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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Objections to my Arguments against the Penal Substitutionary Theory of the Atonement

Yesterday, I posted my April 17th essay from CommonSenseAtheism in which I argue that the Penal Substitutionary Theory of the Atonement does not constitute justice. I received a number of objections to my arguments and this post is my answer to those objections. This post ran yesterday on CommonSenseAtheism.

Against Penal Substitutionary Theory, Round 2

In a continuation of my discussion on the Penal Substitutionary Theory of the Atonement (hereafter, PST), I would like to deal with some objections that were raised to my first post. In the initial post, I argued that the PST is unjust under any human concept of jurisprudence. Men universally agree that it is never just to punish an innocent in the place of the guilty.

May an innocent person pay the price for a guilty person?

One objection centered around the idea that we consider it okay for an innocent person to pay a fine that is owed by a guilty person. Reference was made to the essay by philosopher David Lewis (“Do We Believe in Penal Substitution." Oxford Readings in Philosophical Theology: Volume 1: Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, edited by Michael Rea (Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 308-13).

It is true that Lewis states that sometimes we think it okay and even noble for an innocent to pay the fine owed by a guilty person, but he is not certain why this is.

Lewis argues that maybe we allow a substitute to pay a monetary fine "because we have no practical way to prevent it" (p. 312). Even if we required the criminal to pay the fine out of his own bank account, it would be practically impossible to prevent someone else from giving the criminal the money to deposit in his account. Lewis also clearly argues that all men seem to have a moral problem with a substitute being incarcerated in place of the guilty. He asks if a person guilty of a burglary could have his punishment paid by a substitute. He says:
Mostly we think not. It is unheard of that a burglar's devoted friend serves the burglar's prison sentence while the burglar himself goes free; or that a murderer's still-more-devoted friend serves the murderer's death sentence. Yet if ever such a thing happened, we surely would hear of it--for what a newsworthy story it would be! Such things do not happen. And not, I think, because a burglar or a murderer never has a sufficiently devoted friend. Rather, because the friend will know full well that, whatever he might wish, it would be futile to offer himself as a substitute for punishment. The offer would strike the authorities as senseless, and they would decline it out of hand (p. 308).
Some will continue to defend the justness of the PST on the basis that Scripture presents man's sin in terms of a debt (compare Matt. 6:12 with Luke 11:4; see also Matt. 18:21-35). That is true but the debt that man owes is not a monetary one, as Paul makes clear in Romans 6:23a: "For the wages of sin is death" (English Standard Version.) According to the PST, man's sin incurred a debt and that debt demands the penalty of death. Sin in the Scripture is a major offense, in fact a capital offense, not a minor matter that can be settled by paying a monetary fine.

Only one theory of atonement

A second objection raised was that the PST is one of several theories of the atonement that have been held through the centuries and it is not a requirement of the Christian faith, having never been codified in a creed. That is correct but for the overwhelming number of evangelical Christians (and evangelicalism is my focus in this essay), the PST is not just a theory but is the clear teaching of the Scripture. Roger Nicole, of Reformed Theological Seminary, is representative of the majority when he says:Atonement is the central doctrine of the Christian faith, and penal substitution is the heart of this doctrine (Blurb for Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach (Inter-Varsity Press, 2007).

Our moral intuitions

A third objection centered around man's moral intuitions. I argued that it is counter to our moral intuitions that an innocent be punished in place of the guilty. Someone replied:
Our moral intuitions are reliable but not perfect. If we have the intuition that some moral proposition is true (false), then that is evidence that its true (false). But we have to allow for revisionism. Intuitions get first pass. They’re innocent until proven guilty. But they can be overridden by defeaters.
It is true that our moral intuitions may not be perfect. However, when they are as universal as the notion that it is wrong to punish an innocent person, then the probability is that, in this particular case, our intuition is not wrong. If a universally agreed upon moral intuition is in fact erroneous, then how do we know that we can trust any of our moral intuitions? They would all become suspect, and therefore virtually worthless. Couple this with the evangelical teaching that our sense of right and wrong comes as a result of being made in the image of God and evangelicalism has a big problem.

