SS. Anselm & Athanasius — yes, I put them together

Don't pit Anselm against Athanasius.

Don’t pit Anselm against Athanasius.

A common trope among our Eastern Christian brothers’ criticisms of the Western theological tradition is the allegation that St. Anselm of Canterbury — often referred to as “the father of scholasticism” — “ruined” the doctrine of the Atonement by “introducing” the idea of penal substitution. To be very brief, this just isn’t true: that the Atonement entailed the fulfillment of both Divine love and Divine wrath is evident not only from the apostolic witness (the Scriptures) but also from the witness of the fathers.* Yes, this is an assertion — not an argument. (I am not here and now attempting to make an argument, but I get to be tendentious because it’s my website.)

I mention the foregoing not to broker discord between Eastern and Western Christians on this Holy Saturday (which we happen to share this year — thanks be to God!) — but to provide some context for the readings which I offer below. In short, my point is this: these two great saints should not be pitted against one another. Though their emphases are different, they do truly speak with one voice. I offer selections from each of them without further comment.

HT: the Rev’d William Weedon

* “Patristic Passages of Interest for Lutherans,” compiled by the Rev’d William Weedon; “Penal Substitution in the Writings of the Church Fathers,” compiled by Chris Rosebrough.

Prayer to the Holy Cross
St. Anselm of Canterbury

We do not acknowledge you because of the cruelty that godless and foolish men prepared you to effect upon the most gentle Lord, but because of the wisdom and goodness of Him who of His own free will took you up.

For they could not have done anything unless His wisdom had permitted it, and He could not suffer except that in his mercy He willed it.

They chose you that they might carry out their evil deeds; He chose you that He might fulfill the work of His goodness.

They that by you they might hand over the Righteous to death; He that through you He might save sinners from death.

They that they might kill Life; He that He might destroy death.

They that they might condemn the Savior; He that He might save the condemned.

They that they might bring death to the Living; He to bring life to the dead.

They acted foolishly and cruelly; He wisely and mercifully.

Therefore, O Cross to be wondered at, we do not value you because of the intention of their cruel folly, but according to the working of mercy and wisdom.

From De Incarnatione, Book IV
St. Athanasius of Alexandria

“[I]f any honest Christian wants to know why He suffered death on the cross and not in some other way, we answer thus: in no other way was it expedient for us, indeed the Lord offered for our sakes the one death that was supremely good. He had come to bear the curse that lay on us; and how could He ‘become a curse’ otherwise than by accepting the accursed death? And that death is the cross, for it is written ‘Cursed is every one that hangeth on tree.’ Again, the death of the Lord is the ransom of all, and by it ‘the middle wall of partition’ is broken down and the call of the Gentiles comes about. How could He have called us if He had not been crucified, for it is only on the cross that a man dies with arms outstretched? Here, again, we see the fitness of His death and of those outstretched arms: it was that He might draw His ancient people with the one and the Gentiles with the other, and join both together in Himself. Even so, He foretold the manner of His redeeming death, ‘I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Myself.’ Again, the air is the sphere of the devil, the enemy of our race who, having fallen from heaven, endeavors with the other evil spirits who shared in his disobedience both to keep souls from the truth and to hinder the progress of those who are trying to follow it. The apostle refers to this when he says, ‘According to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience.’ But the Lord came to overthrow the devil and to purify the air and to make ‘a way’ for us up to heaven, as the apostle says, ‘through the veil, that is to say, His flesh.’ This had to be done through death, and by what other kind of death could it be done, save by a death in the air, that is, on the cross? Here, again, you see how right and natural it was that the Lord should suffer thus; for being thus ‘lifted up,’ He cleansed the air from all the evil influences of the enemy. ‘I beheld Satan as lightning falling,’ He says; and thus He re-opened the road to heaven, saying again, ‘Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors.’ For it was not the Word Himself Who needed an opening of the gates, He being Lord of all, nor was any of His works closed to their Maker. No, it was we who needed it, we whom He Himself upbore in His own body—that body which He first offered to death on behalf of all, and then made through it a path to heaven. (IV: 25)



  1. Derek Flood makes a good case against the Patristic Fathers believing in “penal substitution” in this article here.

    One should click on the links at the end of his post for the actual articles. The one objection that believers in “penal substitution” cannot overcome is this:

    “What is the punishment for sin?” Eternal separation from God in Hell
    “Did our Lord suffer this punishment?” No!

