Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Response to Bryan Cross on Penal Substitution

Bryan Cross has provided a significant number of posts in a comment box at the GreenBaggins blog, suggesting that somehow the doctrine of penal substitution is inconsistent with orthodox Trinitarian theology and/or orthodox Christology.

Bryan's argument was provided a variety of different ways with many different tangents, but Bryan's premises can be reduced to this:

1. Penal substitution requires Christ being punished by God.
2. Punishment requires a loss of communion between God and Jesus.
3. A loss of communion between God and Jesus means either that Jesus is two persons (one person who is God and one person who is man), that Jesus is not God, or that there are more gods than one. (Respectively, those positions would be identified as Nestorianism, Arianism, or Polytheism.)

Penal substitution requires Christ being punished by God.

We don't object to Bryan's first premise. Isaiah 53 teaches this. That chapter states:

Isaiah 53:3-12
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Christ was treated as though he was a sinner ("numbered with the transgressors") and specifically received this treatment from God ("it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief") and particularly as a result of attributing our sins to him ("the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all").

So, we agree with Bryan's first premise, namely that penal substitution requires Christ being punished by God. Moreover, we affirm that Scripture teaches this, something that Bryan (in this argument) does not dispute. One supposes that Bryan would dispute this point, but at least in the context of this argument he has not presented any exegetical reasons for doing so.

Instead, Bryan has attempted to argue that the conclusion conflicts with orthodox Christology and/or orthodox Trinitarian theology.  He argues this by first asserting:

Punishment requires a loss of communion between God and Jesus?

Bryan's second premise is ambiguous.  The term "loss of communion" can refer to a variety of different things.  Bryan was asked a number of times to clarify what he meant by "communion" a number of times, but he declined to provide any clarification.  We could reject Bryan's second premise on this ground alone.  We don't need to accept premises that have undefined and ambiguous terms, particularly because such terms can lead to equivocation when it comes time to draw conclusions from them.

Nevertheless, we can answer this premise by distinguishing.

Punishment of Jesus by God does not require a loss of communion in the sense of God and Jesus being actually at odds.  Jesus underwent the punishment of humiliation, including suffering and death, willingly.  It is written: "Saying, 'Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.'" (Luke 22:42) And again: "Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself." (Hebrews 7:27)  Had Christ been an unwilling victim, we might have said that the will of Christ and the will of God were at odds, but Christ submitted himself according to his human will to the will of God.

Thus, at a minimum, this premise is not true in every sense of the term "communion."

Bryan argued that punishment involves loss of communion in some sense, and that it is this loss of communion that primarily distinguishes punishment from discipline.  Bryan is wrong.  The primary distinction between punishment and discipline is the intent of the one inflicting the punishment or discipline.

In the case of punishment, the primary intent is to restore justice.  In the case of discipline, the primary intent is to improve the disciplined person.  It is worth noting that substitutionary punishment makes sense, while substitionary discipline largely does not.  One is reminded of the prince's "whipping boy" in The Prince and the Pauper.  While justice may be served by a man being flogged for a crime committed that merits flogging, in general the ill-behaving does not learn his lesson by another being flogged.

It is true that in the usual case, without substitution, there is typically an accompanying attitude of fundamental displeasure with the person being punished and an accompanying attitude of fundamental pleasure with the person being disciplined.  Thus, a father beats a son whom he loves, although of course the father does not love the son's behavior that led to the need for the beating.  If you are a modernist who thinks that beating children is immoral, read the Bible - but for the sake of this illustration just substitute "time out" for beating.

Hebrews 12:5-11
And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.
Moreover, one can take the case of restitution as an example of retributive justice.  Justice can be served by the victim of theft receiving treble restitution for his losses, but that justice is served regardless of the source of the funds.  If those funds come from the criminal, they may have a disciplinary effect on the criminal, but even if they come from a substitute, they still make the injured person whole again.

Nevertheless, there is a sense in which communion, in the sense of felt favor of God, may have been lost.  While we need not be dogmatic about it, it is possible for Christ, on the cross, to have lost a sense or awareness of the presence and favor of God.  Christ was unaware, according to his humanity, of the day and the hour of the second coming.  Likewise, it was possible for him to be unaware, according to his humanity, of the pleasure and favor of God toward him for a time on the cross.

Such an absence of awareness of God's presence and favor is one of the penalties that produce suffering for those in hell.  Christ could undergo that same punishment in terms of suffering without actually losing God's presence or favor.   Therefore, if this falls within the ambit of "communion" in the sense that Bryan means, Christ may have undergone it on the cross.

