Tag Archives: penal substitution

Do We Believe in Consequences? Revisiting the “Incoherence Objection” to Penal Substitution

An article I wrote defending a version of penal substitutionary atonement just came out in “Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie.” It’s a constructive model I call the “penal-consequence view.” It’s not necessarily the view I hold to but it’s a view that I think might be helpful to some who want to defend Penal Substitution. You can check it out here:


(P.S. I say it’s not my personal view because even though I develop it in this paper I’m currently working on another defense which comes closer to affirming all the things I want to affirm.)

Below is an abstract of the essay:

Summary: Among recent assessments of penal substitutionary accounts of atonement
one significant critique is Mark Murphy’s “incoherence objection.” In this
essay I express general agreement with Murphy’s critique of penal substitution,
yet I suggest that there is a way to reconceive the doctrine of atonement such that
it is conceptually coherent, is commensurate with scripture, and is a version of
penal substitution. I call this view: The Penal-Consequence View of Atonement.
This is a view of atonement that makes use of a distinction between what I call
“penal consequences” and “mere consequences.” The view is defended with
special reference to the topics of corporate moral responsibility and union with
Keywords: Atonement, Consequences, Penal Substitution, Punishment, Union
with Christ


Not Penal Substitution But Vicarious Punishment

The following is a summary/notes of Mark Murphy’s article, “Not Penal Substitution but Vicarious Punishment.” (Faith and Philosophy, 26.3, 2009)

Summary: PSA fails for conceptual reasons. Punishment is an expressive action so it is not transferable. A relative of PSA, VP, is conceptually coherent. Under VP, the guilty person’s punishment consists in the suffering of an innocent to whom he or she bears a special relationship. Sinful humanity is punished through the death of Jesus.

Section 1

Human beings on account of their sins deserve to be punished, but that JC was punished in our place so that we no longer bear ill-desert. (253-4)

Ill desert is removed by punishment. Christ is punished for our sins, and thus a necessary condition for unity with God is realized.

There is a conceptual problem w/PSA

Punishment = an authoritative imposition of hard treatment upon one for the failure to adhere to some binding standard.

This definition is not sufficient for punishment. A fourth condition is necessary, namely that punishment expresses condemnation of the wrongdoer.

If this is right then punishment will be non-transferable. Then PSA doesn’t work.

Section 2

What happens in PSA: A deserves to be punished; but B is punished in A’s place; so A no longer deserves to be punished. A’s ill-desert is removed by B’s personally substituting for A.

What happens in VP: A deserves to be punished; B undergoes hard treatment, which constitutes A’s being punished; and so A no longer deserves to be punished. (260)

Example: A criminal has his spouse killed. This deprives him of a significant good, namely having a wife. The hard treatment condition is met, except it is not in propria persona.

Section 3

Is VP morally objectionable? After all it has an innocent party suffering.

Reason why it is not morally objectionable: The suffering is willing.

Obj: It is still cruel to do this.

Resp: Yes, cruel, but not unjust.

Obj: There is injustice b/w the wrongdoer and the innocent sufferer.

Resp: This isn’t a criticism of the view itself, rather, the fact that the wrongdoer committed a bad action.

Retribution= depriving the wrongdoer of a significant human good.

This also deters further wrongdoing.

Section 4

Summary: “We human beings have sinned, having violated the divine law, in egregious ways. We thus merit punishment; and until this ill-desert is requited, there is an obstacle to proper union with God. In order to exact retribution and requite this ill desert, God chose to punish vicariously. Because Christ accepted this scheme freely, and with awareness that he would indeed be called upon to undergo the suffering constitutive of the punishment, it does Jesus neither injustice nor cruelty that he was to suffer in the carrying out the punishment of sinful humanity. So on this view the way that each of us is punished for our transgressions of divine law is that his or her Lord is killed. Each of us, for his or her sins, is subjected to hard treatment of having his or her Lord made to suffer and die. What makes this hard treatment imposed on us sinners is that the relationship of being Lord of is a special relationship that makes the misfortunes of the Lord constitutive of bad for the subject. This is a very hard treatment indeed. (265)

Section 5

It makes sense of biblical language & addresses other puzzles.

Section 6

Is punishment compatible with forgiveness? Yes.

One might compensate for one’s failures but still be at odds with the wronged. Forgiveness brings unity.