    For some reason, believers in “penal substitution” also make the argument that if one denies “penal substitution” one denies “substitutionary atonement”. As a result, they spend a lot of time defending the latter, thinking they are proving the former. Without “substitutionary atonement” there is simply no Christianity.

    What I find most abominable about penal substitution is that, for some reason, only the Father gets to “pour out His wrath” against sin. Inasmuch as both our Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit are coequal in all respects, why did They not feel the need to vent their wrath? Actually, it is more the idea of denying the fact that our salvation is a supreme act of sacrificial love of our Triune God for the people He created, not the venting of the Father’s wrath on His helpless Son.

    With all best wishes for a joyous Easter celebration.

    George A. Marquart

    PS. In the Weedon list, only one of the citations could be said to deal with penal substitution – the last one, and that is readily disproven by Flood.

    • Dear George,

      Thank you for your comment. I haven’t read the Flood piece, but I look forward to doing so in the next few days.

      You write:

      “What is the punishment for sin?” Eternal separation from God in Hell
      “Did our Lord suffer this punishment?” No!

      I actually think this is incorrect. Prima facie, it would seem that you are right and that this is a simple QED which destroys the Anselmic/Lutheran view. But I would contend that in a mysterious way, the God-Man Jesus Christ did in fact endure eternal separation from God in His suffering and death. That this is an unspeakable mystery which is far beyond the ability of our reason to grasp is plain to see, but I do think that this is the teaching of Scripture. And while it may have had a fuller expression in Anselm and Luther, it is by no means absent from the theology of the Fathers.

      My friend Quiet George (you two share a name!) writes wonderfully about penal substitution and forensic imputation in this post here, as well as here.

  2. I read the Derek Flood piece, and was not impressed. I’m working on a little review that I’ll post here soon.

    In the mean time, I have to say that I agree with George that Christ did not suffer eternal punishment. The idea Trent hints at, that somehow he actually did, seems to be a riff on the Anselmic principle that although Jesus was just one man, He was able to offer Himself on behalf of the entire human race because the sacrifice of a single man who is also God is of infinite value, worth more than the sacrifice of the entire race would be. But I don’t think value translates to suffering. It’s very different to suggest that the divine experience of suffering must be infinite, because the one who suffers is infinite. Christ’s suffering has ended, and as such it cannot have been infinite–or if in some sense it was infinite (and how could we determine that? God’s not supposed to be able to suffer at all!), it still cannot have been eternal. Not that I have any real idea how to distinguish between those two words in this context, but I think I’m on safe ground in saying that if it has ended, it’s not endless, and if it’s not endless, then it’s not eternal.

    I suppose the avenue is still open to say that men suffer Hell eternally only because that is the only way an infinite penalty can be exacted on a finite person, whereas the God-Man, being infinite, could suffer infinitely in a moment. That explanation would concede George’s point that Christ’s sufferings are different from ours (not-eternal vs. eternal) without conceding his conclusion re: Penal Substitution. But I don’t know what that means, nor do I think it’s necessary (either to the Atonement or to the theory of Penal Substitution as I understand it) to have the same amount of suffering on both sides of the ledger.

    Interestingly, neither the Flood article nor the book it is critiquing count Anselm among the proponents of Penal Substitution, precisely because of the difference I mentioned above between infinite value and infinite suffering. There is a qualitative difference between correlating the value of the sacrifice and the seriousness of the offense (what Anselm did), and correlating the amount of the suffering with the amount of wrath (what the Calvinists apparently do, or at least the Calvinists who wrote the book in question). All of which suggests that the definition of Penal Substitution being used by Flood and these Calvinists (and George, I think, in his repudiation of the term) is different from the one that I would give. There’ll be more on that in my critique of Flood’s article.