Loss of Communion with God Implies Some Heresy or Other?

Bryan's third premise depends heavily on the sense in which he means "communion," a sense he's seemingly unwilling to disclose.  If Bryan is suggesting that punishment requires God the Father to stop loving the Son in every sense, then we simply disagree with Bryan's assertion.  Suggesting that God the Father stopped loving the Son in every sense is clearly wrong.

Likewise, it is wrong to state that the Trinity was somehow severed by the cross.  The intra-trinitarian communion was not damaged by the cross.  Indeed, Christ was unified in will with the Father and the Spirit in the purpose of the crucifixion.  If Christ and the Father were actually at odds, this would imply a serious error.

Furthermore, it is wrong to state that one person (Christ the God) was actually at odds with another person (Christ the Man).  Christ is one person in two distinct natures.  That means that Christ has two wills, but as one person Christ is unable to "commune" with himself, much less "lose" or "break" communion with himself.

On the other hand, Christ merely ceasing to be aware of God's presence or favor for a time on the cross according to his humanity does not imply any sort of heresy.  So, much hinges on what Bryan means by "communion."  Therefore, we cannot grant his third premise outright, just as we cannot grant his second premise outright.  Instead, we need to distinguish in each case.

- TurretinFan

Update: In the comment box, Bryan Cross denies that he holds to the second premise.  I've provided some documentation that seems to suggest he once advocated that premise.  Nevertheless, he recently continued the argument in the comment box by alleging that the essence of hell punishment in particular is loss of communion with God.   Even with this modification, the response above largely maintains.  A few parts may not be relevant, but the rest is.


turretinfan said...

Drake Shelton in that same thread pointed out:

Turretin spoke on this long ago,

“But here again the actual punishment, which the judge demands, must be distinguished accurately from the mode and circumstances of punishment, for these two things are not upon the same footing. . . . For though a sinful person fully deserves punishment and may justly be punished, yet it is not so necessary and indispensable but that for certain definite and weighty causes a transference of punishment to a substitute may be made. And in this sense it is said by theologians that impersonally punishment must of necessity be inflicted upon all sin, but not immediately personally upon every sinner; since by His singular grace God can exempt some from it, a surety being substituted in their stead. But that it may be conceived that God can accomplish this, He must be viewed, not as an inferior and subordinate judge, set up under the law, who would be unable to dispense from the rigour of the law by transferring the punishment to another, but as a judge supreme and free from liability, who, even as He wills to satisfy His own justice by the punishment of sin, so in accordance with His supreme wisdom and pity, was able to relax the strict justice of the law by exempting sinners from the punishment due, and by transferring it to a sponsor" (A Short History of the Doctrine of the Atonement, quoted in Grensted, pg. 242-43) "… Again as the satisfaction which is demanded by God’s justice it makes two special demands, (1) that it should be paid by the same nature which had sinned, and (2) that it should be of value and even of infinite price to take away sin’s infinite demerit : In Christ were the two natures necessary to the payment of satisfaction, the human to suffer, the Divine to add value and infinite price to the sufferings" (pg. 243).

D.S. also wrote:

The separation between Father and Son at the cross was no absolute. Turretin, Institutes of Elentic Theology Vol 2, section 13.14

“Now this desertion is not to be conceived as absolute, total and eternal(such as is felt only by demons and the reprobate), but temporal and relative; not in respect of the union of nature (for what the Son of God once assumed he never parted with); or of the union of grace and holiness because he was always blameless (akakos) and pure (amiantos), endowed with untainted holiness; or of communion and protection because God was always at his right hand (Psa 110:5), nor was he ever left alone (Jn 16:32). But as to a participation in joy and felicity, God suspending for a little while the favorable pressence of grace and the influx of consolation and happiness that he might be able to suffer all the punishment due to us (as to withdrawl of vision, not as to a dissolution of union; as to the want of the sense of the divine love, intercepted by the sense of the divine wrath and vengeance resting upon him, not as top a real privation or extinction of it). And, as the Scholastics say, as to ‘the affection of advantage’ that he might be destitute of the ineffable consolation and joy which arises from a sense of God’s paternal love and the betific vision of his countenance (Ps. 16); but not as to ‘the affection of righteousness’ because he felt nothing inordinate in himself which would tend to desperation, impatience or blasphemy against God.”

Bryan Cross said...