A Penal Substitutionary Doctrine of Atonement (Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview Pt. 1)

I just picked up the 2nd edition of William Lane Craig & J.P. Moreland’s Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (PFCW) – I immediately flipped over to the chapters dealing with philosophical theology – and in some cases what I would call 5187Analytic Theology. The chapter I gravitated towards first was the chapter on Atonement. I’m currently in a seminar on contemporary theories of atonement and I know Craig has recently been busy working on the topic. So, I wanted to see what they had to say.

Unsurprisingly the chapter on the doctrine of atonement is primarily a defense of penal substitution (PSA). They define PSA as:

The Doctrine that God inflicted on Christ the suffering we deserved as the punishment for our sins, as a result of which we no longer deserve punishment. (613)

They helpfully nuance this position saying that this definition leaves open the question whether or not Christ was punished for our sins. They say that one option is that Christ was indeed punished on our behalf and another option is that the suffering Christ experienced, had it been experienced by us, would have been a punishment.

In other words, Christ was a not punished, but he endured the suffering that would have been our punishment had it been inflicted upon us.

With this definition in mind they treat two objections:

1)The Incoherence Objection

This objection states that given an expressivist theory of punishment, it is conceptually impossible for God to punish Christ for our sins.

There are several options one could take in light of this objection. First one could deny the expressivist account. Second, one could say that God does not condemn Christ himself, but that God condemns sin. Finally, one could say that God in fact censures Christ, propose that our guilt is imputed onto Christ. The contemporary analogy to this doctrine of imputation would be cases in civil law which involve vicarious liability. For example, a case in which an employer incurs liability for acts committed by her employee.

Craig and Moreland conclude that the advocate of PSA can agree Christ was not punished, deny an expressivist account, or argue for the compatibility between PSA and expressivist accounts.

2) The Injustice Objection

“It is always unjust to punish an innocent person. Christ was an innocent person. God is always just. Therefore, God could not have punished Christ.” Thus goes a standard critique of PSA.

Again, the defender of PSA has several options. First they could adopt a consequentialist account of justice. If so, the act of punishing one innocent person, is justified because it prevents the guaranteed damnation of the human race. Second, they might argue that issues of justice are determined by God himself. Third, they could argue that, given divine command theory, God does not issue commands to himself, so he ha not moral duties to fulfill. Finally one might want to argue that Christ in fact had our guilt imputed onto him, so it actually is just to punish Christ.

Review of the Chapter

I really appreciated the clarity that Craig and Moreland brought to the issues involving PSA. This includes their definition of PSA which allows for a version of PSA to obtain even if Christ is not strictly punished for our sins. However, one critique I have of this chapter is that for some reason (their conservative evangelical background) they decided to focus solely on PSA. Not only that, they state (not argue) that essential, and indeed central to any biblically adequate theory of atonement is PSA. They offer no argument for that claim. While I am inclined to believe in some doctrine of PSA, they offer no reasons for why we should think PSA is the essential or central model of atonement. There may be reasons for why this is true, but they don’t say why.

Finally, I am left wondering, what we should do with biblical passages which mention that we have died with Christ. If punishment for sin is death (2 Cor 5 & Gal. 2), then it seems like in our “dying” with Christ we have experienced some sort of punishment. Are these passages figurative? Or should we take them in some sort of realist fashion? I’m inclined to say that it is the latter. And if in fact, we have died with Christ, experiencing the punishment for sin, would we still be able to call such an account PSA? I’m not sure… That’s just some food for thought.

Jonathan Edwards on the Atonement (Review)

It is well known that some of Edward’s followers, sometimes known as the New Divinity, advocated for a view of atonement known as the “governmental theory” or according to Oliver Crisp, penal non-substitution.  This view (in its orthodox form) was first proposed by Hugo Grotius. He suggested that Christ acted as a penal example, demonstrating God’s aversion to sin and paying respect to God’s law. One Edwardsean, Amasa Park picked up this governmental theory and ran full speed with it, even outlining the theory in nine propositions.

Even though its commonly accepted that the New Divinity saw themselves as developing jonathanedwardsontheatonement__76739-1490203753-315-315their governmental theory in light of Edwards’s doctrine, academic debates rage as to whether Edwards’s followers were actually following Edwards’s trajectory in this area or whether they significantly departed from his thought.  For example, B.B. Warfield argued that the Edwardseans forsook Edwards’s teachings. John Gerstner argued that they though they followed Edwards but had no justification in saying so. Finally, and more recently, Oliver Crisp has argued that Edwards knew and approved of these Edwardsean ideas. Brandon Crawford, author of Jonathan Edwards on the Atonement, enters into this debate by offering an in depth account of Edwards’s theory of atonement. His hope is that by focusing on Edwards we will be in a better position to evaluate how his legacy was received.

