How Penal Substitutionary Atonement Fails

As we discussed last time, the New Testament writers agree that the death of Jesus on the cross has a tremendous effect on us, but they never quite explain what they think this effect is or how it works. The Church Fathers were not content with this ambiguity and developed theories of what they imagined happened on the cross. When we talk of the Church Fathers, we simply mean those Christians who wrote about Christianity; it does not imply that they were considered authoritative.

The earliest wide-spread view of atonement (what happened on the cross) is the Ransom Theory. The thought is that in the fall of Adam we became subject to the devil instead of God. Jesus ransomed us; thus Jesus was victor over the devil. There were other theories, but this one was widely held for about a thousand years until it was challenged by Anselm’s Satisfaction Theory in A.D. 1098—about 900 years ago.

Philipe Champaigne La Crucifixion

Philippe de Champaigne [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Anselm and the Satisfaction Theory of Atonement

By Anselm’s day Europe had become a feudal society. Common people (serfs) served a knight who protected a certain area and its population. Socially, there was great distance between knights and serfs so that, while an offense of a serf against another serf might seem fairly insignificant, an offense against the honor of a knight was considered very serious requiring the satisfaction of heavy punishment. Knights could not simply forgive an offense because it would indicate that it didn’t matter much.

The knights, in turn, served the King. Offense against a King was even more serious and warranted an even more severe response.

Rejecting the Ransom Theory, Anselm devised a new theory to explain the need for Jesus’ death. Anselm’s Satisfaction Theory was very much influenced by the feudal society in which he lived. In Anselm’s mind, sin was an offense against the honor of God, and just as a King could not ignore affront to his honor neither could God ignore our affronts to his honor. They had to be punished. However, Jesus’ death on the cross satisfied that honor, so that his death paid for our sins. Jesus suffered punishment as a substitute for us.

This was the first theory that atonement was payment for our sin.

The Protestant Reformers and Penal Substitutionary Atonement

A few hundred years after Anselm, the world of Europe was changing and people were challenging the ideas and restrictions of the old society. One expression of this challenge was the Protestant Reformation led by Luther, Calvin, and others. And one result was the development of a new theory of atonement called Penal Substitution.

Penal Substitutionary Atonement was built on Anselm’s Satisfaction Theory but with a significant difference—these reformers did not see the atonement as Jesus satisfying the honor of God in our place; instead Jesus satisfied the holiness and justice of God.

The idea was that God is holy and cannot abide the unholiness of sin, and he is also just and cannot ignore sin—he must punish it. So God poured out his necessary wrath for our sin on Jesus. Therefore, Jesus paid the debt for our sins in satisfaction of God’s holiness and justice.

Like the Satisfaction Theory, Penal Substitution theory is based on vengeance and retribution rather than love. I believe this falsely portrays the Father as an angry, harsh, vengeful God. Jesus describes him otherwise–as a loving Father seeking our good.

We often feel alienated from God, but the alienation we feel is only from our side; God is NOT alienated from us. The crucifixion of Jesus was unjust. Reflecting on this injustice changes us–not God. God did not ‘require’ a substitute to change his attitude toward us. His forgiveness was already available. Jesus came in order to share the Father’s love for us and to bring reconciliation (atonement).

Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory Today

Millions of believers today continue to embrace the misguided Penal Substitutionary Atonement theory. I call it The Story of Sin and Salvation: Common Baggage Version (CBV). You likely have encountered it yourself. It is often communicated something like this:

God created Adam and Eve in perfection, but then Adam and Eve rebelled against God and sinned by eating the forbidden fruit. God put curses on both of them, and everyone born since then carries Adam’s ‘original sin’ and is separated from angry God.

God is so holy he cannot even look at us because of our sin. And because we are guilty of sin against an infinite God, we must receive an infinite punishment. Therefore we are all on our way to eternal suffering in the fires of hell, and there is nothing we can do to avoid it.

However, God himself made a remarkable provision. He sent his own son to take our sin upon himself. At the crucifixion, God poured all his wrath from our sin upon Jesus, who was infinitely righteous; Jesus suffered the penalty of sin for all of us. Therefore, if we accept the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins, God is able to look at us through the blood of Jesus and forgive our sin.

If we accept Jesus as our savior in the proper way, and separate ourselves from sin in our lives, we can avoid eternal suffering in hell and, instead, go to heaven when we die.

This is an atrocious understanding of God, sin, and forgiveness. It presents God as angry and vindictive instead of a loving Father, and this creates in us fear and alienation. But God wants to heal our fear and alienation. Penal Substitution also presents a mistaken perspective on sin as an affront against God and his many religious rules rather than our harming ourselves and other people.

