Question…But isn’t “Penal Substitution” actually illegal (if not immoral)??

[Rewritten: January 2005; Mods in the Conclusion, Feb 1/2005; Reformatting and minor edits 2023] | Intro/OT Sacrifice | Isaiah 53 | Excursus for the Forgiven | The Case of little Glenn | Concluding Analysis of Objection ]

In the discussion on “Why does God have to be just and punish?” we mentioned that this requirement on/by God is “not unrelieved”, that God had a few variables with which to work with to help us find life and freedom under just ‘legal requirements’, one option of which was substitution. But some have raised (over the years) the issue of the legality and/or morality of God allowing a substitute for our crimes, arguing that it is not legal in our human societies to transfer penal guilt from one party to another.


  1. This piece is not about ‘why punishment’, but assumes that some version of ‘earned punishment’ obtains. This position was argued extensively from multiple perspectives in “Why must God be Just?” (whyjust.html), and this discussion here will presuppose the conclusions reached there. The reader is strongly urged to be familiar with that piece BEFORE working through this one—otherwise, this discussion might seem to be making 'convenient' assumptions. Keep that in mind as we go through this—it’s not about whether we should have been punished by God for evil, but whether or not it is actually evil to transfer that (personally deserved) punishment to some other party.

  2. This piece is not about whether Jesus' sacrificial death for humans was illegal as a human sacrifice (see sacra.html), but several of the topics we will mention here are discussed and documented somewhat in that piece. ]


Penal Substitution has been historically thought to be clearly taught in the Scripture, but some voices have called for an abandonment of that model (is it really just a ‘model’?), asserting that it is no longer useful, and might now even be seen as being morally or legally culpable. We will note a couple of statements about this, and interact with them during the discussion below.

One ecclesiastical statement from the UK in the late 1800’s gives the core of this:

[Statement One] "It is no longer believed that personal merit and demerit can be transferred from one to another...It is not believed that the consequences of sin can be removed from the transgressor by passing them on to another. Conduct, character, and condition are inseparable. The results of sin are part of the ethical personality, and cannot be detached, nor borne by another"

Most agree that substitution is most obvious, and most easily defended in the “pecuniary” and “debt” models of guilt (e.g., fines, fees, reparations—punishments which are obligations placed upon the perp), but some have complained that debt is no longer a relevant category under which to subsume penal/personal guilt. Sometimes the complaint is leveled against this model of the crime-transaction (and resultant punishment transaction). The typical way this is worded is as ‘pecuniary versus penal’ or ‘economic versus juridical’. The objection is against seeing guilt as a debt owed (to God, to others, to society, to history, to self, to the universe). Since debts are “semi-detachable”, such an economic model would provide a firm ground for substitution (i.e., someone paying my debt in my stead, even if that debt were to take the form of bodily punishment). So, one modern writer can express the problem thus:

[Statement 2] “Quinn is most troubled, though, by Aquinas’s belief that Christ’s death can be viewed as an acceptable payment for our debt. In Aquinas’s day, Quinn points out, monetary compensation was common for crimes, sometimes even for crimes as serious as murder. Given such a model of compensation, the idea of someone paying the debt for someone else’s crime makes good sense. But we no longer view things this way, we are reminded. We might, for example, allow that a mother can pay her son’s fine. But if her son has been sentenced to spend time in jail, she cannot pay his debt for him. Even if she volunteers to spend the required time in jail for him, his debt will not have been paid. Of course, it is possible that he will not be asked to serve his sentence because of ill health or a pardon. But even then, his debt will not have been paid. We are simply allowing the debt to remain unpaid. In other words, as Quinn sees it, our moral intuitions clearly tell us that the idea of one person actually absolving another person of his moral duty to pay for his crimes by volunteering to take his place no longer makes much sense … a just punishment for a serious crime cannot be totally transferred to an innocent person.” [RRB2:308]

Or, from a Christian systematic theology: (Berkhof, Systematic Theology. Eerdmans:1939/41):

[Statement 3]The possibility of vicarious atonement. All those who advocate a subjective theory of the atonement raise a formidable objection to the idea of vicarious atonement. They consider it unthinkable that a just God should transfer His wrath against moral offenders to a perfectly innocent party, and should treat the innocent judicially as if he were guilty. There is undoubtedly a real difficulty here, especially in view of the fact that this seems to be contrary to all human analogy. We cannot conclude from the possibility of the transfer of a pecuniary debt to that of the transfer of a penal debt. If some beneficent person offers to pay the pecuniary debt of another, the payment must be accepted, and the debtor is ipso facto freed from all obligation. But this is not the case when someone offers to atone vicariously for the transgression of another. To be legal, this must be expressly permitted and authorized by the lawgiver.

This piece will explore this issue…


As we look at this issue, we will need to keep in mind the distinctions between "what/that" and "how/why".

We will start with the “What/That” (what exactly is 'penal substitution' and what is it not, plus what was it FOR, and 'that' the biblical record teaches it); weaving in the “How” (how does this actually work, and how does it solve the problem it was supposed to solve”), and the “Why” (why was it done this way, rather than some other).

We may not have enough data to get all the way through these questions, but we can at least surface as many of the issues and perspectives as we can. And we can assess the various objections along the way. We will, also, confine our discussion to perps who are seeking forgiveness from God. That is, they are not continuing criminals, persistently perp-ing, or steadfastly self-divinized. Our test case will match the pattern of the individual in the Old Testament/Tanaach who approached Yahweh for the forgiveness of sins.


The What.

The basic points of this can be laid out fairly simply:

  1. In the area of Law, these are punishments/privations for specific acts done (or left undone), both criminal (as Judge) and civil (as Owner).

  2. In the area of contracts/covenants, these are penalties owed under breach-of-contract, for failure to keep one's commitments (both civil and criminal--as in embezzlement).

  3. In the area of moral reciprocity, there are proportionate responses due from God to the perp, for any action (in this case, for anti-good action).

Since the objection to P-S is primarily a 'legal' one, let's start with that:

Law. In our case, we are focused exclusively on God's Law, since the perp—once forgiven by God—will be instructed by God to then submit himself to human law (for reasons of community health). The substitute of Jesus on the Cross was about satisfying the wrath of God—not of exempting forgiven criminals from human punishment. But in the realm of God's own law (“the soul that sinneth, it shall die”) this issue is rather straightforward. If God-as-Legislator sets up the legal code to explicitly allow substitution (which He did with the sacrificial system), then ipso facto substitution cannot be 'illegal' in His system! Whether or not it has parallels in Western Law, ancient tribal law, the rules of secret clubhouses or of Greek sororities has no bearing on the subject of its legality whatsoever. Legality is measured from within a legal code—and God's code explicitly allowed sacrificial substitution, and penal sacrificial substitution at that. Guilt was something that God could legally (under His revealed Law) transfer to another, given such a request by a repentant forgiveness-seeker. It was not automatic (magical), but a process God set up in his Law (like a bankruptcy law?) for specific cases like this. Let's sketch out the Mosaic procedure first, and then see how the New Testament applies it.

Most readers will already be familiar with this material, but let me go over the basics:

  1. When an Old Testament Israelite broke one of the Mosaic laws, it was always against God, and sometimes against God's people.

  2. When it involved damage to people, the perp had to 'make it up' to the other community member (often with what we would call 'punitive damages', some 'extra' tacked on to the restitution), before or while approaching God for His forgiveness. Never, however, was there a crime only against humans—there was always an offense against God and His law involved too, creating a complicated web of consequences.

  3. Under the general principle of 'the soul that sinneth, it shall die', the perp—if he elected not to pursue forgiveness with God-- should have voluntarily surrendered his/her life to the human penal authorities to be 'cut off' (i.e., either death or banishment from Israel), as punishment (as per the legal statute) for the impurity contracted by sin/trespass, even after having resolved the community damage issues. [The human government had the authority to use force to do this, of course, if the perp were non-compliant.]

  4. However, God had provided an alternate method of satisfying that requirement for certain types of crimes/impurities, by creating the legal procedure of sacrifice.

  5. [Some crimes, however, were not forgivable—the 'presumptuous' crimes were too radically evil to allow the perp to live, and were not followed by repentance or forgiveness-seeking anyway.]

  6. The contrite Israelite who came seeking forgiveness from God brought a live animal (with economic value), as a bloodshed substitute(?) for the person.

  7. The supplicant typically placed his hands on the animal, to somehow 'unite' with it, so that its life/death was somehow shared(?) with the offender.

  8. [In the Day of Atonement ritual, this 'uniting' of the High Priest with the animal is described as the transfer of “ownership” of the guilt of Israel onto the animal.]

  9. The impurity of the Israelite's sin was removed by the shedding of the blood of the sacrificial animal in the act of sacrifice. The offender was then forgiven by God, and allowed to continue living in the community and under God's blessing.

  10. This accomplished two goals: expiation (removal of sin from the offender) and propitiation (a balancing of God's moral outrage/wrath, with satisfaction of His sense/claims of justice).

  11. Consequences of the sin-act, however, were typically not “immediately” remedied: community damage to trust, reputation, vitality was still compromised, and the effects of the sin on the supplicant's moral faculty was still real.


Okay, let me make some quick explanatory remarks on a couple of these basics.

Point 1: Most of the sacrifice laws are about re-establishing a 'peaceful' relationship between the offender and God, regardless of human victims. Violations of God's Law was a crime against God, first. The many other laws given in the Law concern human relations and justice.

