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Friday, May 7, 2010

Louis Berkhof's Attempt to Justify Penal Substitution

Louis Berkhof (1873 – 1957), was the professor of Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary for over four decades. He was a Reformed systematic theologian whose written works have been influential in seminaries and Bible colleges in the United States and Canada and with individual Christians in general throughout the 20th century.

In his massive tome entitled, Systematic Theology , he deals with the apparent injustice of the Penal Substitutionary Theory (PST) of the atonement. He writes:
All those who advocate a subjective theory of the atonement raise a formidable objection to the idea of vicarious atonement. They consider it unthinkable that a just God should transfer His wrath against moral offenders to a perfectly innocent party, and should treat the innocent judicially as if he were guilty. There is undoubtedly a real difficulty here, especially in view of the fact that this seems to be contrary to all human analogy. We cannot conclude from the possibility of the transfer of a pecuniary debt to that of the transfer of a penal debt. If some beneficent person offers to pay the pecuniary debt of another, the payment must be accepted, and the debtor is "ipso facto" freed from all obligation. But this is not the case when someone offers to atone vicariously for the transgression of another. To be legal, this must be expressly permitted, and authorized by the Lawgiver. In reference to the law this is called relaxation, and in relation to the sinner it is known as remission. The judge need not, but can permit this yet he can permit it only under certain conditions, as (1) that the guilty party himself is not in a position to bear the penalty through to the end, so that a righteous relation results; (2) that the transfer does not encroach upon rights and privileges of innocent third parties, nor cause them to suffer hardship and privations; (3) that the person enduring the penalty is not himself already indebted to justice, and does not owe all his services to the government; and (4) that the guilty party retains the consciousness of his guilt and of the fact that the substitute is suffering for him. In view of all this it will be understood that the transfer of penal debt is well-nigh, if not entirely, impossible among men. But in the case of Christ, which is altogether unique, because in it a situation obtained which has no parallel, all the conditions named were met. There was no injustice of any kind (p. 376).
I am pleased that Berkhof recognizes that the punishment of the innocent in place of the guilty is a formidable objection and a real difficulty. Many evangelical and Reformed theologians act as if there is no problem here at all. It is also good that he recognizes that a penal debt is a vastly different thing than a pecuniary (monetary) debt. Many evangelicals have attempted to explain away the problem by assuming they are the same. However, his attempt to justify penal substitution also fails in my opinion.

He states that there are 4 criteria that would allow a vicarious payment of a penal debt.

(1) The guilty party cannot pay the debt. But is that truly the case, according to the Bible, with regard to sinners and the penal debt they owe? Berkhof would admit that not all sinners will be forgiven on the basis of the atonement (he actually holds to a limited atonement, i.e., Christ died only for "the elect"). Those that are not forgiven will pay for their sins for eternity in hell. Granted, Berhof believes in eternal punishment, so in a since, the debt will never be paid off; however, that brings up the whole issue of time vs. eternity. Is a concept that is related to the realm of time, such as something coming to a completion, even applicable with regard to eternity?

(2) No innocent third parties are harmed. Well, in the case of the atonement the only innocent party is Jesus who, according to the Bible, has volunteered to pay the penalty. So, this principle does not seem to be violated.

(3) The substitute receiving the penalty does not himself owe a penalty. Since the Bible presents Jesus as sinless, then this principle would also not be violated.

(4) The guilty party is aware that someone else is paying his penalty. This criteria would also be met by the PST of the atonement.

So, does Berkhof have a case? I think not for the following three reasons:

(1) His four criteria are inventions of his own subjective sense of justice. Where are these criteria established in the literature of jurisprudence theory? It seems to me that his 4 points are merely an ad hoc answer, created out of his imagination in order to attempt to resolve the moral dilemma involved in the PST.

