Romans 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Christ died for us, the elect, in our place. He is our substitute as this debate has established. And Tertullian understood it the same way:
If He kills me, how will it be His duty to preserve me? Once for all Christ died for us, once for all He was slain that we might not be slain. (Tertullian, Scorpiace, Chapter 1, ANF03)And we have also seen that Athanasius would agree with us that Christ is our penal substitute:
He it is that was crucified before the sun and all creation as witnesses, and before those who put Him to death: and by His death has salvation come to all, and all creation been ransomed. He is the Life of all, and He it is that as a sheep yielded His body to death as a substitute, for the salvation of all, even though the Jews believe it not. (Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word, Chapter 37, Section 7 – NPNF2-4)Summary
We have shown that an atonement is necessary because of sin (this was not disputed by Nick). We have shown that justice demands that sin be punished (again, Nick was not able to dispute this). We have seen that death is the punishment for sin (Nick attempted to argue this, but couldn’t really argue with the fact that, as Scripture says, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23)). And we have shown that Jesus Christ bore that punishment for his people, as the high priest Caiaphas prophesied:
49 And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, 50 Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. 51 And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; 52 And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.
For this to be a just punishment for sins, the substitute must have imputed to him the guilt of the sins of those for whom he substitutes. Thus, we affirm the resolution: God imputed the sins of the elect to Christ.
4. What does Faustus find strange in the curse pronounced on sin, on death, and on human mortality, which Christ had on account of man's sin, though He Himself was sinless? Christ's body was derived from Adam, for His mother the Virgin Mary was a child of Adam. But God said in Paradise, "On the day that you eat, you shall surely die." This is the curse which hung on the tree. A man may deny that Christ was cursed who denies that He died. But the man who believes that Christ died, and acknowledges that death is the fruit of sin, and is itself called sin, will understand who it is that is cursed by Moses, when he hears the apostle saying "For our old man is crucified with Him." Romans 6:6 The apostle boldly says of Christ, "He was made a curse for us;" for he could also venture to say, "He died for all." "He died," and "He was cursed," are the same. Death is the effect of the curse; and all sin is cursed, whether it means the action which merits punishment, or the punishment which follows. Christ, though guiltless, took our punishment, that He might cancel our guilt, and do away with our punishment. (Augustine, Contra Faustus, Book 14, Section 4, NPNF1-04)From the above, one can see that Augustine held that it was necessary that Christ take our punishment and his logic is impeccable on this point. We also see essentially the same thing in Cyril of Jerusalem:
33. These things the Saviour endured, and made peace through the Blood of His Cross, for things in heaven, and things in earth Colossians 1:20 . For we were enemies of God through sin, and God had appointed the sinner to die. There must needs therefore have happened one of two things; either that God, in His truth, should destroy all men, or that in His loving-kindness He should cancel the sentence. But behold the wisdom of God; He preserved both the truth of His sentence, and the exercise of His loving-kindness. Christ took our sins in His body on the tree, that we by His death might die to sin, and live unto righteousness 1 Peter 2:24 . Of no small account was He who died for us; He was not a literal sheep; He was not a mere man; He was more than an Angel; He was God made man. The transgression of sinners was not so great as the righteousness of Him who died for them; the sin which we committed was not so great as the righteousness which He wrought who laid down His life for us—who laid it down when He pleased, and took it again when He pleased. And would you know that He laid not down His life by violence, nor yielded up the ghost against His will? He cried to the Father, saying, Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit Luke 23:46; I commend it, that I may take it again. And having said these things, He gave up the ghost Matthew 27:50; but not for any long time, for He quickly rose again from the dead. (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 13, Section 33, NPNF2-07)Overview of (and General Rebuttal to) Negative
Nick tried to shoot holes in this relatively simple Biblical argument. While he did occasionally make reference to something that he considered “the Catholic position,” he did not provide any real attempt to harmonize the Scriptural evidence to that “Catholic position.”
We discovered that the position Nick was advocating was essentially a purely commercial satisfaction. This position, however, is an inadequate picture of Christ’s work. As we highlighted during the debate, there are commercial aspects to Christ’s work (he is sometimes called a ransom or a redeemer, for example) but that is not the whole or even the most common picture of his work.