In the world view of the OT, any person who does something wrong becomes obligated both to God and to society (cf. 2 Chr 19:10; Num 5:6; cf. Jer 51:5)” [WBC, Leviticus]

Point 2: The sacrificial system included several types of sacrifices, a couple of which were focused on forgiveness and remediation. The 'sin offering' (the main one under discussion here) was intended for sins primarily against God, and the 'guilt' (or 'reparation') offering involved restitution to others:

The guilt offering is described in Lev. 5:14-6:7 (MT 5:14-26); 7:1-7. It is different from the sin offering chiefly in the restitution requirement. The offerer has to make good on any loss that he has made in the holy things of the Lord and pay an additional fifth of its cost to the priest (5:16). Damages against another person are also dealt with in 6:1-7 (MT 5:20-26), where the one-fifth restitution clause is also in effect. This offering also atones for the sacrificer and he is forgiven. The sin offering deals with sins against God that also threaten the community. The guilt offering deals more with sins that require restitution to God or man.” [ISBE, s.v. “Sacrifices and Offerings”]

Examples of these 'punitive damages' can be found in Lev 6 (“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: When any of you sin and commit a trespass against the Lord by deceiving a neighbor in a matter of a deposit or a pledge, or by robbery, or if you have defrauded a neighbor, or have found something lost and lied about it. if you swear falsely regarding any of the various things that one may do and sin thereby, when you have sinned and realize your guilt, and would restore what you took by robbery or by fraud or the deposit that was committed to you, or the lost thing that you found, or anything else about which you have sworn falsely, you shall repay the principal amount and shall add one-fifth to it. You shall pay it to its owner when you realize your guilt. And you shall bring to the priest, as your guilt offering to the Lord, a ram without blemish from the flock, or its equivalent, for a guilt offering. The priest shall make atonement on your behalf before the Lord, and you shall be forgiven for any of the things that one may do and incur guilt thereby.”) and Exodus 22 ("If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.")

In light of the preceding, committing a sin produces a complex pattern of consequences. Because it is disobedience of a law given by God, a sin places a person's relationship with Yahweh in jeopardy. If a sin is committed against another, it, of course, damages the relationship between the parties involved. Any sin is thus detrimental to the community's welfare and solidarity. Another factor is that every sin carries its own penalty. This idea is twofold. On the one hand, a defined penalty attends a specific violation of a law (e.g., the laws in chap. 20). On the other hand, there is the principle of retribution, i.e., every sin is pregnant with its own consequences (e.g., Job 20:12-18). From either perspective, a sinful deed causes an obligation to hang over the head of the sinner. The doer is responsible for his act. The idiom 'one carries an iniquity' (cf. 5:1, 17), bears witness to the burden that accompanies every sin. That burden is either the penalty or the retributive punishment that attends a sinful act. The person experiences that burden as guilt. After a person has sinned, that person does not have any inner power to escape the harm due (cf. von Rad, OT Theology, 1:268). A sinful act, in addition, unleashes impurity, which is attracted to the sanctuary (...). Thus a sin committed produces a web of complications, personal, social, and spiritual.

The offering of the appropriate sacrifice was the way Israelites addressed these multiple consequences resulting from a sin. When the person who had sinned presented the animal at the altar, that one laid a hand on the animal's head, identifying the animal as his and making sure that the achievement of the sacrifice accrued to his favor. In making an offering, no surrogates [tn: the offender had to make the offering himself—no 'proxy' was allowed] were possible. It is assumed that at this step the offerer made a confession of sin or a word of praise or a statement of intent concerning the offering. The prophets, selected psalms, and the rabbinic tradition forcefully teach that personal remorse and contrition were essential for an expiating sacrifice to be effectual. Whenever the sin was against property, in addition to offering a sacrifice the guilty person had to restore that property or make compensation for it and pay a penalty of 20 percent. Restitution particularly aided the restoration of strained relationships on the human level. Furthermore, the achievement of expiation mended the relationships between the sinner and God and between the sinner and the community... God forgave that sinner, restoring the relationship between the two of them. Forgiveness also meant that the person became free from the guilt attending the sin. Indeed expiation broke 'the nexus of sin and calamity' (von Rad, OT Theology, 1:271). No longer did the guilty person have to fear retribution on any level, for all the harm released by a sin was addressed by making the appropriate sacrifice.

Another aspect of sin involves the status of the one who sins. The higher the spiritual leadership of the one who sinned, the greater the damaging force of that sin. A high priest and the entire congregation had to offer a high purification offering because their sins were more polluting (4:1-21). The political leader and a citizen offered a lesser purification offering, for their sins had less impact on the community's relationship with God (4:22-35). Because of the greater pollution released by a sin committed by those in the first group, blood rites from the sacrifice had to be done within the sanctuary (4:5-7a, 16-18a), and none of the animal's meat could be eaten (4:11-12, 21). In the case of a sin committed by a prince or an individual, the blood rites were done at the main altar, since miasma from a sin committed by one of them did not penetrate into the sanctuary (4:25a, 30a, 34a), and the meat became the priests' (6:19, 22[26, 29]). In eating this meat, the priests expressed God's acceptance of the sacrifice on behalf of the offerer.” [Hartley, J. E. (2002). Vol. 4: Word Biblical Commentary : Leviticus. Word Biblical Commentary (Page lxx). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]

Point 3 : This comes from the frequent stipulations in the Mosaic Law that if someone did not comply with the legal code (which included the sacrifices), then they were to be 'cut off from Israel'. It would do no good (under this legal system) to only 'right the wrong' to the human party; the offense against God and His law had to be addressed as well.

The way this is envisioned in the OT/Tanaach is through the notion of 'impurity' or 'uncleanness'. Sin, trespass, crime, and transgression against the Law was an impurity, 'attached' to the perp while the crime was being committed. After the crime, the person was 'impure' and this impurity had to be 'removed' (often with the images of cleansing, purging, purifying). Impurity was a contagion—it was on the altar, the tabernacle, houses, people, etc. This impurity had to be constantly remedied/removed by ritual/legal means—to allow God to continue to operate from within the community of Israel. [Remember, God had told Moses that it was better for Israel if He did NOT travel in their midst—lest He have to destroy them for their constant rebellion—Ex 33:3-5.] If impurity came into the presence of God (near the Tabernacle, where a special 'instance' of His presence was, the Shekinah Glory)--apart from within a legally defined 'approach process'--then the impurity-bearer must be destroyed (or the whole camp was in danger). The invariable punishment for un-resolved and/or 'stubborn' impurity was death or banishment (which, as being 'cut off', was considered a death, actually). Purification required either the death/removal of the impure party (the perp) or the death/removal of an “impurity-absorbing”(?) animal sacrifice—there were no other options under the Mosaic law.

Normally in the Old Testament, atonement is mentioned in connection with sacrifices, such as the sin offering. But in twenty-two passages, atonement was effected by means other than ceremonial offerings (for example, Ex 32:30-32; Deut 21:1-9; 2 Sam 21:3-9) [tanknote: almost all non-ceremonial cases involved the judicial death of the offending party—and it was called 'atonement' for the nation]. Therefore, just as the life of the animal was a substitute, the means of ransoming the life of the guilty party, so the holiness of God was defended in this case through the substitution of the lives of the sinning couple. With atonement made, God could pardon his people and halt the spread of the plague. [Hard sayings of the Bible, at Num 25]

Point 4 : Sacrifice was actually prescribed by God in the law to address the purity issue—there was nothing illegal about it, by definition. The animals were actually 'given' by God for this process, as was the blood of the animal :

For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement. [Lev 17.11, NRSV]

The physiological facts that blood carries life to all parts of the animate body and that death quickly follows serious loss of blood is here raised to a matter of moral and spiritual principle as well. The shed blood of an animal meant its life had been given up in death and thus, in the context of sacrifice, its life had ransomed and cleansed (made atonement for) the life of the sinful human being on whose behalf it had been slain. [Carson, D., & Guthrie, D. (1997, c1994). New Bible Commentary : 21st century edition (electronic ed. of the 4th ed.) (Lev 18:1). Downers Grove: InterVarsity.]

The extremely detailed prescriptions for the various sacrifices show that these are legal procedures used to deal with punishment/purity issues—in such a way as to legally avoid the inevitability of decimating the population, or driving God away from their midst.