But couldn't someone argue that the image of God has been marred by the fall and thus, our moral intuitions cannot be trusted? Yes, evangelicalism does teach that the imago dei has been damaged by the fall but Paul's statement in Romans 2:14-15 is in reference to man after the fall:
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.
The judge is the victim?

A fourth objection was that I was failing to recognize that in the case of the PST, it was the judge himself who was the victim and that as the victim, the penalty owed was owed to him. Since he was both judge and victim, he could decide on the appropriate penalty and on who should pay it. The argument went like this:
A better analogy would be like a murder case wherein the victim’s family freely chooses to pay the punishment incurred by the murderer for the sake of showing their love and compassion for the murderer as well as providing an opportunity for the murderer’s reform. I have the intuition that this is the moral right of the family; we would obviously not demand it of them but I see no moral problem with their freely choosing to do this. In fact, it seems to be a praiseworthy thing; they have done something painful for the sake of helping some other person. You can make the punishment incurred as strong as you want – even death – [and] it does not change the fact that paying the punishment is a prerogative of the family as it is they who are owed the debt. With relation to God and the punishment due sin, God is owed the debt and thus has some say in how it is paid, including volunteering to do it himself. His choosing to take the punishment upon himself is not only morally neutral; it seems to be morally admirable.
But what is the need for the punishment of a substitute in this case? If the family agrees to forgive the criminal, why must someone still die? In the case of the judge - God himself - paying the penalty, my question is: Why? Why is it necessary for God (or, in reality, His son) to pay the penalty? How does the punishment of an innocent satisfy the penalty? Unless the sin and guilt of the offender is somehow really transferred to the substitute so that the substitute is in a genuine sense guilty of the crime, then it still makes no moral sense.

As C. S. Lewis pointed out in an essay entitled “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment”:
The Humanitarian theory removes from Punishment the concept of Desert. But the concept of Desert is the only connecting link between punishment and justice (emphasis mine). It is only as deserved or undeserved that a sentence can be just or unjust. I do not here contend that the question ‘Is it deserved?’ is the only one we can reasonably ask about a punishment. We may very properly ask whether it is likely to deter others and to reform the criminal. But neither of these two last questions is a question about justice (God in the Dock [The Trustees of the Estate of C. S. Lewis, 1970],p. 288).
A noble act?

A fifth objection was:

Isn't it a great act of nobility and love for a person to voluntarily take the punishment due someone else?

Absolutely it is. But that is not the question. No one is saying that the willingness of Jesus to die in man's place was ignoble. What I am saying is that it is unjust for the Father to be willing to accept that sacrifice as the legitimate penalty owed by the sinner.

Someone drew an analogy here with regard to the story of Saint Maximilian Kolbe:
When he was in a concentration camp, the Nazis were going to execute a prisoner by starvation. Kolbe voluntarily asked to take the man’s place and the Nazis agreed. Can there be any doubt that Kolbe performed a supreme act of love and kindness towards his fellow man? But he also suffered injustice at the same time. The injustice was not on Kolbe’s part, but on the part of the Nazis. So the question is: Is God more like Kolbe or the Nazis? I think it’s obvious that God was more like Kolbe (or perhaps I should say that Kolbe’s action was godly). Jesus’ willing death on the cross was a profound act of kindness, even though he also suffered injustice. The Romans and the Jewish leaders did commit wrong in condemning an innocent person. But how is God blameworthy for that injustice? That would be like saying that Saint Maximilian Kolbe was blameworthy, because he allowed himself to be unjustly punished by the Nazis.
I would argue that God, the Father, was more like the Nazis in that he accepted the punishment of an innocent in place of the guilty. Yes, the Romans and the Jewish leaders were the human instruments that God allowed to accomplish the "dirty work," but the Scripture makes it clear that it was God's plan. Acts 2:23 states: This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

Not a payment?