(2) He nowhere establishes how the just demands of the law are met by punishing a substitute. According to the retributive theory of punishment, which the Bible clearly teaches, justice is only accomplished when the guilty party is punished. The very essence of the retributive theory is that the one who has committed the crime must suffer for it. To say that a substitute can pay the penalty implies that it's just the act of suffering itself, regardless of who it is that suffers, that renders retribution. That contradicts the basic idea of the retributive theory. It is not just any suffering that accomplishes retribution but suffering inflicted upon a particular person, namely the guilty party. To say otherwise, makes it seem that God just wants to see somebody punished; it does not matter who. That portrait of God is certainly not consistent with the Bible's teaching that God is perfectly just and righteous.

(3) Berkhof does not elaborate but he implies that since God is both the Lawgiver and the Judge, he has the full authority to administer justice any way he deems appropriate. That might be correct under his scenario but God will still have to conform to just actions. If he acts in such a way that is counter to what is just, then his character is compromised and certainly Berkhof would not want that.

Thus, while Berkhof at least recognizes the injustice of the PST and attempts to provide an answer, in the final analysis is attempt fails. There does not seem to be anyway to justify the PST of the atonement, in my opinion.


  1. I found this post really interesting. I liked reading your thoughts Ken, and thought I would offer some counterpoints to... well, your counterpoints.

    1) Are not your senses of justice and what is right and wrong subjective as well? I don’t see any problem with the criteria that He has established and think they do just fine to be examined in the context of law and how it works. They all seem like viable options for not only the problem of penal substitution but also for similar options as well, such as someone paying a legal penalty for someone else who can’t afford it.

    2) This is a very good objection, except with one point: Was the third party that suffered unwilling to do so? If that was the case then you have a valid objection, but since Christ was fully willing to suffer on our behalf it doesn’t make this just random suffering for the sake of suffering. When God’s wrath was put on Christ, He saw you and me as far as legality is concerned and now can stand before God because the penalty has been satisfied as far as love is concerned.

    3) How is God acting in a way that is counter to what is just? I’m not sure I follow what you’re saying here. If God was to simply forgive the penalty you owe based on something you did or said, then maybe. Like if you could gain a forgiven state just by asking “pretty please” enough times and saying “I won’t do it again”. Then God wouldn’t be just since He’s not holding to the very standards that He wants us to be held to. But God demands that there be justice for the crimes and penalties of our lives. Since God can look at you and see the completed work of Christ because the Law has been satisfied, then there seems to me to be no problem between the roles of lawgiver and judge. God’s holding to the laws He gave us and is acting by those laws as judge.

    Just some thoughts for you!

  2. Darren said: "...God can look at you and see the completed work of Christ because the Law has been satisfied ..."

    But only if you accept it by faith. That's part of the doctrine that makes no sense. If Jesus did make a perfect atonement for someone's sins -- if the debt really was "paid in full" -- it shouldn't matter whether the person believes it or not.

    In effect, the prevailing view says: "Your sins are completely paid for and you're perfect in the sight of God ... unless you don't believe it. In that case, it doesn't work."

    What kind of atonement is that?

  3. Darren,

    Thanks for your comments.

    (1) Yes, all of our thoughts and knowledge are subjective. They must be since we are all subjects. However, my point is that a certain measure of "objectivity" is achieved when a large group of people recognize the validity of what is being proposed. That is the whole concept behind peer-reviewed publications. Philosophers have written some lengthy tomes on the matter of punishment and justice and I have never seen Berkhof's theory or one similar to it propounded in the literature. That makes me wonder about its credibility.

    (2) The fact that Jesus suffered willingly is beside the point. The point is how can a righteous judge feel that justice is satisfied by punishing an innocent. Again, the very essence of the retributive theory is that the guilty and only the guilty deserve punishment.

    (3) God is acting counter to what is just by accepting the punishment of an innocent in place of the guilty. Our moral intuitions, which according to the Bible come from God, tell us that it is wrong to punish the innocent. Even little children know this. What happens if you try to punish a child for what his sibling did? He will cry out: "but that's not fair." We just seem to know instinctively that its wrong to punish an innocent (regardless of whether the innocent is willing).

  4. Darren:

    Regarding your counterpoint #1, there is no analog in the real world to the type of "justice" proposed in Berkhof's solutions. I'd like to see one example, making sure it is of a penal nature and not pecuniary.