Atonement in the OT/Tanaach is closer in content to 'purification' than 'salvation' (in the general sense we use it today):

The function of this sacrifice as well as others is to 'make atonement' (NIV). Many scholars now agree, however, that 'atonement' is not the best translation for the concept on either the ritual or the theological level. Perhaps most convincing is the fact that in the ritual texts the object of atonement is neither the sin nor the person [tanknote: this is not strictly the case, since often the word is said to be atonement 'for your souls', but 'upon the altar'], but a holy object connected with God's presence, such as the ark or the altar. A second important observation is that in a number of cases this atonement is necessary even though no sin has been committed (for instance, the ritual impurity of women each month). For these and other reasons recent scholars have preferred 'purification' or, more technically, 'purgation,' as the translation. So the altar would be purged on behalf of the offerer whose sin or impurity had ritually tarnished it. The purpose was to maintain the sanctity of God's presence in their midst. The ritual, like a disinfectant, is normally remedial, but it can be preventative. The agent is usually blood, but not always. This decontamination of the sanctuary renders the offerer clean and paves the way for his reconciliation with God.” [Matthews, V. h., Chavalas, M. W., & Walton, J. H. (2000). The IVP Bible background commentary : Old Testament (electronic ed.) (Lev 1:4). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]

The Book of Hebrews comments on this procedure: “Hence not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment had been told to all the people by Moses in accordance with the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the scroll itself and all the people, saying, 'This is the blood of the covenant that God has ordained for you.' And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” [Heb 9.18ff, NRSV]

Point 5 : The 'high handed' sins [from the root word for 'boil up/over', 'seethe'!] are essentially repudiations of God's rule—a tacit admission of anti-citizenship in Israel. These individuals were 'given what they wanted'--exile from under God's Law (via death or banishment). Cf. Deut 17.12 ['And the man who acts presumptuously by not listening to the priest who stands there to serve the Lord your God, nor to the judge, that man shall die; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel.', NAS] and Num 15:27ff ['An individual who sins unintentionally shall present a female goat a year old for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the one who commits an error, when it is unintentional, to make atonement for the person, who then shall be forgiven. For both the native among the Israelites and the alien residing among them, you shall have the same law for anyone who acts in error. But whoever acts high-handedly, whether a native or an alien, affronts the Lord, and shall be cut off from among the people. Because of having despised the word of the Lord and broken his commandment, such a person shall be utterly cut off and bear the guilt.', NRSV].

Point 6 : The sacrifice was specifically called a 'sin-offering', and was generally a live animal (Lev 4.1-5.13; Lev 6.24-30), although in cases of extreme destitution a grain offering could be used. Since the value of the sacrifice scaled with the means of the sinner, its value to the sinner was somewhat 'constant'.

The cost of sacrificing an animal, which for an ancient family was the basis of its livelihood, certainly bears witness to that family's recognition of Yahweh's lordship. Animals permitted as a sacrifice were even more valuable in that they normally had to be males without defect. Thus whenever an Israelite presented an offering, the family felt the cost.” [WBC, Leviticus]

But even though the animal/offering had to be perfect, it was the procedure that counted, not the (economic) value of the offering:

Atonement is secured, not by any value inherent in the sacrificial victim, but because sacrifice is the divinely appointed way of securing atonement. The sacrifices point us to certain truths concerning atonement. Thus the victim must always be unblemished, which indicates the necessity for perfection. The victims cost something, for atonement is not cheap, and sin is never to be taken lightly. The death of the victim was the important thing. This is brought out partly in the allusions to blood, partly in the general character of the rite itself and partly in other references to atonement. There are several allusions to atonement, either effected or contemplated by means other than the cultus, and where these bear on the problem they point to death as the way. Thus in Ex. 32:30-32 Moses seeks to make an atonement for the sin of the people, and he does so by asking God to blot him out of the book [tanknote: an appeal for penal substitution] which he has written. Phinehas made an atonement by slaying certain transgressors (Nu. 25:6-8, 13). Other passages might be cited. It is clear that in the OT it was recognized that death was the penalty for sin (Ezk. 18:20), but that God graciously permitted the death of a sacrificial victim to substitute for the death of the sinner.” [New Bible Dictionary. s.v. “Atonement”]

It was the shed blood of the sacrifice that was accepted by God in lieu of shed blood from the guilty:

Blood has a very important role in OT rituals, not because of any inherent quality, but because the Lord has ordained that it be used for cleansing (Lev. 14) and as a means of atonement (Lev. 17:11). Just as shed blood marks the transition from life to death, so blood is used ritually to effect a transition from the realm of death to the realm of life...In rituals of atonement, the blood recalls the fact that an animal has given is life and proclaims that therefore no further bloodshed is required (*cf. Exod. 12:13, 23). The precise ways in which the blood is used, especially on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16), are beyond the scope of this article, but in general terms the blood serves as a substitute, being able to ransom the life of the one who brought the animal....In rituals of cleansing, blood is the means of removing impurities that compromise the holiness of the sanctuary and altar. It has been called a 'ritual detergent' by Milgrom, who argues that blood absorbs sin and becomes unclean itself. However, Kiuchi argues persuasively that it is rather the priest who bears the guilt associated with uncleanness. The blood draws attention to the transition from the realm of death (uncleanness) to the realm of life (holiness), which takes place not in the sprinkling of the blood as such, but in the ritual act as a whole.” [New Dictionary of Biblical Theology , s.v. 'Blood']

For the awake-n-aware Israelite, the implications of this for substitution would have been obvious:

Given that God commanded sacrifice as a means of avoiding the punishment of death (*e.g. Num. 18:32), and that wrongful sacrifice occasionally caused death by God's direct act (e.g. Num. 16:35), it seems hard to avoid the conclusion that when intelligent worshippers in OT times presented animals for atoning ritual slaughter they understood their sacrifices to involve an element of substitution. 'The ritual retains the note of an objective guilt which can only be removed through sacrifice or substitution' (Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments, p. 507). And while the sacrifice did result in life for the worshipper, this was not because poured out blood opened a fount of poured out life. If it did, we should expect a ritual in which the victim gave up only a cup, or perhaps a litre, of blood, not its very life. Rather it was because the shedding of blood leading to loss of life satisfied Yahweh's just demand that violation of his holy will results in death: 'The soul who sins ... will die' (Ezek. 18:4; cf. Gen. 2:17). Shedding the blood ('extinguishing the life'; cf. Lev. 17:11, 14; Deut. 12:23) of the animal was required in exchange for sparing the life of the worshipper. The death (not only symbolized but actually experienced in the fatal shedding of blood) of a sacrificial victim was necessary for the benefit of the guilty. Such OT convictions are only intensified under the new covenant (Heb. 10:28-31).” [New Dictionary of Biblical Theology , s.v. 'Sacrifice']

But it is interesting that none of the passages describing this sacrifice actually require the sacrificial animal to be the property of the offerer. In most cases, the economic-scaling factor would certainly suggest that, but it would certainly not preclude an individual (in special circumstances) from using an animal obtained through loan or gift. One can imagine a fellow Israelite loaning or even donating an animal from his own flock, to a less-fortunate friend for use in such a situation (or even some grain for the low-end offering, to someone without any resources—a picture of us humans, perhaps?--smile). There would be nothing illegal about this, from the standpoint of the legal stipulations. There are several interesting cases of such non-owned sacrifices—albeit none termed as pure 'sin' or 'guilt' offerings: the famous one where (1) God provides the ram in the thicket for Abraham—at no cost to him [Gen 22.14]; (2) Araunah offers to give the animals to David for the burnt offering to avert/stop the plague in 2 Sam 24—which David refuses on the grounds that it would not reflect a 'cost' to him; (3) 1 Sam 6.14, where the cattle pulling the cart are sacrificed; and (4) the community sin cases in Leviticus requiring a bull from the flock (since there were no 'community flocks', some specific individual had to 'donate' one of his—at no cost to the other members of the congregation). These cases would suggest that the 'ownership' of the sacrifice was not a core component in the efficacy of the sacrifice.]

Point 7 . The offender in these cases 'laid hands on' the sacrifice, before killing it and giving it to the priest. There is no explanation given in the OT/Tanaach as to why this was important (since this aspect of the ritual shows up in non-sin related events as well), or what transpired therein. Scholarly opinion is rampant on what this was all about (ranging from transfer of sin to transfer of purity, etc.), but the only sure thing we can say is that the offerer is somehow 'linked with' the sacrifice.

Point 8 . The Day of Atonement ritual is sometimes used to interpret this sin and guilt removal process, but the rituals are not close enough to do this with much confidence. In the DoA ritual, the transfer of sins from Israel (via confession) onto a substitute involved the un-slaughtered animal, not the sin-offering. That is, the sins were 'placed upon' the live animal, which was driven away into the wilderness:

When he has finished atoning for the holy place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. Then Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and sending it away into the wilderness by means of someone designated for the task. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a barren region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness.” [NRSV (Le 16:20).]

This is clearly 'substitution' and clearly 'penal' and clearly an 'innocent victim' and clearly 'transfer of guilt', but we are given no explanation as to how it works (apart from the general explanation of sin as 'removable impurity').

Point 9 . However, it is clear that God honored the process He instituted for this. Sin and guilt/reparation sacrifices 'worked' (when done legally) to accomplish their main practical tasks: (a) expiation--removal of sin-caused impurity from the camp; (b) forgiveness--restoration of a right relationship between the sinner and Yahweh; and (c) remediation of some community-damage aspects—in the case of the guilt/reparation offering. But again, we simply do not know (from the OT texts) how this actually worked, in God's 'ontology':

The rationale of the Jewish sacrificial system has been much discussed, though with no very conclusive results. Judaism provided no explicit rationale for sacrifice: it was simply the God-given way of dealing with sin, and as such was to be accepted gratefully and humbly....The precise way in which an expiatory sacrifice was thought to work is never clarified.” “ [ABD, s.v. 'atonement']

So too, in the NT:

"The NT seems to give greatest direct support to the penal substitution and sacrifice theories. It is obvious throughout Scripture that God atones for sin via sacrifice. The problem with the theory lies in explaining how sacrifice saves. No universally accepted answer has been advanced, despite the impressive range of biblical texts using sacrificial terminology. Among these are passages referring to Jesus as the mediator of a new covenant, a covenant sealed with his blood (e.g. Matt. 26:28 par.). This implies (self-) sacrifice. So do numerous other, often overlooked, references to Jesus' blood denoting his (sacrificial) death for sin (e.g. Acts 20:28; Rom. 5:9; 1 Cor. 10:16; Eph. 1:7; 2:13; Col. 1:20; 1 Pet. 1:2, 19; 1 John 1:7; Rev. 1:5; 5:9; 12:11). The prominence of sacrificial language or imagery elsewhere in the NT, whether in the Gospels (Jesus' passion predictions and the passion narrative itself), in Paul (e.g. Rom. 3:24?26; 1 Cor. 5:7; Eph. 5:2), or throughout Hebrews (passim), argues strongly for the centrality of sacrifice to NT atonement teaching. [New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, s.v. "Atonement"]

Now, practically speaking, it is very difficult to not see the basic outline of substitution here (as one of the above quotes indicated): the offender should have died, but was pardoned because his sacrificial animal died (given the right attitude, of course). The offender was impure when he started the process (as was the unblemished animal), and at the end of the process BOTH the offender and the animal were “pure enough, through death” (i.e., the animal was to be eaten by the priest and their families—not something allowed for impure animals). [The impurity might have 'moved' to the altar/Tabernacle, since these places had to be purified themselves at the Day of Atonement, so it's possible that God's dwelling was where 'real impurity' was 'stored' until (a) the Day of Atonement; and/or (b) the Cross truly removed the past sins (a la Romans 3).]