A sixth objection was that the punishment for sin was not something inflicted by God as payment for sin but rather just a natural consequence of sin. In other words, one of the ramifications of sin is that it brings death. Someone wrote:
One could take an Augustinian (On Free Choice of the Will) perspective and see punishment for sin as not something that’s necessarily inflicted by God but which is inflicted by the act of sin itself. Sin just, by its nature, brings just punishment to the sinner... There is no extrinsic punishment needed for immorality (although it is not excluded); immorality is its own punishment in that it is a breaking down of what it means to be human. If sin is viewed this way we see humans stuck in a sin-filled world, mastered by sin and thus full of intrinsic punishment already – needing to be rescued. Jesus is able to take the compulsiveness of sin away through his suffering the punishment. This is still PST as Jesus is paying the penalty of sin as a substitute for another even though it’s not necessarily as [an] appeasement to the Father.
The problem with this view is that the NT makes it clear that the death of Jesus was an appeasement (propitiation) to the Father and on that basis alone is the Father justified in forgiving man's sin. Romans 3:24-26:
...and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Similarly, 1 John 2:2 says: He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Jesus as representative for humanity

A seventh objection was that the penalty for sin was owed by the entire human race corporately and Jesus, as the representative of the entire human race, could pay the penalty for the whole. This is the reason why God had to assume humanity so that he could identify with us.

The problem with this view is that it fails to recognize that within evangelical Christianity, Jesus assumes human nature as it was before the fall. In other words, Jesus possessed a sinless humanity. Therefore, he could not identify with man as a sinner and could not be a representative for fallen humanity. Interestingly enough, the traditional Seventh Day Adventists hold that Jesus assumed a fallen human nature, and so, within their scenario, it would be possible for Jesus to die as a representative for fallen humanity. This view, however, is rejected by most contemporary Seventh Day Adventists and by all of evangelicalism as well as by Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

But even if one held that somehow Jesus was legitimately the representative of the human race, there would still be a problem. The problem relates to "collective culpability." There is little doubt that Paul and many of the ancients held to collective culpability. It is evident in Paul holding all men somehow responsible for Adam's sin (Rom. 5). It is evident in the OT, for example, in the case of Achan (Josh. 7). I think that is why the author of Joshua saw no ethical problem with executing all of Achan’s family for the individual sin of Achan or why the author of Samuel saw no problem with executing all of the Amalekites for what their ancestors did 400 years prior (1 Sam. 15). To the ancient man, this made sense.

To modern man, however, it does not. I have read some of the philosophical literature on this that sprang up after WWII when the question was raised as to whether the whole German nation should be held culpable for the holocaust and other atrocities of the war. The consensus seems to be that it would be unjust to hold every person within a group responsible for what some or even the majority within the group did (See Collective Responsibility: Five Decades of Debate in Theoretical and Applied Ethics, edited by Larry May and Stacey Hoffman [Rowman and Littlefield, 1991].

Jesus a real sinner?

The eighth and final objection was: Why think it problematic for the Christian to say that Jesus became “in real terms” a sinner? After all isn't that what 2 Corinthians 5:21 teaches?

There are two legitimate ways to translate the verse. It could be rendered "became sin" or "became a sin offering." There are good arguments on both sides so the verse itself is not going to be determinative here. I think most evangelicals are going to be reticent to say that Jesus in any real sense became a sinner because of the problems that would create not only for the fact that he would not be a perfect sacrifice but also for the fact that the God-man would be a sinner. If there is one thing that all evangelicals are agreed upon, it is that God is absolutely holy. To imagine that sin was somehow really imputed to Jesus in the sense that he literally became sin is to destroy the holiness of God.

I appreciate the feedback and criticisms that I received from this first post. I would like to address another internal inconsistency for evangelical theology with the PST in my next post, namely, problems related to the doctrine of the Trinity if the PST is true.


  1. I just responded to a long comment by Eric from Australia on my post over at CommonSenseAtheism:


    Thanks for your kind words and thoughtful comments. I will respond to each point.

