An Inferred Argument for Penal Substitution


In chapter 2 of a book that my small group is reading (Radical by David Platt) the author makes a few brief arguments for Penal Substitution. The only argument for PS that I hadn’t heard before was that the heightened emotional distress Jesus experienced on the night before his crucifixion could not be accounted for unless it was grounded in Jesus’ awareness that the Father’s wrath was going to be poured out on him in full on the cross. That is, Jesus would not have had such a negative reaction to his approaching death if PS wasn’t true. Platt notes that many religious martyrs have joyfully submitted to torture and death that was arguably just as physically painful (perhaps even more so) than what Jesus would have endured, and infers from this that Jesus’ extreme aversion was due to his knowledge that he would be suffering “hell” in our place.

Any thoughts on this would be appreciated, but I’m especially curious to know what the trinitarians on this forum who don’t subscribe to the PS theory of atonement would say in response to Platt’s argument.


Platt’s argument sounds reasonable if you are otherwise sympathetic to P.S. But such supposed expertise on all the possible reasons why someone could contemplate crucifixion as distressing seems much more than he proves. I’d be interested in who you are referring to that went through being crucified more joyfully or triumphant than the Gospel accounts of Jesus.

Hasn’t N.T. Wright offered one possible alternative explanation of Jesus’ apprehension in Gethsemane? I believe he speculates that Jesus still was wrestling with whether his sense of divine mission was correct. Thus the anguish to be resolved in prayer would have been his doubts as to whether being a crucified Messiah really would lead to the kind of victory of God that Jesus believed that he had been called to proclaim. I presume that facing martyrdom in the confidence that it was God’s will and would lead to benefit would be easier than fearing that it would amount to going out with a defeated whimper. It does seem that when the Gospels conclude by present ing Jesus as assured that there was no other way to which God was calling him, that he faces it with as much serene dignity as other martyrs (assuming that the citation of the Psalmist’s feeling forsaken, was consistent in that context with proclaiming that he shared the Psalmist’s assurance of vindication).


Hi Aaron:

Just back from a long vacation (very restful!) and so just now catching up with, among all the other stuff in my life, this site. This is a really interesting question and glad I’ve stumbled on to it. Yes, I do have a lot of thoughts and will try to render them at lease semi coherent in the next few days.
I remain very intrigued by the way your mind processes ideas like this as you seem to have so many of the tendencies and assumptions and leanings that my own path has taken me! :smiley: :smiley: :laughing:
(for one recent example: the intermediate state of the dead…)

More later,


apart from Penal Substitution, one could argue simply that Christ was troubled at the thought of the suffering He was about to endure, and the loneliness and sorrow, too. while He knew that the Father would be with Him throughout, the prospect of being abandoned to a hostile council, whipped, flogged, beaten, paraded through mocking crowds, and nailed to a cross to die a slow and torturous death in public would not have been a pleasant one. that seems like a much more understandable answer in light of His full humanity, than the argument that He dreaded the Father’s wrath falling upon Him.


Hi Aaron:

Hope my response is not too vague and broad and wandering but it’s a fascinating topic for me. Perhaps in my expansive mental wanderings are the sorts of answers you were hoping to get!!! Yes, I have strong feelings and opinions about this topic, and I’ll try to share how they have evolved.

Some years ago I began to ponder the question of the exact mechanism of Jesus’ death. Many of the writers and speakers (in my denomination) that had influenced me held that the COD (cause of death) was emotional, and mental. Not denying the extreme physical pain and suffering, but placing emphasis upon the events in the mind of Jesus as being so stressful as to lead to death.

This fascinated me partly because I’m a doctor (Anesthesia) and have had a Trauma fellowship as well. So how bodies handle and succumb to physical trauma has been a large part of my training and I wondered what might emerge if I probed the death of Christ from that angle. I happened upon an article in the New England Journal of Medicine titled:

On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ
which can be found here:

It’s done very much from a medical perspective and I was also able to track down many of the references cited. I’m sure you’d find the essay very interesting. From these sources we find that there is such a thing as “sweating blood” and is called hematidrosis. This is a very rare condition and is associated with extreme stress. It is of course difficult to impossible to prove medically that extreme mental stress was actual COD however. If one is to insist that this was, and/or must be the COD, that’s fine with me – just so long as one accepts that this is arrived at by “faith” or inspiration or revelation or something along those lines.