Point 10 . Biblical scholars have argued "often and loudly" about the meaning of 'atonement' words in the Hebrew. Some argue that these refer to 'expiation' (removal of sin from the offender, as a necessary precursor to resuming covenant-community life), and others argue that these refer to 'propitiation' (a balancing of God's moral outrage/wrath, with satisfaction of His sense/claims of justice, relative to the sin of the offender). But both seem to be clearly taught in scripture, and they both seem to be obviously related, so this distinction--although helpful--seems odd to try to 'remove' (?):

"It has been argued (e.g. by C. H. Dodd) that atonement should be understood as expiation for sin. Expiation in this sense means cancellation or dismissal. God simply waives the threatened penalty for transgressions. R. Averbeck argues that there is good ground for understanding the piel Hebrew verb form of kpr, often translated as atone or atonement, as denoting to wipe away, wipe clean, purge (see e.g. Lev. 16:20, 33; Deut. 32:43; Dan. 9:24; Is. 47:11). He suggests that "the underlying rationale of OT kpr was wipe away, not ransom?" (NIDOTTE 2, p. 708). Averbeck's lengthy discussion makes little mention of either divine wrath or human sinfulness, though these are prominent in the background of OT atonement passages. ...Others point out that atonement seems rather to involve propitiation, the turning away of wrath by an offering. It does not merely expiate in the sense of dismissing sin; it propitiates in the sense of averting God's punishment. Linguistic work by L. Morris and others appears to have refuted the expiation theory as Dodd and his supporters have presented it. Recent Romans commentators like Moo, Mounce and Stott have upheld Morris' arguments, as have I. H. Marshall and others. Current Septuagint lexicography points in the same direction (J. Lust, E. Eynikel, K. Hauspie, A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint, pp. 160-161)....Atonement takes on its importance, urgency, and poignancy precisely because God's righteous judgment is coming upon humans and their unrighteous ways. Jesus' death not only expiates sin (wipes away its penalty); it also propitiates (turns away the wrath of) God's promised punishment of sin and sinners whose transgressions are not atoned for. In the current climate of skepticism about a wrathful God, the biblical view has recently received strong support from philosopher H. Cassirer, who persuasively calls Christians away from modern sentimentalism and back to the God of whom the prophets, apostles and Jesus spoke (Grace and Law [Grand Rapids, 1988], pp. 99-107). Propitiation is not a peripheral but a vitally important implication of their references to atonement and its absolute necessity." [Alexander, T. D., & Rosner, B. S. (2001). New Dictionary of Biblical Theology]

"A word which perhaps comes even closer to the meaning of atonement is propitiation (hilasmos). J. 1. Packer sees propitiation as the nucleus and focal point of the whole New Testament idea of the saving work of Christ.' In Isaiah the Messiah figure is depicted as "an offering for sin" (53:10). In 1 John we read: "And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our's only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (2:2 KJ; cf 4:10; Rom. 3:25). Some scholars (e.g., C. H. Dodd and Alan Richardson) have objected to the translating of this word as propitiation; their preference is expiation. In some cases to be sure the latter may be the more appropriate translation, but both words are solidly biblical.' As A. A. Hodge puts it: "Propitiation has reference to the bearing or effect of satisfaction upon God. Expiation has reference to the bearing of the same satisfaction upon the guilt of sin."' Whereas God's wrath is propitiated or turned away, man's guilt is expiated or annulled. Both terms are organically related to the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, though they both transcend the meaning of ritual sacrifice. Expiation is especially evident in Isaiah 43:25 where the prophet says that God "blots out your transgressions" and "will not remember your sins."...The integral relationship between the two terms is underlined by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: "Surely the very idea of expiation in and of itself leads to propitiation! If there must be expiation, why must there be propitiation? There is only one answer -that there cannot be a true relationship between God and man until that sin has been expiated. But that is just another way of saying propitiation.'"...Propitiation can only be understood in the light of the wrath of God, the severity of the reaction of God's holiness to man's sin. God's inviolable holiness needs to be satisfied, and man's transgressions need to be removed. This is realized when God himself takes upon himself in the person of his Son our sin and guilt so that his justice might be executed and our sins might be forgiven. God is moved toward this self-sacrifice by his infinite compassion." [Bloesch, Essentials of Evangelical Theology, Volume 1:pp149f]

"Those who seek to reduce the concept of propitiation to a mere expiation do not, in general, face the questions which expiation raises, such as 'Why should sin be expiated?' 'What would be the consequences to man if there were no expiation?' 'Would the hand of God be in those consequences?' It seems evident on the scriptural view that if sin is not expiated, if men 'die in their sins', then they have the divine displeasure to face, and this is but another way of saying that the wrath of God abides upon them. It seems that expiation is necessary in order to avert the wrath of God, so that nothing seems to be gained by abandoning the concept of propitiation." [Morris, Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (3rd ed), p.211]

Point 11. Of course, these ceremonies addressed only some of the consequences of the sin (albeit very important ones). There were still many, many damage-ripples which would not have been stopped by these. Loss of trust in the community, a weakening of the moral constitution of the offender Israelite, irreparable damage to property in some cases, disgrace in the eyes of the Gentiles, etc. These aspects of sin are simply NOT transferable (as one of our opening quotes noted)--some consequences of sin are inward, but some are not. If I kill someone, the effects on them (i.e., death) do not become part of my 'character' or 'ethical personality'. The effects on their family (e.g. loss of economic viability, deep grief, change of status, etc.) do not become part of my 'character' or 'ethical personality'. But any remorse (or, for that matter, any callousness over the act) DOES become part of me—but this is not 'merit' or 'demerit' at all. Clearly, 'callousness' or 'remorse' cannot be born by a substitute—the notion is ludicrous. [But this doesn't mean that SOME aspects ARE NOT transferable-- but more on this later.]


This is a quick sketch of the Mosaic Law (re: sacrificial system), as given at the onset of Israel's national emergence and history, so, before we get into how that system was 'experienced' and understood by the OT/Tanaach prophets (and by post-Tanaach Judaism), let's just visit the legality/morality questions briefly.

If we accept that the animal sacrifice was somehow a substitute for the offender, and that its death was in lieu of, and to preclude the pragmatic requirement for, the death of the actual Israelite, how would we assess the legality and/or morality of this act?

Well, the legality aspect is really a non-issue, since such matters are usually judged from within a legal system. Since such sacrifice was prescribed in the legal code, its (correct) usage would be perfectly legal—within that system of law. For that matter, anything within an individual legal system is 'legal', since its reference framework is the law code.

That being said, however, we 'moderns' do tend to pass judgment on other cultures' law codes (tn: I was taught 35 years ago in sociology class to call that 'ethnocentrism', presumably based upon our conceptions of what 'enlightened' ethics should look like. So, for example, the West might judge an Islamic Shariah penal amputation of a hand for stealing a cabbage as 'harsh' (maybe even 'wrong'), but we couldn't really say it was 'illegal' per se. Some groups, of course, attempt to formulate universal 'rights' policies/positions (e.g., human rights groups, the Geneva Convention, the Berne Convention--smile), and on the basis of these consensus-looking proclamations denounce (“as unethical” and/or “contrary to fundamental human rights”) atrocities, torture, and other behavior in individual nations/dictatorships/etc. But there is no real 'universal legal system' known to/admitted to by humans that 'sits above' national legal codes. We might call an ancient Mesopotamia trial-by-drowning procedure 'barbaric', or a ransom-a-murderer-by-money law as being 'convenient for the rich', but our ability to judge it as being 'illegal' just doesn't exist.

In the US, for example, a Federal Court could strike down a State law, since there is an explicit legal hierarchy (assuming the law in question deals with a matter that seemingly falls under BOTH jurisdictions, of course) in our national structure. But, the United Nations could not strike down a French parking law, nor could the Screen Actors Guild nullify a building permit in Burma.

Now, morality (what these groups seem to be vocal about) might be a different matter, especially since morality seems so 'individualistic'. Everybody seems to have an opinion on the morality of the actions of others (smile), and you can generally find more than one person (i.e., enough to constitute a group) who have the same approval/disapproval perspective, relative to some act. But it normally takes a very large group and a very varied group of individuals to condemn something, before the rest of us even begin to seriously question the morality of the acts/behavior in question.