    1. It is not that I don't understand what the Bible is saying with regard to what the atonement is and what it accomplished (as Mark Twain famously said: "its not the things in the Bible I don't understand that bother me, its the things I do"), but that I believe what it says contradicts the moral sense of justice that, according to the Bible, is given to every man as a result of being made in the image of God. It is an internal contradiction in the revelation that is supposed to be from God.
    To argue that God's ways are just too far above us to understand would mean that we can't really know anything about him. If it really is just to punish an innocent even though it is a universal human intuition that this wrong, then how can we trust any of our moral intuitions? And if these intuitions come from God, as the Bible indicates, then how can we know we are properly understanding any of his revelation?

    2. I don't find your arguments convincing but as you say this is not the place to debate these. I will say something though about the historicity of the gospels. I think there is a kernel of true history present in the gospels but I think it has been greatly embellished .

    3. I understand that the Bible presents the atonement as more than justice but it can't be itself an unjust act if God is truly a just and righteous God. No matter how much good an act of injustice might accomplish, it is still an act of injustice.

    4. I am writing from the perspective of American evangelicalism as it exists today. There was a huge controversy in the UK Evangelical Alliance over the PST a few years back and they took an adamant stand that one must believe the PST in order to be an evangelical. A book was published from this debate entitled, Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution . The first several pages of this book are filled with endorsements from what reads like a "who's who" of evangelicalism. See here.

  2. Yes, there are other theories as I pointed out in the post, but for American evangelicalism, the core teaching of the Scripture about the atonement is that in some way, Jesus paid the penalty for man's sin. Any attempt to soften that is seen as compromise.

    As for the fact that the words "penal substitution" are not in the Bible is irrelevant, in my opinion. Neither is the word "Trinity" but I doubt you would want to surrender that doctrine.

    You say that we can have true knowledge of God thru Revelation, but my point is that the revelation is contradictory. The concept of punishing the innocent is intuitively wrong (general revelation) and condemned in certain parts of the Bible (e.g., Eze. 18), yet it is God's basis for forgiving man. If the revelation is contradictory, how can we know what to believe and what not to believe?

    If Jesus was "made sin," then you have enormous problems and contradictions. 1) How can God, even the God-man, be "made sin"? Sin and God do not mix--the Bible makes that perfectly clear. I John 1:5--"God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." 2) How can Jesus, if he never sinned, be "made sin," except in some type of "legal fiction." A God of truth, "who cannot lie" (Titus 1:2) cannot regard something that is false as if it were true.

    Eric, I really don't think I have misrepresented American evangelicalism at all. I was one. I lived in the environment for 20 years. I was a member of the Evangelical Theological Society. I know what American evangelicalism teaches and believes and the PST is not a negotiable doctrine for them.

  3. Ken,

    Why don't you write a book about this? If you have a case, I'd be interested to hear what the experts have to say, about such an important topic.

  4. To answer your 2 questions, from my quick overview:
    1) How can God, even the God-man, be "made sin"?
    2) How can Jesus, if he never sinned, be "made sin"

    From my understanding, that's the whole point of the sacrifice. As I said to cipher yesterday, the real punishment to Jesus was not so much the cross as much as the separation He experienced as He became sin. That was the whole point of the 'sacrifice' (cipher had asked me what exactly did Jesus the God sacrifice reall? never got an answer back..)

  5. "Sin in the Scripture is a major offense, in fact a capital offense, not a minor matter that can be settled by paying a monetary fine."

    What is your definition of sin? Theft is sin, and it does not require the death penalty, but monetary compensation. A thief can be sold by the courts as a slave. The money goes to the court and the court pays the victim. Breaking the kosher laws is a sin, but it is not a capital offense. Not honoring your parents is a sin. Eating the limb torn off a live animal is a sin. Coveting is a sin.

    If you're speaking about what Adam and Eve did, does the Almighty call it a sin?

  6. Emet,

    My definition of sin is "any lack of conformity to the law of God." Each individual sin may not require the death penalty but the ultimate penalty for sins is death (Rom. 6:23; Eze. 18:4).

