The Faulty Foundations of Faith Alone – Part 5: Jesus Paid the Penalty For Our Sins?

For Part 4, click here: The Faulty Foundations of Faith Alone – Part 4: God Condemns Us to Hell Because We’re Not Perfect?

Or start at the beginning: The Faulty Foundations of Faith Alone – Part 1: God is a Trinity of Persons?

Here’s where we get to the crux of the matter.

The Protestant theory of justification by faith alone is tightly connected with an atonement theory called penal substitution, which was developed by the leaders of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s. Here’s the basic idea:

5. Jesus Christ paid the price, or penalty, for our sins?

Both because we inherit sin and guilt from Adam and because we sin ourselves, each one of us guilty and sinful. And as Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.” Every one of us therefore deserves the death penalty—meaning eternal damnation and torture in hell.

Unfortunately none of us is able to avoid that penalty, because as covered in the previous two parts, none of us is capable of being perfectly sinless, which is what God requires.

This means that every single one of us will inevitably suffer the penalty of eternal death in hell, because God’s justice requires that the penalty be paid.

The solution, according to the penal substitution theory of atonement, is that Jesus Christ pays that penalty instead of us.

We are the sinners. Jesus Christ never sinned. Unlike us, he was able to live a perfect, sinless life (see Hebrews 4:15). Further, he was willing to die for us. And in penal substitution theory, this means dying instead of us. So if the price, or penalty, of sin is death, Jesus paid that price, or penalty for us by dying instead of us on the cross. And as long as we believe that he did that for us, we don’t have to pay the price of eternal death because he paid it for us.

There are many problems with this theory.

First, it makes no sense that a relatively brief physical death, even of the Son of God, would pay the price of eternal death for human beings. If Christ had truly paid the price for our sins, then he would have had to suffer the torments of hell forever, just as we were slated to do because of our sins. And obviously he didn’t do that.

Second, the Bible simply never says that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. The whole idea was made up by the early Protestant theologians. You can look as hard as you want. You will not find a single passage in the entire Bible that says that Jesus paid the price for our sins, or that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. It’s just not there.

In fact, the Bible states very clearly that this sort of arrangement, in which an innocent person dies in place of a guilty one, is utterly contrary to God’s will. Here are a few such passages:

Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. (Exodus 23:7)

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished.” (Exodus 34:6–7)

The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished. (Numbers 14:18)

When people have a dispute, they are to take it to court and the judges will decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty. (Deuteronomy 25:1)

Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the Lord detests them both. (Proverbs 17:15)

Whoever says to the guilty, “You are innocent,” will be cursed by peoples and denounced by nations. (Proverbs 24:24)

And yet, this is exactly what penal substitution does. It says of the innocent one—Jesus Christ—that he is guilty of our sins, and punishes him for them. And it says of the guilty ones—us—that we are innocent, and will not be punished for our sins.

Penal substitution does precisely what the Lord detests: it acquits the guilty and condemns the innocent. It puts an innocent and honest person to death, while leaving the guilty unpunished.

In short, not only is the idea that Jesus paid the price, or penalty, for our sins stated nowhere in the Bible, but the Bible teaches very clearly that the principle behind the theory of penal substitution violates God’s justice and is entirely contrary to God’s will.

That’s why the idea that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins is the fifth false, anti-Biblical foundation of faith alone.

For Part 6, click here: The Faulty Foundations of Faith Alone – Part 6: Jesus’ Death Appeased the Father’s Wrath?

For further reading:


Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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32 comments on “The Faulty Foundations of Faith Alone – Part 5: Jesus Paid the Penalty For Our Sins?
  1. Rohan Pereira says:

    ‘Penal substitution does precisely what the Lord detests: it acquits the guilty and condemns the innocent. It puts an innocent and honest person to death, while leaving the guilty unpunished.’

    Except that Jesus didn’t have his life taken from him by the guilty but rather he chose to lay down his life for the guilty at a place and hour that was pre-determined.

    ‘First, it makes no sense that a relatively brief physical death, even of the Son of God, would pay the price of eternal death for human beings.’

    Makes no sense? According to whom? According to our human standards of justice?

    What was the significance then if the OT God demanding sacrifice of an innocent animal that did no wrong.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rohan,

      It still doesn’t alter the fact that under Penal Substitution theory, an innocent person is punished for the sins of the guilty, and guilty people are left unpunished—both of which the Bible explicitly states are contrary to God’s will, and even detestable to God. Couple that with the fact that the Bible never says that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, and there is simply no reason whatsoever to believe this human-invented theory.

      Why are you defending a doctrine that Luther and Calvin invented? Why are you defending a doctrine that the Bible does not teach?

      And why are you content to think that God’s morality is worse than human morality?

      As for animal sacrifice, animal rights as we know them today did not exist in Bible times. Animals were considered property. And they were regularly slaughtered for their meat, hides, and so on. Offering them as sacrifices violated no moral or ethical standards of the day.

      Further, only a few animals that were sacrificed were completely destroyed. Most of them provided meat both for the priests and their families, and therefore constituted a donation to the work of the temple.