    Regarding #2, you miss Ken's point, which is about the purported good and just nature of God. It doesn't matter if a third party is willing to be a substitute, what matters is that according to PST God must be appeased by human suffering. Isn't it more loving to forgive without requiring any form of retribution? The irony here is that the PST doctrine itself seems to go against Jesus' core teachings!

    Regarding #3, again what is true forgiveness? Does true forgiveness require retribution in the form suffering? Forget your systematic theology for a second and think about how this reflects on a person's nature. Does God's standard here make sense from the standpoint of an omnibenevolent creator and sustainer? Why does God require satisfaction in the form of human suffering?

  5. Darren,

    Your wife is a real beauty...if I may say that. Nice to read your comments btw.

  6. Steve,

    If I offer you a gift and you don't accept it, you will not be in possession of the gift. The atonement is a gift and the way to accept that gift is thru faith.

  7. Loius,

    If God fogives us w/o atonement, then He is not just. He is benevolent, but He is also just. That is why forgiveness can't be simply erasin away the sins.

  8. Ultimately, when argument fails - and it always does - the Christian's last resort is, "That's the way God wants it!"

    We're constantly told "His ways are not our ways", that we can't begin to comprehend, with our puny human minds, even a fraction of his humongous awesomeness. The things is - they always use this tactic to argue for a god who isn't better than we are, but far, far worse. Of course, if you try to tell them this, you're told that 1) We get our sense of morality from God, therefore he gets to define the parameters; 2) The mere fact you would even see it that way in the first place is evidence of your state of "sin".

    I've spent a fair amount of time hanging out with Tibetans. They're no slouches when it comes to fire and brimstone, but their hells aren't conceived of as being eternal. The idea of a higher being who could release everyone from hell, but chooses not to, is incomprehensible to them. As an old lama with whom I used to live once asked me, "Where is his compassion?"

    But, yes, I know - they can't be expected to know any better, as they aren't the recipients of divine grace. The lowest, meanest Christian has a better understanding of God than does any heathen, including the Dalai Lama.

    I've seen both theologies, and both communities. "You will know them by their fruits." Yeah, I've seen the fruit. I have issues with Buddhism as well, but, between the two - I'll take the latter.

  9. John,

    Tell me what is just about extreme torture and human suffering as exhibited in the crucifixion? What sin have you committed that fits that punishment? If you had any dignity you would insist that you yourself should pay whatever punishment fits whatever crime/sin you committed. To do otherwise is the antithesis of justice and you are complicit in the injustice.

  10. Cipher,

    I've been wanting to give Buddhism a look for a while. Can you recommend a book that would serve as a good primer?

  11. cipher,

    Unfortunately, the Buddhist does not give you a way for salvation. You only have 1 choice here. If I had it my way, I would become a muslim, they are very loving for those who are their brothers. They have great food, and they are very nice folks once you get to know them.


    God's justness means He can't allow even the smallest of sins. That would be deservant of eternal punishment and Christ's death on the cross for salvation.

    I used to be a teacher. As a teacher, I was young and enjoyed the relations I developed with my students. I wanted to give them all good grades. I often was tempted. I was a lazy grader (as can be seen by some of my posts...). I didn't care honestly, I just wanted to go home in the end. I was by no means a perfect example. But I always knew that as a teacher I had to be just and at least treat this with some sort of dignity. I failed some and gave c's to some who wanted b's...

  12. Unfortunately, the Buddhist does not give you a way for salvation.

    Yeah - in YOUR world view.

    God's justness means He can't allow even the smallest of sins. That would be deservant of eternal punishment and Christ's death on the cross for salvation.

    There's just a universe of supposition behind that, which really has far more to do with the authoritarian nature of your personality and your abysmally low self-esteem than it has to do with divine revelation.

    Ken, we're at a point at which you need to tell me to go away. I just can't be civil to these people; I'm literally incapable of it. In the immortal words of Eric Cartman, "Jesus, why don't you just cut my b*lls off?!"