In the setting of severe trauma and blood/fluid loss (dehydration generically) there are any number of rare or unlikely things that can happen that would also have to be included as possible causes of death. Transmural acute myocardial infarction, thrombotic valvular vegetations, acute cardiovascular failure, thrombosis or embolization, pericardial and pleural effusions; ALL have been implicated in this sort of traumatic death. Of course medicine does not distinguish between Medical causes of death and Theological ones. And death from anguish, “heart break”, emotional stress are, to my mind anyway, more importantly belonging to a theological explanation.

There is ample evidence for me however that Christ was in fact under great duress and anguish. Primary evidence of this for me is the description of the events of the Garden of Gethsemane of the prior evening. Here we see Jesus in extremis which was so bad it necessitated some sort of resuscitation by the angels. Secondary evidence would, for me anyway, include things like the idea that no one could “take” Jesus’ life; instead He “gave” His life. No serious commentator on this event doubts the presence and reality of Jesus suffering great stress; whether this was the COD is another matter. I’ve wondered what, as a doctor, I would do if I saw a death certificate listing as COD “He bore the weight of sin for the World”…

For the author of the book you cite (I’ve not read it) to apparently assert that the only possible cause of this heightened emotional stress, or distress (I very much doubt there’s much difference here in the meanings of stress vs distress; both are quite negative in their connotations) is awareness of the forthcoming outpouring of God’s wrath upon Him is simply his prior assumptions on the topic (that is, Penal Sub) informing his view on this topic too. Since PS is true, then it must be that the Anguish of Jesus WAS because of the forthcoming outpouring of God’s wrath sort of thing… That type of logic works just as well from my direction too however! Since I believe that PS explanations of the Cross/Atonement are useful only as a limited metaphor and the actual truths are far wider and deeper, I too can take the anguish and speculate as to it’s origins and causes from my convictions. If I can think of a reason to explain the anguish apart from the PS model, then PS as the only reason for the anguish fails doesn’t it?

Thus the actual fact of Christ’s great anguish, whether as primary COD or as simply present, in no way tells us with any clarity the exact nature of the Atonement. But before wondering what then might be some explanations for the anguish of Jesus if His death/Atonement were not because of the PS model of the Atonement, it’s worthwhile I think to point out why such a thing seems necessarily wrong to me:

–The prospect of Jesus being in great distress because of something the Father might “do” to Him is simply unthinkable for me. It goes deeply into what I see as the “character” of God. Yes, the Father and the Son worked together intimately to effect our (eventual) salvation by this act, but that in no way mandates this cruel act of God “doing this evil” to His Son…

– And the act against Jesus was in fact an evil one! Jesus Himself says this. I find this angle very compelling and began to explore it over here in the section “Articles” –

If Christ’s death God’s will, then His killers are heros…

The killing of Christ was an act of evil, so it’s very hard for me to place His death at the feet of God. Jesus in distress because He’s thinking “God’s going to kill me now, (of course for a good cause!)” doesn’t make God look good at all to my mind.

– It remains a huge problem for the PS model I think that it seems largely an interaction of books and accountings between God and Jesus. Nowhere is there room for the greatest change with must occur: the willful submission and new heart of the here-to-fore “lost” rebel.

Thus (from my perspective!) given that the gift of the Cross/Atonement was not via a Penal Sub mechanism, why indeed might Jesus have been suffering such enormous distress that it might have even caused His death?

– In His humanness He suffered the same fears of death any of us might. This is written to underline His human nature and the completeness of His identity with us…

– Related, in His humanness He began to suffer despair and loss of hope. My tradition has held that, for a brief time at least, “He could not see through the portals of the tomb”. This was temporary however for as He dies He has recovered the faith by which He lived and demonstrates this by committing His spirit to God…

– Another interesting thought holds (and this is, if true, an indictment of the PS system of Atonement) that Jesus despair resulted from His briefly succumbing to the fear that in fact He would bear the ultimate consequence of sin; eternal separation from the Father! The despair is because He (briefly!) DID believe in PS! Thus, that He was NOT eternally separated but rather reunited by the Resurrection can be thought of as a repudiation of the PS model as well as being support for eventual UR!! I realize this seems unfair to PS adherents, I’m just sayin’…

