The Penal Substitution Delusion

The Delusions of PSA

It is human nature to adhere to ideals perceived firsthand, even if they are not philosophically sound or rationally coherent with God’s actual nature. And the notion of Penal Substitution is as I have claimed to be deluded in the concepts of morality and practicality, insulting to divine attribute, and even strongly absent in the Christian and Jewish scriptures. In my first post, I have not listed all the objections against it but a fair or satisfying amount (except it doesn’t fulfill the PSA proponents). There are number of objections either rooted in bad philosophy or misunderstood scriptures that I will rebut. And reformed theology should be considered as deformed theology — a waste of abstract thought like the rest (e.g. Calvinism, Futurism, Cessationism, etc.).

The Ransom for Sins

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

This verse might have more support for the Ransom Theory rather than Penal Substitution nonsense, but this verse actually works in my favor. The idea of a “ransom” doesn’t necessarily imply a penalty from God, because “ransom” in the Greek can imply a redemption or in exchange for something. In other words, Jesus gave His life in exchange for many/all, in order to liberate them from their sins and sanctify them to God. Jesus chose to sacrifice Himself to persuade men to live for righteousness and despise the cruelty of sins. It is also in Titus:

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (verse 11–14).

The more I search the writings of Paul and any other scripture, I am getting less and less convinced of PSA theory. And some Calvinists assume that Jesus came to save only the elect based on the verse that tries to support for Penal Substitution. However, most of the world and time are not Christians and die in their sins, so Jesus should’ve said “some” or “few” (or plainly say “the elect” instead having future Christians dispute over nonsense). And behold a verse that refutes their speculation further: “[He] who gave Himself as a ransom (or redemption) for all — the testimony that was given at just the right time” (1 Timothy 2:6). Penal Substitution, Ransom, and Calvinistic notions are all refuted at this point, yet not convincing to the holders of these notions.

The Law Demands Blood!

“In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).

Firstly, the law of Moses didn’t always require blood for cleansing or purgation since I have made “nearly everything” bold to reveal there were sacrifices unrelated to blood. And secondly, the text says blood was used to ceremonially cleanse rather than to impute pardons for them. And the text that uses “forgiveness of sins” can alternatively translate as “liberation of sins”. This liberation or release of sins is more akin to moral purification or a purgative work. Thirdly, the law of Moses is distinguished from God’s gift of truth and grace in John 1:17 as follows: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”. The apostle John seems to imply or hint that the law of Moses mostly had a human origin than a divine origin, but grace and truth had a divine origin. If the law of Moses was purely God-inspired, why not credit God for it and not only Moses? The law of Moses even had faults or flaws, and if it were infallible, then why require Jesus or the New Covenant? The author of Hebrews shares my concern well:

“For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another” (Hebrews 8:7).

And so if we assume that the law of Moses was purely inspired by God, does that mean God inspired error, or maybe God didn’t inspire certain matters? The law of Moses doesn’t reflect God’s desires or character in totality; certain methods or practices were never God’s original or preferred intention. In fact, Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law) suggested a hierarchy to Moses but God doesn’t seem to have required or desired such a structure (Exodus 18:1–27). And Christ seems to contrast with that structure in the Gospels (Mark 10:42–44). There’s a conflict between a hierarchical lordship and a voluntary servant-hood.

Christ Cancelled the Divine Debt or Devilish Accusations?

“When you were dead in your trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our trespasses, having canceled the debt ascribed to us in the decrees that stood against us. He took it away, nailing it to the cross!” (Colossians 2:13, 14).

This one verse doesn’t strongly suggest Penal Substitution but more so as a disputable implication. God displayed His timeless and unconditional forgiveness towards the biggest injustice on the Cross, which would be Jesus passively enduring the direct abuse of our represented sins. God utilized such human abuse towards Jesus to reveal His forgiving nature and to expose the cruelty of our sins. The second statement expressing the cancellation of the accusation ascribed to us could be the of devil rather than of God. However, William Lane Craig asserts, “[Paraphrase] But God is the source of justice, not the devil!” But no one is making this claim, and the devil is known for accusing humans for sinning as revealed in the book of Job. God revealed His timeless forgiveness through Jesus on the Cross, so that we would not be consumed by the devil’s condemning accusations. All humans are convicted by their conscience, but the devil brings additional input against them, in order to convince them that they aren’t deserving of God (or for better). The devil uses self-pity in order to persuade us that God rejects us; therefore, we are dissuaded from knowing and living with God. God sent Jesus to persuade men away from self-pity fueled by devilish accusations. Judas didn’t know the forgiving nature of God and was filled by the devilish accusations fueling his self-pity, so he killed his flesh in worldly sorrow (Matthew 27:3–5). And so Jesus came to liberate us from an unworthy mindset by revealing His unmerited forgiveness. And the next verse along with verse 14, implies that the christological revelation of God’s forgiveness triumphs over Satan’s portrayal of God to humans, and this strips them from controlling their minds with shame and accusations. As it is revealed plainly:

“In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross” (Colossians 2:15).