    • Rami says:

      Hi Lee. About animal sacrifice in the OT, Rohan mentioned the previous day that the animal being sacrificed had to meet a certain standard of cleanliness and, in a sense, purity before it was considered an acceptable sacrifice. Does animal sacrifice in the OT foreshadow Christ- in his pure and innocent state- sacrificing himself on the cross?

      Granted, this wouldn’t necessarily mean that Christ sacrificed himself for pay off humanity’s debt of sin, as the Reformers believed, but it would support the idea that a sacrifice was necessary, and one that only Christ could fulfill. Whether this sacrifice was done to satisfy God’s justice (penal substitution) or to defeat the powers of evil (Christus Victor) is a different matter.

      I look forward to talk about your earlier comments to me soon!

      • Lee says:

        Hi Rami,

        In answer to your question, please first read this recent comment of mine about the sacrifices, which will give you most of the answer.

        Yes, the OT sacrifices did foreshadow Christ, pure, sinless, and innocent, sacrificing himself on the cross. But that’s really only the surface of the matter. Christ’s real sacrifice was not the crucifixion, but his entire life in this dark and evil world, battling not only the religious and political authorities of the day, but especially battling inwardly the spiritual powers of evil, hell, and the devil.

        These inner battles were far more excruciating for him than the physical pain of the cross. We get only a few brief glimpses in the Gospel into these inner battles—primarily his temptation by the Devil in the desert after his baptism and his agony in the garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion. In a couple of verses that some scholars believe are not original his agony is described in this way:

        Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. (Luke 22:43-44)

        Whether or not these verses are genuine, we know that these inner struggles he went through were very intense. These battles were lifelong for him—and they were the true sacrifice that he made for us.

        So the fact that the OT sacrifices had to be unblemished and spotless do indeed only give a faint shadow of the reality that took place in Christ’s life. (See the Bible quotes in the other comment I linked to.) Protestant theology makes much of the surface features, but misses the true depth of what Christ did through his entire life on earth. It focuses so much on the crucifixion that it obscures and blocks out the whole sweep of the Incarnation. As dramatic as it was, the crucifixion was only the final act in an entire lifetime of Christ sacrificing himself to bring about our salvation.

    • Rami says:

      @Rohan, Lee does present an important and contested point in atonement theology, which asks how can justice truly be done if the innocent was punished and the guilty were pardoned? While Christ’s sacrifice was completely voluntary, it doesn’t take away our guilt anymore than I could take away yours if I were to, say, serve your prison sentence for you. Christ may have been voluntarily *liable* for our guilt, but that wouldn’t make us any less guilty, and thus pardoning us would be unjust.

      That would seem to be the general gist of this particular objection to penal substitution, and I’m not saying there isn’t a convincing answer to it, but it seems like it would require developing a theological framework whereby guilt can be imputed from one person to another. This would seem to have Biblical precedent, as we have passages were guilt was symbolically transferred to a sacrificial animal. We also have some precedent in our own legal system, as William Lane Craig sketched a preliminary idea some years back involving the idea of imputation as it occurs in insurance, where, say, the passenger of a vehicle can voluntarily impute the misconduct of the driver on to themselves. Finally, in a sense asking ‘how could God impute guilt onto another?’ seems akin to materialistically asking ‘how can God do so and so?’ Well, we don’t know. But he can. And he did, through Christ.

      But now back to Lee: this whole question seems to bring into focus the nature of the objections you’ve presented. Yes, you’ve provided plenty of Biblical support for your views, but would you say they’re firstly philosophical? A lot of the things you’ve (rhetorically) asked throughout this series mirror a lot of the basic objections that atheists would post to (at least orthodox) Christianity; ‘How can an all loving God condemn someone to hell?’ ‘How could a just God demand absolute perfection from imperfect people? ‘How could God impute guilt on to another person?’- objections that Protestant scholars and theologians seem to debunk in their sleep. Without addressing whether they’re right or wrong, these objections are philosophical ones, so we need to ask ourselves if we’re approaching the Bible with a philosophical assumption and warping our interpretation of scripture around those assumptions, instead of putting the Bible first.

      At the same time, I believe it was one of the more recent Popes who remarked that whenever science conflicts with our understanding of the Bible, it’s our understanding of the Bible that must change, not our understanding of science, so maybe there’s a parallel here with philosophy, if it’s fundamentally an understanding of ‘reality.’ Then again, Swedenborg wasn’t too big on philosophy, so…

      • Rohan Pereira says:

        @Rami according to our human reasoning, pardoning the guilty does not make sense. It is simply unacceptable because

        a) we do not want the guilty to do it again
        b) we do not want anyone coming in between progress of both ourselves and society
        c) we want others to take notice of what constitutes bad behaviour that is punishable.
        D) we want others to see how good we are in reigning in the bad.

        Have you ever considered why you are so outraged when someone on your street gets stabbed versus when someone in some faraway remote tribal area gets stabbed?

        Essentially we can see that self-interest indirectly or directly plays a sizeable part in our justice system. Of course there are other factors like compassion and recognition that also play smaller roles.