    • From Johann Gerhard’s “An Explanation of the History of the Suffering and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ”:


      Concerning this, our text shows us that it is Christ, whose name includes the entire Person and not just one nature in Christ, especially since Christ is called an Anointed One. Accordingly, with this name is comprehended not only the humanity of Christ (which was anointed by God with the Oil of Joy, the Holy Spirit, without measure, Psalm 45, John 3) but also the divinity of Christ, which has anointed His human nature. Therefore, it firmly stands that not only an ordinary man suffered, but the true God, which changes it into a special, marvelous suffering. Therefore St. Paul says in Acts 20: that God has with His own blood purchased His fellowship of believers, and in 1 Cor. 2: the Lord of glory was crucified. And it most certainly remains true that God suffered, God shed His blood, and [God] died. Do you then say: “God is indeed an unchangeable, spiritual, immortal Essence. How can it be that God suffered, shed His blood and died?” To this Vigilius answers in opposition to Eutyches (2): God did not suffer according to His own nature, but rather in His divine-human Personhood. The divine nature of Christ could not have suffered on its own; therefore, God’s Son assumed a human nature an personally united Himself with it so that through it He could suffer and thereby achieve a perfect (complete) sacrifice for all the sin of the world.

    • I suppose the avenue is still open to say that men suffer Hell eternally only because that is the only way an infinite penalty can be exacted on a finite person, whereas the God-Man, being infinite, could suffer infinitely in a moment.

      I would accept this as a fair modification of my earlier statement that “in a mysterious way the God-Man Jesus Christ did in fact endure eternal separation from God in His suffering and death.” Whereas it might be speaking falsely to say that Christ suffered eternally, eternity being a temporal idea, I do think it is fair to say that He endured a punishment that was infinite — which is to say, death. All death is infinite — to go from being alive to being dead is, quite simply, the single most awful counterfulfillment of the loving and creative purpose of God. “To hear of a thousand deaths in war is terrible, and we ‘know’ that it is,” says Wendell Berry, “But as it registers on our hearts, it is not more terrible than one death fully imagined.” I would dovetail on Berry’s point here (which he did not intend to be theological in the context in which he made it), and say that in the death of Christ, we actually have an image of the horror which is of the essence of every human death qua “the wages of sin.” Christ’s death is Death Itself fully imagined, or, rather, fully “imaged.” Not only is it an image of the death of everyman, but by virtue of the Incarnation, in which human nature was assumed into the Divine and God became Man, and not merely a man — “not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God; One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person” (Athanasian Creed, para.IV) — it is the death of everyman. The only way for us time-bound creatures to experience the infinite separation from God which is death would be to experience it eternally. But for Christ, who is both God and Man (“For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ”), and therefore in His person negates and undoes the separation between the two, was thus able to endure, absorb, nullify and ultimately make finite the infinitude which is death. Finitum capax infinitum. “When Thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, Thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers” (The Te Deum of St. Ambrose).

      Just some peripatetic rambling! Hope it makes sense.