Is Penal Substitution Morally Just?

If the affliction of Jesus really were God’s demand for punitive justice or His wrath, why then are the Pharisees accused of Jesus’ death if it was for the welfare of humanity? If they knew of this matter, who would crucify Jesus for the salvation of all? Shouldn’t God be credited of His death since He required it as payment to justice? It is written, “You killed Jesus by nailing him to a cross. But God, the same God our fathers had, raised Jesus up from death” (Acts 5:30). And if it is morally just for God to accuse and enforce retributive punishment on sinners, wouldn’t be morally wrong for God to pardon them and relieve them of it? If we truly deserve punishment for our sins and not grace, then God shouldn’t pardon us at all. If a criminal is without any legit excuse, it would be wrong for the judge to pardon him without some imprisonment and remedial discipline. It would be more unjust for a judge to release a criminal in exchange for a law-abiding citizen; the notion of correlating human abuse on Jesus to God’s method of punishment is itself morally unjust. If God requires the unjust suffering of His Son to fulfill His unreasonable demand on morally fallible humans, then He is far from being forgiving to sins, far from being compassionate for His Son’s tragedy, and far from being remedially just for the wicked. One could argue, “Then isn’t God unjust for sending Jesus at all!?” No, because God uses Jesus to reveal Himself to mankind in order to expose deception and free them with truth. Which is better: God demanding Jesus for bloodshed to help Him forgive us, or God using Jesus to reveal Himself and purge us from deceit and corruption? Yes, God intended Jesus to die on a Cross but as a means to remove barriers and veils that alienate us from God, not to satisfy God’s need for punitive justice or some unreasonable demand on faulty humans. The PMA theory is more practical, necessary, and justifiable than the PSA theory when God can simply forgive. “But can God just reveal Himself to everyone then?” No, because if God exposed Jesus to everyone daily, then we would lose responsibility and purpose in leading them to faith. Jesus is the bedrock and a start-up motivation to preaching the gospel and revealing God’s nature.

Also if justice really conflicts with mercy, then one of these virtues cannot be a moral trait. Since love only conflicts with evil in practice, it must embody these two moral traits without competition or contradiction. If mercy doesn’t retain justice, it would be wrongly passive to evil, or it would be submission empowering abuse. And vice versa would make justice to be vengeful or abusive.

In fact, PSA leads to a paradoxical issue:

If God imputes guilt on sinless Jesus, does that mean God appeals to self-deception, or since God never lies, does that mean Jesus is a sinner; thus, not being the son of God? (My Challenge to the PSA proponent)

PSA critics reply, “Neither!”

My reply, “Then it’s not true as an atonement theory.”

PSA critics reply, “You just don’t understand!”

My reply, “But this is what you believe, just exposed in a way you never deduced.”

Just a thought. ;)

Extras

“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

This is a misunderstood scriptural argument. Jesus quoted from Psalm 22 of David; He quoted this to show us that He knows our fallen perception of God. He knows our spiritual perdition intimately, and wants to redeem us from this outlook, which is why Jesus said that all would be taught by God (John 6:45; 17:3), and offered aionion life (i.e. intimate knowledge of God).

“Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots” (Luke 23:34).

Jesus did this to pray for His enemies, to be an example to believers and the whole world that the love of God should compel us. If Jesus commanded us to love and pray for our enemies, why wouldn’t Christ do the same (Matthew 5:44)? A second rebuttal is also that this verse was added later after the early manuscripts. It’s speculated that Christians added this little story to appeal to Roman citizens and its government.

Participation Versus Substitution

A Christian made this statement about this overlooked passages of the atonement. It is not weird for Christians for not embracing Penal Substitution. Here’s his statement:

“The substitutionary theory of the atonement is not the Christian gospel. The only time Paul discusses at length how the death of Jesus is involved in our salvation, he talks about our participation in Jesus’ death, not substitution. Paul says that we died with Christ, and in dying with Christ we died to sin — “our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin be destroyed” (Romans 6:6).

I’m not a Baptist but I agree with his analysis of Paul’s writings. It is my hope that Christians will forsake a deluded outlook of the atonement rather than embrace it. Since the atonement is a participation (not substitution), it is also coherent with our perception correlating with Christ’s suffering and forgiveness. Our sinful identity was dominated by Christ’s identity, causing our mind to prioritize love over sin through our perception of God’s love versus sin’s cruelty. The person, who tastes the love of God and the works of sin, shall prioritize love over sin, growing in the likeness of Christ over man’s reflection. The true notion of the Cross and the experience of God in presentation to the lost, initiates “the dying to sin and living to Christ”. The gospel must be pure and supported by its reality lest its distortion either form morally defective converts, or wrongly offend the unbeliever away from Christ.

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George M. Garcia

George M. Garcia

A writer interested in theology and the supernatural. A Christian with divine experiences and a vast understanding of Scripture.