        Now this human reasoning behind justice cannot be always compared to the reasoning behind God’s reasoning for justice. Let us take a few examples:

        A) how can God allow Satan and his angels to continue to wreck havoc? Humans would have imprisoned Satan if they had the power to do so.

        B) Why couldn’t God have just given Adam and Eve a stern talking to for eating the apple (a relatively minor violation) instead of pronouncing a curse and banishing them from paradise?

        C) Why did God destroy the world in Noah’s times? Is mass murder of men, women and children acceptable in modern warfare?

        D) In Leviticus 16:7, how can God allow a scapegoat to bear the sins of a nation and then set it free whilst sacrificing another goat that lost out in the drawing of lots.

        E) Why were Ananias and Sapphira instantly killed for lying about the full amount of the donations they gave in Acts 5? Would humans sentence someone to death for the same crime of lying about how much they donated.

        F) how could Lot be considered a righteous man? He offered his two daughters to be raped to the homosexuals harassing him instead of the two strangers under his roof.

        G) how could Moses and David get away with murders that were not sanctioned by God?

        Now there are perfect spiritual reasons for all of the above but they all share a common outcome that our human reasoning would not accept.

        Why is it so hard then to rule out penal substitution in the spiritual world? Could there be some spiritual reasoning in the sacrifice of innocent blood/life for the guilty? Is it penal substitution wrong because humans would never permit it?

        If we look at Isiah 55:9
        “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”

        What we see here is that God’s reasoning is different as well as way above our human reasoning and sometimes we fall under the trap of thinking of who God is based on what we do if we were God.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rohan,

          Setting aside several errors in your statements here, there is still a fundamental problem with your reasoning.

          That fundamental error is that this, too, is simply human reasoning.

          You are still avoiding the fact that the Bible never says that Christ paid the penalty for our sins. Not in one single verse.

          There is absolutely no Biblical reason to believe this doctrine.

          Why are you using human reasoning to support it when the Bible never says it?

          Why are you accepting the teachings of Luther and Calvin instead of the teachings of the Bible?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rohan,

          And speaking of errors, there is one that I must correct.

          The men who wanted to rape Lot’s angel visitors were not homosexuals. Rather, they were attempting to carry out a common practice aimed at humiliating the two visitors. The reason their attempted rape was considered shocking in its Biblical context is not so much that it was (attempted) homosexual rape, but that it was a violation of the sacred law in Middle Eastern culture of hospitality to visitors.

          How do we know they were not homosexuals?

          First, the story says that “the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house” (Genesis 19:4, italics added) and demanded to have sex with the two men. Given that the percentage of homosexuals in the general population is somewhere between 1.5% and 3.5%, it’s simply not credible to believe that every single man in Sodom was a homosexual. Most of them would be married men with families. Otherwise Sodom would have no population.

          Second, the use of rape as a tactic of humiliation against men who have been conquered or overpowered is well-documented throughout history, and even up to the present day.

          Especially in ancient times, the act of sexually penetrating another person was seen as an act of asserting dominance over the one penetrated. This was true even of sex within societally accepted marriage, which was seen as a dominant person (the husband) penetrating a submissive person (the wife). That same attitude toward sex as a relationship of dominance and submission was in play when men raped conquered and subdued men. Heterosexual men commonly raped conquered men in order to assert dominance over them and humiliate them, reducing them to the lower social status that women held in those societies. And this sort of thing still happens even today.

          Further, the Bible itself tells us what the sin of Sodom was, and it was not homosexuality. For more on this, and on the Sodom story generally, see: What is the Sin of Sodom?

          You are very much mistaken if you think that the men of Sodom wanted to rape Lot’s two angel visitors because the male inhabitants of Sodom were homosexuals. Such teaching and preaching on the part of conservative Christian ministers betrays a basic ignorance of the cultures of the Bible, and of human behavior generally. And it is yet another case of Protestant fundamentalists ignoring what the Bible itself says in favor of their own human-created teachings.

        • Rohan Pereira says:

          Oh Lee I wish you would go deeper into the comments and understand what the spirit of the message was rather than following it to the letter.

          I did not seek to justify the purpose of the visit of the homosexuals or if they were homosexual or not. All I said was Lot was considered righteous even though he offered his two virgin daughters to be raped instead of offering his angelic guests. Lot would rather have his two innocent daughters raped than have his reputation tarnished. There is no hint of him wanting to protect his guests because they were angels but rather they were simply under the ‘protection of his roof’.

          Also I am not sure how you can class my response as human reasoning. The question that was asked was how can an innocent person be sacrificed for the guilty and what I responded with was that throughout the bible, we can see the spiritual world has its own laws and reasoning that may not be compatible with human reasoning. I say this because if you apply the same laws to our human behaviour, they would be widely rejected (eg. in the examples I have given such as Lot). Henceforth penal substitution is not an absurd assertion if you think of it in the spiritual rather than physical world. It would never hold in our modern way of life as you try to relate to in your articles.

          Also I am not sure if you are looking for the exact words ‘The lord paid the penalty for our sin’

          We have various references that could implicitly point to it such as wages of sin is death, the Leviticus sin offerings and some references in the NT such as:

          2 Corinthians 5:21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

          Romans 3:25-26
          For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.