Instead, as emphasized from the first essay, the Scriptures are replete with descriptions of Christ’s work in sacrificial terms. These terms are the dominant ones in the Old Testament ceremonial system, with all of the atonements for sin being sacrificial atonements. Cyril of Alexandria noted this multi-faceted view of Christ as follows:
But the Saviour comes in various forms to each man for his profit. For to those who have need of gladness He becomes a Vine; and to those who want to enter in He stands as a Door; and to those who need to offer up their prayers He stands a mediating High Priest. Again, to those who have sins He becomes a Sheep, that He may be sacrificed for them. (Cyril of Alexandria, Catechetical Lecture 10, Section 5 – NPNF2-7)Nick primarily countered by arguing against individual verses based on sweeping and unsupported assertions. Several of the primary themes in his assertions were that verses don’t specifically state that the guilt of the sins is imputed to Christ, and that the verses don’t specifically state that the wrath of God was upon Christ.
We noted that the principle of guilt of the sins being imputed to Christ can be seen from sacrificial system, in which the sins (i.e. their guilt) are symbolically placed on the head of the sacrificial victim by the act of the priest placing his hands on the animal’s head.
Leviticus 16:21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness:
We likewise noted that the Old Testament prophesies of Jesus include at least some that specifically describe Jesus as having the wrath of God lying against him:
Psalm 88:7 Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves. Selah.
Lest you think it a uniquely Protestant view to apply these words to Christ, consider what Athanasius wrote:
For man, being in Him, was quickened: for this was why the Word was united to man, namely, that against man the curse might no longer prevail. This is the reason why they record the request made on behalf of mankind in the seventy-first Psalm: 'Give the King Your judgment, O God?' Psalm 72:1: asking that both the judgment of death which hung over us may be delivered to the Son, and that He may then, by dying for us, abolish it for us in Himself. This was what He signified, saying Himself, in the eighty-seventh Psalm: 'Your indignation lies hard upon me' Psalm 88:7. For He bore the indignation which lay upon us, as also He says in the hundred and thirty-seventh: 'Lord, You shall do vengeance for me' Psalm 137:8. (Athanasius, On Luke 10:22 and Matthew 11:27, Section 2, NPNF2-04)We heard a lot of negative assertions from Nick, and especially an attempt to rely on the idea that I must establish my case from Scripture, whereas (as the Negative) he has no such burden. One of the problems with this approach is that his criticisms tend not to be consistent.
We saw that inconsistency in the cross-examination section, where we noted several important areas of inconsistency. For example, in Question 1, we raised the issue of the wrath of God and the floating definition of “wrath” in Nick’s claim that nothing has been presented to show that God’s wrath was against Christ in the crucifixion. We asked him to clarify what “wrath” entails, so that we could provide proof that agrees with his meaning, but he largely dodged the question giving a wide variety of possible meanings and trying to argue that his position is just that I have not proved that God’s wrath is necessarily shown in the fact that the animals and Christ were killed (even while admitting that physical death is one manifestation of God’s wrath).
We also saw that Nick could not justify his assertion that asserting that the wrath of God was placed against Christ was a Nestorian error. His inconsistency here was especially large, because while he insisted that God could not pour out his wrath on God, he did argue that God could die (and even claimed that it was heretical to say that God cannot die!).
One disappointing aspect of the debate was Nick’s frequent reference to the sayings of other Reformed (or close to Reformed) writers or preachers. Nick seemed to think it was my job to defend the writings of those other men, although he agreed to the rule: “(3) Citing church documents, theologians, and other such references is allowed, though the opponent is not necessarily bound to defend any claims other than his own.”
On the other hand, I think Nick was a bit surprised to see how often I pointed out that the Reformed position is consistent with a significant number of patristic authors, especially some major ones like Augustine, Athanasius, and Anselm. I didn’t expect him to necessarily defend them (since they did not hold to what he views as the “Catholic position” of a purely commercial satisfaction) but I do think that they were valuable to show that the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement is not a new doctrine that was unknown to the early church or even the medieval church.
Response to Negative Conclusion
Nick began his conclusion with some responses to the cross-examination. I’m mostly willing to let the cross-examination to speak for itself. As to his section 1a, I’d simply like to observe that he leaves off any response to Lamentations 3:1 or Psalm 88:7, both of which show that Jesus suffered the wrath of God.