  3. You wrote, “But I would contend that in a mysterious way, the God-Man Jesus Christ did in fact endure eternal separation from God in His suffering and death. That this is an unspeakable mystery which is far beyond the ability of our reason to grasp is plain to see, but I do think that this is the teaching of Scripture.” Because of this, I have been thinking for the last several days about how to respond.
    The teaching of Scripture is clear; it is only when we decide to believe something other than what Scripture teaches clearly that we have to resort to “mysteries”. That is not to say that, in this life, we will know all there is to know about God and His will, but God did not let us have Scripture in order to lead us into confusion. Therefore Paul writes, 1 Cor. 2:15, “Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny. ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct Him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.”
    Therefore, rather than debate against various philosophies, I want to answer the question, “What did Christ accomplish by His life, suffering, and death?” First, please note that our salvation was not only earned on the cross. It required an entire perfect life before then, as will become clear later.
    The easy part of the answer is that our Lord earned the right to let us inherit His perfection. We did nothing to earn our sinful nature; we were born with it. When we will be born into the Heavenly Kingdom, we will inherit our Lord’s perfection in the same way as we inherited our sinfulness from Adam in this world. Please note, there is no forgiveness of sins involved in this step. Romans 5:19, “For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” Paul here uses the future tense, “will be made righteous”, indicating that, in this case He is writing about eternal life in heaven.
    Why was suffering necessary? So that Satan could not raise the objection, which he raised about Job in Job 1:9, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side?” So God abandoned God on the cross, so that God, in the person of Jesus Christ, would endure the most extreme suffering without committing a sin. This is what is clearly written in Hebrews 4:8, “Although He was a Son, he learned obedience through what He suffered; and having been made perfect in suffering, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him…”
    As to what benefit we receive from our Lord’s suffering in this world, they are many. “Certainly we must never conceive ‘salvation’ in purely negative terms, as if it consisted only of our rescue from sin, guilt, wrath and death. We thank God that it is all these things. But it also includes the positive blessing of the Holy Spirit to regenerate, indwell, liberate and transform us.” (John R. W. Stott, Baptism and Fullness. The Work of the Holy Spirit today. Inter Varsity Press, P. 25, 26.) We should bear in mind that, as we sing in the Te Deum, “and having overcome the sharpness of death, He opened the Kingdom to all believers.”
    But for our present purpose, I will concentrate on the forgiveness of sins. Throughout the Old Testament, God taught His people through His commandments, that if they offered sacrifice for their sins, He would then forgive their sins. Neither in the case of Job, or in the case of Isaac, both of which serve as clear parallels to God’s sacrifice of Himself, was punishment ever mentioned. Most of the Book of Hebrews is devoted to this idea. Hebrews 10:14, “12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” 13 and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,” 17 he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”
    Therefore, I maintain the our Lord took away the sins of the world for us without being punished, but by offering Himself, a perfect man without the blemish of sin, in full accord with what the sacrifices of the Old Testament pointed to.
    But if you need more reasons why penal substitution does not work, here are a few:
    1. Scripture is clear: the punishment for sin is eternal separation from God in Hell. Christ did not suffer this punishment. If you allow for some “mystical” interpretation of Scripture to allow for this, then Scripture becomes totally unreliable in all matters – it can say whatever you want it to say.
    2. If Christ had borne the punishment for the sins of the whole world, would a just God still require us to ask for forgiveness, as we do when we pray the Lord’s Prayer? In Jeremiah 31, where God announce the New Covenant, He said that He would “forgive their iniquity and remember their sins no more.” Punishment for those sins would make that unnecessary.
    3. Does God approve of a person being punished for someone else’s sins? Ezekiel 18, “20 The person who sins shall die. A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child; the righteousness of the righteous shall be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be his own.”
    4. If God were angry with His Son, this would cause conflict within the Most Holy Trinity. Is it even conceivable that this would happen?
    5. Although it is possible that some Patristic Fathers wrote things that may be interpreted as being in favor of Penal Substitution, there is no evidence that this theory of the Atonement was widespread.
    6. It is a trivialization of the “sins of the world” to think that one day’s suffering by our Lord would be punishment enough for all of them. It is true that some people have suffered a great deal more than our Lord – history is full of such examples – yet they did not atone for a single sin.
    7. The Book of Hebrews explains the redemptive process in terms of the Laws of Sacrifice, which were an intrinsic part of God revelation to His people. There was never any thought of punishment of the animals that were sacrificed. Nor was there any qualification about the forgiveness that they brought.
    8. If our salvation is born from the wrath of the Father against His Son, what is to say that His wrath will not turn against us someday?
    Wishing all of you the peace and joy of the Easter Season.
    George A. Marquart

  4. George, I think you’ve gotten a jaundiced view of penal substitution from its critics (and doubtless from some who consider themselves to be its friends too).