    There's no penetrating this level of delusion; any attempt is a complete waste of time. You know I'm firmly convinced it's neurological. We've talked about this. I think you see these exchanges as being analogous to water on a rock; if you persevere long enough, you get the Grand Canyon. I see it as running headlong repeatedly into a brick wall - the wall is completely unaffected, and, after a while, you knock yourself senseless.

  13. Can you recommend a book that would serve as a good primer?

    Louis, let me think about it. I'm not putting you off, but I'm at a point at which books I would have recommended a few years ago, I no longer would.

  14. It might also help to note that Jesus soundly rejected the retributive theory of judgment in his famous sermon on the mount, and also made it clear that he was basing his position on the nature of God.

    The clear implication is that he also rejected the idea of Hell.

    I've actually written an entire book on this topic--Hell? No! Why You Can Be Certain There's No Such Place As Hell, (for anyone interested, you can get a free ecopy of Did Jesus Believe in Hell?, one of the most compelling chapters in my book at, but if I may, let me share just one more of the many points I make in it to explain why.

    If one is willing to look, there's substantial evidence contained in the gospels to show that Jesus opposed the idea of Hell. For example, in Luke 9:51-56, is a story about his great disappointment with his disciples when they actually suggested imploring God to rain FIRE on a village just because they had rejected him. His response: "You don't know what spirit is inspiring this kind of talk!" Presumably, it was NOT the Holy Spirit. He went on, trying to explain how he had come to save, heal and relieve suffering, not be the CAUSE of it.

    So it only stands to reason that this same Jesus, who was appalled at the very idea of burning a few people, for a few horrific minutes until they were dead, could never, ever burn BILLIONS of people for an ETERNITY!

    True, there are a few statements that made their way into the copies of copies of copies of the gospel texts which place “Hell” on Jesus’ lips, but these adulterations came along many decades after his death, most likely due to the Church filling up with Greeks who imported their belief in Hades with them when they converted.

  15. Christ’s work on the cross made the gift possible as John pointed out. That’s where faith comes into play. It’s not enough that Christ just died for sins, but we must allow our standing with God to reflect the sacrifice Christ made for us i.e. justification.

    To answer the other questions, let me start out with an example. A man steals from another man in some random country. The reason the man stole doesn’t really matter, but for the sake of understanding, it was because he needed to feed his family. He works very hard but sometimes it’s not enough, and since it’s a complicated job, no one else can ever really help him with his work. The man is found guilty and sentenced to 200 hours of community service. The laws in that country say, though, that you cannot work while you are doing the community service, otherwise you’ll be punished even more. The man clearly cannot stop working since he must provide for his family.

    Enter the man’s father, a retiree with no time constraints and no outstanding legal obligations. The father realizes that what the son did was wrong but knows he’s sorry. The father offers the court to do the community service himself and asks that the son continue to work since he can’t do the sons job himself but can do the community service. In the eyes of the court, as long as the penalty for the crime is satisfied and the son realizes what the father is doing for him, then there’s no reason why the father can’t work the 200 hours for his son. The son accepts the father’s gift of fulfilling the legal obligations to the court and the father is ok doing the work because he loves his son.

    This may not seem like a real-world example, but search the Bible and you’ll find why there isn’t any example we can truly come up with. Romans 5 tells us that Christ died for the ungodly. Paul explains that rarely will someone die for a righteous man. What need is there to die for him, since he is counted as righteous? He goes on to explain that someone might possible die for a good man, someone who has flaws in their lives but is “ok”. But the Gospel is simply this: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). That is how God’s love and goodness is demonstrated. The sacrifices of the law before hand were only a foreshadowing of what was to come. Blood gave mediation between a person and God since death comes through sin, but the problem is that the person offering the sacrifice on behalf of that person still needed to offer a sacrifice for his sins as well. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal 3:13). Hebrews tells us because of Christ’s perfection He didn’t have to offer a sacrifice for His sins, so he could become the ultimate sacrifice, the mediator between us and God once and for all. God’s law is satisfied because consequence of sin (death) was fulfilled, but His love and goodness is demonstrated in that He conquered the imperfection of man to give us life eternal.

