resurrection’
Response: Reformed theologians have always been clear about the significance of Jesus life of perfect obedience to his Father (his active obedience), and have rightly viewed the resurrection as Christ’s ‘justification’, as the proof that he was the Son of God, (Rom 1:4) as the supreme attestation of the fact of immortality, as the demonstration of his victory over death, as the pledge of our new birth in him, as the promise of our own resurrection, as the firstfruits of the new creation, and as a motivation to holy living.
4. ‘Penal substitution is not taught in the Bible’
Response: see passages such as Isaiah 53:6-10; Romans 1:18; 3:22-5; 5:8-9; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; Hebrews 9:11-28; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 4:10, and the commentaries thereon.
5. ‘Penal substitution is not important enough to be a source of division’
Response: Christian unity is certainly to be valued very highly, Eph 4:2-3,Rom 14:1,Ac 15:19,1 Cor 8,10:14-11:1. However, the Bible teaches that there are some issues on which division is necessary and inevitable, Gal 1:8-9,1 Cor 5:11,16:22,2 Tim 3:15,Tit 3:9-10,2Jo 1:9-11. But penal substitution belongs to the heart of the gospel, and if the gospel itself is in dispute, there is nothing around which to unite.
The opponents of penal substitution seem to agree about the magnitude of the issue. They contend that the doctrine is without support either from Scripture or from the historic church. They claim that it undermines the doctrine of the Trinity and represents God as a brutal tyrant. They assert that it has been used to justify violence and is stifling to the mission of the church. The one thing we cannot say is that it is unimportant.
See Pierced for our Transgressions 208-217