Answering Arguments Against the Penal Substitution View of the Atonement

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cih1355

Puritan Board Junior
How would you answer some of the arguments against the doctrine of the penal substitution view of Christ's atonement? I have heard some of these arguments before and I would like to know how you would answer them.

There is one argument that claims that a person cannot be punished for another person's sins and the people who make this claim try to support it from verses such as Deuteronomy 24:16. This verse says, "Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin."

Another argument I have heard goes like this:

The penalty of sin is spending an eternity in hell. If Christ paid the penalty of sin, then He would have spent an eternity in hell. Christ did not spend an eternity in hell. He did not go to hell in the first place. Therefore, He did not pay the penalty of sin.
 
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Poimen

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
The answer to the first challenge is a proper understanding and presentation of the doctrine of imputation. Unless we are going to deny original sin, Adam's sin was imputed to us as our covenant head. Under the covenant arrangement then, Adam is our representative just as Christ is our representative unlike the manner in which parents are responsible for their children and children are responsible for their parents.

For we all sinned in our father Adam as if we had sinned (Romans 5:12), thus we all die because of Adam's sin.

Similarly Christ, though without sin, became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). He then 'sinned' and was punished as a sinner because our sins were laid upon Him. (Isaiah 53:6) Our sins became His; thus He rightly died that we might live.

In answer to second challenge the orthodox faith maintains that Christ did suffer an eternity of hell on the cross for the sins of His people. This is indicated by the darkness upon the land (cf. Matthew 8:12) and in the words He cried out "My God, My God why have you forsaken me?"

Otherwise it makes no sense for Paul to speak of the wrath of God being turned away from us by or through Christ (Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:9) What other wrath was/is due to us except the 'wrath to come' (final judgment/hell) as Paul notes in 1 Thessalonians 1:10?

For Jesus did not need to go to hell to experience hell. God's wrath was poured out on Him so that we might not experience it.

Consider here the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 44

Why is it added: "He descended into hell"?

That in my greatest temptations I may be assured that Christ my Lord, by His inexpressible anguish, pains and terrors, which He suffered in His soul on the cross and before, has redeemed me from the anguish and torment of hell.
 

Jon 316

Puritan Board Sophomore
The penalty of sin is spending an eternity in hell. If Christ paid the penalty of sin, then He would have spent an eternity in hell. Christ did not spend an eternity in hell. He did not go to hell in the first place. Therefore, He did not pay the penalty of sin.

The purpose of Christ's dying in our place was not only to 'take our punishment' but also to destroy death. Inorder to destroy death- he must overcome death and in overcoming death- death is destroyed.

John Calvin deals with this in Institutes.

The Creed next mentions that he "was dead and buried". Here again it is necessary to consider how he substituted himself in order to pay the price of our redemption. Death held us under its yoke, but he in our place delivered himself into its power, that he might exempt us from it. This the Apostle means when he says, "that he tasted death for every man," (Heb. 2: 9.) By dying he prevented us from dying; or (which is the same thing) he by his death purchased life for us, (see Calvin in Psychopann.) But in this he differed from us, that in permitting himself to be overcome of death, it was not so as to be engulfed in its abyss but rather to annihilate it, as it must otherwise have annihilated us; he did not allow himself to be so subdued by it as to be crushed by its power; he rather laid it prostrate, when it was impending over us, and exulting over us as already overcome. In fine, his object was, "that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage," (Heb. 2: 14, 15.)

book 2 ch 16:7

Nothing had been done if Christ had only endured corporeal death. In order to interpose between us and God's anger, and satisfy his righteous judgment, it was necessary that he should feel the weight of divine vengeance. Whence also it was necessary that he should engage, as it were, at close quarters with the powers of hell and the horrors of eternal death. We lately quoted from the Prophet, that the "chastisement of our peace was laid upon him" that he "was bruised for our iniquities" that he "bore our infirmities;" expressions which intimate, that, like a sponsor and surety for the guilty, and, as it were, subjected to condemnation, he undertook and paid all the penalties which must have been exacted from them, the only exception being, that the pains of death could not hold him. Hence there is nothing strange in its being said that he descended to hell, seeing he endured the death which is inflicted on the wicked by an angry God. It is frivolous and ridiculous to object that in this way the order is perverted, it being absurd that an event which preceded burial should be placed after it. But after explaining what Christ endured in the sight of man, the Creed appropriately adds the invisible and incomprehensible judgment which he endured before God, to teach us that not only was the body of Christ given up as the price of redemption, but that there was a greater and more excellent price - that he bore in his soul the tortures of condemned and ruined man.

book 2 16: 10
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
How would you answer some of the arguments against the doctrine of the penal substitution view of Christ's atonement? I have heard some of these arguments before and I would like to know how you would answer them.

There is one argument that claims that a person cannot be punished for another person's sins and the people who make this claim try to support it from verses such as Deuteronomy 24:16. This verse says, "Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin."

Another argument I have heard goes like this:

The penalty of sin is spending an eternity in hell. If Christ paid the penalty of sin, then He would have spent an eternity in hell. Christ did not spend an eternity in hell. He did not go to hell in the first place. Therefore, He did not pay the penalty of sin.

In addition to what has already been said, force the challenger to deal with the facts. Christ did in fact die and rise again. Why? How was God just in sentencing his innocent Son to death? What was Christ's own explanation of his mission? What does it mean in Hebrews when it says "without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin"?

And then even further you could demonstrate that all the other theories of the atonement (moral influence, Christus victor, etc.) violate the justice of God and destroy our confidence in the Word of God if Christ was not in fact a penal substitute.

If forgiveness is granted without substitution, then forgiveness is completely arbitrary, and God can withdraw or reverse it whenever he pleases, whether in this life, or 10 million years from now. There's no comfort for a believer in a God like that.

And ultimately, when you reject substitution, you fall into a works righteousness scheme. If Christ didn't obey the law for us, then we still have to obtain eternal life by our own efforts.

:2cents:
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
Also, I think it's crucial to talk about the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us when discussing Christ's atonement -- one without the other gives just half of what's necessary.
 

Spinningplates2

Puritan Board Freshman
Another argument I have heard goes like this:

The penalty of sin is spending an eternity in hell. If Christ paid the penalty of sin, then He would have spent an eternity in hell. Christ did not spend an eternity in hell. He did not go to hell in the first place. Therefore, He did not pay the penalty of sin.[/QUOTE]

I would first point out that "the penalty of sin is spending and eterity in hell" is not what the Bible say's, it reads that the penalty for sin is death. It is the Reformed position ( as far as I understand it) that if you are in Hell you died without having your sin's forgiven, and even though dead you will still be actively hating God throughout all eternity. I don't think that people in Hell will be thinking, "This is fair, I wish I would have repented and followed Christ as King."


It is a great time to show them the many scriptures concerning election and give God the glory for having mercy on the elect.
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
There are several helpful books on the subject. I found Martin especially helpful in addressing the contemporary arguments of the day, but you can't beat Owen for his clear and covenantal thinking.

The Atonement, by Hugh Martin
Doctrine of the Atonement, by James Haldane
The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, by John Owen
Christ our Penal Substitute, by Dabney
The Work of Christ, by Robert Letham
 
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