Penal Substitution Debate – Negative Rebuttal Essay
1) I will first deal with the Affirmative Constructive Essay. It seems to me that in that essay my opponent (this term I use in the context of a formal debate, not in the pejorative sense) was more focused on proving the Biblical truth that atonement was necessary, rather than the specific doctrine of Penal Substitution. Because of this, most of the essay was written broadly enough that I as a Catholic would find little to object to. Given this, I will now call attention to the few parts I feel do require some commentary.
1a) There is no argument that in God's plan of salvation Christ's sacrifice was necessary for the forgiveness of sins. Also, there is no doubt that Is 53 is a Messianic prophesy. However, what is not proven, nor much commented on, from any of this is that this is within a Penal Substitutionary framework. Because I already deal with texts like Is 53 in my opening essay, no further commentary is required at this point.
1b) The term “satisfaction” frequently appears in my opponent's essay, but what is not made clear is that this term was radically redefined by the Reformers. Reformed scholar J.I. Packer, in a popular lecture (inscribed), makes this distinction clear:
What the Reformers did was to redefine satisfactio (satisfaction), the main mediaeval category for thought about the cross. Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo?, which largely determined the mediaeval development, saw Christ’s satisfactio for our sins as the offering of compensation or damages for dishonour done, but the Reformers saw it as the undergoing of vicarious punishment (poena) to meet the claims on us of God’s holy law and wrath (i.e. his punitive justice).
(“The Logic of Penal Substitution.” Delivered at Tyndale House, Cambridge, on July 17th, 1973. [freely available on-line])
Given this information, it would be a serious mistake to look to men like St. Anselm in support of Penal Substitution. What Catholics have historically understood by “satisfaction” is not what Protestants understand by that same term.
1c) My opponent spends a considerable amount of space quoting the Church Fathers, but upon close examination these quotes do not actually support Penal Substitution.
First, Turtullian says nothing specific in terms the atonement, much less anything of Jesus undergoing the Father's wrath in place of the elect. Next comes Hilary of Poitiers, this quote is significant in that Hilary directly references Isaiah 53 and 2 Corinthians 5:21. Upon careful reading of the whole quote, St Hilary is saying that by the incarnation, Jesus underwent the same physical sufferings human nature (due to the fall) became subject to. The theme is medicinal, not penal or legal. St Hilary interprets 2 Corinthians 5:21 as meaning He who was not capable of feeling the effects (penalties) of our sins was made capable by assuming our nature. The theme is not talking about a substitutionary punishment nor God's wrath, but rather that in sharing our human nature Christ could experience pain and in doing so strip pain and death of its power. What a very different picture than Penal Substitution has emerged (and using some of the key Protestant proof-texts)!
The next quote came from St Augustine, but, again, the picture he paints is not that of Penal Substitution. The key to proper interpretation here is to realize St Augustine is responding to a Manichean heretic. Notice how St Augustine describes it:
when Moses said, “Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree,” he said in fact, To hang on a tree is to be mortal, or actually to die. He might have said, “Cursed is every one that is mortal,” or “Cursed is every one dying;” but the prophet knew that Christ would suffer on the cross, and that heretics would say that He hung on the tree only in appearance, without really dying. So he exclaims, Cursed; meaning that He really died.
St Augustine's opponent here denies Christ had a mortal body, so did not undergo a real death, that's his point. What is especially noteworthy here is that the issue of “cursed” in Gal 3:13 (and Deut. 21) is explicitly referenced, but it is in regards to the “curse” on human nature – now subjected to physical pain and death - not God's wrath. And as with St Hilary, this isn't about the sin of the elect being imputed to Him, but rather the fact that Jesus in assuming human nature was made capable of a real human death.
My opponent next goes onto quote Theodoret, but with the same result as with the previous Fathers. Nothing is said about Jesus undergoing of God's wrath or the imputation of sin, despite the fact Isaiah 53 is also explicitly mentioned, instead Theodoret makes it clear that Jesus “suffered death unjustly.” This is not the conclusion we would expect in the context of Isaiah 53, if Penal Substitution was what this Father had in mind.