Bryan's argument was provided a variety of different ways with many different tangents, but Bryan's premises can be reduced to this:

1. Penal substitution requires Christ being punished by God.
2. Punishment requires a loss of communion between God and Jesus.
3. A loss of communion between God and Jesus means either that Jesus is two persons (one person who is God and one person who is man), that Jesus is not God, or that there are more gods than one. (Respectively, those positions would be identified as Nestorianism, Arianism, or Polytheism.)

No, that's not my argument; that is a strawman version of my argument. For example, I deny premise 2. But I appreciate your effort.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

turretinfan said...

Here's your chance to clarify what you mean by "I deny premise 2," given that you previously made comments that indicate you hold to it (see edits to your comment).

Nick said...

"It is worth noting that substitutionary punishment makes sense, while substitionary discipline largely does not."

Well then you have to deal with Isaiah 53:5, which uses the term "chastise" (a distinct Hebrew term used especially in Proverbs for fatherly-correction, not retributive punishment): "the chastisement of our peace was upon him"

And if you do a word-study of the terms in Isaiah 53, you will have to conclude that the Patriarch Job was the Suffering Servant that Isaiah's prophecy was in reference to.

Nick said...

Hi TF,

I fail to see what I am "overlooking" by pointing out the term "Chastisement" is what is used here. That word is a Divinely Inspired term Isaiah used, and it quite simply doesn't mean retributive punishment. The use of terms like stripes and bruised don't necessitate retribution either, as I showed in the link.

I think you misunderstood my Job comment/post - the point wasn't to say Isaiah 53 was really about Job, but rather to use a "scripture interprets scripture" approach to show that what is said in Isaiah 53 need not necessitate Psub at all since Job is said (using the same words) to be stricken, smitten, afflicted, etc by God.

Nick said...

But to say "the punative nature of the stripes and chastisement" is to assume what you're trying to prove. There is no such thing as punative-retributive chastisement; that's a contradiction.

The very language of "by his stripes you are HEALED" are precisely what fraternal-correction is about: "Prov 20:30 Stripes that wound cleanse away evil; strokes make clean the innermost parts."

Ljdibiase said...

Nick, what do you make of God's statement to Adam that, "in the day that you eat from it, you will surely die?" Is that not a punishment for sin?

Hebrew Student said...


You can't simply leap off to another text, and then say that, because the words are the same, this somehow means something. It would be one thing if you could find these words in collocation, but all you have done is ran off and found a word in some other place, and then assumed that it has the same meaning. Meaning in language simply doesn't work this way. For example, do you hate a human being in the same sense that you hate vegetables? Do you love cookies in the same way that you love your wife? No, words like "love" and "hate" change their sense depending upon their context.

The problem with your use of the book of Job is that Job's whole argument is that God must somehow be unjust, because he is being afflicted *for no reason.* He has no concept of being bruised for another's transgressions. Yet, that is clearly there in verse 5 of Isaiah 53. Also, while it is true that these terms can be used in the context of discipline, here they are being used in the context of sin and a guilt offering [v.10]. The context in which they are used will affect the shades of meaning they have. That is why, although the same term is used, translators translate the terms differently.

In fact, the interesting thing about the book of Job is that God never challenges Job on the point that he has not done some sin that would cause him to deserve this. He clearly has not. The reason Job has suffered these afflictions is clearly to upstage Satan, and to teach Job a lesson about God, among other things. However, the notion of someone else's iniquities harming Job is totally absent from the text.

There are intertextual connections between Isaiah 53 and elsewhere, but they seem to be in the way Isaiah develops his themes. For example, the themes of justice in the earlier portions of Isaiah coming together with the failure of Israel to be the servant of God really come together here in Isaiah 53. Hence, not only would it not fit the context of Job, it would not fit the context of Isaiah either, as Isaiah is dealing with the sin and restoration of the people of God. Hence, although the words are the same, the contexts are very different, and hence, warrant slightly different understandings of these terms.

Nick said...

Yes. But surely Christ didn't take physical death in our place...otherwise why would Christians still undergo death?

Nick said...

TF, Your response is baffling to me.

Retribution and Chastisement are very different. Look what Calvin says:

"For the sake of distinction, we may call the one kind of judgment punishment, the other chastisement. In judicial punishment [i.e. retribution], God is to be understood as taking vengeance on his enemies, by displaying his anger against them, confounding, scattering, and annihilating them. By divine punishment, properly so called, let us then understand punishment accompanied with indignation. In judicial chastisement, he is offended, but not in wrath; he does not punish by destroying or striking down as with a thunderbolt. Hence it is not properly punishment or vengeance, but correction and admonition. The one is the act of a judge, the other of a father.

