Defining Penal Substitution

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I first want to lay out what I believe Penal Substitution to be. This is what I've been taught growing up and is what is currently being taught at my (evangelical) seminary. As far as I can tell, this is the standard version of Penal Substitution. [However, I've heard that some in the Reformed camp see it significantly differently. I have yet to confirm this.] Once we have established what Penal Substitution is, I'll write a post on why I think it is wrong. Then I'll write a post on what I think the biblical alternative is.

The following is a list of the basic tenets of Penal Substitution (as I see them). Please let me know if anything is 1) missing, 2) incorrect, or 3) unnecessary. [I will update this post as appropriate comments come in.]

Justice (the Penal part):

J1. God is a God of (among other things) justice
J2. As a God of justice, God must punish sin
J3. All humankind has sinned
J4. The punishment for sin is death
J5. Therefore, God must punish all humanity with death.

Substitution (the Substitution part):

S1. Jesus was fully human yet sinless
S2. Jesus was crucified (i.e. punished/killed) though he was innocent
S3. Because he was innocent, His life was not forfeit. Therefore, Jesus was available to be punished/killed on behalf of humanity
S4. God punished/killed Jesus instead of us
S5. That is to say that Jesus died in our place

Results (the Salvation part):

R1. Jesus bore our sins on the cross
R2. At the same time, Jesus imputed to us His righteousness
R3. That is to say that Jesus substituted our sin with His righteousness, and vice-versa
R4. Because Jesus bore away our sin and imputed to us His righteousness, we are now justified before God
R5. We are saved from both sin and punishment

Corollaries (important, but not vital to Penal Substitution):

C1. There is a one-to-one correspondence between God's wrath and God's punishment. God's wrath is expressed by God meting out punishment.

Am I missing anything? Can I make this more consistent? Any suggestions?

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Over at my blog, my co-blogger Wink has initiated a fascinating discussion that may prove of interest to some readers of Prosblogion. It's not entirely philosophy and relies much on biblical exegesis, but philosophical issues come up, and these are... Read More


I did my own chart but crashed, so I�ll give a general statements. First section should probably be the Given situation. God would be defined as holy and love�that�s part of the, so to speak, problem. Death s//b defined with a parenthesis of Separation. The Penal Part would be a section which illustrates how God has equipped Men. The third section on Substitution would be God coming near and Men, equipped with what they were given, decide contrary to God on their estimation of Christ. God righteousness on son and men�s belief results in Justification Results should also mention that God overturned the decision and it�s God�s righteousness that is imputed�not Christ�s. If this all makes no sense, I�ll retype my thought-flow. Not even sure what penal-punishment means so I may just be commenting on what I see in scripture. Verses make more sense:
Lev 11:44, 19:2. 20:7; John 1; Romans 4, 5, 8:1 ; 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5; Col 1:18-end of 1; 1Jn 1, 4

God bless you,

You know what? nix everything I said. I don't have a clue what Penal Substituion is so ignore my comments. I was going by complete Bible reading and seeing the chart in it's light and I don't have any idea what's being taught in seminary. :)

If I had more time, I'd probably try to deal with what you've laid out here more thoroughly. What I will say is that I don't see the atonement as something so "flat", so simple. I don't think most people who hold to a penal substitutionary model of the atonement do, either. What was accomplished on the cross was multifaceted, and no explanation we can give is going to be adequate to explain completely what went on in that one act.

The one to one correspondence thing: We are dealing with the infinite, which is a quality rather than quantity, and it would be impossible to reduce whatever was accomplished at the cross to one-to-one correspondence.

I think a few things are clear from scripture: God has wrath against sin. Something was accomplished vicariously in Christ's death. Because God is righteous, he couldn't just overlook sin, and there had to be a righteous way to make sinners right. Whatever went on at the cross was necessary to accomplish this.

You might change J5 to Therefore, all humankind has merited death.

Some, such as Anselm, would say something about how merely human persons could not overcome sin, and why it is necessary that Jesus be divine and human. (Cur De Homo)

Also in regards to the Results... You might want to say something about how we as individuals link up to salvation.

Rebecca, I believe Wink fully agrees with your last statement, and he's well aware that many people who hold to a substitutionary atonement believe there are other elements to the atonement. It's just that many of them see the substitutionary element as primary or at least as essential. He doesn't see it as part of it at all, never mind an esential or primary component. I'm not sure I see it as the primary biblical way of talking about the atonement, but I do think it's there, so I guess I'm standing along the continuum between Wink and those who think of it as primary.

Matthew, I think J5 follows the way it is, given J2. He'd have to change that to modify J5. I'm not sure why he'd want to. Those who hold to a penal substitution model of the atonement accept J5 on exactly these grounds. As for your last suggestion, that's going to be crucial to what he does think the atonement primarily involves, which is our identification with Christ and our identification with him (both clearly biblical ways of speaking and neither consistent with Christ being substituted for us, according to Wink).

rebecca - yeah, I'm well aware that the Penal Substitution (PS) theory of the atonement is far richer than I've presented, but I've condensed it for the sake of space and to focus the discussion. And every doctrine ends up sounding simplistic and flat when reduced to bullet points; its just the nature of bullet points.

What I've tried to do is distill PS down to its essentials. I am by no means trying to say that people who believe in PS believe that this is the only part of the atonement. I'm just trying to assert that a theory of atonement is not PS without these elements.

I'm not sure what to do with the wrath corollary. I don't want to leave out wrath, but I'm not sure how to best present the PS viewpoint on it. Hmmmm...

I've deliberately avoided the use of the word "vicarious" as its meaning can be quite ambiguous. That word can almost always be substituted with a clearer word or phrase.

