Penal Substitutionary Atonement and the Trinity

by Luke Muehlhauser on June 21, 2010 in Christian Theology,Guest Post

Below is another post by Common Sense Atheism guest blogger Ken Pulliam of Former Fundy. Benefiting from his Ph.D. in Christian theology, Ken will discuss the coherence and plausibility of specific Christian doctrines.

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In prior posts I have discussed one of the problems of the Penal Substitutionary Theory (PST) of the atonement, namely, the injustice of punishing an innocent person. Today, I want to look at another problem that the PST faces: it’s inconsistency with the classical doctrine of the Trinity.

The doctrine of penal substitution states that God gave himself in the person of his Son to suffer instead of us the death, punishment and curse due to fallen humanity as the penalty of sin. This understanding of the cross of Christ stands at the very heart of the gospel… That the Lord Jesus Christ died for us — a shameful death, bearing our curse, enduring our pain, suffering the wrath of his own Father in our place — has been the wellspring of the hope of countless Christians throughout the ages.1

The key elements in the PST are: (1) Man has sinned against God;  (2) God is holy and cannot excuse sin(ners); (3) God’s holiness results in his anger and wrath focused against sin(ners); (4) Jesus Christ, the Son of God, bore the full wrath of God against sin(ners) on the cross and completely propitiated God;  (5) This propitiation enables God to righteously forgive sinners, declare them righteous and thereby reconcile them to himself. (I have used sin[ners] because as I understand the Bible, God’s wrath is not focused against sin in the abstract but against sin as it manifests itself in human beings, i.e. sinners.)

PST advocates believe that this teaching is clearly seen in Romans 3:21-26:

But now apart from the Law [the] righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even [the] righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. [This was] to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, [I say,] of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Evangelicals believe that Paul here is explaining how God can remain just (i.e., righteous) and yet still be able to justify (i.e., declare righteous) sinners. He is able to do this because of the propitiation made by his Son, Jesus Christ on the cross. A key word here is obviously, propitiation. The Greek word, ἱλαστήριον (hilastērion), can mean either to “placate or appease” or “to expiate.” (C.H. Dodd has argued for “expiation” but most scholars have sided with Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, in translating it, propitiation.)

The Greek word occurs 4 times in the New Testament (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10; Hebrews 2:17). In classical Greek, the word is used to refer to sacrifices which appeased the gods. So, the PST holds that through the death of Christ on the cross, God’s wrath against sin(ners) has been “propitiated,” i.e., placated, satisfied, turned away. (They don’t like to use the word “appease” because of its pagan connotations.) This is because Christ bore in his own body the punishment that was due to sin(ners). See also 1 Peter 2:24 and 2 Corinthians 5:21 and I John 2:2. Now that God’s holy wrath has been quenched, He can reconcile sinners to himself and declare them righteous.

What are the problems with this view?

1. Is it only the Father that needs to be propitiated or is it the Trinity, including the Son and Holy Spirit?

The NT speaks of the Father sending the Son to die (John 3:16, etc.) and of the Father being the one whose wrath is turned away (Romans 3:25, etc). The NT never speaks of the Son nor the Spirit being propitiated. It appears that it is only the Father who needs to be propitiated.

2. If it is only the Father, then how can the Son and the Spirit be said to be fully God?

It seems that if they were equally holy as the Father, their nature would also demand that they be propitiated.
Holding that only the Father needs to be propitiated actually undercuts the divinity of the Son, yet that is how the NT portrays it.

3. If the need for propitiation does include the Son and the Spirit, then how does the Son propitiate himself?

First, it seems to be a contradiction for the same person to be both the subject and the object of the verb, “propitiate” (notwithstanding the arguments to the contrary in Pierced, pp. 282ff). How does one quench his own wrath by punishing himself?

Second, even if it is not a contradiction, how exactly does the Son accomplish the propitiation? The penalty for sin is death and God cannot die (by definition). Thus when Jesus died on the cross bearing the penalty for man’s sin, it was not his divinity that suffered and died but rather his humanity. If it was just his humanity, then why was the incarnation necessary? Could God not have just created another perfect Adam and had him pay for the sins of the world? Most theologians would say that the death of Christ is infinitely valuable precisely because he was God. But as I have already pointed out, God cannot die so it was not his deity that died.

Third, I do not believe that the hypostatic union of the Person of Christ answers this problem. The hypostatic union states that there are two complete natures, human and divine, in the one person of Jesus Christ. These two natures communicate their attributes to the single person, thus making the person both divine and human at the same time. However, it also states that these natures are not confused or mixed or inter-mingled but rather retain their distinctions. The early Church hotly debated these matters in the so-called Christological controversies, but the final conclusion was stated in the Chalcedonian Creed of 451 C.E.:

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.

