“Penal Substitution” and the Trinity

Here is a great comment on the last post by Maximus Scott:

“The “penalty for sin” in their view is to be seperated from the presence of God and his manifold graces and then to be tormented (tortured?) eternally in hell. How could the second Person of the Blessed Trinity be seperated, cut off and damned? This would amount to schism in the Trinity, or polytheism (two gods) or nestorianism (two persons in Christ). Some gnostics and Paul of Samasota taught that the Logos departed from Jesus on the Cross…this is grossly heretical. Instead of saving us from the devil, sin and death (Heb. 2:14 & 1 Jn. 3:8), Christ primarily saves us from His own irate Father. The Gnostics also believed that Christ saved them the cruel exacting hands of the Old Testament God of law and judgment.”


  1. Athanasoius Brown says:

    This is true, visions of demons actually whipping men and scratching their backs to bloody horror , a holly wood depiction if you will, the punishment is generated from ones’ own heart. It is the reaction of the will of the person against what the will of God desires, they don’t want what he offers at all.

  2. Here is a Gem of a Cameo from Australian Anglican theology: +Carnley was a sometime non-evangelical primate of the Australian Anglican Church – voted in in Feb 2001. Moore College is a Calvinist Evangelical theological College in Inner Sydney. Carnley had written an article in the secular weekly (now defunct: “The Bulletin”) for its 2001 Easter issue on the Resurrection. Now read on:

    In the ensuing debate, and especially in the flood of correspondence that Carnley received in the following weeks concerning that article, theological issues came to the fore. It became clear that the Moore College clique simply could not think about the saving significance of the Cross and the Resurrection in terms of the depth of the Divine forgiveness, atonement and reconciliation they revealed.

    To understand this difficulty, it is necessary to know that there is a mind-set amongst some Christians, mostly of the Protestant Evangelical persuasion especially as exemplified by the Moore College clique that cannot conceive of the Cross and its meaning in any terms other than that of penal justice. Indeed, this particular theory tends to be promoted by Protestant Evangelicals as the central and exclusive essence of the Gospel.

    This theory is normally known as the “Penal Substitution” theory. It was erected on the forensic concept of justification invented in the Latin Carthage by Cyprian and Tertullian on the basis of Roman Law. It is an attempt to explain how salvation comes to the sinner in the context of a supposedly “retributive” Divine Justice.

    It goes something like this: since sin is “transgression of the law”, a “penalty” – a “retributive-punishment” for this transgression, must be “paid” to “satisfy” a “slighted”, “offended”, “vengeful” and “wrath-filled” God. And the “payment” of this “penalty” must be perfect in order to meet the standards of God’s justice. And this “penalty” can only be “paid” by a “perfect submission to punishment” for sin – which can only be supplied by the sinless Jesus.

    In short according to the logic of the theory, a type of legal-transaction and “transfer” occurs: Jesus agrees to take upon Himself the “punishment” for the sins of humanity in exchange for the sinner to receive the sinlessness of Jesus. This is so that the “satisfaction” of the Divine “penalty” for sin can be “paid” and that the sinner as a consequence can be legally sinless and hence be eligible to receive “salvation”.

    Crudely put, in the context of a hypothetical conversation between the Father and the Son (the Father to the Son): “You suffer a horrible fate and I’ll re-accept humanity back into heaven”. Indeed, in some ‘popular’ Protestant preaching, God is made to view the outrageous crime of Pontius Pilate and the Hellenised Sanhedrin (and its rent-a-crowd Jerusalem mob) as a “satisfaction” of His own alleged “need” to be “placated” for the sins of the world!

    It has been criticised ever since its inception. There is only one thing wrong with this theory: it is un-Biblical, and was unknown in the undivided Church prior to the 1054 schism, and unknown before Anselm. It is entirely a creature of the Latin Anselm in the twelfth-century Middle Ages articulated in his Curs Deus Homo (Why God Became Man). It was never popular in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and has never received any support in any major Eastern Synod. It has enjoyed great popular appeal, however in the Latin West, and some theologians, such as Calvin even tried to “improve” upon it with another even more arbitrary theory of “Predestination”.

