The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Covenantal vs. Penal Substitutionary Atonement.

From Richard Beck’s blog today: … ement.html

I’m particularly interested in the aspect of this Richard brings up toward the end, regarding the specific component of intervention on behalf of Israel, and would like to see some discussion on that…

Ok, this exchange of comments on the blog post helped clarify some things for me:


Doesn’t this just shift the focus from “God saving us from God” to “God saving Israel from God”? I (think) I understand the difference between penal substitution and covenental substitution, but this doesn’t really seem to solve the problem of where the “bad thing” is coming from.

Yes, but not quite. Israel freely enters into the covenant with YHWH and pledges to hold up her end of the agreement. And in taking the pledge she agree to submit to the consequences, “the bad things” if she fails to hold up the agreement. True, YHWH enforces those consequences, but the blame is a bit more shared if not fully on Israel’s shoulders. More, the focus is corporate, a judgment of Israel as a people. That’s very different from the individualistic focus of PSA, where YOU have a death-sentence hanging over YOUR head. And finally, the punishment of covenant unfaithfulness isn’t eternal torment in hell but national exile. So as I say at the end of the post, you’re right that there are still issues and questions and problems, but the focus has shifted and, I think, has become less theologically toxic (i.e, God wants to kill you or torment you forever because your personal moral failings).

Ah, I’m glad you said this.
I was having trouble wrapping my head around that end of things. But what you’ve said here actually makes some sense as to why this was not only fulfilling Israel’s end of the old covenant, but in so doing, God was actually creating a new covenant, in which the “terms” changed significantly. This is where PSA fails so badly; it’s trying to cast what God was doing for national Israel as what he’s done for us. They’ve entirely missed the New Covenant (which is entirely unilateral now) in so doing."

So what I’m seeing here essentially is that one of the reasons why PSA doesn’t work is that it attempts to take what Christ was doing for national Israel in fulfilling their end of the old covenant, and applies that mechanism to the new covenant.

In other words, the “penal substitutionary” part was on behalf of Israel who couldn’t uphold their end of the bargain, so Christ was suffering partly for Israel’s penalties associated with not fulfilling their end, and also for the rest of us, for the sin of the world in a self-sacrifice of love establishing the new (unilateral) covenant; which is upheld purely from God’s side, since man had proved himself incapable. But when we try to apply the legal aspect of what Christ did for Israel to the rest; it doesn’t wash, since that piece was specifically for them, not us.

Paul says that we were crucified (our ‘old man’ put to death) with Christ, not that he was crucified instead of us.

This idea has some relation to a couple of arguments I ran across recently somewhere (at least one of which was in Stephen Jones’ Creation’s Jubilee).

After researching one of the ideas I feel confident enough about it to have put it in my mega-thread of commentary on JP Holding’s arguments vs. post-mortem salvation and Christian universalism (as well as having added it to my personal notes on scriptural evidence); the other idea I haven’t gotten around to looking into yet.

I’ll reprint the “covenantal atonement” argument below for ease of reference. The portion I haven’t researched yet has to do with how God goes about making this covenant with Abraham (part of which involves all nations being blessed in Abraham, so it isn’t only about Israel): in the cultural expectations of Abraham’s time and place, two people entering into a formal covenant could institute a blood covenant and walk with linked arms between the divided pieces of a sacrificial animal as a symbol of their dedication to the covenant and of the personal responsibility they would take upon themselves (paying even to the death if necessary) for breaking the covenant. i.e. symbolically they’re saying “May God cut me in half if I break this covenant”.

However, while the covenant walk is set up (with five animals instead of only one, to emphasize how binding the promise of the covenant is), God doesn’t allow Abraham to walk it!–he puts Abraham in a trance, in which Abraham dimly sees YHWH walking as with a torch between the divided halves of the sacrificed animals by Himself!

Thus God alone is ultimately responsible for paying authoritatively for failures to keep the covenant, and God alone is ultimately responsible for ensuring the covenant is kept. Moreover, this covenant cannot be trumped by the Mosaic covenant which was set up later.

I’ll have to do some more research on this–for example, the explicit terms of the covenant only seem to involve the Abraham and his descendants inheriting Palestine, but St. Paul seems to take it a lot further than that in Galatians.

But I’ll post the covenant atonement theory I feel on stronger ground about in the next comment.

Okay, this next one (which I may have also gotten from Creation’s Jubilee, or possibly from Winchester’s Lectures on Prophecies Remaining, or maybe a combination thereof), involves an interpretation of Hebrews 9 and 10.

Good stuff, Jason; thanks for posting those.

Jason - I’ve found this very beneficial in seeing how the New Covenant and the responsibility for this layng in God’s/Christ’s lap alone is very Supportive of CU -thanks!

Just a question Jason (anyone) which I hope doesn’t sound too obscure.

Given the OT sanctuary /later temple typified amongst other things the Day of Atonement; the people of Israel spent the time leading up to this day in fervent confession/prayer (as I understand it), and were in fear and trembling that the High Priest would re-emerge from the Most Holy, his ministrations having been acceptable.
Of course as mentioned in Hebrews this occurred year after year.
My question is: do you see any hints of a suggestion of the New Covenant in this whole ceremonial procedure or does it only serve as symbolic of Christ leading up to the inauguration of the New Covenant at the cross; any comparison being being by contrast rather than by directly typifying if you like?

I ask this in light of how much is made of the sanctuary/temple throughout scripture including Revelation.

Cheers S