If the divine nature cannot die, then it cannot pay the penalty for sin. If only the human nature died, then it did not have the inherent value sufficient to pay for the sins of the whole world. To say the person who was both God and Man (the anthropic person) died would not solve the problem, in my opinion, because it remains true that the divine nature in the person of Christ could not and did not die, so at best only part of the person of Christ died.

Fourth, if one holds that the person of Christ (which was both human and divine) did in fact die a spiritual death (which is the penalty for sin, Rom. 6:23), then you have the untenable position that there was at least for a time a split in the Trinity. If the God-man Jesus Christ suffered the penalty for sin as our substitute then he must have suffered “spiritual death.” What is spiritual death? It is being cut-off from the presence and blessing of God. Is this what happened when Jesus cried from the cross: My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me (Matt. 27:45; Mk. 15:33)? Listen to what the Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin had to say on this subject:.

We do not by all these observations say that Christ did not suffer in a different way from us, and that he was not tortured and dismayed in soul differently from us, or different from what the damned feel in their dread of, and a fleeing from, God. For Christ even in his own eyes was like unto one forsaken, cursed, a sinner, a blasphemer, and one damned, though, without sin. Because it was not a matter of play, or jest, or hypocrisy, when he said: “Thou hast forsaken me:” for then he felt himself really forsaken in all things even as a sinner is forsaken after he has sinned.  ((Martin Luther, Select Works of Martin Luther, trans. Henry Cole, (1826), vol. 4, p. 365.))

Nothing had been done if Christ had only endured corporeal death. In order to interpose between us and God’s anger, and satisfy his righteous judgement, it was necessary that he should feel the weight of divine vengeance. Whence also it was necessary that he should engage, as it were, at close quarters with the powers of hell and the horrors of eternal death. We lately quoted from the Prophet, that the “chastisement of our peace was laid upon him” that he “was bruised for our iniquities” that he “bore our infirmities;” expressions which intimate, that, like a sponsor and surety for the guilty, and, as it were, subjected to condemnation, he undertook and paid all the penalties which must have been exacted from them, the only exception being, that the pains of death could not hold him. . . . not only was the body of Christ given up as the price of redemption, but that there was a greater and more excellent price – that he bore in his soul the tortures of condemned and ruined man.2

Modern advocates of PST have basically followed Luther’s and Calvin’s lead on this matter. For example, J. I. Packer in his article entitled, “The Logic of Penal Substitution“, writes: “Calvin explained Christ’s descent into hell: hell means Godforsakenness, and the descent took place during the hours on the cross.”

Yet, neither Packer nor any of the other PST advocates attempt to explain how the second Person of the Trinity can be separated even for a few hours from the other two members. This seems like a logical dilemma for the adherents of the PST. Either there was a break in the unity of the Trinity (which would be impossible) or Jesus Christ did not die spiritually (and thus did not pay the penalty for sins).

For these and other reasons, therefore, it is my opinion that the PST is actually inconsistent with evangelical Christian theology and the classical orthodox teaching on the Trinity. If the core doctrine (the nature of the atonement) of evangelical Christianity is false, then perhaps the whole system is false. I have concluded that it is and have left the faith.

  1. Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey, and Andrew Sach, Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution, (2007), p. 21. []
  2. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2:16:10 []

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{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Walter June 21, 2010 at 6:16 am

Is there any dogma more ridiculous than the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity?

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Doug June 21, 2010 at 6:36 am

@Walter,
I doubt it.

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JS Allen June 21, 2010 at 7:31 am

@Ken – I concur with Walter. I don’t see how this is a criticism of PST. It rather seems an admission that the Trinity is incomprehensible.

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Ken Pulliam June 21, 2010 at 7:34 am

J.S.

It is a criticism of the PST in the sense that it violates the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity is non-negotiable in evangelical Christianity whereas the PST is negotiable (albeit, most evangelicals don’t think so). If I can show that the two doctrines are contradictory, then one has to be jettisoned. Or as I have done, jettison evangelical Christianity itself.

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EvanT June 21, 2010 at 9:17 am

Very astute of you Luke, using that image. For those unfamiliar with Orthodox iconography and interested in art, that’s the Orthodox icon used to portray the Trinity (they’re the three angels that visited Abraham and Sarah and sometimes Abraham is shown in the background waiting on them).

Onto the matter at hand. I find particularly interesting the difference of tradition between Eastern and Western Christianity.

Since you mention Orthodox Christology (Council of Chalcedon) it should also be mentioned that the Orthodox tradition doesn’t consider the three persons of the Trinity exactly “equal”.

For instance, as in the Nicean Creed, the Holy Spirit is sent only by the Father and not the Son (and apparently, it doesn’t send itself). Another point of note (very problematic as far as I’m concerned) is that the Christian God that acts upon human history up to the Incarnation is always the Son (the Logos; VERY problematic). So the divine persons aren’t quite identical. Therefore the 4 points Luke makes are a lot less of a problem for Orthodox theology.

