This entry is part 11 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
Having considered objections to the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement that are based on appeals to the Bible and to culture, the authors of Pierced for our Transgressions deal with those that assert that the doctrine is an instance of ‘the myth of redemptive violence’.
1. ‘Penal substitution rests on unbiblical ideas of sacrifice’
It was for this reason that C.H. Dodd objected to the translation of hilasterion as ‘propitiation’, for this would be ‘misleading, for it suggests the placating of an angry God, and although this would be in accord with pagan usage, it is foreign to biblical usage’.
Response: the biblical doctrine of propitiation is very different from pagan ideas. Firstly, God’s anger is not volatile and erratic like that of many pagan gods. Secondly, propitiation is not made by us, but by God himself. Thirdly, the propitiatory sacrifice was not an animal, or even an ordinary person, but his Son.
2. ‘The violence involved in penal substitution amounts to “cosmic child abuse”‘
It is claimed that according to the doctrine of penal substitution Jesus becomes ‘the whipping-boy who appeases the wrath of God’ (Colin Greene).
Response: Whereas child abuse involves inflicting pain on an unwilling victim, it is clear from the Gospels that Jesus went willingly to his death, Mk 8:33,Jn 10:17-18. Whereas child abuse is carried out solely for the gratification of the abuser, Chris’ts death brought glory to himself, Jn 17:1,Php 2:8-9,Heb 2:9,Rev 5:12, and salvation to his people, Rom 5:8,1 Cor 15:3,1 Tim 2:6,1 Pet 3:18.
Nevertheless we must assert with Scripture that ‘it was the will of the Lord to bruise him’, Isa 53:10. See also Acts 2:23,3:11-26,4:27-28.
3. ‘The retributive violence involved in penal substitution contradicts Jesus message of peace and love’
If Jesus can teach love for enemies and forgiveness without retribution, how can God require punishment before offering forgiveness, as penal substitution suggests? ‘Penal substitution is inherently violent and contravenes central aspects of the message of Jesus’ (Stuart Murray Williams). ‘If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies and to refuse to repay evil with evil’ (Chalke and Mann).
Response: The Bible does not urge us to imitate God in all things. There are some things that we must not do precisely they are God’s prerogative. For example, I must not set myself up as an object of worship because God alone is to be worshiped. And exacting retribution for sins is the same. We should not take revenge, not because retribution is inherently wrong, but because it rests with God, Rom 12:17-19.
4. ‘The violence inherent in penal substitution is an example of “the myth of redemptive violence,” which can never overcome evil’
The expression comes from Walter Wink. According to this analysis, penal substitution amounts to an attempt to overcome violence with violence, which merely increases and compounds the problem.
Response: This view has to deny large sections of Scripture: it has to deny that God is angered by sin, and has to explain away those passages in the OT and NT (Lk 1:20-22; Ac 5:1-11;13:23;13:8-11 that speak of God’s judgement in the here and now. Moreover, it has to explain away the numerous explicit warnings of final judgement. Wink has to resort to suggesting that Paul was ‘unable’ to understand correctly the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ death and that ‘Christianity has suffered from confusion ever since’. It is strange, then, to see his conclusions appropriated by would-be evangelicals such as Chalke and Mann.
In truth, the death of Jesus did entail human violence that was morally reprehensible. But at the same time, God chose to use these wicked deeds to accomplish his righteous purposes. If the critics are right, and violence can never be redemptive, then Jesus made a terrible mistake in willingly subjecting himself to it, Mk 10:33-34. Moreover, there was clearly redemptive benefit in the violence of the OT sacrificial system, E.g., see Num 25:13. Again, Jesus’ death is not just one more act of violence: the Father willingly sent, and the Son willingly came, not as a violation of justice, but as the supreme demonstration of it, Rom 3:25-26. Once again, what do the objectors means when they reject this idea of redemptive violence? They know that Jesus death was terribly violent. Few of them would deny that it was in some sense redemptive. They have the same problem, then, as those they seek to criticise.
See Pierced for our Transgressions, 226-239