…To have a short and clear view of the whole matter, we must make two distinctions. First, whenever the infliction is designed to avenge, then the curse and wrath of God displays itself. This is never the case with believers. On the contrary, the chastening of God carries his blessing with it, and is an evidence of love, as Scripture teaches [footnote 370: Job 5:17; Prov. 3:11; Heb. 12:5].(Institutes Bk3:Ch4:Sec31,32)"

Until this distinction is made, equivocation will not allow the Bible to speak. It is impossible to say Christ received the Father's Wrath in a Chastisement sense.

ChaferDTS said...

Nick the apostle Peter disagrees with your claim of Isa 53 as the suffering sevant being Job in that prophey. The apostle Peter understood Isa 53 of the suffering sevant being a prohecy of the Messiah and showed it's fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. Peter refutes you specifically on 1 Peter 2:21-24 which uses Isa 53 and shows it is refering to Jesus. By his strips you were healed is taken from Isa. 53:8. It shows it is fulfilled by the work of Jesus on the cross. Nick your view is very unusual and novel to say the least. Even when I held to Roman Catholic beliefs over 20 years ago I still back then viewed Isa. 53 as a specific prophecy of Jesus and was taught this at the parish Priest. There is something seriously very wrong when you start denying OT prophecies as important as Isa. 53 is for you to deny it is refering to Jesus Christ. The biggest folly in your argument is that JOB had long since been dead when Isaiah made that prophecy in Isa 53. Job lived sometime around the days of Abraham and Jacob . The prophecy itself refers to a future event of suffering servant and it is the person of Jesus Christ who died on the cross for our sins and raised from the dead on the third day. Paul had in view OT Scripture such as Isa 53 as refering to Jesus in 1 Cor. 15:1-4.

Michelle said...

"You know that in God there are three distinct Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, yet all three having but one and the same unique nature or Divine essence. Infinite understanding, the Father has perfect knowledge of His perfections. He expresses this knowledge in one unique Utterance: it is "the Word," the living substantial utterance, the commensurately infinite expression, of who the Father is. By uttering this Word, the Father begets the Son, to whom He communicates all His essence, His nature, His perfections, His life: "For as the Father has life in Himself; so He has given to the Son also to have life in Himself." Likewise, the Son is entirely His Father's, is entirely given up to Him by a total donation which stems from His natue as Son. And from this mutual donation of only one and the same love proceeds, as from one unique source, the Holy Spirit who seals the union of the Father and the Son, in being their substantial and living love.
This mutual communication of the three Persons, this adherence --infinite and full of love-- of the Divine Persons between themselves, assuredly constitutes a new revelation of the holiness in God: it is the union of God with Himself in the unity of His nature and the Trinity of the Persons." Blessed Columba Marmion

This is one of the best descriptions of what "is" the Holy Communion of God. What ever we creatures theorize about the Mystery of the Holy Cross, one thing is certain this Holy Communion of the one God can not be "lost" for it is the very essence of God, it is BEING itself.

turretinfan said...


We don't assert that Christ ceased having the Holy Communion of God on the Cross. It's sad that your friend Mr. Cross is perpetuating this kind of ignorance about what the Reformed churches teach.


Ljdibiase said...

Nick, I think John Owen answers that here:

"1. Christ underwent the same punishment that the law required, but that his so doing should be a payment for us depended on God's sovereign dispensation;

2. This payment... depended on a previous compact and agreement.... Deliverance, therefore, doth not *naturally* follow on this satisfaction, but 'jure federis,' and therefore was not to ensue ipso facto, but in the way and order disposed in that covenant;

3. The actual deliverance of all the persons for whom Christ suffered, to ensue ipso facto upon his suffering, was absolutely impossible, for they were not in being, the most of them, when he suffered....

5. Mere deliverance was not the whole end of Christ's sufferings for us, but such a deliverance as is attended with a state and condition of superadded blessedness. And the duties of faith, repentance, and obedience, which are prescribed unto us, are not enjoined only or principally with respect unto deliverance from punishment, but with respect unto the attaining of those other ends of the mediation of Christ in a new spiritual life here and eternal life hereafter."

Michelle said...

