The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The Myth of Penal Substitution

What would you think of a human father whose younger son committed a violent crime, but who punished his innocent older son “in his place” and was thereby “satisfied” so that he could let the younger son go scot free? Then… concerning our own wrongdoing, did someone actually “take our place” and presumably our punishment?

George MacDonald put it this way:

They say first, God must punish the sinner, for justice requires it; then they say he does not punish the sinner, but punishes a perfectly righteous man instead, attributes his righteousness to the sinner, and so continues just. Was there ever such a confusion, such an inversion of right and wrong! Justice could not treat a righteous man as an unrighteous; neither, if justice required the punishment of sin, could justice let the1 sinner go unpunished. To lay the pain upon the righteous in the name of justice is simply monstrous. No wonder unbelief is rampant. Believe in Moloch if you will, but call him Moloch, not Justice. Be sure that the thing that God gives, the righteousness that is of God, is a real thing, and not a contemptible legalism. Pray God I have no righteousness imputed to me. Let me be regarded as the sinner I am; for nothing will serve my need but to be made a righteous man, one that will no more sin.

If that is the case, some may ask, “Was it necessary then for Jesus, the Son of God to die? Yes, certainly it was necessary, or He would not have undergone death. He prayed to the Father, “O my Father, if possible let this cup of suffering and death pass from me.(Matt 26:39). And the Father didn’t release His Son from suffering and death. So obviously it was not only necessary for Jesus to suffer and die, but impossible for it to be otherwise—that is, if the purpose of God were to be realized.

So clearly it was necessary. But WHY was it necessary for the Son of God to die? Peter, Paul, and the writer to the Hebrews answer that question plainly:

I Peter 2:24 He himself endured our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

II Corinthians 5:15 And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

Romans 14:9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Titus 2:14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Heb 9:26 …he has appeared once for all at the end of the age for the abolition of sin by the sacrifice of himself.

Many cannot accept these reasons for the death of the Messiah. They make statements such as, “No one can be sinless! So it must be the case that God IMPUTES righteousness to me because of Christ’s death.” No, that is not the case at all. It does not follow that through His death the Anointed One of God imparted to us “imputed righteousness.” Rather, through His death, He made possible ACTUAL righteousness. The attainment of this righteousness is a process. This process is known as “salvation from sin,” and continues throughout our lives. The process ends in the day of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul put it this way:

I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)

So in the day of Jesus Christ, the process will be complete for all those in whom the process has begun, and who continue in it, coöperating with the enabling grace that God made available through the death of His Son.

For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all people, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and to live sensible, righteous, and devout lives in the present age, expecting the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of the great God and of our Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good works. Declare these things; encourage and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you. (Titus 2:11-15)


Don, that post was like cool water to a parched throat! Thank you so much.

Paidion, Actual righteousness was always possible. Abel was actually righteous, and so was Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the true prophets, etc. In fact they tell you what righteousness is; to humble your heart and obey God’s commands, to love Him and to do unto others as you would have them do to you.

Isaiah 51:1-2 “Listen to Me , you who follow after righteousness, you who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were hewn , and to the hole of the pit from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who bore you; for I called him alone and blessed him and increased him.”
Isaiah 48:18 “Oh , that you had heeded My commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.”

However, many did not want to hear. Instead, they trusted in there own ways and worshipped other gods.
Isaiah 30:9-13 "this is a rebellious people, lying children, children who will not hear the law of the Lord; who say to the seers, “Do not see,” and to the prophets, "Do not prophesy to us right things; speak to us smooth things, prophesy deceits. “Get out of the way, turn aside from the path, cause the Holy One of Israel t cease from before us.” Therefore thus say the Holy One of Israel; "Because you despise this word, and trust in oppression and perversity, and rely on them, therefore this iniquity shall be to you like a breach ready to fall, a bulge in a high wall , whose breaking comes suddenly…’

False teachers don’t want you to believe in the truth because they benefit from the lie. It was never necessary to sacrifice animals etc. in order to be forgiven of sin. This man-made law obviously made the priestly class very wealthy. I suppose in this case, the more sin, the merrier.

While I believe God’s punishments against sin are always punitive they are also disciplinary. Christ learned obedience through what He suffered. Indeed, the Bible says Christ bore the punishment for our sins. The wages of sin is death. The cup in the Bible symbolizes God’s wrath.

Jeremiah 25:15-17

For thus the LORD, the God of Israel, says to me, "Take this cup of the wine of wrath from My hand and cause all the nations to whom I send you to drink it. “They will drink and stagger and go mad because of the sword that I will send among them.” Then I took the cup from the LORD’S hand and made all the nations to whom the LORD sent me drink it:

Psalm 75:8

For a cup is in the hand of the LORD, and the wine foams; It is well mixed, and He pours out of this; Surely all the wicked of the earth must drain and drink down its dregs.

Revelation 14:10

he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.

Jeremiah 49:12

For thus says the LORD, "Behold, those who were not sentenced to drink the cup will certainly drink it, and are you the one who will be completely acquitted? You will not be acquitted, but you will certainly drink it.

Revelation 16:19

The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath.