As to his section 1b, Nick argues that there is a “simple fact [that] God can accept ransom and atonement on whatever grounds He chooses.” This argument is essentially a claim that God can ignore justice, accepting even payment (penal or commercial) that is not equivalent to what Justice requires. Such an argument actually undermines the perfection of God’s justice, and suggests that God is arbitrary (contrary to Scripture which describes God as being perfectly just – Deuteronomy 32:4 He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.).
Nick also argues that the ransom is the life of Christ, not his death – referring to the fact that it is the life-blood of Christ that is spilled. While the life of Christ is important (he could not be a suitable sacrifice if he had any sin of his own), it is the fact of his death that is significant, which is why his blood is significant. The role that blood played in the Old Testament sacrificial system was generally as essentially “proof of death.” You will recall that the blood of the Passover lamb was sprinkled on the door posts and lintel (Exodus 12:7 and 22), and that that the blood of the sacrifices was placed on the horns of the altar (Exodus 29:12).
That latter imagery is especially significant because it also shows the idea of satisfied wrath: like the horns of a bull become red with blood when its victim has been gored, so the horns of the altar become red with blood when a sacrifice is made. So, the references to the blood of Christ are not confirmation of an idea of Christ’s life simply being cashed-out, but of Christ’s life being forcibly ended.
As to his section 1c, Nick makes my point when he observes that the Lord’s response rules out the possibility of Penal Substitution in the case of Moses. Nick writes: “Whatever the offer might have been, Penal Substitution was excluded in God’s eyes.” (underline in original) That’s exactly right: Moses was not an acceptable penal substitute, though he was aware that such is what was needed. Thankfully we have a greater than Moses.
Also in this section, I note that Nick seems to want to take a piece from one account and a piece from another account and create an atonement scenario that is actually not described in Scripture – in which somehow Moses atones for the sins of the people through fasting. Contrast Nick's position with the following:
When his Lord wished to destroy them because of their sins, in that they worshipped the calf, Moses prayed and besought of his Lord and said:— Either pardon the people for their sins, or else blot me out from Your book that You have written. Exodus 32:31-32 That is a most diligent pastor, who delivered over himself on behalf of his sheep. That is an excellent leader, who gave himself in behalf of his sheep. And that is a merciful father who cherished his children and reared them up. Moses the great and wise shepherd, who knew how to lead back the flock, taught Joshua the son of Nun, a man full of the spirit, who (afterwards) led the flock, even all the host of Israel. He destroyed kings and subdued the land, and gave them the land as a place of pasturage, and divided the resting-places and the sheepfolds to his sheep. Furthermore, David fed his father's sheep, and was taken from the sheep to tend his people. So he tended them in the integrity of his heart and by the skill of his hands he guided them. And when David numbered the flock of his sheep, wrath came upon them, and they began to be destroyed. Then David delivered himself over on behalf of his sheep, when he prayed, saying:— O Lord God, I have sinned in that I have numbered Israel. Let Your hand be on me and on my father's house. These innocent sheep, in what have they sinned? 2 Samuel 24:17 So also all the diligent pastors used thus to give themselves on behalf of their sheep. (Aphrahat (about A.D. 270 – about A.D. 345) Demonstration 10, Section 2 – NPNF2-Volume 13)In section 1d, I was a bit disappointed by Nick’s attempted treatment of the fathers. Rather than just acknowledge that the fathers confirm the position I had taken (such as Augustine noting that the single, physical death of Christ was sufficient to satisfy for both the physical and spiritual death of his elect), Nick attempts to find some hooks with which to quibble over whether the fathers disagree with the other Reformed authors that Nick has identified (whether or not Nick correctly understood them, something I’ll leave outside this debate in view of Rule 3, discussed above).
Nick even goes so far as to argue that when John of Damascus speaks of Jesus as being forsaken as our representative i.e. “appropriating, then, our person and ranking Himself with us,” that this cannot be interpreted as being Jesus being forsaken as our substitute, because John of Damascus had said earlier that Jesus was not, either as God or man, forsaken by the Father (although he says the same thing about him becoming sin and becoming a curse – both of which Scripture clearly predicate of Jesus as our substitute). In fact, the only reasonably interpretation of John’s words are that Jesus is not speaking of himself either as God or as man, but as our representative in each of those things: being forsaken, being made sin, and being made a curse (Nick’s explanation about it referring to Christ’s humanity “that means He took on our flesh and lived as one of us” is exactly what John of Damascus denies.
