A Critique of Penal Substitution


Bob, can you make that attachment about PST available on the web? I’d like to share it with some friends.


Sasha, thanks, it’s always nice to know kindred spirits who see it similarly.

Brad, you’re welcome to put a link to the attachment on the EU site. I’m unfamiliar with how to put in on the “web.”


Bob, I tried posting the URL for that PDF file on Facebook but it didn’t work. I think people have to log in to this forum before they can view it.

But are you still happy with it after having it critiqued here?

If you are and you gave me permission to post it on the following site jesus-wept.net I’d do it.

But before giving me permission make sure you have a good look my at site because I have not shied away from some very controversial subjects and you might not want your name and article posted there.

I will not be offended if you say no, but will be looking forward to it being posted somewhere on the web.

Perhaps Cindy would post it on her site?


Not quite sure where she stands on the issue though.

She seems to be more sane than I am.


I’m sorry I’m illiterate about URLs. Please feel free to reproduce it any way you know how. The PS piece continues to be representative of my outlook, and I’m too old to worry about anyone who has a different view. Being posted on your site needn’t imply that we necessarily share the same outlook on everything, but I’m fine if someone assumed that. I see the two pages as outlining unavoidable difficulties with PS, more than specifying the alternative, which I’m still seeking to refine. That’s one reason I’m still comfortable with it.


Thanks Bob. I still might ask Cindy if she will do it though. Some people are quite hostile to what I’ve written on that site, and I’d hate to see such a great little article be maligned because of me.


I need to review this material again, as I recently read a book endorsing universalism using biblical logic that hangs heavily on a penal sub model. I have a few questions for them about various points of their view, and I’ll need some intelligent questions to ask about this component in particular.


Greetings :slight_smile:

I will need to do a lot of review myself –

     I am curious though how PS or the other alternatives put forth here...
  deal with the humanity of Jesus ...   The reason I ask this is because I seem to notice
    an overabundance of mentioning the divinity of Jesus that might seem to minimize
   or reduce the humanity of Jesus...

       Was Jesus a sinner?   well, I will have to find time to think this over too...
    since in the near future I wish to introduce my perspective of what the meaning of sinner is ..
      since at this time I do not use "sin" or "sinner" in my writings ... 
     Also I will really be looking forward to the review of Barth .... 

     Just thinking quickly and out loud to myself (to remind me )
       Athanasius makes a very strong position for the complete humanity of Jesus ... 
        and through my own theological research I have come to a tentative position ...
      that Jesus was identical to me as a human --- including my personal autonomous behavior ...
       depending on how one translates sarx in John 1....

      thanks for the 2 page document and the other posts !  really stimulating ...

   all the best !



Did you mean my P.S. paper mentioned Jesus’ divinity in “overabundance”? Can you specify which lines you have in mind? While this paper assumes the traditional view, I didn’t think it much addressed the issue of Jesus’ deity, or argued from it to question P.S. I have addressed such questions of Trinitarian views on several other threads, and take the minority view here that what crucially matters (including to universalists) is that Jesus accurately represents Jesus’ character, rather than hangs on the precise ontological nature of God.


Greetings :slight_smile:

My meaning about the abundance of expressing the divinity of Jesus … was from my impression
of reading all of the posts in this thread… :wink:

  This is not a critique just my impression thus I asked this question ...  

  Also from a post in another thread -- I followed it to James Alison .. which became an unexpected 
     surprise -- concerning the death of Jesus ... 

  also another link .. sorry for the brevity of this post since I am in a hurry to go outside ...

Really appreciate this Forum very much !   For me after numerous years this Forum and the members
    are Refreshing summer breeze on a hot Summer evening ..  Kudos to everyone for sharing so many
 Invaluable gems, diamonds and rubies...    

    all the best !


quick brief note …

I am attempting to develop a Theological perspective 
    that has 3 main pivotal points for over arching view ..

  The Genesis narrative (1-3)  using narrative since i cannot think of another term at this time

  The Incarnation  (John 1 etc... )

  The Eschaton ... which includes my view of the Grand Dance at the Eschation (Revelation )

     this involves .. no traditional view for said "Fall "  and no Curse either ..
          option to understand said Original Sin --   

      humanity of Jesus along with divinity ... miaphysis...   
           reference my God incarnated as "mud"  since mud evokes emotive feelings concerning it ..
        while Adam was created from "dust" of the earth ... 

       Cross and Atonement need more reflective study ... 

       Grand Dance at Eschaton ... Egalitarian perichoretic koinonia within Trinitarian fellowship
         which should be the "model" for human relationships ...

      Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Restoration ...   

      very sketchy outline ... thus very interested in your paper concerning PS

          all the best !