    Ultimately, every person is going to have to ask of themselves why God would do it this way (if He exists). If eternal life is dependent of me, then righteousness could be obtained apart from God, thus no reason for Him to die. But you and I can obtain it on our own. I’ve failed time and time again just to be a “good man”, yet lies and lusts spring up in me. It takes a Holy God, making provision for my screw-ups, fixing what I have become so that I may be counted “righteous” before Him.

  16. John Sfifer: "If God fogives us w/o atonement, then He is not just."

    I'm not so sure. If God creates imperfect beings, does it make sense to punish them for being imperfect? Is that just?

    Personally, I find it interesting that I so often hear that "God's justice" demands atonement from us. It's not "justice" in general, it's "God's justice" - which seems to imply that there's a difference between the two.

    Then, of course, there's the nature of the punishment. If my son does something wrong, I punish him - temporarily, and in proportion to his transgression - and then I accept him back into my grace (in truth, he's never really out of it). Similarly, if after my death I were sentenced to experience for myself all the harm I've done to others, and then be accepted into Grace, I could accept that as just. But in that case there is no Hell, only Purgatory - and that arrangement is well outside of any standard Christian theology.

  17. J.S. "If I offer you a gift and you don't accept it, you will not be in possession of the gift. The atonement is a gift and the way to accept that gift is thru faith."

    The gift analogy doesn't work here, John, because Jesus isn't just offering to do something for me in the future (if I agree to accept it). Supposedly, he already did it. If my sins were placed upon him 2,000 years ago at Calvary, then my sins should be taken care of, whether I believe or not. If my unbelief is a sin, that sin should also be covered, too, right?

    If you want a better gift analogy, how about this: As a gift, I pay off all of a friend's medical bills -- without his knowledge. How absurd and convoluted if I announced that even though I wiped out the debt, he'll still be on the hook for it if he doesn't accept my actions.

    J.S. "If God forgives us w/o atonement, then He is not just."

    Says who?? Am I unjust if I forgive someone an offense without demanding restitution? Of course not! That kind of forgiveness is generous and admirable. Why can't God forgive that way?

    Besides, the word "just" is used in such an unwarranted manner within evangelicalism. Usually what evangelicals mean is "infinitely offendable" and "infinitely severe in penalizing." Those qualities are not synonymous with "just."

  18. Michael,

    First, God didn't create us imperfect. We have sin nature due to fall as you know.

    With regards to the illustration with your son. Let me ask you: is there anything your son can do where your love (grace) for him is put in question? What if he kills your wife? What if he **** your mom? I am just trying to show that there is a point where you will get upset.

    Now God is Holy, whereas we are not. He is offeneded at the least of the sins. That is why the grace would be lost when we sin, and hence the need for atonement. We have offended a Holy God, and we have no hope of ever reconciling to

    also, to cipher---I have low self esteem sadly. But this still isn't the reason why Jesus' gift of salvation is the only way.

  19. Louis,

    I conferred with a friend who is far less jaded than I, and this is what we (he, really) came up with:

    Firstly, there is the Dhammapada, the seminal Buddhist text, which is a collection of the Buddha's teachings. It's a fairly small volume, and there are many excellent translations available. My friend likes Juan Mascaro's, and there's a relatively new one by Gil Fronsdal, a teacher whom another friend admires, but, as I say, there are many.

    Here is a list of introductory books on Buddhism. Most of these are from teachers in the Theravadan tradition, the Buddhism of SE Asia, which is closer in form and content to the Buddha's original teachings. This is the tradition out of which Vipassana, or Insight Meditation, was developed. (Fronsdal's translation of the Dhammapada is on this list, actually.)

    The other forms of Buddhism widely available to Westerners - Tibetan and Zen - are part of the Mahayana tradition. You may want to read some Zen (D.T. Suzuki was a good early expounder to Westerners), but I would probably hold off on Tibetan. I mentioned the Dalai Lama earlier, and I think the world of him, but I agree with my friend - when it comes to Tibetan Buddhism, proceed with caution. It's very much culturally "other", and there's a great deal of what we would call fundamentalism among its Western adherents (you find it in the other communities as well, but the Western practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism are notorious).