          Why do you seem so obsessed with protestant doctrine? Why are you are so adamant that the guilty cannot be let off the hook if they repent, accept Jesus’s sacrifice for their sins and be then made right with God through his spirit?

          Let us also look at the some of the verses you have provided in the article

          Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the Lord detests them both. (Proverbs 17:15)

          Whoever says to the guilty, “You are innocent,” will be cursed by peoples and denounced by nations. (Proverbs 24:24)

          You have not given your readers the context here, where God in the OT was passing down various civil. ceremonial and moral laws to the people. With these verses, God detests when we nefariously acquit a guilty person. Where does it mention that the innocent in these paragraphs willingly sacrificed themselves for the guilty or that the guilty accepted that they were guilty?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rohan,

          I was simply correcting a misconception that is common among conservative Christians: that the inhabitants of Sodom were homosexuals, and that this was the reason they were condemned and destroyed by God. That is a bad caricature of the reality of the Bible story, as I point out in the article on the Sin of Sodom that I linked you to.

          As for Lot offering his daughters instead of the visitors, yes, by today’s standards, that would be a horrible, evil, sinful thing to do.

          But Lot didn’t live in today’s society, nor did he live by today’s standards. He lived in a society that existed several thousand years ago in the Middle East, under a very different set of standards. Some of those standards are quite shocking to Westerners today.

          No, Lot wasn’t protecting his guests because they were angels. He was protecting them because they were visitors to his town and to his house, and it was the sacred duty of people in the ancient Middle East (as it still is today in many parts of the Middle East) to honor, protect, and provide for foreign travelers who passed through their town. Whether or not they were angels was irrelevant. He would feel obliged to do the same for any guest in his house.

          And as shocking as it seems to us today that he would offer his virgin daughters to be raped instead of the two men, that is a result of the fact that in ancient Middle Eastern society (and still in many societies today), girls and women were considered to be of much lower status and value than boys and men. This reality is present all through the narrative sections of the Old Testament. While women were not actually property (as some feminist scholars today claim), they were of much lower status than men in ancient society, and were considered relatively expendable in comparison to men.

          The fact that Lot was willing to sacrifice his own daughters to protect his male visitors would have been seen in that society as an example of Lot’s uprightness of character, not as a sign of evil or immorality of character. He was doing what a man of that day was supposed to do, which was protect honored male guests even if it meant sacrificing his own daughters in order to accomplish it. His daughters would have been seen as being of value to him in that they would fetch a “bride price” (not a biblical term, and not entirely accurate) when he married them off. So his willingness to sacrifice their valuable virginity to the men who wanted to rape his male guests would have been seen as a willingness to take personal loss in order to protect his honored guests.

          Shocking by today’s standards?


          But that’s how it would have been viewed in his society and culture.

          This whole incident is a wonderful example of how wrongly we can interpret the text of the Bible if we don’t understand the customs and morals of the societies in which it was written. Anachronistically projecting today’s moral and ethical standards back into Bible times will only cause us to misinterpret the intent and message of the text.

          Mind you, I’m not saying that it is good and moral to offer one’s daughters to be raped in order to protect guests. I believe that today’s moral standards are far, far better than the ones that existed in ancient Bible times—especially when it comes to respect for girls and women as human beings equal to boys and men.

          I’m only saying that by the moral standards of his day, Lot was presented as a moral and upright man in contrast to the wickedness of the inhabitants of Sodom, who would violate and humiliate guests in their town contrary to the ancient code of hospitality.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rohan,

          There are at least two fundamental flaws in your argument that penal substitution can be supported because it is according to divine and spiritual justice, not according to human justice:

          1. As I’ve pointed out numerous times before, the Bible simply doesn’t say that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. So there is no biblical reason to believe it.
          2. Divine and spiritual justice are higher and more just than human justice, not lower and more unjust than human justice, as is penal substitution—whose basic principle of condemning the innocent and exonerating the guilty is explicitly rejected in the Bible. And the Bible is God’s Word to us. That’s where we learn what divine justice is.

          On the passages you quote, once again, not a single one of them says a word about Christ paying the penalty for our sins.

          2 Corinthians 5:21 says that Christ was an offering for our sin, not a penalty for our sin. And as I’ve already pointed out, the ancient Jewish offerings and sacrifices were not penalties, but offerings to God to help bring the sinner into harmony with God’s will. This could be accomplished only if the sinner actually stopped sinning after making the sin offering. Anyone who continued to commit the same sin afterwards was subject to the death penalty. No sacrifice could atone for such willful sin.

          Romans 3:25-26 likewise says nothing about Jesus paying the penalty for our sin. It should be understood in the same light as 2 Corinthians 5:21.

          Further, Romans 3:26 says that God declares sinners to be right “when they believe in Jesus.” And “belief,” or “faith,” in the Bible is never merely an intellectual belief. It always involves faithfulness, meaning a devotion to actually living by Christ’s teachings and example. So Paul was saying that God declares sinners to be right in his sight not when they merely believe in their heads, but when they are actually faithful to Jesus by living according to his teachings. For more on this, see: Faith Alone Is Not Faith.

