Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why Substitution is Penal

When it comes to the atonement often times you will see someone write something like "I believe the atonement is substitutionary though not necessarily penal." This kind of thinking needs to be challenged both on a Biblically level and the logical/theological level.

The basic question for such a "non-penal substitutionary" (NPS) view is what does Christ do as our substitute?

We can define "penal" substitution following J.I. Packer:
The notion which the phrase 'penal substitution' expresses is that Jesus Christ our Lord, moved by a love that was determined to do everything necessary to save us, endured and exhausted the destructive divine judgment for which we were otherwise inescapably destined, and so won us forgiveness, adoption and glory. To affirm penal substitution is to say that believers are in debt to Christ specifically for this, and that this is the mainspring of all their joy, peace and praise both now and for eternity. [J.I. Packer "What Does the Cross Achieve? The Logic of Penal Substitution" Tyndale Bulletin 25 (1973) 3-45; quote p.25]
Penal substitution means that Christ suffers the curse of divine judgment in you place and mine. Our argument is that the very nature of Christ's death is an objective indication that it is 'penal'. The larger question then in early Christian theology that developed in the earliest Christian wasn't so much an argument on whether or not this Messiah was cursed but "why was he cursed". Put another way--no early Christian or first century Jew would have questioned the penal nature of death on a cross--penal from God's perspective--what was harder to grasp is why. Penal would have been recognized, the innocence of Christ and His substitution for His people would have been the developing point of contention. Thus, we eliminate the "penal" aspect because it is tough for our modern minds we quickly find (a) we have denied the object nature of the event and what a cross testified to and (b) there is little that is actually being substituted.

Why Substitution is Penal:
(1) The basic assumption we begin with is that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. A curse is pronounced upon all creation--particularly all humans--because of sin. That curse is death.

(2) Death is a curse that God has subjected His creation to. God prosecutes a judgment and a curse against His creation because of the sin of Adam. The Biblical God is not a deist who just winds up the world like a clock and lets it run. Death is not a natural part of creation but is the result of the curse. The curse is a personal curse that God Himself exacts upon His creation. While Scripture portrays death as an enemy, and it tells us that the devil has the power of death (Heb. 2:14). Yet--Genesis 3 is quite clear that this curse is from God Himself. The major point is that God prosecutes penal law already against His creation and death is that verdict. Physical death is a reminder here to us that there is an even greater death: punishment in hell, exile from God's presence.

(3) Does Christ die? This is of course a no-brainer. If Christ dies then in some way--either by accident or by plan he suffers the curse that is put upon creation. Not only this but Jews and early Christians were quite aware that GOD curses those who hang on a tree. Jews despised the cross and they considered, according to the OT, that one who is hung on a tree is cursed by God. In the first century, even when Rome hung some Pharisees on a cross--these men were considered cursed by God and never revered like those martyrs in Judaism who suffered other kinds of death and persecution.
Galatians 3:13 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us-- for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE"
Deuteronomy 21:23 23 his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.
Scripture tells us that it is not an accident that Jesus hung on a tree but not by accident:
Acts 2:23 23 this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.
Anybody put on a tree to die regardless of the circumstances is at the end the day under a curse from God though not just man. First century Judaism bears this out. So for example, Seyoon Kim points to pre-Christian understanding that the cross was a curse:
"But 4QpNah. 3-4,I.7f and the Temple Scroll of Qumran 64.6-13 show that already in the pre-Christian period Dt. 21.23 was applied to crucifixion and that the crucified was regarded as accursed by God." [Origin of Paul's Gospel (1981), 46].
Here is the 64.6-12 from the Temple Scroll:
Thus you shall eradicate all evil in your midst, and all the children of Israel shall hear it and fear. If there were to be a spy against his people who betrays his people to a foreign nation or causes evil against his people, you shall crucify him and he will die. On the evidence of two witnesses and on the evidence of three witnesses shall he be executed and they shall crucify him. If there were a man with a sin punishable by death and he escapes amongst the nations and curses his people, the children of Israel, he also you shall crucify and he shall die. Their corpses shall not spend the night on the tree; instead you shall bury them that day because they are cursed by God and man, those crucified; thus you shall not defile the land which I give you.
Most scholars agree that early Jews would have rejected Jesus as the Messiah because crucifixion was scandalous to Jews. For the Jew, based on the OT itself, it was self-evident by the nature of Jesus' death that God had accursed Him--a penal, legal, forensic judgment. Simple put: Jesus dying on the cross was prima fascia evidence that a verdict from God had been prosecuted against said man. The verdict: guilty, accursed.

Later on Trypho the Jew brings this objection against Justin Martyr:
Then Trypho remarked, “Be assured that all our nation waits for Christ; and we admit that all the Scriptures which you have quoted refer to Him. Moreover, I do also admit that the name of Jesus, by which the the son of Nave (Nun) was called, has inclined me very strongly to adopt this view. But whether Christ should be so shamefully crucified, this we are in doubt about. For whosoever is crucified is said in the law to be accursed, so that I am exceedingly incredulous on this point. It is quite clear, indeed, that the Scriptures announce that Christ had to suffer; but we wish to learn if you can prove it to us whether it was by the suffering cursed in the law.” [Dialogue with Trypho 89]

“Bring us on, then,” said [Trypho], “by the Scriptures, that we may also be persuaded by you; for we know that He should suffer and be led as a sheep. But prove to us whether He must be crucified and die so disgracefully and so dishonourably by the death cursed in the law. For we cannot bring ourselves even to think of this.” [Dialogue with Trypho 90]
For those who take Scripture seriously, the very nature of the cross is already penal. It is no dodge to say I believe in substitution just not "penal". NPS undercuts what a cross was and what it means to hang on the cross. If God had wanted NPS he would have had something else happen to Christ.

