In the paper, Lewis argued that we all, Christians and atheists alike, agree that it is wrong to incarcerate or execute a substitute in place of the person who committed the crime. However, he says, we also both agree that it is okay for a substitute to pay a fine (monetary penalty) or make compensation to a victim in the stead of the one who committed the crime. He writes:
What function would we have to ascribe to punishment in order to make it make sense to punish an innocent substitute?—A compensatory function. Suppose that the offender’s punishment were seen mainly as a benefit to the victim, a benefit sufficient to undo whatever loss the offender had inflicted upon him. Then the source of the benefit wouldn’t matter. If the offender’s innocent friend provided the benefit, the compensatory function would be served, no less than if the offender himself provided it (p. 309).Lewis says that its not just Christians who are "double-minded" with regard to penal substitution, he says:
All of us—atheists and agnostics, believers of other persuasions, the lot—are likewise of two minds about penal substitution. We do not believe that the offender’s friend can serve the offender’s prison sentence, or his death sentence. Neither can the friend serve the offender’s sentence of flogging, transportation, or hard labour. But we do believe—do we not?—that the friend can pay the offender’s fine.Yet this is just as much a case of penal substitution as the others (p. 311).He concludes that perhaps non-believers ought not be so quick to condemn the logic of the Penal Substitutionary Theory (PST) of the atonement. If we agree that it works in some cases (monetary fines), then perhaps, it could work in other cases, such as the death of Jesus in the stead of sinners. He states:
It indicates that both sides agree that penal substitution sometimes makes sense after all, even if none can say how it makes sense. And if both sides agree to that, that is some evidence that somehow they might both be right (p. 313).Is Lewis correct? One often hears defenders of the PST compare the price paid by Jesus on the cross with the payment of a debt. Since debts obviously can be transferred, then perhaps it does make sense to say that Jesus paid the penalty (even though it was not a monetary fine) for man's sin.
I don't think Lewis is correct, however. While we allow a substitute to pay the fine or monetary debt of another, it is not analogous to the PST of the atonement. In the PST, Jesus bears the guilt of man's sin. A substitute who pays the fine owed in place of his friend does not bear his friend's guilt. I came across a comment on another blog that I thought explained this point very well. A poster who calls himself AK Mike said:
Hello--not a philosopher, but a lawyer. I think the premise here is wrong--we do not allow substitution in the case of fines. The criminal remains responsible for paying the fine--she cannot delegate this responsibility to another party. Even if another party agrees to pay, if that payment is defaulted, the court will look to the criminal to cure the default, not the other party.
Having another pay a criminal's fine is just a way of describing where the money comes from that the criminal obtains to pay the fine. It is inherent in the nature of a fine as punishment that the money to pay it will have to come from somewhere--from wages, from an inheritance, from a gift--where it comes from is not relevant to the question of who is being punished. The court records will always show the criminal has having paid, not some third party.