          None of these passages either says or means that Christ paid the penalty for our sins. Rather, they say that Christ sacrificed himself and his life for us in order to break the hold that sin had on us, and show us the way to repent from our sins and become righteous people instead, through his power and presence in our lives.

          The Bible never says that Jesus came to pay the penalty for our sins, to take away the penalty for our sins, and so on. It always says that Jesus came to take away the sin itself so that we will no longer be sinners. And this happens when we have faith in him, meaning that we believe in him and live according to his teachings.

          Finally, I am not “adamant that the guilty cannot be let off the hook if they repent.” In fact, that is the only way sinners can be let off the hook, as the Bible teaches in hundreds of places. Moses and the Prophets in the Old Testament all told the people that they must repent of their sins and be faithful to the Lord by following his commandments. John the Baptist, Jesus, and Jesus’ disciples all preached to the people that they must repent for the forgiveness of sins.

          Why would the entire Bible say that we must stop sinning and do righteous deeds instead if all we have to do is “accept Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins” and be automatically accounted as no longer being sinners?

          The whole of Protestant doctrine on salvation is not only taught nowhere in the Bible, but is contradicted in passage after passage throughout the entire Bible, both the Old Testament and the New, saying that if we do not repent, stop sinning, and live in faithfulness to God by keeping God’s commandments, we will die.

          I am “obsessed” with the falsity of Protestant doctrine precisely because it is so false and so contrary to everything the Bible teaches about what we must believe and do in order to be saved.

          And once again, you, my friend, are on the wrong side of this debate. You are upholding doctrines invented by Martin Luther and John Calvin 1,500 years after the Bible was written. They are doctrines that the Bible never teaches, and they are doctrines that the Bible flatly rejects in the clearest language possible.

        • Rohan says:

          Yes thank you for the fantastic explanation and in goes in line what I was saying that there are perfect spiritual reasons for Lot to be considered righteous ‘spiritually’. Yes we cannot apply modern day moral reasoning for his actions eve though it was clear Lot was selfishly thinking about his self-interests and made a business choice.

          And so that’s what I am hoping to explain to you that when people argue against penal substitution, almost of their arguments boils down to the fact that the ‘innocent sacrificing themselves for the guilty makes no sense’. Essentially what they try to convey to their audience is that look if you are a courtroom judge today, would you pardon the guilty if an innocent man/woman offers to take their place i.e. they offer to invalidate the concept through modern day moral reasoning but they have cherry picked what modern day reasoning should be applied to and what it shouldn’t be applied to from the bible.

          Let us look for a fine example in your post of where you cherry-pick the use of modern day reasoning:

          ‘First, it makes no sense that a relatively brief physical death, even of the Son of God, would pay the price of eternal death for human beings.’

          Ah in the minds of your layman audience, it makes no sense to who can I ask?

          So all that I am try to say is that do not discard penal substitution simply because it is morally wrong but rather consider that there are verses in the bible that can be interpreted to be a ‘spiritual’ concept. If you think I am a fool, may be you should show some of these passages to your average Joe and ask them what they think it means.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rohan,

          The reason to discard penal substitution is that it isn’t taught in the Bible.

          I don’t know how much clearer it can be.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rohan,

          And the argument isn’t that “the innocent sacrificing themselves for the guilty makes no sense.” It’s that the Bible specifically condemns acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent. And that’s what penal substitution does.

          Penal substitution is not only not taught in the Bible. It is specifically rejected by the Bible.

          There is absolutely no biblical reason to believe in penal substitution, and there are many biblical reasons not to believe in it.

          It isn’t “modern day reasoning.” It’s what the Bible says and doesn’t say, as plain as day.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rohan,

          Your argument isn’t with me. It’s with the Bible. And if you want to argue against the Bible, there’s not much I can say to you.

          If you won’t listen to common sense, and you won’t listen to rational arguments, and you won’t listen to moral arguments, and you won’t listen to the Bible, what further basis is there for a discussion?

          You’ve made it clear that you intend to believe in penal substitution despite the overwhelming Biblical, moral, rational, and common sense evidence against it.

          You’ve made it clear that you intend to believe what Luther and Calvin taught, and that you will listen to no one and nothing else, including the Bible.

          Therefore I simply don’t see any basis for further discussion.

        • Rohan says:

          Well Lee thank you for spending your time and effort to diligently respond to comments. I am happy to disagree and move on.

          I only hope that the readers who do read your posts and may be these comments would have a different perspective in response to you stating that the bible is ‘clear’, ‘simple’ and ‘consistent’ with certain messages such as the mechanics of salvation and that all other theories are fabrications.

          Because if it was as clear as you say it is, the average Joe on the street would have no need for you to link the dots together. They would look at statements like ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’ (John) and ‘So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many’ (Hebrews) and take them for what they are at face value without having to spend time analysing all references to these verses that actually mean something deeper and is open to interpretation.

          I hope that readers would know that a lot of what you say is also an interpretation that is neither %100 right nor %100 wrong. And that there are other interpretations such as protestant doctrine that is also based on collating together various passages from the bible to identify one single common theme/message.

          Truly you provide spiritual milk to newbies and I commend you for that and hopefully they are not put off from understanding different philosophies from their so-called enemies that could aid their spiritual growth.