  7. My answers to the follow up questions from Eric in Australia that I just posted at CommonSenseAtheismCommonSenseAtheism:


    Thanks. I appreciate the dialogue.

    1. Yes, I accept the testimony of authorities all the time. For example, when I go to the doctor, I don’t ask to read his medical textbooks or journals to see how he has arrived at my diagnosis. However, I see a difference between this and accepting the testimony of the Bible. Accepting the Bible as God’s word requires several presuppositions that I don’t embrace (although I once did). If I had the same reason to trust the Bible as I do to trust my medical doctor, then the analogy would be valid. I realize that my medical doctor has graduated from an accredited medical college, has passed the exams to be licensed in my state, has a legitimate medical office with other doctors and nurses, and I know him personally and can ask him questions, etc. All of this causes me to have a justified belief in accepting him as an authority with regard to medical science. I don’t have this kind of evidence or reason to accept the Bible as the authoritative Word of God. It seems more likely to me that it is just the record of various men’s religious experiences and thoughts.

    2. I have not ruled out the possibility of a supernatural being or force. I am an agnostic atheist which means that I don’t believe in any of the gods that men have postulated but I don’t know for certain that no god(s) of any kind might actually exist. The philosophical arguments for the existence of god(s) have some merit but not enough to firmly convince me that a god must exist and even if they did, it would not require belief in the God of the Bible.

    My belief in Jesus as God’s Son and my Savior were based on my uncritical acceptance of the Bible as God’s word and the testimony of religious authorities to which I was exposed. Based on what these religious authorities told me the Bible meant, I trusted Christ as my savior and experienced a life transformation. Although only 18, I was guilty of some serious misdeeds and had adopted a very rebellious attitude toward my parents and other authorities. Upon my conversion, my life changed drastically and my old habits and my old friends disappeared.

    So, my belief in Jesus was not based on “historical evidence.” I didn’t begin to examine this evidence until years later. After a long period, I finally came to the conclusion that the historical evidence is not substantial.

    I realize that you probably conclude that I was never a “true” Christian to begin with–this is a very common conclusion that Christians draw. All I can say is that if I was not a true believer, then I am not sure anyone is.

  8. 3. I think I did comment on your point. I said that even though God’s aim was grace not justice, his actions must still be deemed just if his holy character is to be maintained. No matter how much good might come from an unjust act, it is still an unjust act. To paraphrase Paul, “Can we do wrong so that good will come?” His answer is an emphatic NO.

    Yes, I do agree with the conclusions of men like E.P. Sanders. I think that a man named Jesus of Nazareth really existed in the first century and that he died by crucifixion and that some of his followers reported seeing him alive after his death.

    4. I recognize that American evangelicalism (despite American hubris) is not the totality of conservative Christianity nor necessarily the “truest” form of Christianity. However, the PST did not originate in America. I think the seeds of the doctrine, if not the doctrine itself, is found in Paul’s writings. It was left to the Reformers and especially John Calvin to formulate the doctrine in a systematic fashion.

    Virtually all conservative Christians since the Reformation have held to some form of the PST, even though they may not have understood all of its fine points. In other words, all conservative Christians believe that Jesus died for their sins, so that they could be forgiven. The logical deduction from this is that Jesus paid the penalty that we deserved.

    I am focused primarily on American evangelicalism but I believe my criticisms apply to most conservative Christian theology. I have examined other forms of Christianity such as the neo-orthodox teachings of Karl Barth and the existentialist theology of Paul Tillich. I have fewer problems with those but at the end of the day, it seems to me that non-conservative Christians are merely “pretending” that the Bible is true. Although they reject its history and doctrines, they still find some inspirational benefit. I can acknowledge that there is some wisdom and insight in the Bible and especially in some of the teachings attributed to Jesus but I don’t see the need to adopt any of the trappings typically associated with organized religions.

    I hope you find these answers helpful and pertinent to the questions you raised.

  9. Ken

    Your asnwer to #3 is still lacking.