So (a) Christ dies--which itself coming under and curse and (b) Christ dies in such a way that He is clearly according to the OT and 1st century Judaism that it was understood this person claiming to be God's Messiah had come under a curse from God. It then is no dodge to say "I believe in substitution but not penal substitution. The problem with this is not simply that it waters down the nature of the substitution but instead it waters down what the very events of death and specifically death on a cross objectively represent according to the Old Testament and Judaism: a penal sentence prosecuted against persons.

(4) Why does Christ die? Scripture is clear that Christ does not die because of His own sin. Christ is innocent without sin and blemish. So an innocent man goes to His death. But in Scripture this is not merely a senseless tragedy. Of course Christ takes the fate of the cosmos upon Him and more importantly the fate of his people. But this is not merely participatory on Christ as an exemplar. He does not merely suffer to show that he 'identifies' on a psychological level. His suffering is not merely empathetic. Again: death is a penal curse--especially death on the cross. So while it is true according to Hebrews that Christ is made like us in all things--including human weakness (yet without sin), it is equally true that death is not merely a product of human weakness.

Hebrews tells us:
Hebrews 2:10 For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings
Hebrews 2:14-15 14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.
Christ is God's eternal Son and yet as a human he goes through obedience for our sake. This obedience perfects him--not in a moral sense but in an eschatological sense. He ushers in the eschaton for His people by his 'one act' as 'Second Adam'.
Hebrews 5:7-9 7 In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. 8 Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. 9 And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation,
So Christ as the perfect Son stand as the perfect High Priest but lays Himself down as the perfect sacrifice:
Hebrews 9:11-15 11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 15 For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
Here Hebrews begins to link ascension, tabernacle and covenant with atonement and redemption. Christ secures eternal redemption and proceeds into heaven in ascension based upon that work. His death took place for the "redemption of the transgressions committed under the first covenant". Clearly his death is penal. He pays for and redeems people from breaking the Law of God.

Thus Hebrews concludes the argument that Christ dies and bears sin:
Hebrews 9:27-28 27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, 28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.
Notice the connections that Hebrews is weaving together. Christ is like us--human in every respect (Heb. 2). Human beings face judgment upon death--clearly penal. Christ however "offers himself up--dying under death (again Hebrews 2) in order to bear sins of many. Thus we see that not only does he under go a penal process but His is our substitution for sins committed--transgressions, breaking of the Law/covenant.

Paul, of course, makes similar arguments albeit with different emphases and in differing contexts.
Galatians 1:4 4 who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.
Galatians 3:13 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us-- for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE"

Romans 3:22-26 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
The very notion of propitiation is that the wrath God has for sin is poured out upon the sacrifice. There are echoes here to the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant and the day of atonement. Christ's work at Calvary is nothing other than the day of atonement carried out with eschatological finality. The OT type repeated points to the "once for all time" event. This then gets at the idea of what is mean for Christ to "give Himself for our sins". The preposition "for" denotes clearly the idea of substitution. But no Biblical writer or first century Jew would have understood this nature of "giving" as anything other than in line with OT sacrifices handing oneself over to suffer a penal (legal, forensic) consequence in the place of someone else. This is of course not to deny that there is indeed more going on in atonement than the forensic and penal but we must affirm there is not less than this going on.

Just a few other Biblical writers:
1 Peter 2:24 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
(notice here the forensic and the participatory & healing).
1 John 2:2 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
1 John 4:10 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Lastly we notice Isaiah--that O' so important passage for understanding the role of the suffering servant:
Isaiah 53:8-12 8 By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? (penal, substitution) 9 His grave was assigned with wicked men (penal), Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. 10 But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief (penal); If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, (penal) He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. 11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. (penal substitution) 12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death (penal), And was numbered with the transgressors (penal); Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors. (penal substitution)

Conclusion
There you have it. Penal substitution is not the sum total of the gospel but it is certainly basic and central to the gospel. The cross is the center of redemptive history. It is a real even that was witnessed by numerous individuals. The nature of the cross and death itself is a public display a of penal sentence not just from the Roman government but more importantly and basic it was seen as a penal judgment from God Himself. This is the nature of death on the cross. The argument of the earliest Christian preaching is not "how" the death is penal but "why" the penal death is. They argued from the recognizable penal prosecution of God's justice (based on the OT) to the logic of substitution. This 'so-called' Messiah was indeed both innocent and the true Messiah. This is a scandal but the witness of the resurrection affirmed this. The curse was exhausted--God raised Him up even though He had indeed cursed Him. This was "for us and our salvation."

Furthermore, we gain nothing and lose everything when we say "I believe in substitution but not penal substitution." NPS suffers from a lack of seeing the cross for what it is--it is not nothing less than penal. The controversial aspect of the cross is not that it and the death it bring is penal--that is a given for the OT and the first century Jew. The controversy is that a Messiah should be cursed. That the Messiah should stand in the place of His people.

Indeed--what was the point of His death? It has to be penal for that is the very nature of death. We cannot say "he is standing in my place, but the death he gets is somehow unrelated to the death I deserve". It will not fly in an theology that asserts itself to be Biblical.

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