Christ borne our infirmities. This means that Christ carried in His body the sufferings that sin has brought into the world and their offense against God. He enters into a union with humanity as He bears our iniquities in solidarity with us. He suffered the consequences for sin as God laid on Him the iniquities of us all. By entering into solidarity with us, entering into the sin stained world, He suffered, grieved, died with us, for us. Christ offered Himself up as a self-sacrificial love. This love was more pleasing to the Father than the combined sins of all humanity. The cup of sin, suffering, wrath, and death that Christ drank, for us is the cup of salvation and blessing:

Psalms 116:13

I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD

Psalm 16:5

The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; You have made my lot secure.

1 Cor. 10:16

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

To learn more about the cup from the Catholic Henri Nouwen

Table of Contents

Part I

1 Holding
2 The Cup of Sorrow
3 The Cup of Joy

Pat II

4 Lifting
5 The cup of Blessings
6 To Life

Part III

7 Drinking
8 The Cup of Salvation
9 To the Bottom

Conclusion The Answer

Epilogue One Cup, One Body

Paidion, I have some confusion. Humans had free will both pre-cross and post-cross, right? And free will entails the ability to do “actual righteousness”. Then that means humans could do “actual righteousness” pre-cross, no?

There’s an entire long thread dedicated to that question, qaz.

I know Dave, I’m the one who created it. I don’t think paidion has given a compelling answer there.


The atonement is eternal. Christ was slain some 2000 years ago yet the Bible says Christ was slain from the foundation of the world. The effects of the atonement retro causality backwards and forwards. Just as Adams sin retro causes million of years of animal death and suffering. To read more on the Biblical defense of retro-causation of the cross:

The Biblical God is one who acts trans-temporally. When I say trans-temporally I mean across time. Just as the atonement saved people that existed before it happened it also saves millions after it happens.

1 Like

LLC, yes, it was always possible to perform righteous acts. Even evil people occasionally do so. But consistent righteousness became possible only through Christ’s death.

Let’s consider David. Was he a righteous man? He frequently inquired of the LORD and then obeyed him. When Saul tried to kill David, David continued to show love for Saul. Even in a situation where he could have killed Saul, he didn’t do so. And when Saul realized that this was the case, he said to David, “You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil.” (1 Samuel 24:17)

So was David a righteous man? He certainly did a lot of righteous deeds. But was he consistently righteous? On one occasion he saw Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife, bathing. He desired to have her, and so he took her and copulated with her. Then in order that Uriah didn’t interfere with him, he had him sent to the front lines of the army so that he would be killed. Thus, he not only committed adultery, but he also committed murder. There you have an example of the sort of righteousness that was possible prior to Christ’s sacrifice.

To live consistently righteous lives, we need God’s enabling grace—made possible by the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. Please read the following passage carefully and completely:

For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all people, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and to live sensible, righteous, and devout lives in the present age, expecting the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of the great God and of our Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good works. Declare these things; encourage and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you. (Titus 2:11-15)

HT, you make a point and I agree but I ask what does ‘biblical defense of retro-causation of the cross’ mean?

The theological basis for it.


You are making obviously weird answers.

Can you expound?

In this paper William Dembski gives the theological basis for retroactive causation. He gives the scriptures showing that God is not bound by cosmic time. He sees the beginning from the end. Indeed He is the beginning and the end. He acts across time. One example is how the scriptures state that Christ was slain from the foundation of the world. Retroactive causation means backward causation in cosmic time.

Here’s a book legnth treatment by William Dembski:

So if your father has died, God could cause him not to have died, even though you remember his having died.

This concept is nonsense.

That would be called resurrection. The atonement is eternal and not bound by cosmic time. It’s effects stretch into the future and past. Christ was slain from the foundation of the world.

Revelation 13:8 All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world


Moreover, while we are washed in the blood and cleansed the righteousness of Christ is imputed. It’s a covering like when Adam and Eve sinned and God killed the animals and clothed them with the skin of the animals. It’s a covering or a clothing in a robe of righteousness:

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. ~~ Isaiah 61:10

Paidion, God does not change. His enabling grace was available before and after Jesus. Yes, David made mistakes as do the people of today. But, from what I understand, if we confess our sin and turn our hearts to God, He is just, able to forgive and will bring us back to life.
God revealed David’s sin to him through the prophet Nathan.
2Samuel12:13 says this: "Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” This is what the everlasting covenant is all about. Circumcise the foreskin of our hearts and minds, and God will be our God and we will be His people.


I have this posted but I will share it here because it’s on topic

Is It Just To Punish The Innocent?

It would only be unjust to punish the innocent in certain circumstances if one holds to a retributive theory of justice. Consequentialist theories say that the punishment of the innocent can be justified in certain circumstances because of the benefits that can be accrued like deterring crimes or reforming people. I’m convinced that the punishment that God inflicted on Christ was indeed consequentialist. The Bible says Christ learned obedience through what He suffered. And punishing an innocent person would be justified if it saved the whole world from suffering in hell. Thomas Aquinas held that at the cross Jesus suffered and bore the punishment for our sins. But this punishment was medicinal punishment. It’s not the same as John Calvin’s penal substitution. We know it was disciplinary because of Isaiah 53:5 -

The chastening for our well being fell upon Him.

The Hebrew word here is musar


discipline, chastening, correction

The NASB Strongest Exhaustive Concordance

The punishment is one of medicine and well being. There’s nothing retributive in the Hebrew word. Therefore, God’s justice is consequentialist in nature at the cross. Punishing Christ for our sins is justified because it gives eternal life to the world. Punishing Christ prevents the lost from suffering in hell and Christ learned obedience through what He suffered. Therefore the punishment was just.