What Substitution do I Deny?

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Jeremy notes that whenever we see the penal element, we immediately think "substitution". He makes a great observation there. What we should also note, is that due to the predominance of Penal Substitution in our teaching, whenever we see substitution, we assume that it is penal.

This has come up a couple of times in the comments and I'd like to address it more publically here. Maybe I didn't make myself clear in my original posts, so let me clarify now: I deny Penal Substitution, but I don't deny Substitution in all forms. I only deny that any biblical substitution is Penal.

So. When Jesus Ransoms us, I freely admit that there is an exchange going on--His life for us as slaves. But I deny that there is any punishment/judgement going on there. Similarly when Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac. Yes there is substitution with the ram. Yes, this is a type of Christ. But there is no punishment going on here. Etc. These are the most obvious examples, now we'll move to three less obvious ones:

1) Scapegoat: Jeremy points out that I must abandon the scapegoat as there is no sense that the scapegoat is in union with the Israelites once it is in the wilderness. I agree. He says that it is substitution. OK. But I deny that it is Penal.

Even when I believed in Penal Substitution, I had problems with the scapegoat being used as support for PS. The sins of the nation get laid on the goat, and then the goat is not punished! How is that support for penal substitution? If the scapegoat were meant to be a symbol looking forward to PS, then they would have to kill the scapegoat (any punishment short of death would be inadequate punishment for sin). But they don't.

Given that the scapegoat isn't punished, as best as I can tell the purpose of the scapegoat is not so much to be a substitute penalty, but to be a concrete visual demonstration to the nation that there is no longer any sin in the nation. That notion works perfectly well with both Penal Substitution and Penal Union, so I don't think that the scapegoat either supports nor denies either model.

2) Passover: I must admit that this one strikes much closer to home. I do not have a perfectly adequate answer to this one, but I must point out that (and Cary acknowledges) that the plague of the death of the firstborn was not sent as punishment for the Israelites' sins. (What sin would that have been? Not allowing themselves to be freed from slavery to the Egyptians?) As such, the sacrifice was a substitution, but not a penal one.

3) OT sacrifices in general: I've made my argument in the comments that the sin sacrifices were actually meant to be seen as union with the sacrifice, but that it eventually became (mis)understood as substitutionary. Regarding other sacrifices, however, I must point out that they were not meant to be penal, so even if you can show that they were meant to be substitutions, they don't support penal substitution anyway.

So. How do we define substitution?

rebecca's comments in this thread (#8 in the thread) sound to me to be almost exactly what I believe. However, she keeps calling it "substitution" while I lump most of what she says under the category of "union". Clearly we have some definitions crossed, so lets try to sort it out.

[First of all, as much as I respect the late Colin Gunton, his statement that the cross was "substitutional in that Christ does for us what we cannot do for ourselves" is a really bad definition. (Not that anyone here brought that up, but my advisor keeps quoting that as if it were a scriptural definition.) While Christ certainly does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, that isn't necessarily substitution. Gunton's "definition" certainly overlaps with the definition of substitution, and substitution may even be a subset of his definition, but the "definition" is far too broad to fit "substitution". It is probably a better definition of "service" or something like that. If Gunton's definition was correct, then a mother giving birth to a child would somehow be substitutionary as the child cannot give birth to herself. Or a surgeon doing bypass surgury is somehow substitutional as the patient can't do the surgery himself. But nobody would ever call these substitutions. (Sorry. Rant over.)]

Rebecca seems to think that if something is indirect, then inasmuch as it is indirect it is substitution. Meanwhile, I think that indirect participation is still participation, and thus union. (Rebecca agrees with this, I think.) But I don't think that the indirectness means that it is substitution. (I think this is where we disagree.) I think that this leaves us sharing tons of common ground, but we call that common ground different things.

So how can we tell if this is really substitution or union? I think that Adrian in his piercing comment in this thread cuts to the heart of the matter. He states: "I cannot accept...any sense in which we share in Christs punishment...We get let off the hook and are not punished". Adrian is staking out the ground clearly. Any participation in the punishment is outside the realm of Penal Substitution. He understands that if there is participation, even indirectly, then it has ceased being "instead of" and has turned into "together with".

So here is the real test to see if you agree with me. We'll drop the terms which we've become attached to and boil it down to the really essential questions: Do you think that we are indirectly punished in Christ? Or are we let off the hook?

6 Comments

Great way of bringing it to it's head. I'm actually chuckling over here.

So. When Jesus Ransoms us, I freely admit that there is an exchange going on--His life for us as slaves.