    You may also want to read some of Alan Watts' old stuff, or listen to his recorded talks, which are available at many libraries.

    There is also In the Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon. The Pali Canon is the earliest collection of Buddhist scriptures, of which the Dhammapada is a part. I haven't read this anthology, but my friend thinks it's excellent.

    I hope this is helpful.

  20. also, to cipher---I have low self esteem sadly. But this still isn't the reason why Jesus' gift of salvation is the only way.

    Yeah, it is. It's the reason it makes perfect sense to you, when others are telling you it doesn't have to be that way. Tragically, you and millions of others like you can't see it - or refuse to.

    I wish Christians would expend as much energy arguing for universal reconciliation as they do arguing against it. I wish you'd interpret as selectively, jump through as many hoops, bend over as far backward.

    A lifetime of experience with you people has left me utterly convinced that if you had to choose, you'd dispense with the notion of heaven before you'd give up the concept of hell. You're all just too heavily invested in it.

  21. J.S. "First, God didn't create us imperfect. We have sin nature due to fall as you know."

    Here's what you're saying, J.S.: God didn't want Adam and Eve to sin. But when they did sin, God punished them by changing their nature, making them irresistibly prone to sin.

    Imagine a judge handing down this sentence: "You have been found guilty of shoplifting. As part of your punishment, we are injecting you with a chemical that will make you a kleptomaniac."

    Tell me how that makes sense.

    And why did Adam and Eve sin in the first place if sin wasn't in their nature at all. If no inner impulse drew them to sin, why did they?

    On top of all that, why did all their descendants get stuck with this sin nature?

  22. Cipher,

    Not all christians have low self esteem.

    Also, why would we accept what you tell us? For every argument you put up, we have an equally plausible and often better counter-argument.

    Also, what evidence do you have for buddhism? I am interested to hear the case for buddhism. What sort of evidence is there? Christianity is a religion based on a historical event, the bible is historically reliable and there is evidence for christianity that makes it very plausible to put one's faith in. Further, the christian message is one of the most beautiful stories of love and sacrifice that has ever been devised. Millions of people hang on to this truth because they are not only convinced intellectually but also they find much meaning from its truth.

  23. Christianity is a religion based on a historical event, the bible is historically reliable and there is evidence for christianity that makes it very plausible to put one's faith in.

    No, there isnt. You simply want to believe that there is.

    Further, the christian message is one of the most beautiful stories of love and sacrifice that has ever been devised.

    Right - "Love me, or burn forever in a lake of fire." Yeah, a beautiful message of love and sacrifice.

    And what was Jesus sacrificing, really? You all claim he knew he was God.

  24. Cipher,

    Jesus took upon Him the sins of the world. That was the real punishment. He experienced separation and judgement from God at the cross, which is worse than any form of crucifixion.

  25. For the record I am not a Christian, nor Jewish, nor Muslim, nor Buddhist, nor Wiccan...

    Steve J - Part 1 “Am I unjust if I forgive someone an offense without demanding restitution? Of course not! That kind of forgiveness is generous and admirable. Why can't God forgive that way?”

    Christian doctrine is like exiting the highway of Judaism, turning left onto a paved road, turning left onto a gravel road, turning right onto a dirt road, and not realizing you are lost.

    Genesis 4:7 “Surely if you improve yourself, you will be forgiven. But if you do not improve yourself, sin rests at the door. Its desire is toward you, yet you can conquer it.” This is the model for repentance, improve yourself.

    King David sins, admits his sin, realizes the error of his way, never commits the sin again and the Almighty forgives him. No sacrifice involved.

    Steve J - Part 2 “And why did Adam and Eve sin in the first place if sin wasn't in their nature at all. If no inner impulse drew them to sin, why did they?”
    Excellent question.

    Rick - Jesus was Jewish and had no concept of burning in hell for eternity. Or maybe “burning in hell for eternity” is under the father’s purview. Wait, I don't see the father mentioning burning in hell for eternity at all.

    Darren - “The sacrifices of the law before hand were only a foreshadowing of what was to come. Blood gave mediation between a person and God since death comes through sin...”