Another point (also raised in Wikipedia’s article on Atonement is that “the Orthodox emphasis would be that Christ died, not to appease an angry and vindictive Father, or to avert the wrath of God, but to change people so that they may become more like God (Theosis).

PST never quite caught on in Orthodox Christianity. Not only because it’s unpalatable, but also because Scripture is on equal footing with Tradition (the patristic texts etc) So, for instance, the extract Luke presents from Chalcedon is of equal value to what Paul had to say on the matter.

It’s a both fortunate and unfortunate characteristic of Orthodox Christianity because it makes it all the more difficult to pin down and confront. Its doctrine is always in a state of semi-flux (considered rigid, but open to interpretive embellishment).

While it personally gives me headaches, the cheerful note is that at least in Greece I don’t have to deal with evangelical loons (Jehova’s Witnesses excluded :P)

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svenjamin June 21, 2010 at 9:18 am

Excellent work, it’s really cool to have your theologically informed and coolly reasoned pieces like this on commonsenseatheism. Thanks!

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Haecceitas June 21, 2010 at 9:54 am

“1. Is it only the Father that needs to be propitiated or is it the Trinity, including the Son and Holy Spirit?

( . . . )

2. If it is only the Father, then how can the Son and the Spirit be said to be fully God?”

I don’t think that it would go beyond orthodoxy to hold that (perhaps due to eternal generation and functional subordination) the propitiation of the Father will necessarily result in the propitiation of the Son and the propitiation of the Father and the Son will entail the propitiation of the Holy Spirit. Since the Father is in a sense “the fountainhead” of the Trinity, this would seem to fit with the inner logic of the doctrine.

Alternatively, one might want to stress the distinction between the divine essence and the divine persons and see some kind of a priority of the former, thus holding that the act of propitiation doesn’t require as its subject any particular person of the Trinity as long as it is the case that God is being propitiated. This would probably run more directly to your third objection than my previous suggestion though.

“3. If the need for propitiation does include the Son and the Spirit, then how does the Son propitiate himself?”

Due to his Incarnation, he has added a full human nature to his person and thus he can give the propitiation on behalf of humanity (I’d combine this with a mystical union between the believer and Christ in order to make better sense of the legitimacy of the substitution aspect.) The human nature is not on the giving end of the punishment, so I think that is at least a part of the solution. But the problem that you seem to focus on is the unclarity as to the part that his divine nature would play in all of this. I would just say that it isn’t obvious to me that the the party that receives the atonement cannot at least participate in the giving of that atonement. (Also, since I think that you would question the necessity for atonement as a logical requirement in the first place, you presumably couldn’t object very strongly to the idea that God would by his own gracious will choose to participate in fulfilling the requirements of the atonement without exhausting them.)

“If the divine nature cannot die, then it cannot pay the penalty for sin. If only the human nature died, then it did not have the inherent value sufficient to pay for the sins of the whole world. To say the person who was both God and Man (the anthropic person) died would not solve the problem, in my opinion, because it remains true that the divine nature in the person of Christ could not and did not die, so at best only part of the person of Christ died.”

What I think we could say is that the divine nature of Christ was a participant in the human death that took place. Assuming substance dualism, what happens at death is the separation of the soul from the body. One could hold that the divine mind took part in the human death in the sense that it was separated from the body. “But doesn’t this imply Apollinarianism?” you may say. I’m not sure that it does. If we understand the mind of the pre-incarnate Logos as being qualitatively prototypical of the human mind (while infinitely surpassing it in the quantitative sense with regard to the mental resources), then the Incarnation could result in a full human nature by the union of a limited subset of the unlimited mental resources of the Logos with a human body. Wouldn’t the system of mentality connected to the body then be fully human since it would (ex hypothesi) be qualitatively human and quantitatively, the limited subset could correspond to the typical human mind. You may say that such limited connection from the divine nature would not be enough to make the sacrifice infinitely worthy. But would it have to be limited from the perspective of the divine nature? Sure, only a finite subset of the mental resources would be directly connected to the body, but it would still be an act undertaken by the person as a whole. Wouldn’t this result in an asymmetric relationship so that the person of the Logos as a whole would have a direct access to the whole of the mental life of the Christ while the opposite would not be true?

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Haecceitas June 21, 2010 at 9:59 am

“Is there any dogma more ridiculous than the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity?”

Exactly how do you measure ridiculousness?

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Walter June 21, 2010 at 10:54 am

Exactly how do you measure ridiculousness?

Give me some more examples of religious dogmas and I will rate them on a scale of 1 to 10 :)

If the entrance exam to heaven requires that I believe six impossible things before breakfast, I fear I shan’t make it in.

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Haecceitas June 21, 2010 at 12:21 pm

“Give me some more examples of religious dogmas and I will rate them on a scale of 1 to 10 :)”

OK, let’s try these. :)

- The resurrection of Jesus.
- The prophethood of Muhammad.
- The eternal existence of the Quran.
- The Mormon doctrine of eternal progression.
- Mokša preceded by samsāra in Hinduism.