In the case of the OT/Tanaach animal sacrifices described above, I would guess there would probably be complaints from animal rights groups (?), and/or 'ethical vegetarian' groups (a la Gandhi?), but these complaints would be more about the slaughter/consumption of the animals—and NOT about 'penal substitution' itself. [For example, they would complain about using animals for the sacrifices, but NOT complain about using grain for one, in those cases of poverty. This would indicate that it was not the 'substitution' aspect that was the source of the problem for them.] Apart from these specialist groups, though, I would suspect very little 'outcry', since (1) the animals were used for 'good' community purposes, food, group cohesion, etc., and (2) there wouldn't be a large amount of such sacrifices to begin with—on economic grounds alone, given a pastoral society. And even the notion of 'transferring' the sins of a nation onto a goat and then setting the goat free from captivity in a remote location—while it might seem 'odd' to moderns—wouldn't seem 'immoral' at all to most. There's just not enough 'morality density' in a herd animal (relative to a clearly human agent) to arouse 'enough bile' over using it for ceremonial food—except perhaps in religious traditions involving wholesale reincarnation (in which the lamb MIGHT actually 'house' the soul of some ancient personage).

[We should note, just for completeness, that the animal was not subjected to any of the 'artificial' husbandry tactics complained about by some today. These animals had no growth hormones, restrictive cages, etc., and their slaughter was done in the same quick way butchering has been done for millennia.]

But of course, it could be that we don't get very upset about this because we don't perhaps take the 'system' as seriously as we will the Cross. After all, although the notion of substitution is here in this sacrificial process, it's fairly 'weak' or 'mild', and the substitute is of questionable 'innocent moral agent' standing. Plus, since the perp had to make everything right with the community/neighbor/victim BEFORE the sacrifice anyway, our 'injustice alarm' probably only hums for a brief second, instead of doing the constant car-alarm, siren-wailing thing.


Now, there's a gap between the giving of this Mosaic Law and the New Testament of well over a thousand years, and during this gap, Biblical Israel learned a lot about the problem of sin...

By the time we get to the New Testament, certain groups within Judaism of the day recognized that the sacrificial system in the Law was simply 'not big enough' to REALLY deal with the sin problemsince it had become clear (to the Hebrew Prophets) over the centuries how 'big' this sin problem REALLY was:

You see, when the Mosaic law was first given to Israel, the emphasis was actually on inner motives--"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul"...Consistently, Moses told the community to pay attention to their hearts and motives, and to not 'harden them', etc. The whole system was predicated on from-the-heart obedience and interaction with God. Yet it was clear from the start, that it was the heart that was the real problem. Right in the middle of re-stating the Law in Deut, God's heart cries out (5.29).

"Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!"

And this is the problem that the prophets see over and over, in trying to get biblical Israel to 'walk with their God'...

The OT/Tanaach prophets will discover how 'deep' this sin problem in us really is, and how 'incurable' and pervasive and putrid and insidious it is, and will have to plead for/point to some cosmically-loaded, ultimacy-strength, ontologically-dense solution to the angry, malicious, arrogant, violent hatred of God/good/beauty, which we simply call 'sin' if it's just another 'normal' part of our world...Toward the end of the First Temple period, Jeremiah can despair in this (e.g., 11.8; 16.12; 17.1) and the famous 17.9: "The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it?" [NRSV]. As time goes on, the biblical writers become more and more aware of how intractable, resistant, and resilient evil is. All attempts at reform fail miserably, in the biblical record...

The OT/Tanaach prophets learn by experience how utterly futile the existing covenantal law is, in changing the hearts of the people--and so a New Covenant is pleaded for (and pre-announced) before God--the New Covenant of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, in which the very heart itself is re-created (with a heart for God and His law already in place!). A place where 'sin is no more', and we can 'start over' with a fresh, un-soiled and un-vandalized Universe! And, most importantly, with God in our midst...

The Book of Hebrews in the New Testament is quite candid/pragmatic about the limitations of the old system (especially since the Prophets had already explained the problem with the human heart earlier), in a number of 'bubble-bursting' ways:

  • It should be obvious to anyone that the 'blood of bulls and goats can never REALLY take away REAL God-repudiating, universe-destroying sin'--substitution issues aside, even the value-mismatch between the human moral agent and the animal is too great;

  • If the offender had been REALLY purified (on the inside), there wouldn't have been a need for more than one sacrifice, per person, per lifetime;

  • If the Day of Atonement had REALLY solved Israel's sin problem, they wouldn't have had to do it every single year;

  • If the system had REALLY worked, the High Priest wouldn't have had to offer sacrifices for his own repeated sins every year too...

In other words, the Mosaic system allowed God to dwell in their midst 'enough' for salvation-history to proceed, but the end goal of perfect/sweet fellowship and community (a la Eden, a la The New Jerusalem, a la the Rabbinic New Age/World to Come) between God and Israel/humanity was not going to be possible without something closer in “magnitude” to the unfathomably deep corrosion/decay/nullity of sin, than simply a few unblemished farm animals...

As I reflect on this now, I am so aware and disturbed by the immensity/intensity/density (?) of the tiniest act of real evil...I cannot even find words 'violent enough' to describe what that really IS—it's beyond simple destruction or impurity or dissonance...its ontology is so different than that of our universe....beyond negation, beyond privation, beyond “anti-matter” (which has structure and order to IT, at least)...a conscious, malicious, vandal-virus?...worse than 'chaos' or 'disorder'...the very opposite(?) of the reality/essence of God Himself?...what could possibly 'undo that'? Maybe nothing—maybe that's why we have to have a New Heavens and a New Earth—evil has worm-holed this one to near nothingness...? And maybe for any of us to make it to a New World, the 'purification' of ourselves has to be so immense/intense/dense that only an act at the intensity level of God Himself can remove that horror-grower, malice-maker, beauty-slasher aspect of our character...

Okay, let me calm down for a second...

One of the earliest expressions of the extreme difficulties of making a "warm and dancing peace" between our tainted lives and the pure and beautiful God comes in the important (to our discussion) passage in Isaiah 53. In this passage, we have a clear statement of 'sacrificial substitution' (which is actually broader than just 'legal/penal substitution', btw). Here is a fairly close translation (NASV) of the passage. Notice two things: (1) statements which reveal that God's servant is a gift of God to Israel to restore 'peace' between them [He is actually called a 'guilt/reparation offering' in verse 10]; and (2) statements which reveal how the 'heart of Israel' responded to this gift so inappropriately:

  • For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground;

  • He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.

  • He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; [Note: an interesting human response to God's Servant...]

  • And like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. [Note: Israel would not honor this Servant]

  • Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; [Note: these particular consequences of sin were 'borne' by this One; He was a 'man of sorrows', but they were not HIS sorrows!]

  • Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. [Note: They judged Him as being evil enough to earn God's pre-death, Mosaic-law-curse punishment.]

  • But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities ;The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. [Note: the violence against the Servant was 'vicarious' and its benefits fell upon Israel. But note also, that the types of wounds are NOT those used in sacrifices--no one 'scourged' or 'crushed' the lambs/goats. This is a malevolence toward the sacrifice?]

  • All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. [Note: Everybody else is guilty of covenant breaking, but the guilt of this was somehow 'thrown' onto the Servant--by GOD.]

  • He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. [Note: The Servant didn't complain about this apparent substitution/"injustice" at all.]

  • By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered [Note: sacrifices weren't 'oppressed'--this is beyond the sacrificial requirements. And, the Servant suffered the ultimate legal penalty--'taken away' or 'cut off' from the Community of the Blessed]

  • That He was cut off out of the land of the living, For the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due? [Note: No one appreciated/recognized that His being 'cut off' was for the people--to whom it was actually due? They were getting a pardon--without even knowing it! Again, no one 'stroked' the sacrificial animals...]

  • His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, [Note: He was still vilified after His death.]

  • Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. [Note: the Servant/sacrifice was unblemished]

  • But the Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; [Note: The injustice of crushing a perfectly righteous Israelite makes no sense in OT theology--unless this Unblemished One is offered (voluntarily) and accepted (by God) as a substitutionary sacrifice for the good of others (as in the next phrase...)

  • If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, [Note: Here is that 'guilt' offering, sacrificial word.]

  • He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. [Note: somehow the 'being cursed' will end, and then the Servant will be a channel of the Lord's 'good pleasure'--a means of immense blessings]

  • As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; [Note: the 'satisfaction' of God--propitiation, in theological terms--was a result of the Servant's 'anguish']

  • By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. [Note: justification is by His 'bearing their iniquities', yet God calls the sin-bearer "the Righteous One"!! And He was 'servant'--fulfilling the wishes of His Lord--the healing of Israel!]

  • Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; [Note: Even after this accursed death, with its blessings for His people, the Servant is re-instated into God's blessing and exaltation--]

  • Because He poured out Himself to death, [Note: it was voluntary, and it was fatal, but the end result of His death was a 'great portion' and a 'share of the spoils of His victory'. ]

  • And was numbered with the transgressors; [Note: The Righteous Servant is identified with the 'rebels'--as being one of them.]

  • Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors. [Note: Here is both the Priestly and sacrificial images merged--a la Hebrews.]

Now, at first glance this looks like a statement of our 'problem'--the innocent suffering in place of the guilty (who even were attacking and denigrating that very sacrifice!). But we might note a few 'odd' aspects to this before we get to the full explication of the 'theory' in the New Testament.