          P.S. I am not in anyway connected with Judaism but it is interesting to read the reasoning on why some of the Jews needed the Talmud to complement the Torah.

      • Rami says:

        Hi Lee. While we would all agree that human justice is imperfect and fallible, is there any basic correspondence between human justice and Divine justice?

        Proponents of penal substitution (and I think satisfaction) theory would ask, in defense of their position: ‘do sinners deserve to be punished for their sins?’ From Swedenborg’s perspective, this question would appear to be a loaded one, as the idea of reward and punishment doesn’t seem to factor into his theology.

        But we see how punishment seems to factor into our own sense of justice. Rohan earlier outlined several practical reasons why we punish criminals, but I think he leaves out (perhaps most fundamentally) ‘justice’ as one of them: that it’s out of fairness to what one has done to others that a criminal is punished. For instance, people tend to become understandably upset when they learn that someone guilty of a heinous crime is living comfortably in prison. On the one hand, our desire to see them suffer uncomfortably for their actions seems to be vengeful. But on the other, there is a question of fairness: how is it *fair/just* that this person who committed this terrible act be so content in his surroundings?

        Now, this issue is a complex one, as it asks what role should punishment play in our legal system and overall sense of justice, and we’ve seen how fine the line between vengeance and fairness is; but if it is *just* that (rightly convicted) prisoners be punished, is there a corresponding justice that sinful souls also be punished?

        • Rami says:

          Hi again Lee, I was looking a bit more closely into this, and apparently what I’m referring to is ‘retributive justice,’ whereby the perpetrator of a crime suffers a morally deserved and proportionate punishment (a punishment that is also inflicted in addition to the secondary reasons that Rohan mentioned). If I understand it correctly, this is essentially ‘an eye for an eye’; how does this correspond to Divine justice? Does it indicate that God judges and punishes?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          Retributive justice, as reflected in the “law of retaliation” in the Bible, is a low-level form of justice that works for societies and people who are at a rather low level spiritually. It is, therefore, a low-level reflection of divine principles of justice, which provides that the guilty are punished proportionately to their crime, whereas the innocent are not punished because they have not committed a crime (hence their innocence).

          At the divine level, justice works differently, even if retributive justice is a reflection of it. At the divine level, justice operates by divine truth shining on all things, both good and evil, and revealing their true nature. It is then not actually God who punishes, although it does feel that way to those being punished. It is, in fact, their own evil, and the evil of the evil people and evil spirits they associate with, that punishes them. This happens because in committing evil they reject God’s love and protection, laying themselves open to the evil desires of their fellow evil people/spirits, who derive great pleasure from inflicting pain and punishment on others.

          For more on this, see: Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?

          And a related article: Must We Answer in Heaven for Misbehavior we have Confessed To on Earth?

          And one more: Is Hurricane Sandy God’s Punishment on the Wicked?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          On the subject of human and divine justice, please see: Lee Boyd Malvo: Human Justice vs. Divine Justice

          That article should answer some of your questions, or at least put them in context.

          As for punishment, its primary legitimate functions are deterrence, protection of the innocent, and reform of the guilty.

          1. As a deterrent it is certainly not foolproof. But crime does go down when punishment is sure and swift.
          2. Protection of the innocent usually requires criminals to be segregated from society. The death penalty, of course, accomplishes this with quite a bit of finality! But incarceration also serves to protect the innocent from criminals.
          3. Ideally, punishment will cause criminals to stop and think about their behavior, perhaps leading to reform. Once again, this is not foolproof. The criminal must still make a conscious decision to repent and reform. But punishment may goad criminals in that direction.
        • Rohan Pereira says:

          @Rami the eye for an eye concept was a concession allowed by God in the OT.

          Jesus himself stated that it was not something he truly supported:

          Mathew 5:38
          38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.

          The eye for an an eye concept is very much related to human justice in that the punishment determined for a crime is more heavily influenced by what the victim has lost rather than what the perpetrator has done.

          Consider this: what if Cain delivered the same blow to Abel’s head but Able somehow survived it with a gash to his head instead of dying. Would that be an act of ‘lesser’ evil?

          Or what if a thief puts his hands in to your pocket and steals $1 versus him putting his hand in your pocket and taking your $10,000 watch? What would be considered more evil?

          So this system of justice is defective in that the same act is punished differently depending on what the victim loses. The scale of what is considered evil is proportionate to the non-recoverability of losses suffered by the victim.

          But God sees things differently. From the bible we see that his focus is more heavily placed on the heart of the perpetrator. This is as opposed to humans who place it on the victim for mostly out of self interest as discussed before.

          Let us look at some passages

          1 John 3:15
          Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

          1 John 2:9
          If anyone claims to be in the light but hates his brother, he is still in the darkness.

          Here we see from the verses that murder and hating your brother can be on par with each other in the spiritual world. The evil in the heart is what God sees.

          Now that we understand this principle, we can see other acts such as of homosexuality, sexual immorality, gossiping, etc. in a different light.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rohan,

          Thanks for your comment, most of which I agree with, even if I come at it from a somewhat different perspective.