In his second section 1d, Nick complained that saying “To say ‘God is dead’ is heterdox,” is itself heretical and Nestorian. It should be noted, however, that I qualified my statement by noting that – with qualifications – practically anything can be orthodox. Thus we see in Augustine, speaking of the great exchange that is penal substitution, a statement that God died, with qualification that this does not refer to the divine nature:
In a word, He died, because it was so expedient, that by His Death He might kill death. God died, that an exchange might be effected by a kind of heavenly contract, that man might not see death. For Christ is God, but He died not in that Nature in which He is God. For the same Person is God and man; for God and man is one Christ. The human nature was assumed, that we might be changed for the better; He did not degrade the Divine Nature down to the lower. For He assumed that which He was not, He did not lose that which He was. Forasmuch then as He is both God and man, being pleased that we should live by that which was His, He died in that which was ours. For He had nothing Himself, whereby He could die; nor had we anything whereby we could live. For what was He who had nothing whereby He could die? "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." If you seek for anything in God whereby He may die, you will not find it. But we all die, who are flesh; men bearing about sinful flesh. Seek out for that whereby sin may live; it has it not. So then neither could He have death in that which was His own, nor we life in that which was our own; but we have life from that which is His, He death from what is ours. What an exchange! (Augustine, Sermon 30 on the New Testament, Section 5, NPNF1-06)But properly speaking, immortality is an essential attribute of God. Thus, Aquinas states: “Such is God; and hence in Him principally is life. From this the Philosopher concludes (Metaph. xii, 51), after showing God to be intelligent, that God has life most perfect and eternal, since His intellect is most perfect and always in act.” (Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 1:18:3)
We see this same principle reflected in Eusebius' discussion on Christ's penal substitution:
11. I may allege yet a third cause of the Saviour's death. He was the victim offered to the Supreme Sovereign of the universe for the whole human race: a victim consecrated for the need of the human race, and for the overthrow of the errors of demon worship. For as soon as the one holy and mighty sacrifice, the sacred body of our Saviour, had been slain for man, to be as a ransom for all nations, heretofore involved in the guilt of impious superstition, thenceforward the power of impure and unholy spirits was utterly abolished, and every earth-born and delusive error was at once weakened and destroyed.While I appreciate that Nick is not so quick to condemn Abrose and Theodoret as Nestorians (and he should not do so), it seems that we see another of Nick’s inconsistencies in that he willingly gives them a charitable interpretation that he refuses to me and to the other Reformed authors that he quotes.
12. Thus, then, this salutary victim taken from among themselves, I mean the mortal body of the Word, was offered on behalf of the common race of men. This was that sacrifice delivered up to death, of which the sacred oracles speak: "Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world." John 1:29 And again, as follows: "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is dumb." They declare also the cause, saying: "He bears our sins, and is pained for us: yet we accounted him to be in trouble, and in suffering, and in affliction. But he was wounded on account of our sins, and bruised because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his bruises we were healed. All we as sheep have gone astray; every one has gone astray in this way; and the Lord gave him up for our sins."
13. Such were the causes which led to the offering of the human body of the Word of God. But forasmuch as he was the great high priest, consecrated to the Supreme Lord and King, and therefore more than a victim, the Word, the Power, and the Wisdom of God; he soon recalled his body from the grasp of death, presented it to his Father as the first-fruit of our common salvation, and raised this trophy, a proof at once of his victory over death and Satan, and of the abolition of human sacrifices, for the blessing of all mankind. (Eusebius, Oration in Praise of Constantine, Chapter 15, Sections 11-13, NPNF2-01)
Turning to the second part of what Nick’s conclusion consisted of, I would respectfully submit that his section 2a is way off: not only did my opening constructive demonstrate that the sacrificial system unmistakably sets of a penal substitution framework, but my rebuttal further enhanced that explanation.
Nick’s section 2b is frankly moot in view of Rule 3 discussed above. While I don’t believe that Nick has properly (or charitably – refusing to extend them the same dignity he gives to the church fathers with whom he disagrees) understood those Reformed writers, I leave that for another time.