The quote from St John Chrysostom carries its own problems as far as supporting Penal Substitution goes. For starters, St John states Christ died for all men, but His merits were only efficacious for those who “believed” and were “willing.” This is the Catholic view. The Reformed view states Christ died specifically and only for a select number. What is even more significant about what St John said comes in the second half of the quote. St John defines “He bare the sins” as follows:
And what is [the meaning of] “He bare the sins”? Just as in the Oblation we bear up our sins and say, “Whether we have sinned voluntarily or involuntarily, do Thou forgive,” that is, we make mention of them first, and then ask for their forgiveness. So also was it done here. Where has Christ done this? Hear Himself saying, “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself.” (John 17:19) Lo! He bore the sins. He took them from men, and bore them to the Father; not that He might determine anything against them [mankind], but that He might forgive them.
Nothing about imputing guilt of the elect to Christ who then takes the Father's Wrath in their place. Quite the opposite. Jesus' perfect obedience and love give Him the status of Mediator who's requests to the Father are never denied. He took it upon himself the duty of getting those sins forgiven, not punished by substitution! This is the very Catholic view I've made reference to in 1 Peter 2:18ff, where “bore their sins” is likewise mentioned.
Lastly, St Bede is quoted, in a very short one-sentence quote, but nothing in that demands PS. Of the limited information given, it says the grounds for this forgiveness was Christ's “dying compassion,” which is equivalent to “obedience unto death” I made mention of in my opening essay.
At this point, serious attention should be called to the fact not a singe one of these proof-texts from the Fathers came anywhere near advocating Penal Substitution. In fact, the quotes suggested the exact opposite. And the biggest blow of all against my opponent's position is that key Scriptural proof-texts like Isaiah 53, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Galatians 3:13 and 1 Pt 2:24 are all quoted, yet never in a manner relating to Penal Substitution.
1d) The next section my opponent focuses on is the views held by St Anselm in his major work: Cur Deus Homo. But attention must be called to what Reformed scholar J. I. Packer stated above (1b), that the Scholastic view of “satisfaction” (esp by St Anselm in CDH) was radically redefined by the Reformers. In other words, the citations of CDH by my opponent don't mean what they think they mean. CDH is not advocating Penal Substitution.
In reading the quotes of CDH, and keeping in mind the Catholic (Scholastic) understanding of “satisfaction,” it is easily seen that Penal Substitution is not what St Anselm is trying to convey.
1e) I am grateful that St Thomas Aquinas was mentioned, and I am glad that my opponent made it clear that St Thomas did not teach Penal Substitution. And as with St Anselm, St Thomas uses the term “satisfaction” in a very different way than the Reformers. St Thomas taught concepts regarding the Catholic view of the Atonement that are totally incompatible with Penal Substitution, namely that the Passion was not absolutely required for God to forgive sin (God could have directly forgiven), and that the meritorious value of the Incarnation itself was sufficient to make full satisfaction (cf ST 3:46:1; 3:48:1)
1f) The A.A Hodge quote didn't really get into the details of Penal Substitution. It cannot be considered proof, because it was more of a general formulation of the atonement than anything.
All in all, my opponent's opening essay not only did not provide a solid case for Penal Substitution, it in fact contradicted it, especially by means of the historical understanding (ie Church Fathers) of key Scriptural proof-texts commonly cited in support of Penal Substitution.
2) The focus of this essay will now shift towards responding to my opponent's Rebuttal.
2a) My opponent begins with a one sentence quote from St Jerome, commenting on Matthew 20:28. Unfortunately, no further commentary (nor source) are given, but as it stands it is still perfectly orthodox Catholic teaching (properly interpreted).
3) In his rebuttal, my opponent argues that the Mosaic sacrifices did indeed operate in a Penal Substitution framework. I will now address his claims.