  1. Whatever this was, it is cast in sacrificial terminology. "Guilt offering", "bearing sin", "satisfaction" (i.e., "propitiation"), unblemished, etc.

  2. But this sacrifice was NOT offered by Israel--!--it seems to be a 'conspiracy' between only God and the Servant. Nobody else in the narrative 'gets it'.

  3. It's clearly voluntary on the part of the Servant (without any actual protestation), and fully accepted as efficacious by God.

  4. It's clearly fatal for the Servant, life-giving (or at least, purifying and death-defying) for Israel, and the noble act of the Servant is greatly blessed and honored by God.

  5. Israel's attitude toward the Servant/Sacrifice ranges from simple ignorance, to outright vilification.

  6. God's attitude toward the Servant is uniformly one of admiration, commendation, exaltation, blessing, reward--even though He is visiting extreme punishment upon Him!

  7. There is no indication in the text that Israel herself did any of the violence against the Servant [e.g., all the "damage" could have been done by non-Jews, while they simply watched. This is the general tone of the "we esteemed Him smitten" type comments--they watched the Servant, and despised Him, under the assumption that He was being 'crushed for His own iniquities' instead of for theirs.]

  8. These 'third party' violence-doers do not seem to be offering the Servant as a sacrifice either.

  9. There might be an implied resurrection in here, since the Servant is both 'cut off' and yet seems to have quite a glorious future.

But what is really odd about this is the timing element:

  • Israel is clearly deserving of "the stroke" as transgressors, but there is no indication in the text that any 'court proceedings' for them have commenced yet. That is, they would clearly be found guilty--if/when the trial process had been completed--but it does not look like their trial has gotten to the sentencing stage (if it has even begun). The full and Final Judgment Day for their covenant unfaithfulness and anti-God hearts was still future--it had not gone to trial yet. [They have not been 'indicted' yet.]

  • The future results of the yet-future sentencing, of course, were already defined in the law codes--the 'blessings and curses' lists had long been established. It's just that the 'final level' of punishments (complete alienation from God and His blessings, and the outpouring of God's judicial wrath-punishment) had not been 'reached', in the current status of 'legal proceedings'. [One might argue that the OT/Tanaach deals largely with 'discovery' procedures.]

  • God had just been postponing this future Day of Reckoning, and postponing, and postponing (in patience)...

But unexpectedly, God and His Righteous Servant has 'gone on the offensive' and done a 'pre-emptive strike' against the future.

  1. The Righteous Servant--a pure, Yahweh-hearted, non-rebel Israelite--appears in the midst of the sinful nation, as a member.

  2. He is not a 'plug in', but is a genealogically-pure Israelite, under the Law, under the Covenant.

  3. As such, though, He "permitted himself to be listed among the rebels" (v12) ("rebels"--"God's strongest term of condemnation for his people [in Isaiah] (cf. 1.2; 46.8; 48.8; 57.4; 59.12-13; 66.24)" [NICOT, in loc]).

  4. [This would have meant--importantly--that He would have been 'vulnerable' to any of the Covenant judgments of God upon the nation. He could have died (innocently) in the plague associated with David's census, He could have been captured (innocently) on any of the Amorite slave trading raids during the period of the Judges, He could have been a slain prophet (innocent) under the evil Northern kings. He was Israelite--pure or not--and that meant that the judgments of God on the community could legitimately fall upon Him in the process. He could have been totally righteous/innocent, and still be the object of God's judgment upon the sins of the nation-as-a-whole (as undoubtedly some/many believers were). The case of Achan's trespass--in which wrath fell on the entire nation for the sin of one man--Josh 22.18ff and 7.1ff--saw 36 innocent men killed, because of the sin of another--they were simply linked by being 'numbered together' as a unit before God. ]

  5. But what happens next is amazing (and it blows away the Apostle Paul in his day too--more on this later, below): this card-carrying Jew, in cooperation with and under the wise direction of the Covenant Yahweh, volunteers to face the future judgment NOW, as an Israelite.

  6. [Now, Yahweh has been 'storing up wrath' for this Future Judgment/ Day of God/etc. since Day One. Every time a sacrificial animal was offered for forgiveness, the mismatch between the HUGE anti-value of the sin and the limited-value of the farm animal, became another 'underpaid justice claim' in the 'wrath backlog' -- cf. Romans 3.23:"...the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed, was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous... ". This is not to mention all the countless sins people did without ANY attempt at remediation, confession, reformation, etc. And of course, His wrath had been accumulating against us gentiles too (e.g., Rom 1.18), for equally good reasons. This wrath was gonna be poured out upon the whole world--the 'list of rebels'-- as a whole.]

  7. So, in response to the request of the Only Righteous One's intercession and request, Yahweh brings the Future Judgment Day (with its storehouse of penal wrath) into the present "day" of JUST THE SERVANT. The Servant had volunteered to "step into the Future", while being still "in the present", and that's what God does.

  8. God starts Final Judgment Day for the World--but the "world in this Day" only has One Person in it--the Servant, who is 'listed among the rebels'.

  9. And so--can I stop and worship here for a minute?!--the Wrath of God, ultimately destined for the whole world of rebels, truly, justly, and exhaustively falls upon the 'whole world of rebels' (i.e., "the-world-of-rebels-as-a-whole")--which in this case contains only one 'rebel on the list'-- the Servant. [Theologians would call this the 'eschatological judgment of God, irrupting into the present".]

  10. The Servant is representative of Israel, but it might be because He is 'all Israel' who 'showed up at' this transcendent act of Judgment. [cf. "out of Egypt have I called my Son...", as applied to Israel-as-a-whole and to Jesus in the New Testament] (and later we learn He is also the 'only Adam' present in the judgment, letting us broken-down gentiles avail ourselves of His act).

  11. And in this act of bearing the future-wrath in the present, Yahweh creates a massively valued, "pre-sacrificed" guilt offering available to all His people--TOTALLY commensurate with the TRUE malignance of evil..

  12. And--precious upon precious--this Sacrificial Lamb, with the wrath-issue so settled, 'drags' us the sinners to the reconciling altar of God, instead of the reverse! Gone are the days when the sinner had to drag the animal!--"the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" brings US to be purified, to be reconciled with a loving God, and to be re-created in newness for a life of loving, serving, and enjoying God...

Now, before we proceed to the New Testament for its explication of the Atonement (and our evaluation of it), there are two other neat things to notice about this passage:

The first concerns the use of 'guilt/reparation' offering, instead of 'sin' offering. We had noticed earlier, that the sin offering was mostly for offenses against God, and the guilt offering typically involved reparations toward God and toward humanity. Under our textbook description:

The guilt offering is described in Lev. 5:14-6:7 (MT 5:14-26); 7:1-7. It is different from the sin offering chiefly in the restitution requirement. The offerer has to make good on any loss that he has made in the holy things of the Lord and pay an additional fifth of its cost to the priest (5:16). Damages against another person are also dealt with in 6:1-7 (MT 5:20-26), where the one-fifth restitution clause is also in effect. This offering also atones for the sacrificer and he is forgiven. The sin offering deals with sins against God that also threaten the community. The guilt offering deals more with sins that require restitution to God or man.” [ISBE, s.v. “Sacrifices and Offerings”]

Now, when we ask 'why here?', do we find perhaps a hint of the New Covenant?

"The most intriguing reference to the reparation offering occurs in Isa 53:10, in which the servant's death is described as a reparation offering. ... While interpretations of Isa 53 vary widely, the traditional Christian interpretation holds that the servant suffers and dies vicariously for mankind's sin. His death is an atoning sacrifice. The choice of reparation-offering to describe his sacrificial death may be twofold. First, it communicates that the servant's death compensates God fully for the damages he has incurred by mankind's sinning. Second, the servant's sacrifice provides expiation for every kind of sin, inadvertent and intentional. That is, the servant's sacrifice provides expiation for any person who appropriates its merits to himself, no matter how grave his sin." [Hartley, J. E. (2002). Vol. 4: Word Biblical Commentary : Leviticus. Word Biblical Commentary (Page 80).]

When I look at this last statement, and I ask the "now, WHERE are the reparation goods?" question, I have a hard time finding anything of that type immediately obvious. But upon 'more sober reflection' (yeah, right), two realities emerge:

(1) the passage actually changes some Israelites [they are healed, made righteous, achieve peace with God]--that could be a form of 'reparations', obviously:

"From the Servant's sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when his offering is accepted, the verse (11) moves to discuss exactly what is accomplished. The statement is startling in both its simplicity and its daring. This man, by what he has done, will make people righteous! it is not difficult to understand why he should be declared the Righteous One. He has been treated shamelessly because of the sins of others when he himself has been completely innocent. But how can he make many become righteous? The entire book has been about the persistent sin and unbelief of the chosen people, not to mention the world at large. This man will change all that in a sentence?...This man is the Deliverer who fulfills all the promises of deliverance for the people." [NICOT, in loc.]

(2) in the New Covenant, we get even greater benefits--we get 'portable Temples', which travel about, sharing reconciliation, creating newness, having festivals, displaying beauty, causing reflection, creating community, healing breaches, revealing God, and creating MORE such this is something in the same 'order of magnitude' for good/truth/beauty, as sin/evil was in its destructive effects. In other words, the supernatural forces of reconciliation and redemption and renewal are 'procured' and 'unleashed'(?) in this Reparation Offering. [One immediately thinks of John 7.39: "...this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified"--cf. Joel 2.28 and Acts 1.4.]