    Its depiction of God is both Biblically-offensive and contrary to Canonical-revelation. It projects God as rigidly and uncompromisingly cruel, punishing and vindictive. It gets worse in the Father’s demand that His “Only-Beloved” and innocent Son to “suffer” the “required-punishment” instead of the guilty sinner. It also questions the moral nature of supposed Divine “justice” thereby depicted which requires the punishment of the innocent on behalf of the guilty! Not only is it a miscarriage of justice, it casts serious negative aspersions on the very Character of God Himself!

    Not surprisingly, it has non-Christian, Pagan origins! Some scholars have identified its roots in the pagan Germanic custom of ‘Wergeld’, whereby a compensation “penalty” had to be paid by a person convicted of homicide. That “penalty” could be paid by anyone, and once paid, it exempted the offender from further responsibility for the crime. Since Carnley quite properly had made no mention of this “Penal Substitution” theory in his Bulletin article – because of its historical “novelty” dimensions, and because of the way it presented God; he was therefore a “liberal” in the eyes of the Moore College clique who, blinded by their Latinised Calvinism, could see no other explanation.

    Even this is not the end of it. In fact, it is only the beginning! There are insuperable problems reconciling this “Penal Substitution” theory with the Nicene Creed! The original Greek text of the words ‘for us men and for our salvation…’ in the Creed reads (in the Latin script): di hemas tous anthropos kai dia ten hemeteran soterian’. Our key word here is the preposition “di”.

    Its use with the accusative indicates the reason why something exists or happens or results. By contrast, the idea of “Penal Substitution” requires the use of the Greek “anti” to mean ’instead of’ in this clause of the Creed (and this is the only place in the Creed where it can be credibly used). In no natural sense can “dia” be interpreted in an “anti” manner! Thus the late Jaroslav Pelikan – one of the foremost Patristic Scholars of our day (and a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy), says:

    “Those closest to the Council of Nicea, chronologically and theologically, did not in fact take its formularies to be speaking about ‘vicarious atonement’, but went on employing an abundance of metaphors for the involvement of God the Father, Christ the Son, the human race, and the devil in the redemption transaction.”

    The Fathers of the Nine Ecumenical Councils were never casual in their linguistics; witness the controversy over and rejection of a single “i” in the Arian version of homoiousios of the Creed with respect to the Son against the Arians! In their Liturgical Theology they were just as careful where they repeatedly referred to God (Father and Son and Holy Spirit) as the “lover of mankind” – explicitly contrary to any and all ideas and theology associated with ‘vicarious atonement’.

    What the linguistics of the Nicene Creed, as understood historically and properly, are saying, is that the “Penal Substitution” theory (described by Pelikan as ‘vicarious atonement’) was not only never approved by the Fathers of the Councils, but, on the evidence of the Church’s associated Liturgical Theology, and its historical development, was both contemplated and emphatically rejected by these Fathers as contra-Scriptural, and hence in a very direct manner the theory is contrary to the official teaching of these Councils and the Creed itself.

    And where the Ecumenical Councils deal with matters directly connected with the Holy Trinity – where alone the Nine Ecumenical Councils are infallible and unchangeable, and whereas this “Penal Substitution” theory – as rejected in the formulation of the Nicene Creed by way of rejection centrally concerns matters centrally affecting the Holy Trinity, its rejection by these Ecumenical Councils meets the infallible official definition of Canonical Heresy and is thus officially subject to Conciliar Anathema!

    This should severely alarm every Protestant Evangelical, not to mention every Evangelical Anglican! The Moore College clique, in attacking Carnley’s Bulletin Article, and defending the “Penal Substitution” theory in response as their concept of salvation are thus inescapably official heretics and under official canonical anathema! Not just in some minor way, but in a matter centrally concerning none other than the Holy Trinity

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