3a) The Passover is the first sacrifice my opponent deals with. What he does not demonstrate is that the lamb was an object of wrath, and the fact is Scripture nowhere says it is. At the time of the Passover, God's wrath was not even on the Jews, but rather on the Egyptians:
Exodus 11: 4 So Moses said, "This is what the LORD says: 'About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. 5 Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. 6 There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. 7 But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any man or animal.' Then you will know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.
Given this information, there is no reason to think God's wrath was poured out on the lamb rather than the Israelites. God was not mad at the Israelites, thus a sacrifice in this case could not have been that of Penal Substitution. The Israelites were only actually subject to that wrath in a indirect/secondary sense, that is if they had they disobeyed the Passover requirements. In the next chapter, Exodus 12, further details are given that go against Penal Substitution. First, in verses 3f it states each household must kill a lamb, but says if a household is too small for one lamb they are to share a lamb with their neighbor. This would be illogical if a life-for-life penal substitution exchange was taking place. Second, killing the lamb but not following the other instructions (eg applying blood to the doorframe or eating it properly) would be of no benefit to that household, this realization is incompatible with Penal Substitution which puts the true value of the sacrifice on the life/death itself (ie the inflicted punishment). This data goes against the case my opponent tried to make.
I'm not sure why my opponent connected fire with God's wrath in this situation. Sure there are various metaphors for God's attributes, but to say fire must mean wrath in this case is unsubstantiated by the passage. The two Exodus quotes he gives don't even mention fire. On top of that, certain sacrifices not dealing with atoning for sin (eg grain offerings, Lev 2:1f and fellowship/peace offerings, Lev 3) were to be burned with fire, which would be totally illogical if fire signified wrath and penal substitution.
3b) While my opponent brings up the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16), he does not seem to realize that the scapegoat (used for making atonement, 16:10) is not killed nor described as an object of wrath. The only place in the Bible an animal is explicitly said to have hands placed on it and sins confessed over it is the scapegoat; and yet this animal is kept alive, not slain. This situation is flatly incompatible in a Penal Substitution framework.
3c) This leads into the next claim of my opponent: the hand-to-head sacrificial instructions in the Mosaic sacrificial system prove a transfer of guilt from the guilty onto the animal. As noted above, only for the scapegoat is the hand-to-head instruction ever explicitly said to “confess sins” and put them on the goats head. But that is not all, my opponent actually quotes texts referencing hand-to-head instructions which actually undermine his own claim. The most striking is that of the fellowship and peace offerings described in Leviticus 3. A typical example of the fellowship-peace offering is described in the first few verses of Leviticus 3:
1'If someone's offering is a fellowship offering [also called “peace offering”], and he offers an animal from the herd, whether male or female, he is to present before the LORD an animal without defect. 2 He is to lay his hand on the head of his offering and slaughter it at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. Then Aaron's sons the priests shall sprinkle the blood against the altar on all sides. 3 From the fellowship offering he is to bring a sacrifice made to the LORD by fire
This passage has all the components of what my opponent would consider the perfect example of penal substitution. But there is one significant problem. The above description is for peace offerings, not sin offerings. The peace offerings are voluntary and for giving thanks and not about atoning for sin; there are other sacrifices specifically instituted for sin and guilt. Thus, within the sacrificial system, this can only mean hand-to-head instructions do not entail a transfer of guilt, slaughtering does not entail taking of punishment, and burning does not entail God's wrath. The laying on of hands can simply signify dedication, the slaughter as a freely given offering, and the fire as God's 'consuming' approval.
3d) As I noted in my opening essay, a sin offering could be given in the form of a bag of flour, which is impossible if penal substitution was the system in place. Despite this, my opponent said the following in response to my claim:
Even in the case of the grain offering of fine flower, one can see the penal substitution taking place. There is no head upon which to lay hands, and there is no blood to spill, but a tenth is consumed with fire, just a similar proportion of an ordinary offering would have been. The idea of bread standing for flesh should come as a surprise to no New Testament reader (see, especially, John 6:51).