– Lots of corollary questions arise in discussions like this… Such as Did God die at the cross? If God can’t die, and Jesus knew this, the stress surely wouldn’t have been from fear of wrath would it?? My tradition has held that Jesus, in the Garden, feared (perhaps only briefly) that His sacrifice might not be “acceptable” to the Father. If this is true, it seems to have been only temporary for earlier Jesus had indicated (by predicting His own resurrection) God acceptance; further, He explicitly says in John 17 that He has finished the work and made manifest God…
Also, one is tempted here to contemplate the element of “risk” Christ may have perceived by His act. Was/is the idea of “risk” even applicable?? Risk that God would not be satisfied? Risk that Christ would “fail”? Risk that while the “plan worked” from God’s perspective, the “risk” was that WE might fail to appreciate it???
Lots and lots of questions!!!

– Jesus saw, in this moment clearer than ever before, the enormity of the evil that is sin. How heinous and repulsive it is to God. And, given this literally breathtaking insight, was (again I suggest temporarily) overwhelmed by the possibility that the chasm was so vast as to be permanent and impassible. This resonates with me because who better than the sinless One to see the depths of depravity that is sin. WE sure don’t see it in it’s raw horror… Remaining though is the greater truth of the greater force of grace and Love that Paul later speaks of in reminding us that where sin abounds, there Grace abounds even more…

– I very much agree with Bob Wilson’s suggestion that in some way (and again, this may have been only temporary) Jesus was being tempted to doubt His very identity as God and of His mission here to the entire creation. Jesus had already faced such temptations to doubt His identity in the wilderness (IF you are the Son of God…) and one last desperate attempt is being made with this temptation again. (This idea “works” for me with, or without a “personal” devil in play… let’s please not discuss THAT again huh!!!) That Jesus is, before His actual last breaths, restored back to His former levels of peaceful Trust in His Father is evidenced by the calm wisdom He speaks as He dies in the certainty that God WILL accept this great act of faithfulness and HAS been the true witness to the truth of the Father. For me, this witness of the temptation and victory of Jesus should provide enormous comfort to we peoples of faith today as we experience the same temptations to lose faith…

– Jesus is extraordinarily empathetic and hates to see any of His children/creation suffer. Thus He sees ahead all the drama and suffering that will, and perhaps must occur before the eventual reunion of and recreation of His entire Universe. He cried at the death of Lazarus; does this indicate stress or distress since He knew what He was going to do next? No, He cried because He saw the future and the present condition and He has empathy…

– In sum then I think it’s far more likely that Jesus was nearly overwhelmed by the enormity of what was about to transpire. He saw the great suffering that was yet to happen because of His great act of revelation. He saw the joy - and anguish (as-it-were) - on the face of His own Father. He saw the struggles ahead for people who came face to face with the truths He came to reveal about God. He saw the magnitude of what rested on His actions.
(Of course my non UR friends who disagree with PS models wonder if Christ’s distress results from His looking forward and seeing that for some, ie the “lost”, His death will be to no effect…)

Good topic Aaron. Sorry for being so wordy!



For me, Jesus is a whole lot more attractively human if he stares into the abyss of death and is not capable of discerning his own life beyond that event in any concrete way but only as an act of faith.

The words ‘Not my will be done but Thine…’ are infinitely more powerful to me if, in spite of, perhaps harbouring a suspicion that once dead he will stay dead he nonetheless chooses an act of faith that has typified his whole existence up until that point in time.


NT Wright has received a bit of flak in Evangelical circles for downplaying P.S. It’s interesting that this topic has come up because I was thinking recently that P.S. is one of the most important doctrines in the Evangelical movement but Robin Parry aka Gregory MacDonald in his book The Evangelical Universalist hardly pays it any attention.

Asking a slightly different question to Aaron: How to do the Evangelical Universalists on this forum account for P.S.?


Hi Luke:

A brief stroll through our ever more extensive archives of conversations will give you quite a varied answer. But as Jason (I think it was; as have perhaps others…?) has pointed out, UR can “work” with just about any model of the Atonement one holds. Believing strongly in the PS model does not exclude one from the UR fold! Interesting though that many here find the PS model grossly inadequate to fill the vast depth of meaning of the Atonement. Myself included.

Over in the “Soteriology” section Bob Wilson has a thread titled

Which is rather interesting.




My child hurls his food across the room in a tantrum. What happens next is a matter for wisdom. I could patiently ignore the outburst; give him a small lecture; give him a short sharp smack; comfort him in his frustration; send him to his room; deny him some pleasures; force him to clean up the mess; help him clean up the mess; clean up the mess myself. (What I don’t do is punish his brother in his place.)