    1) I’ve already posted my thoughts on this argument.

    2) Why not? There are lots of things I’ve already purchased for my children, that I still want them to ask me for. And remember, the second half of “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19, Objective Justification) is “We beseech you, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20, Subjective Justification). When we ask to be forgiven, that is not a desperate plea (maybe He will, maybe He won’t), but an expression of faith.

    3) That’s what a sacrifice is.

    4) God was not angry with His Son. (This is one of those points on which some of the friends of Penal-Substitution hurt it more than its enemies could).

    5) It depends what you’re looking for, and what you count as evidence. You won’t find much of what Derek Flood was looking for, no.

    6) Re: “one day’s suffering” and “suffered a great deal more than our Lord,” see what I posted earlier. But even if that is true, why would you expect the suffering of any other man to effect Atonement? Any other man, as Anselm pointed out, would be suffering for his own sins.

    7) If you mean that the priests didn’t set out to “teach this goat a lesson” or make this lamb “pay his debt to society,” then of course you are right. But if that’s all you mean, then you are missing the bigger point. A sin offering is a sentence of death carried out vicariously. The lamb dies for my guilt, so it is a punishment that strikes him down. The way the Book of Hebrews links Christ’s sacrifice to the sacrifices of the Old Law, esp. the Day of Atonement, is strong evidence for the basic idea of Penal Substitution.

    8) It isn’t.

  5. Flood says that the Calvinists he is critiquing (the authors of a book called Pierced for our Transgressions) read their own assumptions into the quotations they provide, so that they treat any mention of substitutionary suffering (that Christ suffered punishments that we deserve) as a proof-text for Penal Substitution (the idea that this suffering “fulfilled the demands of judicial retributive punishment, and thus appeased God’s righteous anger” (Flood, p. 143)). From the examples he produces, he seems to be justified in this criticism (though I have not read the book in question). However, he then goes on to do the same thing with his own assumptions, which are clearly and strongly against the idea of penal substitution.

    He is guilty of at least three related false dichotomies:

    1. Christus Victor vs. Penal Substitution Flood says if the purpose of Christ’s death is “to annul death’s dominion,” this is “the opposite of penal substitution’s appeasement of divine retribution” (147).

    The opposite, really? How did death come to have dominion in the first place, may I ask? It was the divine sentence on Adam and Eve’s sin. “In the day you eat thereof, you will die.” In the Christus Victor theory (which I believe and have preached), the devil has rights that he must be justly stripped of. But on what are these rights based? On the Law of God, on the Curse. So yes, even in Christus Victor, Christ has to die to satisfy divine justice. Satan cannot be deprived of his kingdom simply by fiat. The reason I don’t have to die is that Christ died unjustly, and offered that unjust death to the Father as a substitute for the one that I owed.

    When dealing with St. Athanasius, Flood offers a short quotation from On the Incarnation, “Had it been a case of a trespass only, and not of a subsequent corruption, repentance would have been well enough” and acts as if that proves that Athanasius was a stranger to the legal logic of penal substitution. But let’s look at the whole quotation, not just the bit he’s cherry-picked:

    Yet, true though this is, it is not the whole matter. As we have already noted, it was unthinkable that God, the Father of Truth, should go back upon His word regarding death in order to ensure our continued existence. He could not falsify Himself; what, then, was God to do? Was He to demand repentance from men for their transgression? You might say that that was worthy of God, and argue further that, as through the Transgression they became subject to corruption, so through repentance they might return to incorruption again. But repentance would not guard the Divine consistency, for, if death did not hold dominion over men, God would still remain untrue. Nor does repentance recall men from what is according to their nature; all that it does is to make them cease from sinning. Had it been a case of a trespass only, and not of a subsequent corruption, repentance would have been well enough.” (On the Incarnation 7.7)

    But of course, there was “subsequent corruption,” because God had decreed it as the punishment for sin. The main soteriological focus for St. Athanasius, as for the eastern fathers in general, is on Christ conquering death and destroying it with immortality; there’s no doubt of that, and the Calvinist authors that Flood is critiquing don’t seem to appreciate that difference. But neither does Flood see how Athanasius includes a nod to Penal-Substitution. Christ had to die because we had to die, and we had to die because God’s Law said so.