To me, this response is unsatisfactory. Nothing was killed, and there was no head to impute guilt to, so how can penal substitution be present? It cannot. If my opponent wants to argue that something was still burned up, that doesn't help at all. Leviticus 2 deals with grain offerings, which are likewise burned, but they don't deal with sin/guilt. Finally, my opponent links flour to bread, but that is quite a stretch here.
3e) Lastly, my opponent deals with the concept of “sweet savor” (also called “pleasing aroma”) which I originally mentioned. He argues in the following manner:
The smell of the burnt offering (Genesis 8:21, Exodus 29:18, and many more) is described as a “sweet savour” to God, but this should be understood to be because the smoke shows the consumption, the punishment of fire being executed.
This conclusion is unproven, and, moreover, incompatible with how and when the phrase is used in the Bible. In the very passages my opponent quotes, nothing of the nature of “punishment of fire” is shown, quite the contrary. In Genesis 8, Noah had just got out of the ark after the flood, God's wrath was most certainly not on him. Noah cannot be offering any sort of sin/guilt type offering at that point, only that of thanksgiving and supplication. And that is precisely what 8:21 describes, God smells the aroma and promises never to flood the earth in the future. As with the various sacrifices described in Leviticus, the phrase “aroma pleasing to the Lord” appears in sacrifices not concerning sin, further going against my opponent's claims. Instead, it is a sign of acceptance and God being pleased.
4) I will assume that due to space constraints, my opponent has chose to pass over the quotes of famous and respected Reformed theologians for the time being. Hopefully these will be addressed in upcoming essays.
4a) In the brief comments he does give, he argues that even if Christ only suffered physical death (he incorrectly assumes Rom 6:23 is primarily physical death), he still suffered the punishment of death. There are still a problems with this. First, if this was the legal transfer of punishment, which is what penal substitution is, then no Christian should have to die, nor could they, legally. But that is obviously false. Second, the physical death of Jesus is undeniably described as a premeditated murder in the Bible, nothing about God's wrath being unleashed. In fact, whenever the issue comes up regarding what would happen to Jesus, the answer is always the same: He would be handed over to the Pharisees and Gentiles, who would mock and murder Him (eg Mt 16:21; Lk 18:31-33). To say God's wrath was being poured out upon Jesus, even if just in physical death, has no basis in Scripture. It was a murder, with no indication of a penal substitution or God's wrath. To argue unconditionally that “the punishment of death is one expression of God's wrath” leads to embarrassing ramifications regarding martyrdom.
4b) As I noted in my last essay, to interpret the phrase “My God, why has thou forsaken me” in the sense of divine punishment/wrath is a form of Nestorianism. Despite this, my opponent insists this passage proves “Jesus felt the wrath of God upon the cross.” Jesus is God and thus cannot be “forsaken” by God without causing His Divine Nature to separate from His human nature, leaving a purely human man named Jesus on the cross. That's heretical. Jesus is quoting Psalm 22, in which God's wrath was never on David nor Jesus.
5) The debate now shifts to the popular Penal Substitution proof-texts which I originally refuted.
5a) My opponent says Isaiah 53:4 clearly teaches Penal Substitution, yet (as I originally said) this exact verse is quoted in Matthew 8:16-17 and has nothing to do with Penal Substitution! He goes onto give his own commentary of Isaiah 53, but unfortunately virtually ignores almost all I had to say on this passage. In short, he is reading Penal Substitution into Isaiah 53, but without interacting with my original comments he will be unsuccessful at proving his case.
5b) The next passage my opponent comments upon is Galatians 3:13, but, sadly, as with Isaiah 53, he seems to have completely missed my original comments on this passage. I show that reading penal substitution into this passage (and others) is unwarranted, yet my opponent does just that.
