Rebuilding the (Penal?) Substitutionary Atonement

This is an email I sent to someone who wrote to me (from the Netherlands!). I have edited it to make it clearer, so you are getting a better version than he did.
I would love to discuss the atonement!
There are two things I hold foundational in overthrowing false tradition about the atonement. You wrote one of them: “I realized that payment atonement is the opposite of forgiveness.”
You also touched on the other foundational idea. We can be punished for sin at the judgment (e.g., 2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 8:12-13; Gal. 5:19-21; etc.). Obviously, then, the penalty for sin is not paid by Jesus’ death.
So what did Jesus “pay”? He paid a purchase price. He bought us out of slavery to sin. The Scriptures are clear on this. The price he paid was to buy us (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:20). The words “redeem” and “ransom” are also “purchase.” To redeem is re-purchase a previous possession. To ransom is to purchaseĀ  something you value from a captor. The captor was sin. Jesus purchased us out of slavery to sin.
Most of the time when the Scriptures say Jesus died for the “remission” or “forgiveness” of sins, the word is “aphesis,” which means release. It has a rich history in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that the early churches used and from which the New Testament primarily quotes). The word “aphesis” is the Greek word chosen to translate “Jubilee” (Lev. 25); the word for the “scapegoat” on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 26); and the word for the “release” of debts that happened every sever years under the Law of Moses (Deut. 15).
Thus, Jesus’ death produced Jubilee, the return of our rightful land to us and a release from slavery. Our sins were carried away by him (the scapegoat). All our debts are taken away.
At least three times, the New Testament says that Jesus died so that he would be complete Lord, ruler, and owner of us (Rom. 14:9; 2 Cor. 5:15; Tit. 2:13-14). The grace we receive by faith not only recreates us for good works (Eph. 2:10), it frees from the power of sin (Rom. 6:14), and teaches us to live holy (Tit. 2:11-12). This sort of thing is supposed to be taught with all authority, not allowing anyone to oppose us (Tit. 2:15).
Blood is required for that kind of “remission” (aphesis; Heb. 9:22). Plain forgiveness, charizomai in Greek, is provided by the mercy of God without blood. This is what is talked about in Psalm 51:16-17, where David says God does not want sacrifice but a contrite spirit and broken heart. It is also what Ezekiel 18 is talking about, where God says that he is a just judge that will forgive the wicked person who turns to righteousness. We did not need the availability of forgiveness. It has always been there. We need the ability to follow through on our repentance and live righteously. All who “patiently continue to do good” will be granted eternal life at the judgment (Rom. 2:6-7). The problem is that humans do not patiently continue to do good. We need God’s Spirit, so that we do not “grow weary in doing good” (Gal. 6:8-9). If we sow to the Spirit, and thus do not grow weary in doing good, we will reap eternal life.
All this plain truth in the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, Paul, James, Peter, and Jude can be seen in John as well if we know just a couple things about Greek.
Ok, that’s my quick version of atonement teaching. I would love to hear your feedback.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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4 Responses to Rebuilding the (Penal?) Substitutionary Atonement

  1. paulfpavao says:

    I’m going to be honest here and say that though I understood some of your comment, I understand the relevance of very little of it. I like and agree with this: “The idea the early church held was that baptism cleared you by effective death and resurrection of your past sins, future sins needed confession, originally public, penance originally public and sincere repentance.”

    Honestly, the rest I don’t get.

    • Justina says:

      defense of penal substitution as NOT invalid merely because it is only part of the picture. some ORthodox have argued there is no place for it in ORthodoxy. which is historically false. All supposed substitutions for this involve some kind of substitution of Christ for us. substitution is therefore a key element. Wikipedia or Orthodox Wiki I forget which claims John Cassian teaches theosis instead of penal substitution when in fact he teaches something like penal substitution and debt cancellation in explaining why prayers are offered at the sixth hour.

      it would seem that what is denied by some, is in fact in early times taken for granted as the basis for theosis making it possible instead of there being any conflict. Meanwhile, there are different kinds of forgiveness so arguing it is strictly binary either entire forgiveness incl. no one pays for anything or else it is not forgiveness at all is incorrect and depends on a narrow interpretation of the word forgiveness.

      • Paul Pavao says:

        I don’t think anyone denies substitution. It is just penal substitution they deny. As for me, I know it is possible, semantically, to say penal substitution is biblical. What Protestants mean by penal substitution is mostly false. Jesus did not pay the penalty for all sin, and certainly not for future sin because we can still be punished for future sin.

  2. Justina says:

    The narrow anselm version of stonement was a preaching geared to people who thought in very narrow terms of honor and offense and so forth, the rigid discipline of the feudal system (necessary for order and minimal unauthorized warring and concomitant collateral damage. So you don’t have a brawl in a market place that is violating the king’s peace, imposed for the good of commerce and therefore of all.) It is part of the picture. forgiveness is about the person who would normally pay the price.

    If I broke your window, and you forgave me, there’s two forms. you don’t drag the police and more punishment in, but you expect me to fix the window or help doing so if I am sincere. and not do it anymore.

    or, you can leave out the police, fix the window entirely yourself, on condition I really am contrite and won’t do it anymore. (I can’t fix it I am broke and too clumsy to position glass without breaking it, I am an idiot.)

    in both cases the window owner takes on the main problem of fixing it.

    any form of redemption/atonement theory, is only one facet of a larger gem (with the exception of the blasphemous notion of payment to the devil).

    St. John Cassian in explaining why prayers are offered at the 6th hour, mentions the issue of debt for sin. The idea the early church held was that baptism cleared you by effective death and resurrection of your past sins, future sins needed confession, originally public, penance originally public and sincere repentance.

    the issue of God not wanting sacrifice but contrition and change of heart and behavior was not that sacrifice was no good, but that He didn’t want people gaming the system. the purpose was correction and covering the sin with blood, not figuring how much you can do then how many goats and calves would pay for it, collect these ahead of time and go sin keeping an eye on the tab you are running up with God so you can pay it and shrug it all off.

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