As you say, reformed churches don't teach a loss of communion in the effecting of the atonement, but, unfortunately in some churches that teach the theory of PSA as the only meaning of the Holy Cross, of Redemption, you'll eventually hear a sermon about how God the Father turned His "back" on the Son or some similar humanization of the atonement. It is in this kind of error of exclusion that the "error" of PSA lies. At it's heart, the Holy Cross is a Mystery. No one theory can "contain" it. As for me, the Holy Cross is substitutionary but not "legally" or in the penal sense. It simply doesn't make sense with the Divine Justice of God, justice meaning giving to everyone what is their "due". Divine justice for man, as revealed through the coming of Christ, is God giving Himself to us, there is no substitute. Look at Redemption and see its beginning at the Incarnation and its consummation at the Holy Cross, see God giving us, by His own power and will, our due, which is God Himself. It is too simple to think that our due is simply punishment. Look and see the awe-full-ness of God with us. Therein lies the Mystery. Pax Christi.

turretinfan said...


It is refreshing to hear you say that. Bryan was actually arguing that because Trent teaches a different theory of the atonement, it necessarily excludes a penal substitutionary theory. That does not sound like typical contemporary Roman theology to me - your response does.

I encourage you to read Isaiah 53 - I think it lays out the penal substitution view pretty clearly.


Vincent said...

I would like people to tell me what the Roman Catholic view of the atonement is. Is Bryans view official church dogma?

turretinfan said...

"I would like people to tell me what the Roman Catholic view of the atonement is. Is Bryans view official church dogma?"

He's welcome to answer for himself. I think he'd admit that there is not just one RC view on the subject.

Michelle said...

Do not be misled. Catholics don't believe "theories", but instead we all hold and understand the atonement is Mystery, it encompasses all that IS God saving plan. It is THE mystery that contains ALL the Mysteries of Christ for God's mysterious purpose of His AT-ONE-MENT with human beings. It begins with Incarnation, is prepared for by the Immaculate Conception, is announced by the Angels, sanctifies John the Baptist in the womb, is started in His first bloodshed at the temple, is manifest in His Baptism, is manifest at His first miracle at the Wedding at Cana, is manifest by the adoration of the magi, is shown forth by His proclamation of the Kingdom, promised by the His Transfiguration, provides for us in the Institution of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, whose cup of bitterness He willingly drinks to the last drop in His Passion, whose consummation is His death, is providing for us by the water and blood flowing from His side, whose victory is shown forth by the Resurrection, and seen by His Ascension and the opening of heaven for us. AND on and on and on...
Now to begin to contemplate eve one of these mysteries, the Incarnation let's say. How is it that the transcendent God was contained in the Virgins womb? Can you explain how it is? No, I don't think so. But we know it is TRUE. And why, WHY would God do that??? Can we know, can we say, can we pridefully think to know the mind of God? THAT is the Mystery. We accept that we are limited finite creatures, we accept our "unknowing" by faith. Now apply that to the atonement. Once you quit trying to box God in by "theories", and what's more, that only one silly human theory is correct, and instead contemplate God in His Mysteries, then you will begin to understand what the Catholic Church teaches on atonement. Pax Christi. Michelle

turretinfan said...


That's all very pious-sounding, but it isn't actually representative of Rome's theologians.

I don't see the point in explaining that the way God was contained in Mary's womb was "as man." As man, Christ had various limitations, which as God he does not. What is actually amazing is that Christ is both God and man in two distinct natures and one person.

But to properly appreciate that, as the fathers did, requires us to come up with modes of understanding (or "theories" as they are described) that help us contemplate the wonder of the Incarnation.


Michelle Moorman said...

"Not representative" is what you claim. Ha! My friend you don't know what you're talking about. The Fathers teach that by the Incarnation we are made at one. By his nativity we are made at one. by his circumcision, obedience to his parents,baptism, being hungry,poor, with no room at the inn we are made AT ONE. By his growth, one. By his temptation, one. By his righteous anger, by the desertion of his friends, by his tears, ONE. You err in your small focus. pax.

turretinfan said...


With whatever respect you deserve, your assertions continue to wander.

And you continue to appear unaware that we teach (WSC 23): "Christ, as our Redeemer, executeth the offices of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation," where (WSC 27) "Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time."

So, it appears that the most charitable interpretation of your words is that you don't understand the nature of my response.


ChaferDTS said...

Hi Michelle . You are ill informed. The RCC does have " theories " . There are several theories concerning things like the nature of purgatory , papal infallibility, immaculate conception , the Mary being the " ever virgin " as they speculate on the circumstances in her life in relationship to Joseph and so forth. There a number of theories on those in itself that are held by Roman Catholic scholars. I hate to inform you of this but there are several so called " atonement " theories in the claimed " Catholic Church " . An indepth study in the reading of the church fathers would correct your complete misunderstanding of this.

ChaferDTS said...

Do you agree with the ransom payment to Satan atonement theory that was held by some church fathers ?