In order to carry out his aims Crawford begins by setting the historical context of Edwards’s doctrine of atonement. He does this by surveying early and medieval accounts (ch. 1), Reformation and Puritan accounts (ch. 2), and alternative perspectives in the Reformation and Puritan eras (ch. 3). A few questions arose in my mind as I read this section. Did he try to survey too many perspectives? Probably. What makes “alternative perspectives” to be “alternative?” I’m not sure. I also had a few critiques of these sections. One major one is that I think he reads penal substitution too heavily into his early sources. Yes, PSA is there in some form, but not in the full blown sense Crawford wants it to be. I think his overemphasis on the presence of PSA is an important move for Crawford. He needs PSA to be the standard atonement theory in order to say that in downplaying or ignoring PSA the Edwardseans were being unfaithful to orthodoxy.

After three chapters of historical context Crawford finally gets to the heart of the matter: Edwards’s doctrine of atonement. He begins with a chapter addressing Edwards’s theology of God’s glory. Although it is an accurate overview of the topic he hardly engages with any scholarship on the topic, he also doesn’t do a great job of connecting the topic of this chapter to the main topic of the book: atonement. The connection is there but it is not very explicit. The next two chapters present Edwards’s account of salvation history and his definition of sin (ch.5) and the Penal Substitutionary nature of Edwards’s doctrine (Ch. 6). This latter chapter was the most interesting. Here he shows that Edwards conceived of atonement mainly as 1) Penal Substitution and 2) Penal Example. Crawford says, “Edwards believed that Christ’s death also served as a penal example, publicly vindicating God’s honor and law, which God also required before sin’s penalty could be fully satisfied.” (119) Crawford concludes:

Edwards’s doctrine of atonement, then, included two prominent concepts: Christ as penal substitute and Christ as penal example. As the two concepts are placed side by side it becomes apparent that these ideas were not contradictory in Edwards’s mind, but complementary.

Crawford follows up on this chapter with a chapter addressing other themes in Edwards’s doctrine of atonement. However, chapter 6 sticks out as the most significant, at least in my mind, for addressing the debate about Edwards’s legacy.

Crawford’s conclusion about Edwards’s legacy is that Edwards was classically Reformed and that his followers deviated from Edwards’s reformed orthodoxy. According to Crawford, Edwards bears some responsibility for this, as he “may not have sufficiently guarded against the separation of the substitution and governmental components of his system… Yet Edwards does not bear all of the responsibility. He is not responsible for how his words may have been misunderstood by his successors after they took possessions of his manuscripts.” (140). This is a fair and even-keeled conclusion, which I think is argued for persuasively in chapter 6. However, I think it could have been argued for in a journal article rather than in a whole book.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.

The Journal of Analyitic Theology (Vol. 3)

Just a few weeks ago, the third volume of the Journal of Analytic Theology was released…

We are very pleased to bring you the third volume of the Journal of Analytic Theology. As with the previous issues, this volume continues to engage in three tasks core to the development of analytic theology (not in any particular order). First, there is the task of bringing analytic thinking—clarity of definition and argumentative rigor as much as the subject matter allows—to matters of theology with ever more “thick” content and historical interaction, yet with an eye to the ever-expanding circle of theological understanding. This issue does this well in a number of contributions. Senior editor Oliver Crisp’s annual Analytic Theology Lecture “Is Ransom Enough” and Josh Thurow’s “Communal Substitutionary Atonement” (which originated as a Logos conference presentation at Notre Dame) do this excellently with respect the doctrine of the atonement. This objective is also met in a set of three essays on free will by Kittle, Mullins, and Byerly. These three essays are exercises in holding philosophical reflection on Scripture accountable to Tradition (Kittle and Mullins) and to not giving it a pass on the hard issues (Byerly). A third set of essays achieve this objective with respect to epistemology. Brandon Dahm’s “The Certainty of Faith: A Problem for Christian Fallibilisits” investigates the traditional notion of religious certitude, especially to be found in Newman, and more modern fallibilisms. Finally, few issues in epistemology have proved more intractable than the Gettier Problem, yet Ian Church urges us to see in it some possible lessons and new directions for religious epistemology. – Trent Dougherty and Kevin Diller

Here are a few articles that caught my eye:

So go ahead take a look at the journal and feel free to download your favorite articles – they are all free!

