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Penal Substitution

Beccafumi Crucifixion and trinity Trinity (detail) 1513

Beccafumi Crucifixion and trinity Trinity (detail) 1513 – is this how you see the crucifixion?

I am doing a part time theology post-grad course which, naturally enough, has led to having to write essays. I haven’t always found that this comes naturally to a scientist who now does what I loosely call “Programming”…

Anyway, as I was writing my essay on “Penal Substitution” I was tweeting and Facebooking various snippets that I was reading. Several people expressed the desire to read the essay so here is a pdf link to it.

My lecturer, who marked my essay, said that I don’t express my opinions firmly enough – saying things like “Could it be” and “What would happen if”. I had sense when I handed the essay in that this was the case…

So… what do I think … is the Penal Substitution model of the atonement correct?

If I had to come down on one side of the fence I’d say “No”. The atonement (ie how did Jesus save us) is hard to describe – Paul uses many different metaphors eg the market place and the law courts. I think that this later model has risen to a place of prominence that scripturallt it doesn’t deserve. It would do us good I think to re-discover some of the other metaphors.

As i was preparing I was impacted by the writings of the patristic fathers (and mothers!) who talk at length about how salvation comes from the incarnation, as Jesus becomes one of us, and ultimately takes the “sickness that is sin”. Penal Substitution means we focus on the cross, at the expense of the incarnation and in  my opinion makes God out to be vindictive and even cruel. There, strong opinion eh?

If you do read the essay and its helpful or interesting (or makes you think ‘He’s become a pagan’) please leave a comment!

Download it here – Is there a Biblical Basis for the Doctrine of Penal Substitution


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