In addition, there is no forgiveness involved at all. If we owe a debt, the person owed can choose to forgive our debt. But if our debt is paid, then it can’t be forgiven—it is already paid. This theory also brings up the question of God’s abuse against his own son—an abuse anyone would consider nothing less than horrific for any father among us.

There is nothing helpful about Penal Substitution theory; it is all harmful and draws us away from the message of Jesus. Yet those who embrace this theory will offer proof-texts and sometimes harmonize them as proof of this awful theory. But they are only reading their own theory of Penal Substitution back into the biblical passages.

I don’t think any of the three theories we discussed today are anywhere near on target—and by focusing only on Jesus death on the cross they completely leave out what I believe is the most important element of all—his resurrection. Next time, we will talk about resurrection, as well as a better understanding of what Jesus’ death means for us that many believers embrace today.

Articles in this series: Sin and Forgiveness

The Story of Sin and Salvation—Common Baggage Version (CBV)
What is Sin but Pain and Alienation?
Addressing Sin in the Old Testament
The Prophets Begin to Talk about Sin in a New Way
What Does Jesus Say about Sin? Not Much!
The Misguided Concept of ‘Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin’
What does Jesus’ Death on the Cross Do for Us?
How Substitutionary Atonement Fails
Why Did Jesus Die on the Cross?
Does Jesus Tell Us to Judge People in Matthew 18?
Are Sins Primarily Sins against God?
“If There’s No Hell then I Will Sin All I Want!”
Problems with the Sinner’s Prayer
What does the Story of Eden Tell Us? Is it about Sin?
We Do Not Inherit Original Sin from Adam
Original Sin or Original Self-Centeredness?
Who Does God Refuse to Forgive?

See also:

What Does Jesus Think of Sinners Today?

*****

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66 Responses to How Penal Substitutionary Atonement Fails

  1. Pingback: What Does Jesus’ Death on the Cross Do for Us? | Jesus Without Baggage

  2. Pingback: The Misguided Concept of ‘Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin’ | Jesus Without Baggage

  3. Pingback: What Does Jesus Say about Sin? Not Much! | Jesus Without Baggage

  4. Pingback: The Prophets Begin to Talk about Sin in a New Way | Jesus Without Baggage

  5. Pingback: Addressing Sin in the Old Testament | Jesus Without Baggage

  6. Pingback: What is Sin but Pain and Alienation? | Jesus Without Baggage

  7. Pingback: The Story of Sin and Salvation—Common Baggage Version (CBV) | Jesus Without Baggage

  8. Hi Tim, I like what you’re saying and you argue the case very well.

    I too find the Penal Substitution theory of atonement deeply troublesome, even repugnant. But I don’t feel quite as able yet to discard and reject it completely as you do. However, for me it’s just one of many models or metaphors for understanding something that is really a mystery beyond our understanding. There are many different ways of thinking about the cross, but they’re all imperfect and incomplete – all partial views which reveal something of the reality while also obscuring it.

    So the Penal Substitution model does seem to have *some* basis in the words of Isaiah 53: “he was pierced for our transgressions… upon him was laid the punishment that brought us peace… the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all”. And of course (as you say) there’s the imagery of the priestly sacrifices for sin, which the writer of Hebrews in particular links to Jesus’s sacrifice of himself on our behalf.

    But the key for me is that these are all poetic images and metaphors, not scientific or legal statements to be taken literally. And there are many other ways of understanding the cross that I find far more helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Harvey, I agree that there are a number of ways of thinking about how Jesus’ death works on our behalf; even the NT writers thought different things. I will share a bit next time on what I think is a better way to think about it–but, as you say, there is no absolutely right way that would serve as a doctrinal ‘truth’. It is a mystery and will remain so.

      However, as you noted, I think substitutionary atonement is absolutely misguided and has a number of very harmful consequences. Regarding Isaiah 53, I think it refers to the situation of Israel in Isaiah’s time and is not a prediction of Jesus at all. However, it does resemble Jesus’ experience to some extent and was appropriated to Jesus by NT writers. But it was not written about Jesus, and I don’t think it can serve as a basis for explaining the impact of his death.

      I certainly agree that all the NT references involve imagery and metaphor and were not meant to be doctrinal statements.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tim, I completely understand why you view substitionary atonement as so harmful, and I do agree to quite a large extent. Perhaps my problem is that there’s still a persistent part of me that worries it might be true! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          I understand. I have been on my journey out of conservative evangelicalism for a long time but along the way, as I discarded certain beliefs, I often had that uncomfortable feeling: ‘What if they are right?’