    2. Restorative justice vs. retributive justice Flood writes, “[Restorative justice] represents a paradigm of justice not based on a punitive model, but one focused on setting us right by transforming us, and setting the world right by overthrowing ‘the law of sin and death’ (Ro 8:2). In this later sense it reflects a model of justice that is in fact the opposite of retributive justice, because it seeks ultimately to abolish retribution, not to appease it” (149).

    Now, it is true that many proponents of Penal-Substitution, and quite likely the targets of Flood’s critique, talk as if the work of salvation = the appeasement of God’s justice–as if all the restoration that follows isn’t properly part of it, but simply the rewards that naturally fall to those whom God has acquitted. That’s worth correcting. But Flood goes way beyond that. The truth is that the work of salvation is Christ’s atoning death and His transforming resurrection. It’s retributive justice and restorative justice. You don’t correct an over-emphasis on the retributive side by denying it altogether, and making everything restorative instead. That’s just the equal-and-opposite error.

    This is where Flood’s injection of his own assumptions into his Patristic quotations was most obvious and egregious. For example, he takes a simple quotation from Gregory of Nazianzus, “He was called a curse, who destroyed my curse” (Oration 30.5) and plops it into a context of his own devising, turning it into one pole of a dichotomy that is alien to the original context: “In other words, the goal of the atonement [is] expressed as the destruction of the curse, rather than its fulfilment.” He then continues, “Elsewhere [Gregory] writes that Christ ‘destroyed the whole condemnation of your sins’…. The implications here are staggering: condemnation itself is wholly destroyed, dissolved, undone. This effectively takes us out of the bounds of any theory of the satisfaction of legal retribution” (150-51). Note how in Gregory’s sentence, “condemnation” is the specific condemnation with which you are condemned for your sins, but in Flood’s commentary, it suddenly (and with no supporting argumentation) becomes the whole category of condemnation, so that he can pretend that Gregory is talking, not about pardon and forgiveness, but (like he wants to) about some new kind of justice that “seeks ultimately to abolish retribution, not to appease it.”

    3. Final Cause (“the reason Christ died,” meaning his end goal) vs. Efficient Cause (“the reason Christ died,” meaning the means by which His death attained that goal) Flood writes, e.g., “We see here that for Augustine the purpose of Christ bearing the punishment of death was not in order to fulfill a legal demand for punishment, but to overcome death” (154).

    That’s like saying, “He didn’t take the shot because he wanted to score points; he took it because he wanted to win the game!” For some reason, this fairly obvious formulation doesn’t even seem to appear on Flood’s radar: “to fulfill a legal demand for punishment and in so doing to overcome death.” And when Flood deals with St. Augustine, his other two false dichotomies become more glaring. Augustine is, of course, the Church Father who taught the doctrine of Original Sin most clearly and in the most detail. He set forth so clearly the punitive nature of death (and everything that comes with it), that there is no way to miss the fact that when Christ submitted to death, he was submitting (vicariously) to Retributive Justice.

    The truth lies in the unexplored middle between Flood’s position and the one that seems to be espoused by his Calvinist targets.

  6. Dear Eric: in your 21 April posting you wrote, “All of which suggests that the definition of Penal Substitution being used by Flood and these Calvinists (and George, I think, in his repudiation of the term) is different from the one that I would give.” I suspect it would help this discussion if you gave your definition of penal substitution. Thank you
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  7. I suspect it would. I mean the following:

    1) Christ did not simply suffer in our place; He suffered punishment in our place. He’s not just the good doctor who dies from the plague because he won’t leave his patients, or the man who gets hit by a truck while darting in front of it to throw someone else to safety (as Forde suggested). The suffering is not incidental or irrational. He died as a sacrifice, to fulfill the Law’s demand.