Recently finished your papers on Jesus’ Interpretation of Gehenna, and the critique of penal substitution. Again, both excellent. On the P.S. front, just came across another recent book for my reading list: “Atonement, Justice and Peace: The Message of the Cross and the Mission of the Church”, by a professor named Darrin W. Snyder Belousek." He is also critical of P.S. and seems to be within fairly “evangelical” parameters. Here is a blog post he did on Scott McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog. He makes some excellent points in the comments as well. patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2012/05/17/justice-and-peace-and-atonement/. Wondering if you or anyone else is familiar with Belousek?



Though I follow Jesus’ Creed, Belousek is new to me. I appreciate the link, and am interested to pursue more on his approach.


I haven’t read all the posts above as I don’t have time at the moment so forgive me if the following is already covered.

Jesus becoming sin was figurative, not literal.

If like that bull a person killed their sin, or like that goat, sent their sin away, the sacrifice was acceptable to God and so forgiveness was granted.

I think the same is true of Jesus death on the cross. If because of Jesus we start putting the old man to death, if we send our sins away, atonement has been made.

Sure, we are not perfect. But we don’t have to be perfect to be accepted by God. (PSA says we have to be perfect. Clearly rubbish. sbcimpact.org/2008/10/23/can-god-look-upon-evil/ ) We only have to trust Jesus, that is enough. God is incredibly kind and gracious. As for worrying about whether we really are trusting Jesus or not, I think that is a non-issue. God talks about future things as if they have already happened. He has reconciled the world to himself (hasn’t literally happened but is as good as done) . That gives me great hope. I’m not concerned about whether or not I will go to hell. I’m just happy that the whole world will be reconciled and that I am apart of that.


Oops, there I go again. Sorry.


When your two page Critique includes all the scripture references, it is twelve pages long. :wink:

Thanks for posting that. I realize it’s been some time since anyone has commented on it, and I did read all the comments.

I’m very comfortable with the things you put forth, and I would say I lean heavily in the same direction.


I would like to ask how the verses speaking of redemption, tie in? How do you understand the concept of redemption; redeemer; redeem?

Thanks for any feedback.



Thanks for your feedback. I look forward to meeting you. I fear my expertise and insight on “redeem” is not up to speed. I recall from Fuller Seminary that the Hebrew root word was associated with securing a slave’s freedom by paying the price. But its’ use soon broadened to signify a rescue, or freeing, where no price was indicated. Thus, while its’ connection with Jesus’ death can be consistent with P.S., it need not imply that. The cross is associated with rescuing or freeing us from sin. I sense that the challenge is discerning what it frees us from (simply the penalty, or sin itself’s control, etc) and how it enables such a rescue. Since I see much emphasis on producing a righteous life, I am skeptical that it is sufficient to understand redemption’s rescue as simply cancelling the penalty or consequences of our sinful choices.

Grace be with you,


Ahh, I appreciate that. Makes sense!

Our Father, sent his Son, to take the brutal abuse at the illegal trial and unjust sentence without complaining, willingly laying down His life, and then publicly forgiving His assailants and tormentors, when understood as such, empowers us to walk in love, in harmony with the command to love God above all, and love our neighbor, who He loves, = Redemption from sin.

Ro 8:31 What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?

I’m very much looking forward to meeting you, too.


This wonderful teaching from Hebrews, that we are all acquainted with, speaks to me about the little word ‘for’ in “Christ died for us”. I do agree with the rebuttal of PS in the above thread; however, the explanation of what ‘for’ means, if it is not a word of ‘substitution’, makes sense to me after reading this:

"Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. "

BUT - the death of Christ is of course not complete, as to its theological and existential meaning, without - He rose again!

So: we were in slavery all our life because of the fear of death, and of him who has the power of death; but Christ died and Rose again, to do away with the fear of death - we can see that He conquered it ‘for’ us, and we need fear it no longer. We too will die, and be raised to new life by the one who conquered death.

I’ll try to sharpen the thought a bit, by saying that Christ’s death AND resurrection were ‘for’ us in the above sense - and I"m sure there are many more facets to this jewel of truth.


Great points, Dave!


Yes, Dave is correct in saying that that little preposition “for” is not about substitution.
The Greek word translated as “for” is ὑπηρ (hupār). It means “for the benefit of.” Jesus died for our benefit.

If Paul had meant that He died as our substitute, he would have used the word αντι (anti) which means “instead of” or “in place of.”
Actually there is one place in which most translations have it that Jesus gave His life as a ransom for many. In this case it is αντι (in place of) many. As far as I know, only Rotherham correctly translated it as “instead of many.”

However, when we read it in context, we see that this is not referring to Jesus’ death on the cross. It is also important to know, that according to lexicons, the word translated as “ransom” can mean “a means of liberation.” Let’s examine the passage with that in mind.

When Jesus went about healing the sick, raising the dead, throwing dinner parties, and serving people in many other ways, he was giving his life here on earth as a means of delivering others from their hunger, sicknesses, and even physical death. In other words, He didn’t live His life here on earth for Himself, but substituted it as a means of delivering others from their troubles.