    You aren't addressing the issue. Once you do, like Eric said, you will see your argument fall apart.

  10. John,

    Perhaps you could explain how I am not addressing it. I recognize that the atonement is presented as an act of love and grace but that doesn't change the fact that it is unnjust for the Father to accept the punishment of an innocent in place of the guilty. Whaever grace and love that might be involved comes from the Son not the Father in this case.

  11. Ken,

    Let me read it more carefully and get back to you.

    I would like to ask you in the meantime: have you considered writing a book on this? Or, have you approached any of your former christian colleagues about this topic? It seems like they would've thought about this type of issue, I am sure the folks at BJU.

    I have had doubts on general things over the years, but this is a very theological subject. That is why I would like this to be answered by someone who has deeply looked at this.

    I will get back on #3.

  12. Ken,

    I see Erik's point as meaning that God wasnt looking for justice but rather mercy and grace. But in your answer, you keep saying it has to meet the requirements of justice regardless. But it wasn't perhaps an act of justice (ie, per Erik). It may have only been an act of mercy grace. Justice is not in the equation, nor does it have to be if God doesn't want it to be. Maybe the whole act was one of mercy and grace not even associated with anything we do in our courts, where justice is an important factor.

    ps. had to go back and re-read to answer, I'm a slow reader.

  13. (cipher had asked me what exactly did Jesus the God sacrifice reall? never got an answer back..)

    Because I can't be bothered. Your "arguments" are nonsense. You bandy about terms that are vaguely defined in your mind, and accept whatever conclusions your authority figures (your pastor being preeminent among them, I assume) tell you to. The bottom line is that you believe because you want to believe. Everything else is just filler.

    Ken has far more patience with you people than I have. He takes the time to write these long essays and engages you in dialogue because he believes at least a few of you can be reached. He knows that he and I disagree on this; I'm firmly convinced it's a waste of time. It's certainly a waste of my time.

  14. cipher,

    Even Ken said Jesus experienced separation on the cross (I've seen it somewhere). That was the real sacrifice. I am not sure what caused you to take this tangent on me.

  15. John,

    I have not spoken to anyone at BJU about my deconversion. I know they consider me an apostate and while I was there, I was taught that there is no hope for apostates and no need to even speak to them.

    I have read what most evangelical theologians and philosophers have said about the PST and have yet to find anyone with a satisfactory answer.

    I do intend to write a book on this topic as time permits.

  16. John,

    You say: I see Erik's point as meaning that God wasnt looking for justice but rather mercy and grace. But in your answer, you keep saying it has to meet the requirements of justice regardless. But it wasn't perhaps an act of justice (ie, per Erik). It may have only been an act of mercy grace. Justice is not in the equation, nor does it have to be if God doesn't want it to be. Maybe the whole act was one of mercy and grace not even associated with anything we do in our courts, where justice is an important factor.

    Here is the problems with that: 1) The Bible says that God is just and righteous and so if the act of punishing an innocent is unjust, as I maintain, then you have God committing an unjust act which would compromise his holiness and righteousness. 2) If it were pure grace, then God could just simply forgive man's sin without any bloody sacrifical death.

  17. Here is another reply to Eric from Australia on CommonSenseAtheism.


    Thanks and I agree we are getting to the end of the road in this exchange. Nevertheless, I appreciate the dialogue.

    1. Yes, we are agreed that one is justified in accepting the testimony of authorities as long as one has sufficient reasons to believe that the person(s) is an authority on the subject under question. I don't find sufficient reasons to believe that the Bible speaks authoritatively for God. I believe it represents the musings of primitive man about his religious experiences. The Bible is not unique in recording such musings.

    When I said, “if God’s ways are beyond our comprehension, how can we say anything definitively about God?" I meant that one cannot know if what they are saying about God is true or not because he is so far above our comprehension. We may think that we have some partial truth about him, but when that partial truth contradicts other partial truths, the Christian "punts" to the idea of mystery and God's ways being higher than man's ways. This is precisely what is happening, in my opinion, when it comes to the PST of the atonement. Part of what we know from "revelation" is that it is unjust to punish an innocent person and yet another part of what we know is that God did this with regard to Jesus. To me, its a clear contradiction. To the Christian, its a mystery.