          Though I have no desire to persuade anyone to believe as I do, I do feel quite firmly that God is not an angry, vindictive, or petty God. He loves us and he always has.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yes. I think that if we refer to the Life and Words and Actions of Jesus/Yeshua Himself, there can be no doubt as to the Nature of GOD, and ‘His’ creation of ALL in the Spirit of Love. If God, the Great Spirit behind and within all of creation (recognized and acknowledged or not!), were anything less than “unchangeably compassionate” (Pythagoras), and of unconditional Love (albeit we discipline ourselves via the cause-and-effect law), then He would not Be God!!?

            Liked by 2 people

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Well said, Noel.

            Like

          • Son of man says:

            The gift that Christ brings is The Holy Spirit Of His Heavenly Father (John 7:39). The Holy Spirit renews and sustains and augments with Eternal Life. It can be interpreted to get rid of sins, but the real focus is on the Christ relationship and with all the faithful & true to God-The-All-to-be-In-One-Perfect-Holy-Spirit attempting to unify with the prioritization of Love & Truth such as http://tinyurl.com/InvitationToHeaven

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  9. Chas says:

    TEL touches on an important factor in regard to understanding. The problem is that the Bible was written by men alone, without God taking any part. Had it been written under God’s instruction, or even under His inspiration, it would have been clear and concise and easy to understand.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Agreed. However, I don’t think Jesus was interested in satisfying our intense curiosity about background theological issues; that was not his purpose. But I think his purpose in letting us know that the Father loves us and that we should love each other is quite clear. Theology is secondary to the good news.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Chas says:

        Tim, the problem is that because of these difficulties in understanding, the Bible actually shifts our focus away from God. For my part, I wish to discard it all, but I am aware that we all have to start somewhere and that hidden among it is a fundamental truth that has brought us to our belief in Jesus. The Bible is nearly all baggage that has been added by man, hung on the simple truth. Our problem is to go back and discern that simple truth.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Yes, Chas, I would like to discard some parts of the Bible that are not useful myself. But if we can approach the Bible with the idea that it was written by humans who felt a strong relationship with God, then we can learn about how they thought and gain insights for ourselves. The problem, it seems to me, is in taking everything in the Bible as God’s word to us. You are right in that there is also some essential information in the Bible–especially as it relates to Jesus.

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  10. Thank you for the historical context and progression.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. There seems far to much emphasis in Christianity of blood sacrifice and sin when the emphasis should instead be placed on Christ’s Gift Of His Father’s Boundless & Incorruptible Holy Spirit.

    Q. Who or what is the Holy Spirit?

    From these two verses it can be deduced that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father:

    Berean Literal Bible
    Matthew 10:20 For you are not those speaking, but *the Spirit of your Father* speaking through you.

    Berean Literal Bible
    Mark 13:11 But when they might lead you away, delivering you up, do not be anxious beforehand what you should say; but whatever might be given to you in that hour, speak that. For you are not those speaking, but *the Holy Spirit*.

    Furthermore the Father is considered as the Source of the Holy Spirit, and the Son glorified in the Father is the giver of the Holy Spirit *of* the Father:

    King James Bible
    John 15:26 But when the Comforter is come, whom *I will send* unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, *which proceedeth from the Father*, he shall testify of me:

    The analogy of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit would be to think of the Father as the Ocean and the Holy Spirit as the Water in the Ocean. The Son can be thought of as the conduit immersed in the Ocean which grants others access to the Water having the same properties of the Ocean. The only problem with this analogy is that when we think of drinking the Water we think of taking it out from the Ocean and consuming it separately from the Ocean, whereas the gift of the Holy Spirit remains both in the boundless & incorruptible Father while also simultaneously within the faithful of Christ becoming all part of the Same One Spirit. The Father being the boundless & incorruptible Source is also always able to satisfy the innumerable faithful of Christ as much as they want to experience of the Holy Spirit’s infinite range of forever more peace, love, beauty, joy and blissful freedom throughout eternity with Christ.

    New International Version
    Romans 8:18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

    New International Version
    John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

    International Standard Version
    John 7:38 The one who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, will have rivers of living water flowing from his heart.
    39 (But this he spoke of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive, for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)

    A. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father the boundless & incorruptible Source in whom Jesus is forevermore glorified being the Christ the Fulfillment of the Gift of the Holy Spirit joining all the faithful of Christ together in The One Eternally Blessed God; The Eternal Progression of Oneness-In-Love (see diagram linked below).

    http://tinyurl.com/TheGrandDesignOfGod

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chas says:

      Bernard, I am very much with you on the need to focus on God rather than on the details of, and reasons for, Jesus’ death. What man has chosen to call the Holy Spirit is just God communicating with us. Using an elaborate explanation is not necessary.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Jennifer Bristol says:

    I’m new to Christianity and learning there’s a lot of opinions out there. As I understand it… Adam was told by God that eating the fruit would cause death (Genesis 2:16-17). Adam and Eve disobeyed and became cursed to suffer pain and death of the physical and spiritual body.