Or his life for us as people who are under a death sentence. And he ransoms us out from under that death sentence by dying instead of us dying. He pays a costly price (gives up his life) instead of us losing our own life as that death sentence is carried out. It's a life for (or in place of) a life.

But I deny that there is any punishment/judgement going on there.

I don't think you can separate out the different aspects like that. It's one whole act. Multifaceted and complex, so that it requires many different pictures of what is done (ransom, kinsman redeemer, scapegoat, sacrifice, etc, etc.) in order for us grasp it at all, but I think it's a mistake to try to separate it into parts and say "this aspect is judgment, but this isn't." If any of it is judgment, then it all is. If any of it is like a ransom, then it all is. If any of it's substitutionary, then it all is. Even though we have a hard time grasping it except as different individual pieces of a complex puzzle, those pieces are really parts of one unified picture, and what it true for one individual piece applies to the puzzle as a whole picture.

Rebecca seems to think that if something is indirect, then inasmuch as it is indirect it is substitution. Meanwhile, I think that indirect participation is still participation, and thus union. (Rebecca agrees with this, I think.) But I don't think that the indirectness means that it is substitution. (I think this is where we disagree.) I think that this leaves us sharing tons of common ground, but we call that common ground different things.

I think that the nature of the union, in respect to Christ's death, is a substitutional union. What Christ does counts as ours.

I think that Adrian in his piercing comment in this thread cuts to the heart of the matter. He states: "I cannot accept...any sense in which we share in Christs punishment...We get let off the hook and are not punished".

We don't share in Christ's punishment in the sense that we participate in it in any way. "He endured the punishment that makes us well," rather than us enduring our own punishment. There was an objective aspect to this--it was "before the eyes of all." He is lifted up, and we look on. He is "displayed publically" as a propitiation.

There is a subjective aspect as well, to be sure: we are immersed into his death. We "have become united with him in the likeness of his death", but up until the time that this objective truth (Christ enduring our punishment) is applied to us, we remain under the death sentence--we are children of God's wrath.

The objective reality--He died in our place for our benefit-- become subjectively reality when we are made alive together with him, when we are baptized into his death. Christ condemned sin in the flesh (objective) and when we are born again, we are united by the Spirit with that death (subjective). On the basis of what was done for us in Christ, our sins are no longer counted against us, so we are no longer objects of God's wrath.

Do you think that we are indirectly punished in Christ? Or are we let off the hook?

Woops. Missed this. Nope, we are not indirectly punished. Yes we are let off the hook. God passes over sins (lets people off the hook) on the grounds of Christ being put forward as a propitiation. We receive that propitiation through faith.

Actually, there are three other interpretations of Leviticus 16 that take the Hebrew expression usually translated "cut off" to be saying that they bring the goat into the wilderness and then kill it. Another is that they bring it into the wilderness and then force it to back itself off a cliff. A third that I haven't seen advocated specifically here is that God strikes it down once it's out of the camp. Gordon Wenham thinks that's what 'cut off' means in all the cases with humans, that when a priest rightly declares someone cut off they are subject to an immediate divine death penalty. I was surprised that he didn't say this about the scapegoat in Leviticus 16, because it uses that expression.

Any of those three would be punishment. Just for the record, I wanted to point those out. Most people do think that they just sent it off into the wilderness and cut it off from being a part of the divinely-blessed covenant community.

Do you think that we are indirectly punished in Christ? Or are we let off the hook?

Thing is that the question is tricky. Rebecca�s point of the multifaceted aspects of the sacrifice should be noted. The Levitical offerings all spoke of Christ�s work�but different aspects of it. Sure you had your substitutionary sin offering but you also had your guilt offering and your peace offering�all different aspects which typically spoke of Christ�s work. I�m basically repeating Rebecca�s point so here�s what I�m saying using an illustration.

Court room. Prosecution says, �Either [the Defendant] planned the murder or they go scot-free.� But wait, does it have to be Murder 1, preplanned Murder? Can�t it be a Murder 2 or a Manslaughter? Why go scot-free?

For the sake of argument, a person may admit that in one sense (I believe Jeremy already established this in one of his comments) a person can legally be seen to be united to Christ in His death.

So �no�, someone may say, �we�re not left off the hook but neither are we indirectly literally punished. Something is being abolished and now, after death, something is being abolished so that we can be married to another.�

This hypothetical person may even offer up that the Scriptures would also pin the written ordinances to the cross as well while asking a question. Are those written ordinances on the Cross providing an atoning work or are their legal requirements being fulfilled?

Rom7, Col 2

Jeremy - good point about Lev 16. And thank you for noting that my interpretation is the common one.

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