Theories of Substitutionary Atonement

 Substitutionary Atonement
Substitutionary Atonement
(Reformed Theology)
Sins paid for through the compensation afforded a victim of unjustified suffering It is commendable, and therefore worthy of compensation for to suffering for doing good. (1Pet 2:20)
Sins paid for by bringing wrath upon the guilty party
God reckoned Jesus innocent, but allowed him to be subjected to unjustified suffering at the hands of the wicked.
"He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." (1Pet 2:22,23)

God pretended Jesus to be guilty of the sins of the world and brought wrath upon him.
God is actually just
2Th 1:6,7a  God is just
  • He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you (wrath)
  • and give relief to you who are troubled, (compensation)
God is just in name only, but in practice reckons the innocent to be guilty.
God does not lie to himself of Jesus' innocence
Titus 1:2a God, who cannot lie
God lies to himself concerning Jesus' guilt

Pr 28:5 Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it fully
1Peter 3:17,18a  It is better, if it is Godís will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

Jesus Christ was an atoning sacrifice for our sins
Rom 3:25,26  God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunishedó  he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

1Jo 2:2  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

1Jo 4:10  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Eph 5:2 Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But in what sense did Jesus die for our sins? And how did Jesus dying for our sins not violate God's judicial nature?

One thing the Bible makes clear is that God is just.
"God is just" 2Th 1:6a What is being just from God's standpoint?
Ex 23:7  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.

(Does God murder the innocent? Certainly not! It violates His concept of justice)

Ps 94:20,21 Shall the throne of iniquity, which devises evil by law, Have fellowship with You?  They gather together against the life of the righteous, And condemn innocent blood.

(Legalized murder, as in the case of abortion, is evil. Likewise God Himself does not legalize murder)

Pr 16:16,17 These six things the LORD hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, ...

(If God murdered the innocent He would hate Himself)
So we see that God's concept of justice according to the Bible is much the same concept of justice as accepted by societies around the world. Nothing weird about that.

Furthermore, under God's system of justice, unjust suffering incurs reward as compensation.
2Th 1:6,7 says:
God is just: He will
1. pay back trouble to those who trouble you and
2.  give relief to you who are troubled

The Bible teaches this about God's justice, that
1. God's judicial nature demands condemnation of the guilty
2. God's judicial nature demands compensation for the unjustified suffering of the innocent.
We see this played out in Luke 16 of Jesus' telling of Lazarus and the Rich man: "Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony." Luke 16:25

And likewise the promises of compensation for unjustified suffering.

Matt 5:10-12  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven

2Cor 4:17 our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

The Bible speaks of Jesus' death as an example of unjust suffering
Consider also 1Peter 2:18-22
Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.  "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth."
Here we note not only the principle of compensation for unjustified suffering, but we note that Jesus himself suffered in that manner. And likewise we see another passage speaking of Jesus suffering, not because he was guilty of sin, but because he was doing good:
1Peter 3:17,18  It is better, if it is Godís will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit
The Bible indicates that while God ordained the death of his Son, and Jesus also agreed to it, the act itself of killing Christ was unjust. Notice how it speaks of those who killed Christ:
Acts 2:23 "This man was handed over to you by Godís set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross."

Ac 2:36  "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."

Ac 1:18  With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field;

Acts 7:52  Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered himó

Some have been mislead into believing that everyone killed Christ, but such is not the case. Notice above that the apostle Peter and Stephen, who themselves were Jewish, did not use the word "we" when assigning responsibility, but "you". The fact that Christ died for the sins of the world does not mean that everyone killed Christ. Rather he was murdered by a multitude of Jews and some Romans.

If Christ was imputed with the guilt of sin and his death was for that imputed guilt, then his death would have been just. Indeed he could have had his own apostles put him to death in Levitical fashion as a judical act. But rather Christ' death was portrayed as an unjust act committed by wicked men. Indeed if it were just then what did Judas do wrong. Yet Jesus said of him, "The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born." Mr 14:21

Not even his enemies reckoned Jesus to be guilty
Matt 27:4 Judas, "I have betrayed innocent blood."

Matt 27:19 Pilate's wife: "Donít have anything to do with that innocent man,

 Luke 23: 14,15 Pilate and Herod: I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him;  "no, neither did Herod, for I sent you back to him; and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him.

In fact if his enemies understood the gospel would they have crucified Christ?
1Cor 2:8  None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
So also the Scriptures declare Jesus sinless
Heb 9:14 Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God,

Heb 4:15  just as we areó yet was without sin.

2Cor 5:21 He had no sin

 1John 3:5 in him is no sin.