Nick’s complaint in section 2c is that there was not as much exegesis as he would like. Of course, as noted above, I encourage the reader to review my opening essay and my rebuttal to find such exegesis. Additionally, I note that a certain amount of exegesis was foreclosed by Nick’s apparent concessions (through failure to respond) with respect to the key passage of Isaiah 53 (see my opening statement and rebuttal).
Nick brings up the idea that since verse 5 uses the term “chastisements” it cannot refer to punishments. I note that this lexically fallacious argument is easily refuted in that the Hebrew word for “chastisement” is also found in the following verse (where it is translated “instruction”):
Jeremiah 30:14 All thy lovers have forgotten thee; they seek thee not; for I have wounded thee with the wound of an enemy, with the chastisement of a cruel one, for the multitude of thine iniquity; because thy sins were increased.
This is the sort of chastisement that is being described in Isaiah 53:5 – it is the scourging that our Lord received immediately prior to his crucifixion.
In section 2d, Nick claims that “The Catholic understanding of Satisfaction … was shown to have solid Biblical support.” This is simply not the case. In fact, as noted above, Nick spent most of his time trying to attack (on various grounds) the various scriptural supports of penal substitution, not establishing his own case: no coherent and cogent alternative to penal substitution was presented by Nick, as the careful reader will note.
In sections 2e/2f Nick basically claimed that he hadn’t received a satisfactory answer to his points. I would respectfully submit that, again, the reader may investigate for himself whether these issues were addressed or not.
In section 2g, Nick makes some enormous claims regarding the patristic evidence. At least Nick does not go so far as to deny that some of the quotations are directly on point, in terms of specifically affirming penal substitution. As for whether (as he claims), he showed that the majority of the quotations “advocate nothing close to Penal substitution” or whether that was simply what he claimed, I leave for the careful reader to investigate.
For did not the disciples of Jesus see, when they ventured to prove not only to the Jews from their prophetic Scriptures that this is He who was spoken of by the prophets, but also to the other heathen nations, that He who was crucified yesterday or the day before underwent this death voluntarily on behalf of the human race,— that this was analogous to the case of those who have died for their country in order to remove pestilence, or barrenness, or tempests? (Origen, Contra Celsus, Book I, Chapter 31, ANF04)Conclusion
I trust that the reader has seen that the sacrificial system of the Old Testament provided the victim as a penal substitute for the sinner. Within this framework, and especially in view of the many New Testament verses speaking of Christ “taking away the sins of the world” or dying “for us” and the like, we can see that the guilt of the sinners were judicially imputed to Christ, he was slain for them, and by his death we are free from the punishment for sin: he died so that we will not. In this we have rejoiced to find many kindred spirits among the early church fathers, though – of course – it is sufficient to show that Scripture teaches the doctrine: the numerous church fathers are just icing on the cake.
Moreover, in no other way was it possible for the Love of God toward us to be manifested than by making mention of our flesh, and that for our sake He descended even to our lower part. For that flesh is less precious than soul, everyone who has a spark of sense will acknowledge. And so the passage, The Word was made Flesh, seems to me to be equivalent to that in which it is said that He was made sin, [2 Corinthians 5:21] or a curse [Galatians 3:13] for us; not that the Lord was transformed into either of these, how could He be? But because by taking them upon Him He took away our sins and bore our iniquities. This, then, is sufficient to say at the present time for the sake of clearness and of being understood by the many. And I write it, not with any desire to compose a treatise, but only to check the progress of deceit; and if it is thought well, I will give a fuller account of these matters at greater length. (Gregory Nazianzen, Letters, Division I, To Cledonius the Priest Against Apollinarius, Letter 101, NPNF2-07)Gregory Nazianzen reminds us that the many verses we have cited are all interconnected in the atonement: the taking away of the sin is accomplished by Jesus being made sin. But I think the Venerable Bede puts the matter quite well:
The Lord intercedes for us not by words but by his dying compassion, because he took upon himself the sins which he was unwilling to condemn his elect for. (Bede on 1 John 2:1)But let us conclude, as we began, with the clear Scriptural statement of the thesis:
Isaiah 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.