The second concerns an 'odd' parallel with a New Testament passage (smile). NICOT on verse 12:

"In this context...brings to mind Phil. 2:9. In faithfulness the Servant has descended to the lowest depths. He has fulfilled his Father's will to the last degree. Because of that faithful obedience, God will exalt him to the highest heights (cf. 52:13). The picture is of a victory parade with the Servant, of all people, marching in the role of conqueror, bringing home the spoils of conquest...What is the cause of the Servant's exaltation? The simple forcefulness of the statement seems designed to leave no doubt in the reader's mind: it is the voluntary self-sacrifice of the Servant whereby he became identified with the transgressors dying their death so that they could live. If one had any doubt about how to read the poem, this last verse should dispel it...strangely enough, by dying their death he was somehow interceding for them ('the rebels'). As Westerman points out, this intercession was not merely the act of praying for them; it was intervention, as 59:16 makes plain. There was no one to step into the gap between the rebels and their just destruction, so the Servant did it with his own blood (Heb 9:12-14). Thus as noted above, the writer wants to remove any doubt from the reader's mind: the Servant will be exalted to the highest heaven (52:13) not because he was humiliated (although he was), not because he suffered unjustly (although he did), not because he did it voluntarily (although he did), but because it was all in order to carry the sin of the world away to permit God's children to come home to him. He is exalted because he fulfilled God's purpose for his ministry, and that purpose was redemption."


The New Testament.

When we get to the NT, the meaning of the Cross of Christ is presented in many, many different ways. Dilling ["The Atonement and Human Sacrifice", Grace Theological Journal, 1998] gives a quick sketch of some of the major themes:

(1) Sacrificial: For our passover also hath been sacrificed, even Christ (1 Cor 5:7).

(2) Expiatory: For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling them that have been defiled, sanctify unto the cleanness of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb 9:13-14).

(3) Propitiatory: Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10).

(4) Redemptive: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree (Gal 3:13).

(5) Representative: For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died; and he died for all, that they that live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again (2 Cor 5:14-15).

(6) Exemplary: For hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps (1 Pet 2:21).

(7) Triumphantorial: You, I say, did he make alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses; having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us: and he hath taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross; having despoiled the principalities and the powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it (Col 2:15).

(8) Substitutionary: But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed (Isa 53:5-6).

To this list we might add

(9) Reconciliation: "For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son..." (Rom 5.10)

(10) Priestly/Intercessory: "Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 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...but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption...For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’ presence...Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people..." (Heb 7.25,26; 9.11, 24, 28)

(11) New Covenant Inaugurator (and actually, Old Covenant 'salvager'?): "For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God! For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant." (Heb 9.13ff)


Excursus for the Forgiven...

Now, before we get to the more technical discussion of legal "transfer" of guilt, punishment, standing, or whatever, I want us--speaking only to the Christians here (the rest of you can/should probably skip this Excursus and move down to the rest of the article)-- to be very clear on one fact: Every one of the Atonement Representations above involve either the element of 'substitution' and/or 'sacrifice' (but the 'penal' concept is not pervasive throughout, of course). There is no option here--fidelity to the message of the New Testament (and much of the OT/Tanaach, obviously) requires that this element of substitution/sacrifice be taken very, very seriously. Some Christians may not like that obviously core element of how we are reclaimed to life, but the construction of an alternative explanation for this core is a difficult, dangerous, and doubtful enterprise.

[This in NO WAY--let me hasten to add--answers our question here!!!! This article is trying to explore the why/how, not simply 'resting on' the what/that. For the purposes of our discussion HERE, the fact that Jesus, Isaiah, Paul--and GOD the Father taught it as truth, beauty, the marvelous means of free grace, and used it to reclaim our lost lives is ("epistemically") inconsequential. My remarks to the Christian here is simply to make the point clear that there is 'no exit' here--the whole 'system' rises/falls with the reality of the work of Jesus on the Cross--as presented in the only real data we have about the 'other side', our Bible.]

Let me say this another way, because it is important for Christians (obviously not the only readers of this article, of course) to understand the implications of any rejection of substitution/sacrifice, under allegations of illegality, immorality, unintelligibility, antiquarian, accommodationist, or simple ignorance by the NT authors/Jesus:

(1) To reject this as being the central "mechanism" of the work of Christ on the Cross requires one to construct an alternative explanation as to how all the problems addressed by the various 'representations' above are solved thereby--and be able to defend that biblically and theologically without the same level or greater difficulties than those incurred in the above 'traditional' views [I consider this to be nigh-on impossible, given what I know about theology at this point in my life, btw]. For example, consider just these representations by significant theologians/expositors, dealing, in this case, (primarily) with issues of God's justice/wrath and reconciliation:

"The danger of overemphasizing God's wrath does exist. But it hardly justifies the impossible programme of trying to expunge the attribute from the NT record. God's coming wrath is a persistent theme of Jesus' parables. In non-parabolic discourse Jesus spoke repeatedly of 'the fire of hell' (Matt. 5:22) and 'eternal fire' (Matt. 18:8). He urged his followers, 'Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell' (Luke 12:5). The double-edged nature of Jesus' ministry is well summarized in John 3:36: 'Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him.' Those who reject God's righteousness become targets of his wrath (Rom. 1:18, 24, 26, 28; Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:6; Heb. 10:26-31; Rev. 19:11-21). God's wrath is not a minor or isolated biblical theme....Atonement takes on its importance, urgency, and poignancy precisely because God's righteous judgment is coming upon humans and their unrighteous ways. Jesus' death not only expiates sin (wipes away its penalty); it also propitiates (turns away the wrath of) God's promised punishment of sin and sinners whose transgressions are not atoned for... Propitiation is not a peripheral but a vitally important implication of their references to atonement and its absolute necessity." [Alexander, T. D., & Rosner, B. S. (2001). New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press., s.v. "Atonement"]

"If critics of God’s saving activity declare God’s method of reconciling the world to himself unworthy, or as lacking in ethical virtue, or as in some way insufficient or deficient, the fact must nonetheless stand that the Scripture speaks of the altered judicial situation now existing between God and sinners as resulting from Christ’s work, the imputation of sin upon him, and the imputation of his righteousness upon sinners. Moreover, Scripture never loses sight of the sweeping extent of Christ’s work, the atonement for the sins of all people (Jn 3:16; 1 Jn 2:2). Christ is the sinners’ shield from and before the just wrath of God. Nor was it merely by God’s accepting it as sufficient that Christ’s atonement availed; it was in fact and in truth the adequate and full payment (Mt 20:28; Rom 3:25; Heb 7:26–28; 1 Tm 2:6; 1 Jn 2:2)." [Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible.(Page 1824). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House.]

"The sin of mankind produces a changed attitude toward each other on the part of both God and mankind. God holds no personal pique against a person because of his sin. The NT language is very carefully chosen to avoid any statement that would seem to convey such a conception. Yet God’s holy righteousness is such that He cannot be indifferent to sin. His wrath must rest upon the disobedient (Jn. 3:36; Rom. 1:18). It is not merely impersonal. It is not enough to say He hates the sin. Man’s unrighteousness has not merely alienated him from God, but also God from him. The word “enemies” (Gk echthro') of Rom. 5:10 is passive, and means the object of God’s enmity (...). It was because of this fact that God set forth Christ to be a propitiation, to show His righteousness because of the passing over of sins done aforetime (3:25f). God’s passing over the sins of pre-Christian times, without inflicting punishment, was liable to obscure His righteousness and expose Him to the charge of tolerating sin. God could not be true to Himself while He tolerated such an imputation, and so instead of visiting punishment upon all who sinned — which would have been one way of showing His righteousness — He set forth Christ to death (“in his blood”), and in this way placed Himself beyond the imputation of unrighteousness while enabling Him to show mercy to sinners. The effect of sin upon man was to estrange him from God, to lead him farther and farther away from his Maker. Each successive sin produced a greater barrier between the two. Now the atonement was designed to remove the cause of this estrangement and restore the former relationship between God and mankind. This too, it has been observed, is the purpose of forgiveness, so that the atonement finds its completion in forgiveness. It should be noted that the reconciliation originates with God and not with mankind (Rom. 3:25; 2 Cor. 5:19). God woos a person before the person seeks God. The effect of the atonement is the removal of God’s alienation from mankind. The recognition of the love and grace of God manifest in this reconciliation, and the experience of forgiveness flowing from it, evoke the response of love and win the hearts of people. “We love, because he first loved us.” At the same time the atonement is such a complete expression of both the love and the righteousness of God that, while on the one hand it exhibits His yearning for mankind, on the other it shows that He is not tolerant toward sin. In the atonement of Christ, therefore, is the meeting place and the reconcilement of God’s holy horror of sin and the free bestowal of forgiveness upon penitent believers." [Bromiley, G. W. (1988; 2002). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Vol. 2, Page 343). Wm. B. Eerdmans]