    2) Therefore His death accomplished the expiation of our crimes. It was necessary not merely because you have to be dead before you can rise again (as many EOs will tell you), nor so that all the logic of the Law might be exploded by the impossible travesty of God being cursed (which seems to be Flood’s angle). As a judicial proceeding, the cross was the most unjust thing that has ever happened, but because Christ accepted it out of love & obedience, and made of it an offering to His Father on our behalf, it nevertheless fulfilled the Law and guaranteed that there could be no more wrath remaining for anyone who is in Christ. If you are in Christ, the devil has no lawful claim on you, because he’s already spent that claim on the One into whom you have been baptized.

    That is the essence of Penal Substitution. The trappings that often get tacked onto it (e.g. speaking as if the Cry of Dereliction implies a rift in the Trinity, anthropomorphizing the wrath of God in such a way that it starts to sound like “divine child abuse,” saying that Christ was “damned” for us, trying to figure out exactly how much pain Christ had to suffer in order to expiate all the sins of the world) are not only unnecessary, but terribly misguided, and sometimes blasphemous. But we mustn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  8. Dear Eric: I have taken out all of the words that are explanations, and have reduced your definition to the salient words:
    Christ suffered punishment in our place. He died as a sacrifice to fulfill the Law’s demand.
    Therefore His death accomplished the expiation of our sins.
    However, this is not a definition of “penal substitution”. It is a definition of “substitutionary atonement”. Your simply assert that Christ was punished for our sins. In order to define “penal substitution”, I think your definition needs to cover such items as:
    1. Who punished our Lord?
    2. Is it possible to have forgiveness without punishment?
    3. Why was both punishment and sacrifice necessary, or are they the same?
    4. Passages from Scripture that show what the punishment for sin is.
    5. Passages from Scripture that show that the innocent may be punished for the guilty.
    6. How the justice of God can be satisfied by punishing the innocent.
    7. Passages from Scripture that show God punishing the innocent.
    8. Passages from Scripture that show why God forgives our sins even though the punishment for them has been executed.
    9. Why, if anyone suffers the same punishment as our Lord, he cannot atone even for his own sins?
    10. On the night He was betrayed, our Lord spoke about His blood being “shed for the forgiveness of sins.” Why not for the “punishment for sins”, or is it all the same?
    I think few would disagree that the atonement remains a great mystery. Therefore, what we know about it can only come from Scripture, God’s revelation to us. Allegories from human experience, unless these are also used in Scripture, are not definitive answers, Isaiah 55:8, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
    My own definition of substitutionary atonement is:
    He died as a sacrifice to fulfill the Law’s demand.
    Therefore His death accomplished the expiation of our sins.
    He was made perfect in suffering, allowing us to inherit His righteousness in the Kingdom of Heaven.
    I will be happy to provide passages from Scripture to cover any questions you may have concerning my definition of substitutionary atonement.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  9. George,

    We’re dealing with two different theories of Substitutionary Atonement. One of them is Flood’s (not that he invented it). It claims to be a retooling of Christus Victor, but is false to the central logic of Christus Victor. It’s actually much newer, and in the form Flood presents it at least, seems to owe something to the “New Perspective on Paul” school of theology. I don’t really have a snappy name for it. “Anti-Legal Substitution,” maybe? And the other one is Penal Substitution. (The one that says Christ had to die merely so He could rise again (pure recapitulation) isn’t really substitutionary at all, because there He dies with us, not instead of us).

    That the position I have explained deals with penal substitution is evidenced by several words or phrases from your summary (“punishment,” “to fulfill the Law’s demand,” and “expiate,” which means, “to make amends for”), as well as some that you did not quote from my last post (“no wrath remaining,” and “no rightful claim”).