So I presume Trinity would be 10 on a scale of 1 to 10?

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Walter June 21, 2010 at 1:11 pm

- The resurrection of Jesus. I give it a 5
- The prophethood of Muhammad. I give it a 2
- The eternal existence of the Quran. 5
- The Mormon doctrine of eternal progression. The LDS folks are on LSD. Let’s give this one an 8
- Mokša preceded by samsāra in Hinduism. Now we’re getting somewhere. This baby rates a 9.5

The winner and reigning champ is still the orthodox concept of Trinity. Now for my favorite Ingersoll quote:

Christ, according to the faith, is the second person in the Trinity, the Father being the first and the Holy Ghost third.

Each of these persons is God. Christ is his own father and his own son. The Holy Ghost is neither father nor son, but both.

The son was begotten by the father, but existed before he was begotten–just the same before as after. Christ is just as old as his father, and the father is just as young as his son.

The Holy Ghost proceeded from the Father and Son, but was equal to the Father and Son before he proceeded, that is to say, before he existed, but he is of the same age as the other two.

So it is declared that the Father is God, and the Son and the Holy Ghost God, and these three Gods make one God. According to the celestial multiplication table, once one is three, and three time one is one, and according to heavenly subtraction if we take two from three, three are left. The addition is equally peculiar: if we add two to one we have but one. Each one equal to himself and to the other two. Nothing ever was, nothing ever can be more perfectly idiotic and absurd than the dogma of the Trinity.

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Haecceitas June 21, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Walter,

I agree that the Trinity as characterized by Ingersoll does sound ridiculous. Luckily, that’s not what the Trinitarian doctrine requires one to believe. What Ingersoll (and you if you’re relying on him) fails to grasp is that when we say of a person of the Trinity that the person “is God”, this is better understood as predication rather than a statement of identity.

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Walter June 21, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Haecceitas,

Christianity would be much better off if Christians would just admit that they are polytheists worshiping three Gods. When I read of Jesus praying to God at Gethsemane I do not get the sense that the man is talking to himself. When Jesus cries out on the cross, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” it does not read like a person who is crying out in anguish addressing himself.

Anyway you spin it, it comes up sounding irrational.

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sqeecoo June 21, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Why exactly would a temporary division in the Trinity during Jesus’ “descent into hell” be impossible? Just asking, I don’t know a lot about this subject.

By the way, it has always fascinated me how the church(es) (and perhaps primarily Paul?) have taken the gospels and heaped incomprehensible or evil dogma upon them, instead of using them to create a simple and fairly nice religion – still a religion in the full sense, but without horrible stuff like damning contraception and needless incomprehensible stuff like the Trinity.

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Lorkas June 21, 2010 at 4:34 pm

“Is there any dogma more ridiculous than the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity?”

I find transubstantiation pretty absurd.

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Doug June 21, 2010 at 5:18 pm

I don’t understand how Catholics believe in transubstantiation and don’t consider themselves cannibals…

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J. K. Jones June 21, 2010 at 5:28 pm

The trinity does not break up over PSA. PSA brings the trinity together in one purpose: salvation for God’s children.

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JS Allen June 21, 2010 at 7:04 pm

@Ken – I don’t buy it


If I can show that the two doctrines are contradictory, then one has to be jettisoned. Or as I have done, jettison evangelical Christianity itself.

Practically anything can be shown to be contradictory to the Trinity. Any motivated student can find scores of things in the Bible that seemingly contradict with the Trinity. Trinity contradicts your own personal experience of reality; but you don’t “jettison” your personal experience of reality, you jettison the Trinity.

This particular complaint is a piss-poor attack on PST. Just have the intellectual integrity to admit that you don’t understand or accept the Trinity.

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Mark June 21, 2010 at 7:20 pm

Practically anything can be shown to be contradictory to the Trinity. Any motivated student can find scores of things in the Bible that seemingly contradict with the Trinity. Trinity contradicts your own personal experience of reality; but you don’t “jettison” your personal experience of reality, you jettison the Trinity.

This particular complaint is a piss-poor attack on PST. Just have the intellectual integrity to admit that you don’t understand or accept the Trinity.

Are you actually objecting to anything?

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Howard June 21, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Quick response…

It is not that I don’t like Luke’s blob, it is that I think he plays loose and fast with the arguments. Read #1 again and notice how simple it makes it sound. It is not that simple nor do I think it is right.

PST is but one of nine different positions on atonement of course. I prefer the kaleidiscope view, like a jewel with many facets. So, the PST ought not be taken so simply as Luke seems to set it up in proposition 1.

Propitiation needs to be for the Godhead, the trinity. When Luke indicates that there are only a couple scriptures that indicate the Father is propiated. But it is problematic because it confuses the functions of the persons of the Godhead. It separates the functions of the persons from the unified work of the Godhead.