Does Karl Barth Hold to a Version of Penal Substitution?

It’s a sort of tricky question. How does Barth understand Penal Substitution? I was once told that Barth definitely saw PSA in Isaiah, but that he believed that it is not taught in the New Testament. The debate sort of rages on – does Barth have some version of Penal Substitution? And if he does how does it differ from typical evangelical versions of PSA? And if he doesn’t – can Barth be a resource for formulating a version of PSA? These are all important questions.

In his recent book Faith, Freedom, and the Sprit, Paul Molnar addresses a passage which I believe hints at some sort of version of PSA in Barth. But I will let you decide for yourself:

Barth always stresses that Jesus acts both divinely and humanly so that we never have simply a human or divine being in Jesus. Jesus’ sacrifice for us “is of course, a human action –but in and with the human action it is also a divine action, in which… the true and effective sacrifice is made” (IV/1, p.280)

Up until this point there is nothing that would hint at PSA. All that is being explicated is that atonement happens in both directions – it comes from God and Man. Molnar goes on to say:

In Jesus we see the true meaning of suffering and death. While there was suffering and death in Israel, in Jesus these become “the work of God himself” (IV, p.175)

At this point there is nothing surprising here. Atonement is being explained as the death of death. Sin and guilt and death themselves are put to death on the cross. Nothing (yet) about Jesus being punished. All that we know at this point is that the Son exists in solidarity with the humanity of Israel in its suffering.

Now here stuff gets tricky:

“The Son of God in his unity with man exists in solidarity with the humanity of Israel suffering under the mighty hand of God” (IV/1, p.175)

Molnar says that “As such he suffers Israel’s suffering as “children chastised by their Father”; in him God entered the vicious circle of human suffering allowing the divine sentence to fall on himself… “He, the electing eternal God, willed himself to be rejected and therefore perishing man” (IV/1, p.177).

Molnar seems to think that the suffering of Christ is in solidarity (some form of substitution) with humanity under the hand of God. This constitutes the act of sacrifice. If Molnar is right (which I think he might be), then we have an interesting take on Barth’s PSA.

Jonathan Edwards Week – Edwards and Atonement (Pt. 2)

Yesterday we took a brief look at a quote from Edwards that has been spun into a rather interesting theory of atonement (namely one that Edwards would never had agreed to). Today, I felt like we should look at what Edwards really believed about atonement. Here is Edwards in his own words:

If it be allowed that it is requisite that great crimes should be punished with punishment in some measure answerable to the heinousness of the crime because of their great demerit and the great abhorrence and indignation they justly excite: it will follow that it is a requisite that God should punish all sin with infinite punishment, because all sin, as it is against God, is infinitely hateful to him and so stirs up infinite abhorrence and indignation in him. (Works, 2:565)

We take it that it is required that crimes should be punished with a punishment equal to the heinousness of the crime. Thus it follows that sin against God (an infinite being) merits infinite punishment. Not that Edwards does not mention “justice” in this passage – rather Edwards main argument that sin deserves to be punished hangs on the fact sin is hateful to God and that it stirs up abhorrence and indignation to him. Sin is punished not out of a pure act of justice, rather it is punished because it is offensive to God’s holiness. Sin is not an abstract violation of justice rather it is an affront to a personal and holy God.

This punishment must be meted out upon the one guilty of the sin – no one can take the punishment for someone else, not even God for that would be unjust. Thank goodness for substitutionary atonement! The punishment can be meted out against one person if that one person somehow really is a substitute for the guilty. Mind you, this needs to be more than just a legal substitution, it needs to be a metaphysical substitution for the substitution to be real and not a legal fiction.

In Original Sin Edwards says,

Some things, existing in different times and places, are treated by their Creator as one in one respect, and others in another; some are united for this communication, and others for that; but all according to the sovereign pleasure of the Fountain of all being and operation. (OS 405)

In other words God regards John Doe at T1 and T2 as one being, even though materially they are not, thus metaphysically it is true that John Doe at T1 is the same person as John Doe at T2. Edwards applies this same logic to penal substitution. Edwards believes that God regards the believers as one with Christ and so, ontologically, the believer is one with Christ.