A Critique of Penal Substitution


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.