    Jesus was here to teach us about God and was the sacrificial lamb to partially atone for that original sin by dying on the cross, so our spirit/souls have eternal life. We still pay for the sin with our suffering and physical death.

    As long as it makes sense to you, what does it matter which theory you believe in?

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Thank you, Jennifer. I think you are right in a sense, but in my opinion this theory of atonement casts God as alienated from us and easily offended. This is not at all the way Jesus talks about him in the gospels as a Father who loves us unconditionally and always has..

      Believing this theory often causes people to be afraid of God and constantly concerned that they will offend him and be punished, so rather than living joyfully in the good news of Jesus they are always on trial. This is harmful baggage.

      Liked by 1 person

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  14. mark says:

    The early traditions of the “fathers” seemed to fall into to camps of thoughts. One was that Jesus was a prophet sent to turn the people back to the true worship of the TRUE GOD of creation.
    The other has it that Jesus as the Christ was to be a ransom paid to the Demiurge to correct the first Adams failure.. But neither camp spoke of or wrote about a resurrection of the body. The first group held that Jesus death was a tragedy but was not the intended purpose…..the second group held that the crucifixion did occur but that CHRIST was Spirit and not flesh.
    The thoughts and doctrines of a crucifixion and resurrection and the why of it all didn’t come about before the mid to late 2nd century..and was unified at the council of TRENT later on. We are talking nearly 3 centuries here!

    Most of the NT was written well after Jesus day,..except for Paul’s writings which seem to date around 45 to 60 ad…The Gospels appear to date as late as 90 to 127 ad. Could this mean they like us didn’t understand the “CROSS” either? OR,..was it something else?
    Why the period of silence?
    By the time the writings were inked. all the eye-witnesses to the events were dead and gone.
    Only Paul seemed to be current and his tales came no earlier than 10 to 15 years after the fact…..also as a contemporary and being in and around Jerusalem supposedly during Jesus ministry Paul doesn’t seem to know anything about the Man or his teachings……only a vision many years later……I find that very odd indeed.

    Oh boy what a can of worms we have….for 2 hundred years nobody spoke or taught of a blood sacrifice by Christ for our sins. Then we have politics getting in the picture by the Emperor Constantine and Christianity is not LEGAL and it’s all the latest rage!….it’s suddenly a respectful and Hellenistic style philosophical religion the masses can get behind and the Government can control..
    Jesus didn’t teach sacrifice….he taught obedience and Love as the way to please GOD….why did the Newly invented “State Church” change the message and the story of why Jesus came and what he taught?
    We sing the song “Jesus saves” but we don’t do what He says…we listen to Paul instead. Did Jesus found Christianity or did Paul?
    If it’s of Paul then the cross answer can be either a substitution or it can be a ransom…
    But what if Jesus was right and many would come in “his name” making claims…..he said don’t go there and don’t listen to them….they would scatter the flock…..hmmmmm.

    I have many questions these days since my exit from fundamentalism…and I’m sure I could be labeled a Heretic for even mentioning them… But I keep thinking about what Jesus said “by your traditions of men, you make the Word of GOD to none effect” mk 7:13
    So don’t hate me guys….just trying to be a Berean

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    • Chas says:

      Certainly not trying to hate you here, Mark, I agree with much of what you have said. As I have looked at this more closely, it seems to me that Paul might have been the author of the Q-Gospel and that he could have sent out Luke and Mark, and probably Matthew, on missions, each taking a copy of the Q-Gospel with them as their guide to Paul’s views on Christianity. Each then made their own additions to their Q-Gospel to provide stories that supported the views they were trying to put over. Many problems have arisen because of the independence of these additions (e.g. the two different genealogies of Jesus).

      Like

  15. jesuswithoutbaggage says:

    Hey Guys, my post was shared to another Facebook page that had a good exchange between two readers who disagreed. One of the responses (from Mark) was so good I wanted to post it here.

    He replied to he opposing discussion partner, “There are several things at stake for me, including…

    “1) I think it is important to get away from a notion that the need for death and blood and judgment/destruction/vengeance is so fundamentally ingrained in the universe that even God must obey and satisfy it. It puts something above or beyond God.