    2. Yes I thought some about the philosophical arguments and about the historical evidence but not in a questioning way but rather as just further confirmation of my faith commitment. For a period of time, I never questioned my faith. I figured that anyone who was critical of the Bible was unsaved and did not have the Spirit of God and could not understand spiritual things (1 Cor. 21:14). They were blinded by the "god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4).

    3. You ask: does our lack of understanding of something equate to an argument against it?. No, but as I pointed out before, I do understand what is happening here, at least according to the NT. God is pouring out his wrath on an innocent person so that the guilty can be forgiven. Since I am convinced that punishing an innocent in place of the guilty is not just (and I am not alone here, I think virtually every person on earth would agree), then I can only conclude that (1) God is somehow just even though I can't understand it; or (2) the rules don't apply to God, or (3) God is not just. If (1) is correct, then we need to change our definition of what is just and right and realize that our moral intuitions have been wrong all along on this matter and we should start allowing the innocent to die in the place of the guilty. If (2) is correct, then our concepts of "just" and "right" don't apply to God, and it is meaningless to refer to God as "just" or "righteous" because it means something else in reference to Him. If (3) is correct, then God is not a righteous God and the Bible's claims to the contrary are errors.

    4. I realize that there are other views of the atonement but I think that the PST is clearly taught by Paul and Peter and therefore to jettison it, is to jettison their writings. I think some have very creatively come up with ways to harmonize their teachings with other views of the atonement, but I don't find them convincing.

    If this matter of the atonement, were the only problem I had with evangelical Christianity, I might not have deconverted but it is really the tip of the iceberg. I have a host of irresolvable problems which I am systematically addressing on my blog.

  18. Dr. Pulliam,

    Ezekiel 18 read in its entirety is the answer to why PST is incorrect according to the Hebrew writings.

    The Children of Israel are saying the proverb, “The fathers eat unripe grapes, and the sons’ teeth become blunt,” is correct. The Almighty is answering that this is incorrect. The person who sins will die for his own sins. The sinner will die for his transgression, but if he returns (teshuvah - turning back to the Almighty from the root shin,vav,vet) - 18:22 “All his transgressions which he committed will not be remembered against him. For the righteousness which he did, he shall live”. What is the righteousness that he did - teshuvah! The concept of teshuvah, turning back to the Almighty, is invalid if a man could be punished for sins he did not commit.

    Psalm 103:12 As far as east from west, has He distanced our transgressions from us.

    Rabbi Abraham Twerski says “namely, that east and west are not far from each other at all. If we face east and make a 180-degree turn, we are now facing west, even though we remain in the very same place. Applying this concept to teshuvah, we do not have to travel to great lengths to achieve teshuvah and to have our sins removed. All we need to do is turn around and face another direction.

    Teshuvah is a main principle of Judaism. And it is applied collectively.

    Deuteronomy 30 1-3 When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, 2 and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, 3 then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.

    The end of Ezekiel 18 says, 30 “Therefore, each man according to his ways, shall I judge you Family of Israel - the words of the Almighty - return (shin,vav,vet) and bring back from all your transgressions that they be not for you a stumbling block of iniquity. 31 “Cast away from yourselves all your transgressions by which you transgressed, and make for yourself a new heart and a new spirit. Why should you die, Family of Israel? 32 For I desire not the death of him that dies, the words of the Almighty. Repent and live”.

    As for Adam, he was given the opportunity to admit his mistake and turn back to the Almighty. He didn’t fall, he was banished from the garden. It might be that death is really a blessing, not a punishment, as it releases the soul, the spiritual, from the body, the physical..

    Judaism is about turning back to the Almighty, individually and collectively. Christianity not only alters the words of the Hebrew writings, they alter the concepts too. No one has to believe either story, but the Christian writings are not the sequel to the Hebrew writings.