Anselm: why did God become man? There is more to be gained by holding to the trinity than to unitarian belief. We do have a sin problem to be dealt with, there is something broken that needs to be fixed. Wouldn’t you agree?

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Rhys Wilkins June 21, 2010 at 8:00 pm

You rock Ken, keep it up!

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lukeprog June 21, 2010 at 9:19 pm

Or as I like to say:

“Keep Rockin’, Straight Talkin’!”

haaaaaaaaaaaaaha lame.

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Tim June 22, 2010 at 2:34 am

Believers, so far this isn’t impressive.

EvanT and Howard both lose points for reading comprehension. The piece was written by Ken Pulliam. Luke’s intro blurb kinda gives that away. If you both missed that what else has has slipped past your critical faculties?

And Haecceitas said:

Assuming substance dualism, what happens at death is the separation of the soul from the body.

You’d never guess we were in the 21st century, would you?

Honestly, the stuff Christians need to assume to keep all the plates spinning is staggering.

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Ken Pulliam June 22, 2010 at 3:37 am

Haecceitas,

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. You raise some good points. Regarding (1) and (2), you say:

I don’t think that it would go beyond orthodoxy to hold that (perhaps due to eternal generation and functional subordination) the propitiation of the Father will necessarily result in the propitiation of the Son and the propitiation of the Father and the Son will entail the propitiation of the Holy Spirit. Since the Father is in a sense “the fountainhead” of the Trinity, this would seem to fit with the inner logic of the doctrine.

Perhaps, but this is not the way the Bible portrays it. It portrays the Father being the one who “surrendered up His Son” or “gave His Son” to be a propitiation. It is the wrath of the Father that is propitiated, according to the Scriptures.

Alternatively, one might want to stress the distinction between the divine essence and the divine persons and see some kind of a priority of the former, thus holding that the act of propitiation doesn’t require as its subject any particular person of the Trinity as long as it is the case that God is being propitiated. This would probably run more directly to your third objection than my previous suggestion though.

Again, I think this suggestion fails to agree with the Biblical portrait of the Father as the one who is propitiated.

Regarding (3), you say:
Due to his Incarnation, he has added a full human nature to his person and thus he can give the propitiation on behalf of humanity (I’d combine this with a mystical union between the believer and Christ in order to make better sense of the legitimacy of the substitution aspect.) The human nature is not on the giving end of the punishment, so I think that is at least a part of the solution. But the problem that you seem to focus on is the unclarity as to the part that his divine nature would play in all of this. I would just say that it isn’t obvious to me that the the party that receives the atonement cannot at least participate in the giving of that atonement.
It seems to me that you would have to split apart the person of Christ in order to accomplish what you suggest. The human nature is propitiating the divine nature in Christ. Or if you say that the person of Christ (including both natures) is propitiating the Godhead, then you have two problems: 1) how can a divine person die, and 2) if a divine person can die, how does the divine propitiate itself. In other words, the divine person of Christ (in which the fulness of the Godhead dwells) is propitiating the Godhead, according to your suggestion. I fail to see how one could propitiate oneself due to the very definition of the word propitiation.

You say:

What I think we could say is that the divine nature of Christ was a participant in the human death that took place. Assuming substance dualism, what happens at death is the separation of the soul from the body. One could hold that the divine mind took part in the human death in the sense that it was separated from the body.

But the PST teaches that the Person of Christ suffered the full penalty for sin which would include spiritual death. I don’t think we could say that the separation of the divine mind from the physical body at physical death would constitute spiritual death as defined in Scripture.

Your elaboration on your suggestion takes us a little afield from the main topic of discussion but is interesting nonetheless. Since I don’t think your concept of the divine mind replacing the human mind in Christ really solves the dilemma, whether or not it is Apollinarian is irrelevant to my point. However, I don’t see how you can escape the charge of Apollinarianism because you are postulating, if I understand you correctly, that the human nature of Jesus was minus a human mind and that this component was filled by the Divine mind of the Logos which was in your (extrabiblical) construction a proto-type of the human mind. First, why would the mind of the second person of the Trinity only be prototypical of the human mind. Wouldn’t this create some type of distinction in the Godhead that would be contrary to the classical doctrine of the Trinity? In other words, his divine nature would be not be the same as the Father’s but only similar. Second, if the human nature of Jesus did not include everything that our human nature includes (minus sin), then it is not a complete human nature.

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Haecceitas June 22, 2010 at 4:30 am

“You’d never guess we were in the 21st century, would you?

Honestly, the stuff Christians need to assume to keep all the plates spinning is staggering.”

I’m not sure that one needs to assume substance dualism, though it would perhaps fit best with the type of idea I’m proposing. But I’d hope that Luke gets a chance to interview a competent dualist philosopher like Zimmerman, Goetz or Taliaferro in some of the future episodes of his podcast. You might learn that the falsity of dualism tends to be more assumed than rigorously demonstrated by the contemporary non-dualists. But that discussion would take us beyond the topic of this thread.