          However, there is one part that I cannot allow to pass without a response:

          Homosexuality is not an “action.” It is a state of being. And it is one that homosexuals neither choose nor have any ability to change. This has been confirmed by extensive experience and research, and by the general failure of Christian and other “conversion therapy” programs to achieve their goal of “converting” gays into straights.

          For more on this, and on the overall issue of homosexuality, please see my article, “Homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity.”

          Also, please do not continue any discussion about homosexuality here. If you want to respond on that subject, please do it at the end of the linked article. Thank you.

    • Rami says:

      I’m not sure how you feel about links to third party articles, but the doctrine of atonement just happens to be the subject of Craig’s upcoming research, in which he spells out the major challenges to penal substitution along with some possible responses in a Q&A article a couple of weeks ago. Just something worth looking at and reflecting on:

      • Lee says:

        Hi Rami,

        Links to other websites are fine as long as they’re for the purpose of continuing or illustrating the discussion here.

        However, that article is somewhat unsatisfying in that it sort of defends penal substitution, but ends inconclusively. I appreciate that the author is not just jumping on the bandwagon and defending penal substitution because it’s official doctrine. It at least shows that his mind is somewhat open on the subject. But an answer of “I don’t know” on such a critical doctrine suggests that he really doesn’t have a very clear view of the matter.

        Of course, I also find some of his arguments in defense of penal substitution to be unconvincing.

        The bottom line for me is:

        1. Penal substitution is taught nowhere in the Bible. There is therefore no particular reason for Christians to believe it.
        2. The Bible explicitly rejects some of the principles that would be necessary for penal substitution to be valid—as I’ve pointed out in this series of articles.

        If there were no other available theory of atonement, perhaps we’d just have to settle for penal substitution. But there are other older and sounder theories of atonement that are solidly based on the Bible, and that are not contradicted by the Bible, as penal substitution is. Spelling out more clearly the meaning of atonement, redemption, justification, salvation, and so on will be a task for future articles. Meanwhile, the various articles already on this site that are linked from the end of each article in this series do spell it out in the practical terms of what we are to believe and what we are to do if we wish to be saved.

  2. Matthew says:

    I’m a bit confused, I learned that Jesus takes away our sins for us to be justified. But are you implying that, even so we need to somehow compensate for that through indulgences? Could you explain a bit more?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Matthew,

      If you mean “indulgences” as in Catholic indulgences, then no, I don’t think they have any effect whatsoever, except to make the people who receive them feel better, and in centuries past, to enrich the Catholic Church.

      Also, “justified” is simply a fancy, Latin-derived word for “made righteous.” It does not mean that God declares us righteous, or justified, even though we are sinners. It means that God takes us from being sinners to being righteous people. And that can happen only by a process of repentance, reformation, and rebirth through the power of Jesus Christ working in us. This happens “through faith in Jesus” in the sense that when we believe in Jesus and are faithful to Jesus, we will live according to Jesus’ teachings and commandments—which start with the commandment to repent for the forgiveness of sins.

      Justification is not some legal declaration or some magical wand-waving event. It is a process of turning sinners into righteous people through repentance from sin and the beginning of a new life according to God’s commandments. The entire Bible, both Old Testament and New, teaches this everywhere.

      Here are a few more articles that you might find helpful:

      The main point is that Jesus takes away our sins. This means that we are no longer sinners. You can’t take away someone’s sins and have them still be sinners. (That’s magical, fallacious thinking on the part of Protestants.) Sin is the action of sinning—of knowingly and intentionally breaking God’s commandments. As long as we’re still doing that, we’re still sinners, and Jesus has not yet taken away our sins—because we have not invited Jesus into our heart, mind, and life and allowed Jesus to take away our sins.

      Taking away our sins is a lifelong process. It is something Jesus Christ accomplishes in us over time, as we accept Jesus more and more into our heart, mind, and life, and live more and more by his teachings, from his power, because as he himself said:

      I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

      • Matthew says:

        Oh, I think I get it. So it is more like a present thing. Where as long as we are still in this world we still continue to sin and each time we go mass or reconciliation, Jesus takes away our past sins which we committed and are truly sorry for it. But it doesn’t mean that Jesus took away our future sins for the rest of our life right? So are you saying that we need to continuously have faith and work in God’s favour? Sorry did I get it right?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Matthew,

          I’m not a Catholic, so I don’t believe that going to mass or reconciliation takes away past sins. Neither the Catholic Church nor its rituals have any power whatsoever to take away sins. Only Jesus can do that. The Catholic Church is very wrong in believing that it can act for Jesus on earth, as the “vicar of Christ,” forgiving people’s sins (or not) and opening (or closing) heaven to them. It has no such power. Only Jesus Christ does. And it is a sin on the part of the Catholic Church itself to arrogate to itself power that belongs to Jesus Christ alone.

          Taking away sins is primarily an internal process of change within ourselves that leads to our no longer engaging in the various sins that we used to engage in.