    In answer to your individual challenges:

    1) The sentence “X punished Y” unavoidably implies one of two things: that Y did something wrong, or that X acted unjustly—and even that latter case strains the natural connotations of the word “punish”; for clarity, you need to explicitly add the word “unjustly.” As such, the best answer is probably that the devil punished Christ unjustly, being the one who had the power of death (Heb. 2:14). As far as the sacrifice to God is concerned, “punish” is the wrong word. The sacrifice suffers a penalty. It is vicarious punishment, a.k.a. Penal Substitution, but it is misleading to say that God punishes it/Him.

    2) “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22b).

    3) They are not exactly the same, but they are redundant. If you’ve been punished, you have no need of a sacrifice. If you’ve offered a sacrifice, it counts as the punishment that otherwise would have been required.

    4) Gen. 2:17 “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
    Ex. 18:20a “The soul who sins shall die.”
    Rev. 21:8 “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

    5) Lev. 16:21-22 “And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.”
    Isaiah 53:6 “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”
    2 Cor. 5:21 “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

    6&7) God does not punish the innocent (see #1).

    8) I can’t show that, because it’s completely backwards. God doesn’t forgive our sins “even though punishment for them has been executed.” He forgives our sins by working out an arrangement in which He suffers that punishment Himself.

    9) By dying, he is paying for his sins. But then he’s dead, so he doesn’t get to benefit from that fact. We reserve the word “atonement” for situations in which someone else dies so you don’t have to.

    10) Forgiveness was always through the blood of a sacrifice, so properly understood it does boil down to the same thing.

  10. Eric, thank you for your response. Please understand that I am not a defender of Flood; I just ran across his writing on the Internet and thought it relevant to our discussion. My protest against “penal substitution” began about 50 years ago, when our pastor (LCMS) in a Lenten sermon said something to the effect that, “it should have been you and I on that cross!” After overcoming my reaction of pious remorse, I thought, “what good would it have done?” It would only show God to be cruel in that He would make me suffer here on earth before condemning me to hell as I deserve.
    I am not fully in agreement with “Christus Victor”, because, like other theories of atonement, it is based too much on our understanding of such concepts as justice, ransom, and the nature of God. As I see it (having written that, it is obvious that this is a subjective opinion, but I cannot see another possibility), the Atonement that God undertook to save His people is totally beyond our comprehension. Our Lord did not explain it, except to say that “the Son of Man must suffer”, “give His life and ransom”, and that His Body is broken, and His Blood is shed for the forgiveness of sins. Beyond that, we have to rely on what the Old Testament has to say about sacrifice without adding our own cultural predisposition, that is very much at variance with the culture into which these commandments were given. One conclusion I have reached is that sacrifice and punishment are mutually exclusive. The Hebrew understanding of sacrifice (Korban, a drawing near) makes that absolutely clear.
    Obviously I object to something other than what you propose. Here is an official statement from my church on the subject. It is this that I object to:
    ”Theses on Justification
    Part I
    A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod
    May 1983
    17. The obedient death of Christ was a penal death, the death of an innocent victim under the condemnation of God, a sacrificial and atoning death paid as a ransom to a just and wrathful God and vicariously given to satisfy the penal justice of God. (Is. 53:5- 7; Mark 10:45; Rom. 8:32; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13; Eph. 5:2; 1 Tim. 2:6; Titus 2:14,1 Peter 1:18-19; 1 John 4:10; AC III, 3; IV, 2; XXIV, 25; Ap IV, 40, 53, 57, 98, 178-179, 204, 292; XII, 160; XIII, 7-8; XXI, 19; XXIV, 22- 24, 55, 59, LC II, 31, FC Ep V, 5; FC SD V, 20) It is contrary to Scripture and the pure Gospel to teach: That Christ’s death was not a truly vicarious sacrifice because His condemnation under the wrath of God is a mere metaphor, or because it otherwise does not correspond to reality.”
    I have not checked the references to the Confessions, but it is clear that an exegesis of the Bible passages, including Isaiah 53:5-7, is possible, and not that outlandish, so as to exclude the notion of punishment.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

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