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Tim June 22, 2010 at 7:19 am

You might learn that the falsity of dualism tends to be more assumed than rigorously demonstrated by the contemporary non-dualists.

Mayhaps. But anyone who has seriously taken on board the findings of the cognitive / neuro sciences of the last decade or so would have to admit the idea of an immaterial soul/spirit/mind independent of the human brain is looking as robust as phlogiston.

But that discussion would take us beyond the topic of this thread.

Agreed. But it’s pertinent since the ancient people who conceived of bi-or trifurcated beings were the ones who projected these ill-founded concepts onto deity. Conversely, in our time, it’s largely the folks who hold to these primitive doctrines who are so loathe to let go of them in the face of medical discoveries to the contrary.

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Haecceitas June 22, 2010 at 8:33 am

Thanks Ken. This is an interesting subject.

“Perhaps, but this is not the way the Bible portrays it. It portrays the Father being the one who “surrendered up His Son” or “gave His Son” to be a propitiation. It is the wrath of the Father that is propitiated, according to the Scriptures.”

. . .

“Again, I think this suggestion fails to agree with the Biblical portrait of the Father as the one who is propitiated.”

Perhaps we should then be clear about distinguishing the types of problems that we are dealing with. I would consider a lack of explicit biblical support for some aspects of Christian doctrine to be a much smaller problem than logical incoherence would be. I’d just add that since major parts of the NT focus mainly on Jesus the man (and since what happened at the cross would be the empirical point of contact for the atonement doctrine – iow, the visible human level of the event), it is hardly surprising that it’s the Father who clearly takes the pre-eminence in passages that refer to the object of propitiation.

“It seems to me that you would have to split apart the person of Christ in order to accomplish what you suggest. The human nature is propitiating the divine nature in Christ.”

I got the impression that you were almost willing to grant (at least for argument’s sake) the solution given in the first paragraph of my previous reply. If that is the case, then I’m not sure that the objection as formulated here would apply. The propitiation would be primarily to the Father and the results would be communicated to the other persons as a consequence.

“But the PST teaches that the Person of Christ suffered the full penalty for sin which would include spiritual death. I don’t think we could say that the separation of the divine mind from the physical body at physical death would constitute spiritual death as defined in Scripture.”

But are you assuming that the mode of expression for the penalty has to be exactly the same? Could it not be the case that in a sense the penalty that translates to spiritual death in the case of a mere human translates to something a bit different in the case of a god-man? If Christ was fully human, he was able to bear the penalty as representing humanity, but his being more than merely human could result in the penalty of same gravity being expressed differently. (One classic aspect of a similar notion would be the idea that the infinite value of the sacrifice would allow for a finite duration as well as the sufficiency of the death of one for the sins of many. But perhaps there’s more to it too.)

I may also have another idea that could shed some light on this, but here it would be helpful to know your answer to the following question. What type of change (if any) in the intra-trinitarian relationships within the being of God would you see as acceptable within the boundaries of orthodoxy?

“However, I don’t see how you can escape the charge of Apollinarianism because you are postulating, if I understand you correctly, that the human nature of Jesus was minus a human mind and that this component was filled by the Divine mind of the Logos which was in your (extrabiblical) construction a proto-type of the human mind.”

I can understand why you see it that way. But let’s think about this a little more. What is it for a mind to be human mind? If the mind of the Logos:

1. is qualitatively the same as a human mind (due to it being the prototype)

and

2. the part of the divine mind that is directly connected to the body forms a system of mentality that has quantitatively the same mental resources that a normal human mind has,

then what else is required for the result to be legitimately called fully human? I’m not sure that anything more would be required.

“First, why would the mind of the second person of the Trinity only be prototypical of the human mind. Wouldn’t this create some type of distinction in the Godhead that would be contrary to the classical doctrine of the Trinity? In other words, his divine nature would be not be the same as the Father’s but only similar.”

That is a good question, and I’m not sure that I can answer it. I find myself toying with the idea that the sharing of the divine nature by the persons of the Trinity would imply that they all have the attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, etc. but that “the mode of expression”, so to speak, of these attributes for each of the persons may vary. Since there is some asymmetry in their relation to each other, this might help to explain it. For example, let’s suppose that the Father (who is logically even though not temporally prior to the Son) has his omniscience as a comprehensive, undivided unity whereas the Son (being eternally begotten by the Father) in his knowledge of the Father would have that same knowledge in a different mode, namely, as propositionally divided. The Holy Spirit (proceeding from the logically prior relationship of love and mutual knowledge between the Father and the Son) could then have yet another mode of knowledge that relates the former two modes to each other. This would result in an interesting dynamic between the persons. Ultimately, the mutual knowledge between any of the two persons would involve all three of the persons and their individuality would consist to some extent in these different modes of the same attributes (the Father would know the Spirit by knowing himself and the Son, etc).

