What proponents of Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) Theory need to address

References to Christ as a sin offering, a ransom, an atoning sacrifice, a passover lamb prove nothing about wrath or punishment

Proof Texts Unchecked

The arguments for PSA rely heavily on the same set of Bible verses. What is clear is that most of these are generic and common to all atonement theories. References to Christ as a sin offering, a ransom, an atoning sacrifice, a passover lamb prove nothing about wrath or punishment. These verses are also embraced within Ransom theory, Recapitulation, Scapegoat theory etc.  Yet, despite their commonality across Atonement Theories, they are constantly traipsed out and used in defence of PSA. That Christ was pierced for our transgressions is universally acknowledged by all atonement theories, and so to bring it into the argument for PSA is surely an act of wilful misleading.

As just one example among thousands, look at the bulk of the supposed “support” texts in this article:


The wilful blurring of ‘substitution’ with ‘penal substitution’ by educated men merely demonstrates a peculiar blindness that has beset evangelical Christianity. Proponents who wish to argue for PSA must do better than this. They need to prove from New Testament teaching that:

  1. God must punish sin, and
  2. that God was actively punishing Christ for us, pouring out his wrath upon Him.

Instead, we are presented by selective OT texts and arguments from the writings of church fathers. But why would we trust the opinion of flawed historical figures over the inspired word? Whatever men down the centuries may have believed, it surely carries little weight against scripture? NT Wright has openly criticised publications which rely on such ‘evidence’ for proof of what is or is not biblical doctrine (and rightly so).

Certainly we can see threads in our English bibles that look as if the cross was propitiatory (i.e. appeasing God’s wrath)… in Isaiah 53:4, Romans 3:25 and sometimes also in 1 John (KJV, NIV). However, these threads can only be picked up from the English text – they are, it turns out, peculiar to the way it was translated. When these verses are read back in their original Greek the whole edifice crumbles. You can check this out for yourself by reading the Septuagint; and by reading the supposedly supportive NT verses in the original Greek (or a literal translation). There is no wrath, no punishment, and no anger. When you read the Greek text you will find that God’s hand is not involved in Christ’s affliction – indeed the opposite is true – his desire is to ‘take away the travail of his soul’.

Contradictory Texts Ignored

Frustrating too is the fact that the proponents of PSA fail to address the explicit verses which contradict the main premises of their argument. For example:

A) God neither needs nor wants sacrifices 1 Sam 15:22 Psalm 40:6 Psalm 51:16-17 Isaiah 1:11 Amos 5:21 Hebrews 10:5 Hebrews 10:8 Jeremiah 7:22

B) God’s requirement is, and always has been, mercy not sacrifice Hosea 6:6 Micah 6:8 Matthew 9:13 Matthew 12:7 (Notice how Jesus repeats this twice to the Pharisees. Oh how crucial he deemed this to be!)

C) God repeatedly forgives sin without exacting punishment Psalm 32:1-2 Psalm 51:1 Psalm 65:3 Psalm 78:37-38 Psalm 85:2-3 Psalm 86:5 Psalm 103:3 Psalm 103:10 Psalm 103:12 Hosea 14:2 Hosea 14:4  Jonah 4:2 Micah 7:18 Micah 7:19

I used to think that PSA was true. Phrases like “God’s justice demands that sin be punished” and “God punished Jesus, pouring out his wrath on him instead of me” tripped off the tongue, learned by rote. But now I see that God’s justice is not about punishment at all, but is inextricably linked with mercy (Zech 7:9). We have taken our idea of ‘justice’ and projected it on to God as if the potter was like the clay (Isaiah 29:16).

The more I examine scripture the more I find the Emperor has no clothes. And what frustrates even more is that the evangelical world appears not only blind but happy in its blindness.

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