at*one*ment: Penal Substitution Theory

Throughout Lent, we are taking a look at various atonement theories.  If you haven’t read the introduction of this blog’s series, you may want to do that here first.

I’m an advocate for the Deaf, and because of this, I have an interest in the television show on abcfamily that airs on Tuesday nights called, “Switched At Birth“.  The premise of the show is two girls were switched (wait for it… wait for it…) at birth, which wasn’t discovered until they were in high school.  The one girl is named Bay and lived in a high class home, raised by a retired pro-baseball player, her mother.  The other girl is named Daphne, who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, by a single mother, and who also became deaf at a young age due to sickness.  The two girls meet and the families live on the same property and work on raising the girls together.

In the season three finale, Daphne gets in trouble while already on probation.  To avoid further punishment, she decides to go to the police station and turn herself in for the actions she committed.  Bay goes along for support, but in the end, Bay confesses to Daphne’s actions and is taken away to jail, while her sister is free.  I guess you could say, Bay took Daphne’s place in punishment.

Penal Substitution Atonement Theory is the most (or one of the most) popular atonement theories among the Evangelical world.  It is based on the premise that our sins need to be punished and paid to God so it is possible for Him to forgiveness us.  Why?  Because God hates sin that much.  In the Old Testament, it was the animal sacrifices that took on the punishment, but that was simply not enough.  So God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins.  Or sometimes stated, “He took my place on the cross and bore my sin and shame so that God could forgive me.”

The Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms defines Penal Substitution Theory as this, “Christ stood in the legal place of sinners, bearing the just punishment due us because we transgress God’s law.” (pp.17)

Scripture Support

Isaiah 53:5-6, “But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds.  We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished Him for the iniquity of us all.”

Romans 3:25-26, “God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed.  He presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.”

II Corinthians 5:21, “He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Galatians 3:13, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written: Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”

Romans 4:25, “He was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

Problems Penal Substitution Theory Presents

God seems to have an anger management issue.  God is angry with mankind in the Old Testament, and then suddenly, Jesus’ blood is spilt and OH!  God suddenly changes into this nice Being in the New Testament…  Is God bipolar?  (Actually, God gave mercy to several people in the Old Testament such as David, Cain, and the entire nation of Israel on several occasions.)

A punishment (or sacrifice) was not needed in order for God to forgive sins.  In fact, nowhere in the Gospels is it recorded that Jesus gave/offered sacrifices in the Jewish Temple, but there are several places where Jesus forgave sins… John 5:1-15, Jesus tells a paralytic man his sins are forgiven and to pick up his mat and walk.  In John 8:1-11, an adulteress woman is brought before Jesus and he tells her that he does not condemn her and instructs her to go and sin no more.  Luke 7:36-50 tells us a story of Jesus telling a woman that her sins are forgiven.  In Luke 4:17-26 Jesus forgives the sins of His friends… so on and so forth…

And in the absolute worst cases, Penal Substitution Theory has been used to validate child abuse.  Just as God was an abuser by working through the actions of the Roman soldiers, and just a Jesus accepted that abuse, so must a child accept the abuse of their parent/s.  It has been used to justify spousal/domestic abuse.   This is extreme and rare, but nonetheless, does take place.

And I think this last point is made clear by this cartoon:



For further study, check out this website.

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