The relevant point that this model would have for the issue of the Incarnation would be that (assuming a propositionally divided mode of knowing for a human mind) it would be the Son who is both prototypical of humanity to a unique extent and also uniquely capable of assuming the human nature. This would give us an answer to the question as to why it was the Son who became incarnate. I also think that there might be an argument lurking in the background for there being exactly three divine persons in the godhead (rather than, say, two or four). But I think I need to work on that a bit more.

Whether or not this type of a view is sufficiently in line with classical Trinitarian doctrine is something that I haven’t fully resolved in my mind. (And probably I’d need to be more conversant with the relevant issues in early church history to evaluate this competently.)

“Second, if the human nature of Jesus did not include everything that our human nature includes (minus sin), then it is not a complete human nature.”

But I’m not sure that anything (other than sin) would be missing.

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JS Allen June 22, 2010 at 8:46 pm

Are you actually objecting to anything?

Yes, I’m allergic to poor arguments, and this is a poor argument. Ken makes a lot of good arguments against PST, but this is not one.

Saying “PST is invalid since it contradicts the Trinity” is no more valid than saying “Reality is invalid since it contradicts the Trinity”.

The Trinity is absurd and incomprehensible on its face. Using the Trinity to debunk anything else in the Bible is a complete cop-out. You may use the incomprehensibility of the Trinity to call into question the credibility or trustworthiness of the early Church fathers, but you cannot use it to reject something like PST as being “contradictory”. That’s just illogical.

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JS Allen June 22, 2010 at 9:16 pm

BTW, as an example of Ken Pulliam at his best, check out his recent post on Aquinas, or his inaugural post of the new series about Faustus Socinus. The Socinus series promises to be fantastic.

We may find some random disagreement with what Socinus says, but Pulliam’s scholarship is laudable. He’s building a tremendous resource. I find myself waiting with anticipation for each new topic, and revising my opinions based on what Ken posts.

I just think this particular argument was a rare turd among jewels.

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EvanT June 23, 2010 at 3:22 am

@Tim

LOL, man. I’m an atheist too (just a peek at my blog would’ve let you know that, even if you don’t know Greek), but I was merely trying to bring a different perspective on soteriology and christology from the religious tradition I grew up in. Damn me for knowing a thing or two on Orthodox theology.

I was merely pointing out that Luke’s arguments wouldn’t be very convincing to an Orthodox Christian and I know you got quite a few in the States.

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Ken Pulliam June 23, 2010 at 3:50 am

J.S.,

You don’t realize who my audience is. My primary audience is evangelical Christians. They accept both the Trinity and the PST. If I can show them that the two doctrines contradict each other, then they have to jettison one or both. Can’t you see that?

My audience is not unbelievers. They already think that both the Trinity and the PST are prima facie absurd.

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Ken Pulliam June 23, 2010 at 3:52 am

Evan,

You are right that the Greek Orthodox doctrine of the atonement is not the PST. Therefore, my criticisms would not apply to their doctrine of the atonement. That would be another post. I personally think all of the theories of the atonement (and there are about a dozen) have insuperable problems, but the PST is the dominant theory in Evangelical Christianity and since that is what I used to be, I focus on it.

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Ken Pulliam June 23, 2010 at 4:21 am

Haecceitas,

Thanks for your reply, yes, I find the subject interesting as well.

You say: I would consider a lack of explicit biblical support for some aspects of Christian doctrine to be a much smaller problem than logical incoherence would be. Then you come from a different Christian background than do I. In my evangelical tradition, any doctrine to be authoritative had to be exegetically based. Otherwise, it just becomes the opinion of man.

I do admit that your suggestion is a possible solution and probably the only possible solution to the problem, namely that the Trinity agreed that a propitiation made to the Father would also satisfy the Son and the Spirit. My personal opinion is that this is an imaginative creation of the human mind in order to try to harmonize the biblical portrait with the classical doctrine of the Trinity.

You say: Could it not be the case that in a sense the penalty that translates to spiritual death in the case of a mere human translates to something a bit different in the case of a god-man? . I don’t see how one can get around the fact that in order for the God-man to experience spiritual death, then the God-man had to be separated from the Trinity. How could this be without a split in the Trinity? Spiritual death means separation from God. The PST holds that Jesus Christ paid the penalty that sinners owe, namely spiritual death. One could hold a different theory of the atonement and maintain that the God-man did not experience spiritual death but I am not sure how one could hold the PST and deny it. Look again at the quotes in my article from Luther and Calvin. I could multiply those quotes from people such as Lorraine Boettner, Charles Hodge, John Piper, John MacArthur, and so on.

You ask: What type of change (if any) in the intra-trinitarian relationships within the being of God would you see as acceptable within the boundaries of orthodoxy? That is a hard question to answer. You would need to offer your theory and then I could make a judgment on whether it is in agreement with the orthodox doctrine or not.