          It is a lifetime process because we can’t be changed all at once. We generally start with some of the more obvious and egregious sins, such as outright lying, cheating, stealing, and so on, and move on to more subtle sins, such as talking about people behind their back, complaining as a matter of habit, and being jealous of what other people have. As long as we are on the pathway of repenting from our sins and leading a new life, then we are headed toward heaven rather than toward hell.

          Yes, we do need to continually have faith and work in God’s favor, because there is always more work on ourselves that needs to be done. As I said in previous parts of this article, it’s not a matter of, “If you’re not perfect, God’s going to send you to hell.” It’s a matter of our intentions, attitudes, and actions. If we’re working toward leaving behind the wrong, greedy, selfish, and sinful parts of our heart, mind, and actions, and toward living a new life according to the teachings of Jesus Christ in the Bible, then we are on the pathway toward heaven, and that’s where we will go if we die at any particular moment—even if we may have happened to commit some sin just before we died. It’s not any one action that saves or damns us. It is the whole pattern of life that we build up over time.

          So there is no need to go to mass and have our sins forgiven through that ritual every day or every week. That’s just not how it works.

          God always forgives our sins, even before we commit them. But we accept God’s forgiveness only when we recognize and admit that we have sinned, and commit ourselves to not doing it again. If that is our attitude, then when we sin again (as we inevitably will—we’re fallible human beings), we will once again recognize that we’ve done wrong, and commit ourselves to not committing that sin again. Not that we’ll be perfect. And not that it won’t happen without a struggle. But as long as we’re continually working on it, then once again, we’re on the path toward heaven, and God will welcome us into heaven when we die.

        • Matthew says:

          Amazing explanation. It all puts together what I’ve been learning all these while from my parents, from the priest and finally from the bible. Thank you so much Lee. I suppose you don’t find the sacraments of the catholic faith meaningful. You will be surprised over the power of the holy spirit that works through the sacraments of the catholic church. Of course its all based on individual experience. Though its origins may not fully be written in the bible they all do makes sense when coupled with the bible. Anyways I’m not gonna go further, I think Scott Hahn’s “The Lamb’s Supper” says it all about the mass and its relations towards the book of Revelation. I just pray and hope that the Holy Spirit does continue to work in you to proclaim God’s Word and serve his ministry.

          God bless 🙂

        • Lee says:

          Hi Matthew,

          You’re welcome, and thanks for your kind words.

          Just to be clear, it’s not that I don’t think the Catholic sacraments have any meaning at all. It’s that I don’t think the sacraments have the power to remit sins, open heaven to people, and so on.

          Sacraments are symbolic acts. They have no power in themselves. Rather, they serve as physical reminders of the spiritual work that Jesus wants us to do. He said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19), meaning, do this to keep yourselves mindful of my life, my death, and my teachings for your salvation.

          My church recognizes only the two sacraments that Jesus himself commanded: baptism and the holy supper. And we see them as symbolizing the washing of spiritual repentance and reformation (baptism) and accepting into our hearts, minds, and lives God’s love, wisdom, and power (the holy supper). People who physically take these sacraments but do not spiritually do what they symbolize will receive no spiritual benefit from the sacraments at all.

          But people who, upon taking the holy supper, commit themselves to no longer acting wrongly, but to living by Christ’s teachings to love God above all and love their neighbor as themselves, do receive a spiritual benefit. The physical sacrament is an occasion for them to receive Christ inwardly as they receive the bread and wine physically. The bread and wine are just ordinary bread and wine, even after being blessed by the priest. There is no transubstantiation or consubstantiation or any of that non-biblical hocus pocus. Rather, there is a physical symbol reminding us of the spiritual realities of God’s love, mercy, and grace (represented by the bread), and of God’s wisdom, truth, and commandments (represented by the wine).

          The sacraments are physical, symbolic acts that have no power of their own to do anything at all, but rather serve as reminders to the humans who participate in them of Christ’s spiritual presence and working in our lives.

          This is just as true of the Catholic sacraments as it is of the sacraments of any other church or religion. The Catholic Church has no power to bind or loose anything in heaven, nor are its sacraments any more efficacious than the sacraments of any other church or religion. Sacraments are efficacious, rather, as the people engaging in them take them to heart and engage in the spiritual actions of repentance, reformation, and spiritual rebirth that the sacraments symbolize physically.

          Here are two articles that speak more of the meaning of baptism and the holy supper:

  3. newtwontj says:

    “the Bible simply never says that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins” – false.

    The wages of sin is death. Rom. 6:23. Christ died for our sin according to the Scriptures. I Cor. 15:3.

    • Lee says:

      Hi newtwontj,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      However, neither of the passages you quote says that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.

      One of them says that sin will result in death, using the metaphor of wages.

      The other says that Jesus died for our sins. It doesn’t say anything about Jesus paying or being paid the wages (penalty) of our sins. Nowhere does the Bible say this.

      The most natural meaning of “for” in 1 Corinthians 15:3 is “because of.” It was because of our sins that Jesus died. Practically speaking, sinful people killed Jesus. Theologically speaking, Jesus died to save us from our sins.

      But nowhere in the Bible does it say that he saved us from our sins by paying the penalty for our sins. And as the quotes in the above article show, the very principle behind that false teaching is utterly and explicitly rejected by God multiple times in the Bible.

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