    “2) Even if we understand this need for death, punishment, and judgment as something God requires (but understand that God could have done something different) it paints a picture of God that is predominated by death, wrath, vengeance, and hard application of draconian law, rather than a picture of God who is loving (or, for that matter, love itself), gracious, merciful, who relents from punishing, and so forth. At the very least it paints a picture of a God most fundamentally concerned about rules or absolute order. The picture of God in a framework that requires substitution is not one that at least distorts, if not falsifies, the biblical picture of God.

    “3) Following from number 2, this also ends up elevating law over gospel, making the gospel subservient to the law’s demands by making the gospel a special case fulfillment thereof.

    “4) It tends to make the death and suffering of Christ dominant in such away that the incarnation, the life of Christ, and the resurrection are relegated supporting roles to the death itself.

    “5) A substitutionary scheme concentrates on satisfying a condition or removing a block, rather than opening up a life that is deeper, wider, broader, and greater than without him.

    “6) Substitution minimized the literally compassionate aspect of Jesus incarnation, life, an death. That is, it moves Jesus to suffering instead of us, rather than a Jesus who gets down in the mud of the human condition and suffers with us (literally compassion, suffering with), and so brings us through it with him. That is, the fundamental nature of Jesus work is not in the word “instead” but in the word “with” so that we can come out on the other side, accompanied along the way, with him in his resurrection.”

    I want to thank Mark for this excellent comment! ~Tim

    Liked by 1 person

    • fiddlrts says:

      That’s an outstanding response. I particularly love the first one – the foundation idea. In a world where we are *less* obsessed with vengeance, honor, and blood payment, the whole idea that the universe is set up to resemble a violent society of the past just doesn’t make sense.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Chas says:

      Tim, Point 2) is an interesting idea, as it also implies that the world in which we live, with its suffering, death and destruction, was also unavoidable to God. This is consistent with the concept that God made everything in the universe from something separated out of Himself, so that destruction could occur separate from Him. Thus He must have created the universe so that the forces of destruction in it are of themselves bringing about what He wants to create, without Him needing to destroy anything. Because He is loving, kind and gentle, He influences people not to do things that they know might lead to suffering, so that suffering is minimized.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. fiddlrts says:

    Intriguing ideas. I hadn’t made the connection between Medieval honor culture and the atonement idea. (For one thing, raised Evangelical, I had never even heard that there were alternatives to PSA, or that it was not the original understanding.)

    It seems this should have been obvious to me earlier in life, that our interpretations of things has *always* tracked our understandings in other areas. Thus, a culture focused on honor and avenging insults would indeed see an event in that light. Even the NT seems to do this, with the writers of the Gospels tying the Cross to the OT sacrifices – because that’s how a Jewish readership would understand it. We get into the weeds so easily when we insist on taking metaphors and attempts to picture concepts as literally as possible and assuming they just transplant into our own culture and frame of reference. (My least favorite example is taking the metaphor of Christ and the Church to mean that marriage is a hierarchy.)

    I look forward to the rest of this series.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Fiddlrts, as a fundamentalist I was not aware there were other ideas about atonement either. When I came to realize this and was able to evaluate substitutionary atonement against what Jesus tells us about the Father, it was a great relief to be able to walk away from this misguided belief.

      Like

  17. This is helpful, and thank you for writing it. I’m currently reading NT (Tom) Wright’s “Simply Good News” and it discusses a lot of what you’ve covered here. I’ve found it really helpful. Despite years of studying this theology at an amateur level under some highly regarded teachers, it never seemed complete to stop with “Jesus died for my sins.” The question, “What do I do about that?” seemed to rely too much on sitting around waiting for a disembodied heaven, while selling the magic password to heaven to as many people as possible along the way. After reading NT Wright and similar authors I’m learning there are fuller, more complete and more practical answers that affect how I live in the present (and it’s not about selling people an afterlife insurance plan). It in no way detracts from Jesus’s death and resurrection to take it deeper than a vague notion of His taking the violent blows from a wrathful God.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hi Fikalo, it’s good to hear from you; I haven’t heard from you in a while. NT Wright does write some good stuff, though I haven’t read that particular book.

      Your statement, “What do I do about that?” seemed to rely too much on sitting around waiting for a disembodied heaven, while selling the magic password to heaven to as many people as possible along the way” made me chuckle. You expressed very well the way I lived for years before I realized we have a greater purpose in the world than that.