I think the atonement can be seen from many angles. God deals with us uniquely, but always with wisdom, always with the goal of perfecting relationships. In a word, He forgives us our sins because He loves us. ie. The innocent party willingly suffers under, for, and with the guilty.


As Bob kindly pointed up, I suggested that some see a universal P.S. atonement as logically requiring universalism. Nonethess, my paper “accounts for P.S.” by simply arguing that it appears unBiblical. I’d welcome your critique of its’ arguments.


(I’ll check it out Bob.)

I’m not asking in this thread if P.S. proves or disproves Universalism but wondering if Universalism can deny P.S. and still be evangelical? (In the longterm I suspect not.)


Who decides what is “evangelical,” and on what basis? Frankly, I’m at an age where such labels, or conforming to what men think, is of little interest to me. My paper make no case that rejecting P.S. can be evangelical. It is only interested in looking at what views are intended in the Bible. I think we should be much more focused on the question, what do we have reason to think is “true,” than how can we continue to be called “evangelical.”


I personally don’t know how one can deny the substitionary death of Jesus Christ. You have to bury your head in the sand and totally ignore the revelation of this death recorded in scripture to come against it. Within the power of grace is mercy, compassion, love, etc. The power of God’s grace made it possible for Jesus’s death to be death for every man.

The OT sacrifices were types and shadows of the “Substionary death” that Jesus Christ would die at Calvary for mankind. John the Baptist called Jesus “the Lamb of God”, which beareth the sin of the world.( John 1:29) In other words, John the Baptist knew Jesus would be the eternal sacrifice for mankind and fulfill the OT sacrifices and feasts. (Hebrews 9:11-14; 10:4). Isaiah prophesied Jesus’ substionary death in (Isaiah 53).( 2 Cor 5:19) states the worlds tresspasses or sins were not imputed to them but to Jesus himself. (2 Cor 5:21) states that Jesus was made sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him… I don’t know how you can deny the revelation in these verses and the types and shadows revealed in the OT sacrifices.


B.A.C., I didn’t at all expect that you would “know” or somehow be able to intuit my understanding of the vital Biblical texts. That’s why I offered you the unread paper that presents my best perceptions after many decades of teaching the Word. All who have been willing to graciously respond with their own critique and reading have been warmly welcomed into the dialogue. You would be no exception, if you so choose.


Very universalist quotations there although I know from your introduction you aren’t one. :wink:


Greetings Jeff.

Universal meaning God’s grace extends to every human being without exception, but this grace must be accepted to personally partake of it.


No problem with that… It’s entirely possible that eventually everyone will accept it - whether in this life or the next (if there is one :wink: )


Greetings Bob.

It seems the “vital Biblical texts” as you put it are working against the truth as you understand it in your paper. I believe you are the one who must account for the Substitonary death proof texts that contradict your understanding.

Jesus clearly saw his coming death as the substitionary sacrifice for sinners. ( Matt 20:28; Mark 10:45)
As did the prophet Isaiah ( Isaiah 53:1-12)
As did John the Baptist ( John 1:29)
As did the Apostle Paul ( 1 Pet 2:24; 1 Pet 3:18; 2 Cor 5 :19-21; 1 Tim 2 : 5-6 which states Jesus giving himself to be a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

How is it possible to explain these revelation truths away to support your understanding?



You need to know that “BookofActsChristian” is posting from the same internet location as “Born Again” aka “Aaron37”; the forum system listed “Aaron37” as a registered alternate alias for BoAC (registered by the user at that location themselves).

While it’s technically possible this may be someone else named “Lee”, this person has continued posting without responding to formal administrative requests to clear up his identity, so we’ve shut down this access point more tightly.

I mention this to say that while you’re welcome to discuss the things he wrote (they’re certainly legitimate enough topics for discussion), please be aware that it’s unfair to challenge him back at this point, since he is not in a position anymore to answer in turn.

If God were a Universalist at heart...why didn't?

Aaron 37,
You assert that the texts I cite contradict my conclusion, but I can’t see that you have engaged even one of my many oberservations. You cite many of the same references I did, and characterize them as “substitutionary,” but I can’t see that my paper ever argues that Jesus does not have a substitutionary role. Are you really dialoguing with it?