5c) When it comes to 1 Peter 2, there is some interaction with my original comments, but also misunderstanding as well. First of all, he does not begin the quote from verse 2:18, but rather at 2:21, which results in loss of critical information (context) when it comes to interpreting this passage. Second, he greatly ignores the main points I already made, including how Isaiah 53 ties into it. He does not realize the theme of 2:18ff is enduring unjust suffering, which is what Peter says is meritorious in God's sight, and thus the focus of Jesus' work was not in the punishment itself but rather the patient endurance. Third, he says the Greek term for “bore” also meaning offering a sacrifice is not applicable to the context, but that is not only a presumption, and that sense is in fact used in verse 5 of that same chapter (discussing sacrifice and priesthood).
5d) It was surprising to see 2 Corinthians 5:21 did not get much attention from my opponent, and even less attention was given to my original comments on this verse. My opponent basically introduces one new idea, which he describes as follows:
He has not imputed our trespasses to us, but to Christ instead. That demonstrates a vicarious atonement. Although Nick asserts that imputation (the word, at least) is not in the verse (in verse 21), the word is in the immediately preceding verse
Here he argues that because verse 19 says sin is “not imputed” to us that that means it is imputed to Christ. This is a logical fallacy; just because sin is “not imputed” to X does not automatically mean it is imputed to Y. If this is the closest my opponent has to proving the thesis of this debate - that the elects' guilt was imputed to Christ - we can safely say the Bible nowhere clearly teaches this very critical doctrine.
5e) Lastly, my opponent mentions Matthew 26:39 and says it references the cup of God’s wrath, but unfortunately he both ignores and misunderstands (e.g. he claims I treated all cups as one) my own comments on the verse.
In conclusion to this section on Penal Substitution proof texts, it should go without saying that Penal Substitution was merely assumed by my opponent in nearly every case, without any reasonable exegesis or rebuttal to my original claims.
6) Now for the Catholic proof-texts for Satisfaction (contra Penal Substitution).
6a) In the case of Phinehas, my opponent states that because someone died (the sinners in the tent) that means God's justice was satisfied by punishment. But that is an improper view of the whole situation. The Israelites in large numbers turned to idolatry and God wrath was against them (v.3), not just the people in the tent. God sent a plague killing thousands, but because of Phinehas' zeal God's wrath against the whole Israelites was appeased and the plague stopped (i.e. not all the guilty were killed). So Phinehas killing a guilty man, on its own, certainly holds no weight as far as strict justice being served. Rather, it was his zeal for God's honor that held such great merit to make atonement for all, and thus the Catholic view is solidly demonstrated.
6b) In the case of Moses making atonement in Deut 9, my opponent objects that the word “atonement” doesn't appear, only the turning away of wrath. This, to me, is weak, especially considering how much turning away God's wrath plays into atonement. In Num 25:10-13, turning away wrath is clearly equivalent to atonement.
6c) In the case of Moses and Num 16:42-49, atonement and turning away wrath – by good works - is clearly stated. My opponent says this was simply God showing mercy, with no satisfaction, but that is contradicted by the plain reading of the text (eg “atonement”).
6d) In the case of Job, my opponent seems to argue that Job's prayer and sacrifices are acceptable because the priest must be pure, not that the priest's goodness carries any merit. But this realization goes against Penal Substitution, for it makes the efficacy of the death/punishment dependent on the priest's holiness. In other words, it was more than life-for-life in this exchange (not to mention 14 animals sacrificed for 3 men).
6e) I quoted Proverbs 16:6 because it uses the Hebrew word for 'atonement', and specifically that it can come by means of good works. The same word appears in 16:14 and says this comes by means of wise council. My opponent misses the fact penal substitution is not required to atone, and he even quotes Proverbs 15:1 which further supports my argument!
7) The issue to now be discussed is whether or not salvation can be lost, which directly relates to whether penal substitution is true or not.
7a) The first thing my opponent does is claim that Scripture does teach that salvation is secure, and uses John 6:38-40 as his primary proof. I deny that passage teaches eternal security because it is dependent upon perseverance in “seeing” and “believing,” and elsewhere it is clear that belief in Christ is not enough and can be abused (John 12:42f; 15:5f). I'm not sure why my opponent quotes St Augustine, considering Augustine explicitly taught not all the justified would persevere to the end (eg On Perseverance Ch 1 and esp 21 ).