      It sounds as though you are reading some good authors, and I bet its making a big difference for you–it does for me. So keep on reading, learning, and growing. We all need it!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. robstanback says:

    As one fairly new to the church, I find that one of the things that kept me away so long was that for me the various versions of substitutionary theories did not ring true. Do they not mean that prior to the crucifixion all sinners – and that means everyone – went to Hell? Did God really have to find a loophole in the laws of the universe, and sacrifice a son, in order that He might forgive us? Any god I might believe in was surely bigger than that!

    Whatever theory we choose to replace substitutionary theories, the crucial question remains:
    Why did Jesus CHOOSE to die on the cross?
    It is clear that Jesus knew what was in store for him, but He did not try to escape, and in fact walked intentionally into the path of his own crucifixion. His death must have had a divine purpose!

    What Jesus brought that was new to religion was the centrality of unconditional love and unconditional forgiveness, the two being intertwined. One cannot love whom one cannot forgive, and unconditional forgiveness is a true act of love. Jesus set out to teach us that God’s forgiveness is there for the asking, and thus we, too, are to be forgiving. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” was central to his message that we are loved by God and are to love others.

    In Jesus’ time the prevalent mindset was that, as sinners, we must pay for our sins, as illustrated by the requirement of making sacrifices upon the altar of the temple. God was thus a vengeful god. Jesus set out to upset this thinking, just as He upset the tables of the money changers. He had to change that mindset in order for His message of love to spread throughout the world. Jesus’ death became the foundation of a religion based on love and forgiveness, that would revolutionize the world. Regardless of which substitutionary theory one might believe, His crucifixion has convinced millions of people over the years that God forgave them, and that they were therefore to forgive others.

    Two thousand years later, we still haven’t got it right; we still find it hard to accept that we are forgiven our sins (do we all not carry around some degree of shame?) and we still find it hard to forgive and to love those who have harmed us. How different our world would be if we all could better learn to forgive!

    Jesus did not die to so that we would be forgiven. We already were! Jesus died so that we might accept the reality of God’s unconditional forgiveness. This, that we might be freed – no, bound – to go about the business of creating His Kingdom on Earth through love and forgiveness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Wow Rob! For a person fairly new to the church, you certainly show a lot of good insight. Everything you said resonates with me, and I have been in the church more than 50 years and did not arrive at my current views quickly.

      I strongly agree that Jesus’ vision for his followers is not generally recognizable in the church today or for most of its history. Would that we would all grasp the depth and importance of loving God, ourselves, and others.

      Like

  19. cmgatlin53 says:

    I don’t think it is reasonable to accept most of what we all accept about Jesus (found in the NT) and reject the concept that Jesus’ death on the cross was undertaken to make it possible for us to enter eternity with God (also found in the NT).
    One place where the various theological explanations go wrong is in analyzing this as some sort of balancing of the books, rather than a necessary process to transform imperfect human beings into beings that can enter that state of eternity.
    Resurrection seems to be step of that process that lets mortal beings become immortal beings (whatever that means, as I don’t insist that the descriptions of the future state are literal, although I do believe they are true). Death is a necessary prelude to resurrection.
    Jesus’ “one oblation once offered” is somehow the mechanism that allows our deaths to lead to resurrection. We are not told exactly how this works, although some metaphorical comparisons are made by the evangelists and Paul. We are told “THIS is happening, with THIS result,” which is all we need to know. (We can trust Jesus, and much of the Gospels were written to show us that.) Theologians and preachers just won’t let go of trying to explain logically how it works; but all these explanations—being based from our own viewpoint in a finite world—go wrong because they’re trying to explain something that happens in eternity, where God is, where Jesus came from, returned to, and will take us when we leave here.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      CMG, I think you are right about “We are told “THIS is happening, with THIS result,” which is all we need to know…Theologians and preachers just won’t let go of trying to explain logically how it works.” I don’t think it is bad to speculate on it, but to settle on penal substitution and declare that this is the way God is really distorts what Jesus says about God and makes reconciliation a whole different, and terrible, concern.

      I agree with you that this is not some balancing of the books and that death is necessary for resurrection. Why muddy up Jesus death with either Medieval or legal mindsets?

      Liked by 1 person

    • robstanback says:

      CMG, If Jesus’ death on the cross was undertaken to make it possible (i.e., was necessary) for us to enter eternity with God, what happened to all the souls who died before Jesus? And, what happens since then to those who die but do not believe?

      I find I cannot accept the answers I have found in the past to these questions, but perhaps you or someone else can explain it differently or more effectively. Until then, I will remain agnostic as to eternity, and continue to believe in creating God’s Kingdom here on Earth.