1Peter 2:22 He committed no sin

God did not crucify Christ, though it was God's will for him to go through such suffer so as to be a sacrifice of atonement.
Is 53:4  Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.

(Ironically many Christians today reckon Jesus to have been smittened by God, just as those who crucified him reckoned him smittened by God)

Heb 7:27  Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.

(Here Jesus is spoken of as a high priest without sin.Under the Law guilt offerings must be unblemished. Jesus died as a INNOCENT victim, not guilty of other people's sins.)

 Ex 23:7 "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."

Jesus was essentially sent by His Father on a suicide mission. Not that he killed himself. But rather he allowed himself to be killed by wicked men carrying out their unjust act but which resulted in a greater good. One is reminded of Joseph who, in Genesis, was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery. But who in the end recognized the fact that, "you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people" Gen 50:20
Some may point out Rom 5:18 "the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men." However Christ being put to death was a wicked act. But Christ's part in that act was righteous.
God tolerating sin and Jesus tolerating the cross does not mean they condone injustice. If one recompenses unjust suffering it doesn't mean they condone the acts of injustice. If one compensates the persecuted with rewards, it doesn't logically follow that they need also to reward the persecutor.


The concept of an atoning sacrifice is that when the innocent suffer unjustly they incur a reward as compensation. Among the rewards Jesus received was a bank account to pay for sin. Those who believe are credited with righteousness. Christ's atoning work on the cross cancelled the debt of those who believe in him, rendering them righteous.

UnBiblical Theories of Atonement

In contrast to this theory is the unBiblical, yet popular, theory of the imputation of guilt. Under that theory Jesus did not simply die to pay for sin, but rather the guilt of sin was imputed to him such that he died guilty. In this case God is viewed as torturing Christ as the unrighteous would be tortured in hell. But this theory has many problems:
Why was Judas punished for handing him over?
Why were the people torturing Christ considered wicked in doing so, if in fact God was one of them?
If crucifying Christ was the just thing to do, why didn't Jesus allow his disciples to crucify him?
Why was Jesus spoken of being innocent and unblemished, having no sin?
In fact why in the Old Testament were unblemished animals required, if in fact they were supposed to represent sinners?
The imputation of guilt theory ultimately portrays God as unjust. It doesn't apply with respect to "original sin" nor with respect to Christ's atoning sacrifice. Any scenario in which Jesus was subject to the wrath of God marginalizes God's judicial nature. And thus the Calvinist ends up saying, "God is not just in human terms", which is to say in human terms, "God is not just". Such scenarios are to be discarded as invalid models for the atoning work of Christ.

Also in contrast to the Biblical view is the Catholic practice of symbolically recrucifying Christ on a weekly (or even daily) basis. For the Catholic communion service is modeled after a Levitical sacrifice in which the priest recrucifies Christ again and again with the words, "accept this sacrifice made by our hands".

Heb 6:6 "to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace."

Heb 9:25-28 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own.  Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.  Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people;

As for 2Cor 5:21, often a popular verse among the "imputed guilt" crowd, it says, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." I interpret to refer to one's public reputation. Concerning we being the righteousness of God, note the surrounding context of being ambassadors for Christ (2Cor 5:20), publicly declaring the way of righteousness. But for that to have been accomplished God had to orchestrate the circumstances of Christ's death such that he would die as a victim of unjustified suffering. Christ's reputation was publicly marred, being reckoned publicly as a sinner worthy of death by crowds, the religious and secular authorities. That is the sense in which I take the phrase "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us". Upon his death, justice demanded he be compensated. And with that compensation he paid for the sins of the world. Thus by his shed blood Christ paid for our sins.

Obstruction of Justice

Any theory of atonement in which Jesus is subject to God's wrath is contrary to God's character and presents God as unjust. One such theory gives the analogy of twin brothers, one on death row, in which his innocent twin was able to substitute himself and be put to death in his place. Was Justice satisfied in such a scenario? NO, rather justice was obstructed. The obstruction of justice does not satisfy the demands of justice. The innocent twin committed a crime by obstructing justice. To apply this to Jesus would be to say that God intended wrath on the wicked, but Jesus deceived God into believing he was the wicked. God shot the arrow of His wrath at the wicked but hit the innocent instead. Which is ironic seeing as a common word for "sin" in Greek means "to miss the mark". This model fails on many levels. First it says that God can be deceived - just as the Calvinists presume that God can deceive himself - and it presumes that Jesus committed a crime by deceiving and obstructing justice.

The only model atonement which is consistent with God's character must be one in which God doesn't lie, nor is deceived, nor brings wrath upon the innocent, but is just.

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