Because God is righteous, he couldn't just overlook sin, and there had to be a righteous way to make sinners right.

From what I understand about PS, God did not overlook sin because of R1, and he made us righteous via R2. The mechanism of that is a bit unclear, but I think that PS as I've described it covers those aspects which you bring up.

Matthew - Jeremy covered why I want to leave J5 as is. I certainly don't disagree with your restatement of J5, but the logic feels more PS the way I've presented it.

As to how we link up to salvation, I think that that is not well addressed by PS. Sure most PSers will affirm sola fides, but I don't feel like that is a part of the doctrine of Penal Substitution. Am I wrong?

I've deliberately avoided the use of the word "vicarious" as its meaning can be quite ambiguous. That word can almost always be substituted with a clearer word or phrase.

Okay. How about "in place of" or "instead of". Where the preposition is "anti", the "in place of" (or vicarious) idea is pretty clear. As in "an eye for (anti) an eye" and "a ransom for (anti) many". Also, in this passage (and more), the idea seems pretty clear.

From what I understand about PS, God did not overlook sin because of R1

Yes, more or less. Christ bearing our sin was propitiatory, and was a righteous way for God to pass over sin.

and he made us righteous via R2.

Not exactly. Our imputed righteousness is a declaration of righteousness, not an actual making righteous, and it comes because of our identification with Christ's obedience. We are made righteous on the basis of our identification with Christ's resurrected life.

R3. That is to say that Jesus substituted our sin with His righteousness, and vice-versa

I really don't know what you mean by this.

Because Jesus bore away our sin and imputed to us His righteousness, we are now justified before God

Not quite. Christ's bearing our sin brings our forgiveness: our sins are remitted--they are not counted against us. This is a negative thing--taking something away from our account. The imputation of righteousness (or counting us righteous) is the same thing as justification. We are counted righteousness because of our identification with Christ's righteousness. This is a positive thing--putting something in our account.

R5. We are saved from both sin and punishment

I'm not sure what you mean by this either. If by being "saved from sin" you mean a positive working of righteousness in our lives, then that is based on the fact that we have "new life" grounded in our identification with Christ's risen life.

Rebecca - regarding my reluctance to use the word "vicarious", you said "Okay. How about "in place of" or "instead of". You'll note that those are phrases I originally used in S4 and S5.

Hmmmm...regarding your other points, taken together they seem to imply that I am missing something vital about our identification with Christ. How would you recommend that I work that into the Penal Substitution model? That is to say, how is our identification with Christ an integral part of the substitution of our penalty?

I'm planning to address that last question when I present my argument that penal substitution and identification are not contradictory but two sides of the same coin. I haven't had time to read your latest post yet, so if your argument that they contradict is in there then maybe I'll post it in response.

"Because God is righteous, he couldn't just overlook sin, and there had to be a righteous Way to make sinners right."
Pierce out of all the verboseness you contribute to Christendom, sometimes boy, you by accident I am sure, do hit the nail on the head. The problem with both penal and substitutionary atonement theory is that the FACT relative to Jesus' crucifixion, it being the sin of murder caused by bloodshed, this FACT is exchanged for the lie "in place of" by misunderstanding the term "sin bearer". Jesus' crucifixion is a violation of the commandment "Do NOT touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm." 1 Chro. 16:22. By this violation, Pierce, what is the only Way for a sinner to be made right?

Those words weren't actually mine. This post wasn't mine, and only a few of the comments were mine. That particular one wasn't one of them.

Some do get undeserved credit. Answer the question anyway.

Do you two have a history? "Jones", you sure speak with a nasty streak to Jeremy.

I'll answer for me, though (obviously) you haven't asked. "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin." Heb 9:22. Thus an atoning sacrifice is required, in compliance with Levitical law for the forgiveness of sin. "for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" Matthew 26:28, which is Christ's declaration of whose blood it is that propitiates and expiates sin. Finally, Ephesians 1:7-10 delineates that not only is it the blood of Christ that provides forgiveness and redemption, but it clearly states that it was not a happenstance sin that caused it, but the providential foreordained plan of the Almighty to reconcile His people to Himself.

Perhaps a review of Leviticus 4-6 would assist you in understanding that atonement is both compensatory (penal) and substitutionary.

I apologize in advance for the likelihood of this being a drive-by comment. I have a sermon to prepare and may not stop back by in the next few days. Feel free to terminate my comment, Jeremy, if this is not helpful.

On second thought, please pull my comment. If I'm not going to commit to hanging around to defend the position, I think it is extremely unhelpful for me to toss the grenade into the room. Thanks!

Hammer, there is a history: here, here, and here.

Jones's tactic seems to be to find a different post every time, make some comments not very closely related to the post in question, and then check back every couple hours to see if there's a response, sometimes lasting for a few days before never returning to that post. The next time it will be a different post. His view is extremely bizarre. It has something to do with saying that Jesus' death was to atone for the sins of those who put him to death, and no other sin needing atoning for, while those who do not repent of that sin or who repent of other sins are not saved. But his reasoning is never clear, and he doesn't ever respond to arguments against his position, at least not in any way that makes sense. So I can't pretend to be getting his view right. He hasn't ever laid it out clearly and fully with precise language.

I've decided not to bother continuing a discussion with someone who insults his opponent as often as he uses real arguments, especially if he isn't saying anything that we haven't already discussed, as is true of the comment on this post. As I've said before, if I see a real argument that I haven't seen before and responded to before, and if it's a clear enough argument for me to figure out what the argument is, I might respond if I have the time, but that's not been the norm.

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