    Sacrifices only atoned for unintentional sins. Lev 4:2, 13, 22, 27, 5:15, 18. Intentional sins require repentance, an offering would do nothing. Theft is an intentional sin, so according to your example, a sacrifice would not work. There are laws that pertain to theft in the system of Judaism, but a sacrifice is not one of them.

    Michael Mock -True.

    Cipher - All True.

  26. cipher said...
    Uh huh.

    Not sure what to answer, this is what happened.

  27. John Sfifer: "First, God didn't create us imperfect. We have sin nature due to fall as you know."

    That explanation just pushes the problem back a level. Don't get me wrong; I love Genesis. It's a lovely, poetic creation myth. But as theodicy, it's incompatible with the idea of an omniscient, omnipotent God. Here's the problem:

    If our sinful nature is a result of the Fall, then God is punishing us for the actions of two people who lived millenia ago. (A truly omnipotent being could easily arrange for us to be born innocent, rather than sinful, if He chose to; so either He isn't all-powerful, or a sinful nature is His will for us.) The inevitable result of this sin nature is that some people will end up in hell, being unimaginably tortured for all eternity, because of something done by a distant ancestor.

    The obvious objection is that they aren't being punished for Adam's actions, they're being punished for their own sins. That objection doesn't work, since they can't help sinning precisely because of Adam's actions. So we're back to people being punished (horribly and eternally) because of something Adam and Eve did.

    I see no way that a situation like that can exist without God being monstrously unjust. The fact that some people can get out of being punished for the actions Adam and Eve in no way lessens the injustice done to the rest.

  28. I come from a family of lawyers and judges. They all said to me "There is no such thing as justice". There is punishment, retribution and revenge. If God punishes sinners with eternal damnation, then he is vengeful and nasty -not at all a loving God. But then the Jews never viewed him that way -only the Christians.
    I also believe that having to punish a child is a sign of poor parenting. It should not be necessary if the parents set a good example of behaviour, except perhaps to keep a child from danger. Therefore God sets a poor example and is a poor parent.

  29. Darren,

    In your scenario, you say: In the eyes of the court, as long as the penalty for the crime is satisfied and the son realizes what the father is doing for him, then there’s no reason why the father can’t work the 200 hours for his son.

    Here is the problem. Why is the son being sentenced to 200 hours of community service? As punishment for a crime he committed. That is the retributive theory of punishment--the person who commits a crime deserves to be recompensed for his action. The punishment is just ONLY if it is the guilty who suffers it. In your scenario, the only thing that seems to count is that the 200 hours of work get done; it doesn't matter to the judge who does it.

  30. Ken,

    I have read somewhere that when Jesus died, we were dying in essence. That He was a substitute for what happened to us, but essentially He was the vicar.

  31. Hi Ken,

    Regarding the 1st criteria, it is often taken for granted that the Bible teaches that the punishment of the wicked will last for an eternity. I disagree. This view assumes that the Greek word 'aionios' can only mean 'eternal' or 'everlasting'. Lambert, writing in in Hastings Bible Dictionary, showed this not to be the case. It needs to be understood according to the inherent nature of the person or thing that it refers to, and so can mean 'eternal' - but not always. The destiny of the wicked in Gehenna will serve justice, but not for eternity. Parables and symbolisms that are mentioned are to be undertood for what they are and are not to be taken with a literal interpretation. See: Mat.10:28. There will be a time when the wicked will cease to exist. This is my understanding.

    On your comment regarding the 2nd criteria:
    Volunteering as an innocent to suffer for the sake of others who are guilty would not, of course, dissolve one of innocence. He remained innocent, as you say (whether as a 1st or 2nd party is irrelevant). But, unless we are utterly insensitive to the innocent sufferings we realize others endure or have suffered, we would feel hurt. Therefore, I would say this criteria also is not met by the voluntary suffering of Christ.

    I know I am late to the party, but I would just like to say that I think you make your points very well and your comments are appreciated.


  32. But isn't aionios used to qualify heaven as well? This is a criticism conservatives always lobby at annihilationists and universalists - how can it mean "eternity" for one, but not the other?