You say: If the mind of the Logos:1. is qualitatively the same as a human mind (due to it being the prototype)and 2. the part of the divine mind that is directly connected to the body forms a system of mentality that has quantitatively the same mental resources that a normal human mind has, then what else is required for the result to be legitimately called fully human?

Because the human nature that Jesus assumed was minus a human mind. The divine mind, albeit a prototype of the human mind in your opinion, was substituted for what would normally be a human mind.

Someone brought up the point of dualism. I think this is important. If one rejects dualism, as I happen to, based on the latest neuroscience, then one would be saying that that the actual brain in the man Jesus was the brain of the divine Logos? I don’t see how that could be. The divine nature is not physical.

You say: I find myself toying with the idea that the sharing of the divine nature by the persons of the Trinity would imply that they all have the attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, etc. but that “the mode of expression”, so to speak, of these attributes for each of the persons may vary.

I don’t know but it seems to me that the orthodox doctrine says that each member of the Trinity shares the same divine nature equally. So ontologically they are the same. Functionally they are different but you can’t make any changes in the ontology of the Trinity.

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EvanT June 23, 2010 at 8:00 am

@Ken Pulliam
That was my bad. I didn’t notice that Luke didn’t write the article, but you did. I started reading after the puffy cloud. Sorry about that.

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JS Allen June 23, 2010 at 9:09 am

My primary audience is evangelical Christians. They accept both the Trinity and the PST. If I can show them that the two doctrines contradict each other, then they have to jettison one or both. Can’t you see that?

Right, but you haven’t established that the PST is what should get jettisoned, or even that PST is a useful apparent contradiction to the Trinity.

Furthermore, you haven’t established that evangelicals care about apparent contradictions in the Trinity. Virtually no evangelical could explain the Trinity, and yet they believe.

If they aren’t swayed by the obvious contradiction “God is one person and three persons at the same time”, why do you think they would be swayed by your long-winded and obscure attempt at showing contradiction?

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Haecceitas June 23, 2010 at 12:56 pm

“If they aren’t swayed by the obvious contradiction “God is one person and three persons at the same time”, why do you think they would be swayed by your long-winded and obscure attempt at showing contradiction?”

It would be really helpful if you’d get a basic grasp of what the doctrine of the Trinity actually is before you criticize it as “obvious contradiction”. Your previous comment is on the level of a really bad YEC argument like “if we evolved from apes, why are they still around?”

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JS Allen June 23, 2010 at 1:28 pm

It would be really helpful if you’d get a basic grasp of what the doctrine of the Trinity actually is before you criticize it as “obvious contradiction”.

I’m pretty expert on the doctrine of the Trinity, and I wasn’t criticizing it, so I don’t know how to respond to you.

I was criticizing Ken’s argument. In order to argue contradiction with PST, he argues that the Trinity is inherently contradictory (points 1 through 3 in the OP are not specific to PST, and are of the garden variety “If Jesus is God, why did he pray to God?” sort). If Ken argues inherent contradiction in the Trinity, then the stuff about PST is superfluous.

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Haecceitas June 23, 2010 at 2:58 pm

“I’m pretty expert on the doctrine of the Trinity”

You say you’re expert on the subject and yet you mischarazterize it by claiming that it states “God is one person and three persons at the same time”. You should know that this isn’t the correct formulation of the doctrine.

“and I wasn’t criticizing it”

I took it as a criticism of the doctrine when you said that there is an “obvious contradiction” in it.

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JS Allen June 23, 2010 at 4:06 pm

@Haecceitas – I can see how you took it that way. I actually don’t find the Trinity to be inherently contradictory, nor do I think that PST contradicts Trinity. I was just assuming Ken’s points 1-3 above for sake of argument.

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Drew July 6, 2010 at 10:17 am

What I find ironic is that you have an Eastern Orthodox icon of the Trinity on a post on the incoherence of the doctrine of penal substitution and the Trinity. For your information, the Eastern Orthodox Church rejects the Western doctrine of penal substitution.

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lukeprog July 6, 2010 at 10:51 am

Drew,

Yes. I know. This was also discussed in my interview with Steve Porter.

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Lucian December 23, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Jesus Christ would obviously disagree with points #2 and #3 (Matthew 5:43-48).

And then there’s also the contradiction noticed even by you, which would add an extra-element of individuality to the (one) difference between Father and Son, Who, according to historical/traditional/orthodox Christianity, have only one characteristic element each (fatherhood, sonship, and procession), all the rest [like love, goodness, forgiveness, etc] being shared by, and common to, all three divine Persons.

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John October 17, 2011 at 8:53 am

I don’t understand how Catholics believe in transubstantiation and don’t consider themselves cannibals…

Precisely because God is eternal. It is incarnational.
BTW, Catholics don’t believe in the direct penal substitutionary atonement. This article does indeed show how logically bankrupt this theory is.

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