      Like

      • cmgatlin53 says:

        Replying to your last statement first, I don’t find believing in eternity with God mutually exclusive with working to build up His kingdom here and now. Where eternity comes in for me personally is when my earthly life ends–hopefully not for another decade or so.
        As to what happened (happens?) to the people who died before Jesus died on the cross and rose again, we are not told in the Bible. But we are told that God is just and merciful. If it offends even our flawed sense of justice and our insufficient compassion to contemplate what happens to those souls, we can trust that God, who is infinitely more just and merciful, has got them safely provided for. We don’t need to worry about them. We need to make sure we’re trying to follow Jesus ourselves.
        However, there are some hints in the Bible that perhaps the souls in the place of waiting after death got an opportunity to hear the Good News from Jesus (I think the passage is in one of Peter’s epistles). Likewise, my speculation would be that those after the crucifixion who died without hearing the Gospel might also be in that same place of waiting when Jesus got there between Good Friday and Easter morning. But we haven’t been told what provisions are made. We’re told to share the good news, not worry about mysteries of God’s compassion.

        Liked by 1 person

  20. Thank you! Yes, reading widely has always been my method of dealing with anything life throws at me…

    My use of WordPress always seems to die down a bit during the Australian summer – now it’s autumn here I’m back online more often!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. mark says:

    I look at Christianity with a very critical eye today. After having spent 56 years in the “church”, standing in the Que of the very far left fundies all the way over to the far right..universal salvation group, I’ve become very skeptical of mens traditions and the way the “sell” GOD .
    We have a Bible….or 50 so translations of a story written by the Pen of scribes….not the finger of GOD. It’s mans opinion!.

    So what if……
    What if the Religious leaders of the temple had their bank-roll and iron grip challenged by a young upstart radical who attempted to teach the people the TRUTH about the Creator GOD. The GOD who loves HIS creation and called it all good….not evil and sinful.
    What if the Sacrifice on the cross was not the intended outcome?
    What if this young teacher was calling out the Mollec/Baal/Ishtar/Tammuz animal and child blood sacrifice for what it was….Evil!
    According to the text dating s…none of the gospels are eye-witnesses to the actual events…so why do we take the words of scribes that wrote these events many many years after the fact as the FACT?
    Matt Mark Luke and John were not written by the apostles….why do we take these stories as gospel,…pun intended..

    I’m stepping out on a limb here but I feel the Jesus was set up and killed to silence his opposition to their sickening and revolting practices.
    The scriptural and pseudo-textual evidence doesn’t support the narrative.
    So what if….what if Jesus Christ died not to take away our supposed Passed down “Garden Sins” to reconcile us with the FATHER…….but instead was murdered plain and simple to shut him up….

    The more things change the more they stay the same….

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Mark, I agree with you that the books of the Bible, including the gospels, were written by people–not God. In the case of the gospels, though, I think they have a good foundation. They aren’t just made-up stories but were written from the memories of Jesus’ earliest followers passed down in oral tradition among the churches until the gospel writers wrote them down.

      The words of Jesus might not be word-for-word, but they represent the memory of the hearer and the impact they had on them. Overall, the gospels present a fairly consistent picture of Jesus that I think we can trust and follow.

      I also agree with you that the reason Jesus was killed was because he caught the attention of the powers that be by challenging their religion and politics with the new underground kingdom of God movement. But I think there were also other things going on in his death and resurrection that I will talk about in my next post.

      Like

      • mark says:

        Tim…I will ruffle feathers here. Sorry my friend but I do not for one second believe that what we have as a biblical text today was indeed the memories of those folk who knew the LORD and passed the stories on. Scientifically it has been proven with testimonies in a court of law that after 2-3 months a witness’s testimony is clouded , jaded and a figment of what they Chose to remember…not the truth. We we look at the gospel dating s..the earliest are those of Paul….and they are 18 to 25 year after the fact…and the fact He never met Jesus in person or seemed to even know about him while he persecuted the early movement…do you not find that strange? Well I do! I also find it odd that those who transcribed the tets and interpreted them for us are also the same TRIBE who voted in one voice to crucify him and have his blood on their hands for generations…The same Talmudist today who claim CHRIST is in hell boiling in a vat of urine..! If we want to look at CHRIST without baggage then lets take of the theological and racially chosen blinders off and call the ace an ace.
        Let’s not parse words here my friend…what we have today as a BIBLE is a doctored political satanic “Their” version of events that simply can not be substantiated..by researchers or Biblical scholars There are nearly 5000 manuscripts from antiquity that share many things…old and New Testament..but what we have at our disposal are a minority of scripts from the Masoretic interpretations that do not agree with nearly 96% of the oldest know scrolls. To think there is not a political and satanic agenda here is to be naive to say the least. Our red letter version make the claim that these are Jesus’s words and are proof of what Our LORD taught….BUNK!! You ever play the telephone game as a kid??
        Ok…lets play switch hitter here!…..If we believe the BI-bull is true,..then CHRIST never taught the gospel we teach in Christianity today. HE never taught that he was sent as a blood sacrifice to redeem mankind back to GOD.. He taught the Law of the Temple was idolatry and the way back to GOD was obedience and NOT SACRIFICE.. He never said do the LAW and believe on me ’cause in a month or two I will shed my blood and make it all right with the FATHER and then the LAW would go away.. HE said to have eternal life we had to OBEY…not the Pharisees…..but the simple commands of GOD……HE even told the disciple to KEEP HIS COMMANDS….not cry and slobber over spilled blood at and alter..
        These opinions are not mine…they are the culmination of 1900 years of GODLY men who withstood the Constantine Catholic and satanic subversion of the true faith…