  19. Christianity not only alters the words of the Hebrew writings, they alter the concepts too. No one has to believe either story, but the Christian writings are not the sequel to the Hebrew writings.

    This is Christianity's single most egregious error, in which they've persisted for two millennia.

  20. Emet,

    Please help me with this: You say that the Jews believe in "Teshuvah", or turning back.

    But isn't this exactly what christians mean by repentance? That is how I was taught it. You repent, it's a 180 degree change in your life. You repent when you get saved.

  21. Also, didn't the Jew sacrifice the lamb in the Jewish tradition? That is very similar in concept to PST (in concept).

  22. John,

    I'm not exactly sure what Christians mean by repentance, so I can't compare it to Teshuvah. I was raised Roman Catholic so the meaning of repentance meant going to confession, telling your sin/sins to the priest, confessing that you are sorry and then doing the penance that the priest gives you. That's not Teshuvah.

    You say, "You repent when you get saved". I'm not sure what that means.

  23. Emet,

    It means exactly as you were describing, where you would make a 180 degree turn from your old ways (old lifestyle). You would basically be a new creation and change your ways-bad friends bad habits, etc...

    Roman Catholics may not teach it to this extent. As an evangelical, there is more emphasis on faith and resulting lifesyle changes. From what I know about RC, they are more into the formalities. While we have formalities as evangelicals, they are not the main focus. Your faith and change of heart is what really matters. The change of heart is where they would talk about repentance and 180 degree change.

  24. John,

    “Also, didn't the Jew sacrifice the lamb in the Jewish tradition? That is very similar in concept to PST (in concept).”

    If you are speaking of lambs and rams used in sin offerings at the temple then I would say no. Those sin offerings were only for unintentional sins. Read Leviticus 4 and 5.

    If you are speaking about Jesus as the Passover lamb, I would say in some strange and ironic way, yes, I could view Jesus as the Passover lamb. But the meaning of the Passover lamb does not conform to the meaning of PST.

    Khnum from Egyptology on line
    The ram headed god, whose strong association with the Nile inundation and the fertile soil contributed to his role as a potter-god. The creative symbolism of moulding pottery, the potency of the ram, and the fact that the Ancient Egyptian word for ram was "ba" meant that Khnum was also one of the principle creator gods. Sometimes Khnum was shown modelling the "ka" on his potter's wheel whilst forming the bodies of humanity.

    The lamb was used as a Passover offering because the Egyptians worshiped the sheep as a deity.

    The Children of Israel had to take a lamb and slaughter it in daylight, in full view of the Egyptians. Then they roasted it and ate it. It was to show that the Egyptian creator deity had no power at all. Technically they were eating the body of the Egyptian god. The plague killing the firstborn was to show that the Almighty of the Hebrews knew exactly which child was a firstborn because He created them as firstborn, not the Egyptian deity. The Children of Israel had to show their faith and trust in the Almighty by doing this act in public. The blood was put on the door posts, not so the Almighty could figure out which houses He should skip over, but so the Children of Israel had to choose to trust in the Almighty and not fear the Egyptians. It would be like living in Iran today and burning the Koran in public and taking the ashes and smearing it all over the front door of your home, so that the Iranian authorities could easily find you.

    It is no coincidence that the secular astrological sign for the month that contains Passover, is the Ram.

    Why Christians decided to fashion their deity after the Passover lamb, which is symbolically a false god is something I’m still wondering about. Jesus even has people eating his body and drinking his blood. The Catholic church which has been around hundreds of years longer than Protestants, believe in transubstantiation (actually changing into the body and blood of Jesus). Even if those acts are to be thought of symbolically, the Almighty prohibits ingesting blood of any kind. Leviticus 7:26-27. It’s very odd.

  25. John,

    According to Christianity, up until the moment of the resurrection of Jesus, the formula for salvation was teshuvah, turning back to the Almighty. After the resurrection the formula for salvation is changed to believing in Jesus's death and resurrection.