7b) While on the face of it, my opponent fails to address all but two of my loss-of-salvation texts, I can grant some slack here given the space limitations he is under compared to the amount of material he had to cover. That said, I cannot just accept his very brief (under one sentence) reasons for why my passages don't teach salvation can be lost.
One brief comment on his claim regarding warnings merely for sake of encouragement to persevere rather than resulting in an actual loss of salvation: Under Penal Substitution, the punishment of damnation for the Christian, whether 'actual' or 'theoretical' (ie a warning), cannot exist, it is precluded (the punishment was already taken by Christ).
7c) The first passage my opponent comments on is 1 Corinthians 8:11 and says the context suggest something less severe than hell. The “context” is idolatry, and idolatry is most certainly a grave sin which excludes men from entering the Kingdom (cf 1 Cor. 6:9f). Further, the immediate context is a brother “for whom Christ died,” and Christ's death is certainly in the context of salvation. And my opponent gets the object of the “perishing” incorrect, it is the brother which is said to “perish,” not his “conscience” (plus the notion of a conscience “perishing” makes little sense.) St Paul's teaching is that a weak brother (a convert who was accustomed to idols) sees a 'strong' brother eating with idols, and this sight wounds the 'weak' brother's conscience, letting his guard down to the dangers of idolatry, and ends up falling into the grave sin of idolatry which he perishes for as a result. A similar example is if someone were a recovering alcoholic, by drinking around them you wound their delicate conscience and entice them back into alcoholism.
7d) Next my opponent discusses why Hebrews 10:26-29 is not about losing salvation because it mentions “sin willfully” (rather than “keep on sinning”), and is not talking about those with 'real' faith, and that the sinner will only be “worthy” of punishment but will not receive it, and that this verse is a hypothetical. I fail to see what is so significant about “keep on sinning” or “sin willfully,” my claim does not stand on this point. Next, the idea that the passage and context is not dealing with true believers (ie a 'fake faith') is presumptuous, to say the least (the author is encouraging believers). The use of “we” in this passage indicates the author includes himself. As for this being merely 'theoretical' (ie hypothetical), I will again point out that penal substitution precludes even hypothetical threats.
All in all, my opponent has not adequately defended himself against the fact Scripture teaches salvation can be lost (directly undermining penal substitution).
8) The last subject dealt with was the philosophical and theological problems with penal substitution.
8a) My first argument was that no genuine justice system allows someone to take the death penalty for another. My opponent misread this and thought I meant any given substitution was problematic.
8b) In my next argument, my opponent objects to my claim that it is illogical for God to both forgive and punish. My opponent didn't really respond to this. The Bible is clear we must forgive without retaliation, so it would be a double standard for God to “forgive” us while turning around and punishing Jesus.
8c) Next is the issue of what I called “pre-paying” for sin, to which my opponents objections were slightly confusing to me. Penal substitution deals specifically with the sins of the elect and thus the punishment is specifically restricted to what all of those specific sins deserved. If this is not the case, then Christ didn't die specifically for the elect. The notion of imputing the guilt of the elect alone is precisely why the Atonement was limited. If the punishment due to the elect alone is equal to the punishment due to all, then it is illogical to say the Atonement was limited. But even if I grant my opponent's objection (as I understand it), the fact remains the sinner's future sins are already punished in Christ.
8d) Lastly, my opponent objects to my argument of “eternal forgiveness,” stating I'm not properly applying the application of redemption in time. But this is not what I was getting at. At the point of justification (redemption applied in time), all past and future sins are officially forgiven. Reformed apologists James White explicitly affirms this in his book “The God Who Justifies,” page 98f.
9) In conclusion, I believe my opponent fell very short in terms of addressing the specific Scriptural, philosophical, and theological arguments I originally made against Penal Substitution in my opening essay.