        Indeed lets have JESUS without the Baggage.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Mark, you did not ruffle my feathers; I think you said some good things here, especially in the ‘Let’s play switch hitter’ portion. However, I did not follow you completely in the early parts. The New Testament is not based on the Masoretic text, which is an Old Testament Hebrew text. In fact OT quotes in the NT are primarily from the Greek Septuagint.

          I also agree with you that the ‘red letter’ portions of the Gospels are not word-for-word what Jesus said, but I think differently about the general integrity of what is written in the Gospels about Jesus. Jesus’ early followers who watched him and heard them speak were impacted by the things they heard and saw, and the things that impacted them most were shared in their churches.

          The stories from these original witness were passed down orally and publicly to the following one or two generations until they were written down. This is not the same as playing ‘telephone’.

          Now I am no fan of the Constantinian church, but there is no evidence that the manuscripts were tampered with. There are differences between the broader witness of the earliest NT manuscripts and the limited Majority Text, but they are minimal and make hardly a difference at all.

          I agree with you that the Bible is not a collection of works dictated by God; they were written by people who had strong feelings about God but wrote from the limitations of their era, culture, and understanding. But that does not destroy the integrity of Jesus’ life and message. And there is no political corruption of the texts.

          What do you propose in place of the Bible we have today? I am not sure, but some of your protests seemed anti-Jewish. Essentially all the early followers of Jesus and leaders the early church WERE Jewish. Do I misunderstand your point here?

          By the way, I have never heard of a ‘Talmudist’ who claimed “CHRIST is in hell boiling in a vat of urine.” Can you document this for us? Also, can you list some names of those throughout the centuries who opposed the Constantine church, so we can understand who you are talking about?

          Like

    • Chas says:

      I agree that Jesus was killed to shut him up, but what would cause them to want to shut him up. Perhaps by saying that the Judaic scriptures were written by men, because they contradicted one another.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Ben Leese says:

    I agree with much of what you are saying. I have thought through some of this and developed a different model based on Paul’s concern about our adoption as sons and daughters. You can read about it at http://www.godoptstoadoptus.com The bottom left essay is the best place to start.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Pingback: Why Did Jesus Die on the Cross? | Jesus Without Baggage

  24. michaeleeast says:

    Substitutionary Atonement Theory, especially the Satisfaction Theory, is revolting and offensive. Jesus’ death on the cross was a great tragedy lamented by God. We should not try and twist it into God’s Will. God is not in control of everything. He is not represented by earthly authorities. God is non-violent and does not force us. We have free will and God respects that. This is why Jesus died. But there is more. God responds with the resurrection.

    Liked by 1 person

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  37. Rob Stanback says:

    Richard Rohr on the topic of substitutionary atonement:
    https://cac.org/a-nonviolent-atonement-2017-07-24/

    The Franciscan “minority view” of atonement — so ably explained here by Richard Rohr — is precisely the same as the view I hold, which I have struggled fruitlessly to verbalize ever since my acceptance of Jesus into my life. Previously, though I did not know the term of substitutionary atonement, the idea — that God required Jesus to die on the cross in order that we might be forgiven — was not credible to me, and thus invalidated what I thought was the key tenet of Christianity. Only when I discovered the idea that Jesus’ death was a gift to us, that enabled us to accept God’s grace, and not a sacrifice to God that made it possible for God to forgive us, only then did the God of the Bible become the God of eternal love who was the only God I was able to believe in; only then was I able to fully embrace Christianity.

    I hope his words are as meaningful to others as they are to me.

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