"To Paul the estrangement which the Christian reconciliation has to overcome is indubitably two-sided; there is something in God as well as something in man which has to be dealt with before there can be peace. Nay, the something on God’s side is so incomparably more serious that in comparison with it the something on man’s side simply passes out of view. It is God’s earnest dealing with the obstacle on His own side to peace with man which prevails on man to believe in the seriousness of His love, and to lay aside distrust. It is God’s earnest dealing with the obstacle on His own side which constitutes the reconciliation; the story of it is “the word of reconciliation”; when men receive it, they receive (Rom. v. 10) the reconciliation. “Reconciliation” in the New Testament sense is not something which we accomplish when we lay aside our enmity to God; it is something which God accomplished when in the death of Christ He put away everything that on His side meant estrangement, so that He might come and preach peace. To deny this is to take St. Paul s Gospel away root and branch. He always conceives the Gospel as the revelation of God’s wisdom and love in view of a certain state of affairs as subsisting between God and man. Now, what is the really serious element in this situation? What is it that makes a Gospel necessary? What is it that the wisdom and love of God undertake to deal with, and do deal with, in that marvellous way which constitutes the Gospel? Is it man’s distrust of God? is it man’s dislike, fear, antipathy, spiritual alienation? Not if we accept the Apostle’s teaching. The serious thing which makes the Gospel necessary, and the putting away of which constitutes the Gospel, is God’s condemnation of the world and its sin; it is God’s wrath, “revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Rom. i. 16–18). The putting away of this is “reconciliation”: the preaching of this reconciliation is the preaching of the Gospel....When St. Paul says that God has given him the ministry of reconciliation, he means that he is a preacher of this peace. He ministers reconciliation to the world. His work has no doubt a hortatory side, as we shall see, but that side is secondary. It is not the main part of his vocation to tell men to make their peace with God, but to tell them that God has made peace with the world. At bottom, the Gospel is not good advice, but good news. All the good advice it gives is summed up in this—Receive the good news. But if the good news be taken away; if we cannot say, God has made peace, God has dealt seriously with His condemnation of sin, so that it no longer stands in the way of your return to Him; if we cannot say, Here is the reconciliation, receive it,—then for man’s actual state we have no Gospel at all....When Christ’s work was done, the reconciliation of the world was accomplished. When men were called to receive it, they were called to a relation to God, not in which they would no more be against Him—though that is included—but in which they would no more have Him against them. There would be no condemnation thenceforth to those who were in Christ Jesus....The very universality of the expression—reconciling a world to Himself—is consistent only with an objective reconciliation. It cannot mean that God was overcoming the world’s enmity (though that is the ulterior object) it means that God was putting away His own condemnation and wrath. When this was done, He could send, and did send, men to declare that it was done; and among these men, none had a profounder appreciation of what God had wrought, and what he himself had to declare as God’s glad tidings, than the Apostle Paul." [Denny, cited by RP Martin, WBC, 2 Cor]

"...the biblical witness warns us so emphatically of God's wrath. In the Old Testament, but also in the New, we find this unassailable accent. If we look at the very heart of the Gospel (the Gospel of joy!) and the very context of an invitation to faith, we already hear the piercing ring of Christ's words: "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him' (John 3:36). Here the Gospel does not shift its course and flow in a different direction. John the Baptist already, pointing to the Lamb of God, specifically mentioned in his preaching of the Kingdom the reality of wrath. When he saw the Pharisees with their tainted motives presenting themselves for baptism he reprimanded them: 'You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?' (Matt 3:7). He who refuses to reckon with God's wrath must find the New Testament completely incomprehensible. But more than that; for the scriptural injunctions on God's wrath do not suggest an original or primitive concept which may soon be overcome. They indicate, instead, the relation between the sin of man and the wrath of god. Man, in his intransigence and impenitence, 'stores up wrath' for the 'day of wrath' and the final revelation of the righteous judgment of God (Rom. 2:5; cf. II Pet. 3:7). Yet there is also the sound of jubilee: Jesus 'delivers us from the wrath to come' (I Thess. 1;10). The Gospel neither eliminates our human 'ignorance' nor takes away our human 'misunderstanding'; at the same time, our broken communion is restored and our lostness is reversed in a new and surprising 'being found'. Divine forgiveness is never, in Scripture, an indifferent love or a matter of God's being blind. It is rather a turning from real wrath to real grace." [Berkower, Sin, p.354f]

(2) To reject this as being simply 'primitive' imagery, which we have outgrown (morally, psychologically, and theologically), would require one to construct an alternative explanation for how it satisfies the needy heart so well (quotes from W.H. Griffith Thomas' The Principles of Theology, Baker, p60f.):

"There can be no doubt that one of the great essentials is a working theory adequate for the experience of ordinary men and women. In all ages the truth that 'Jesus died for me' has adequately met and perfectly satisfied the conscience of the sinner, and it will always remain the test of a satisfying doctrine of the Atonement that it meets the demand for peace with God and assures the conscience burdened with sin and guilt. The idea of substitution has given such unfailing comfort that it cannot be regarded as ethically wrong. It is, of course, impossible to explain it fully, and no one really believes that the Death of Jesus Christ was demanded by the anger of God. On the contrary, God gave Jesus Christ because before He gave He loved the world. We cannot help speaking in terms of earthly justice by referring to penalties and satisfaction, but we know that the righteousness of God is not contradictory of, but in full harmony with, His love. Yet Jesus Christ died, the just for the unjust, shedding His blood for the remission of sin, and when conscience is aroused in a man the only antidote to despair is the Cross."

"This, therefore, must be the test of a satisfactory doctrine of atonement still, viz. its power to sustain the consciousness of peace with God under the heaviest strain which can be put upon it from the sense of guilt, and of the condition which guilt entails."

"Even if the doctrine of penal substitution be regarded as only one among several possible theories, we cannot but appreciate the intensity of the moral earnestness which it presupposed, and also its singular adaptation to meet a deep religious need. It has been criticized as unethical; but it may be doubted if a more splendid tribute was ever paid to the dignity and the claims of the moral law than in the conception that sin is so awful an evil and so shameful a scandal, and that it so entirely merits the extremity of punishment, that it was impossible for God to forgive it in the exercise of a paternal indulgence--that, on the contrary, mercy could only come into play when the appalling guilt had been expiated in the death of the Son of God, who was also the representative of mankind. Regarded merely as a measure of the conception formed of the heinousness of sin, it has no parallel in point of moral earnestness in the speculative thinking of the schools. It is no less obvious that it met an intellectual need of the religious life. We feel more sure of the Divine mercy if we think that we perceive the grounds on which God acted, and by which He was enabled to act, in the dispensation of mercy. The believing soul feels more sure that God forgives for Christ's sake...There is no theory which is so intelligible as the theory of penal substitution; and there is no religious message which has brought the same peace and solace to those who have realized the sinfulness of sin, and the menace of the retributive forces of the Divine government, as the conception that the penalty due to sin was borne by the crucified Saviour, and that the guilty may be covered by the robe of His imputed righteousness."

(3) And one would need to construct an alternative explanation of the Cross which could meet the above needs with the same or greater success...

(4) To reject this as being unintelligible, because the precision level of the terminology and images cannot be further refined, would require construction of an alternate system with fewer challenges in this area. This is important, IMO, so let me explain this a little.

I am in sympathy with one of the quotes above which said that 'penal substitution' was the 'most intelligible' of the theories of the Atonement. For me personally, the notion of 'guilt' or 'sin' as something that 'clings to me'--but still 'external' to me--is very intuitive: I have lots of experience with 'bad things' that come and go (e.g., mud on shoes, sickness, bad habits I outgrow, mistakes I correct, bad haircuts, hammer-smashed thumbs, guilty feelings that 'soften' over time, debts from stupid overspending, bad relationships, etc..) That someone more righteous than I could perhaps 'transfer' certain 'gross substances' or 'stains' to himself--or at least 'share them with me upon contact/contract with me'-- is likewise easily conceptualized by me (especially with help from some of the images from the OT/Tanaach purity laws). And the notion that someone--in love and voluntarily--would actually do that for me, with the result that I could now associate with people/People who were 'allergic' or 'contractually bound to repel' such impurity, is understandable and engenders my admiration and gratitude. That this good, generous, and better-than-me person who took my burden, debt, impurity, liability, etc. would have to suffer some consequences for having done that (since they ended up with my 'problems'), speaks to me more of their love and strength, instead of their intent to short-circuit the law of consequences/cause-effect/reaping-n-sowing in my life. These images of debt, disease, liability, contractual obligations, and even 'bad situations I have gotten myself into' are adequate interpretive categories for me to apply to the Cross.

Of course, these images/concepts are USED in the Bible to describe and help me understand--at an operational level only--what 'needs to be done' to restore/establish a vital relationship to God. Sin is described as debt, impurity, contagion, burden, or stepping over a boundary; legal guilt is described as ledger entries in court judgments about my violation of specific law statutes; forgiveness is described as 'remission' (sins being 'removed') or debts being canceled. I understand from the modern world that I can be guilty as part of an organization, even when I had no clue what was going on, and how judicial and/or natural consequences may accrue to me in those cases. I understand how I can be guilty before the law, even when I am totally unaware of my responsibility ("ignorance of the law is no excuse"). I can understand easily how my assessment of the 'severity' of an infraction might be radically different (and radically under-informed relative from that of an expert Judge.

At an operational level--the most important one for daily living--I can understand how someone can give their life, while saving mine. I can understand about people representing me ('power of attorney'). I can understand about 'co-signers' on contracts being stuck with breach-penalties if I am negligent or fraudulent. I can understand how someone can voluntarily help me with some foolishly-acquired excessive load--at high costs to themselves. I can understand how my boss might 'take the heat' for me, when I fail in some important task. I can understand how I can do something morally-bad, but not illegal yet (because the 'law' hasn't caught up with the times yet); and I can understand how I can be legally liable for a morally-bad act that I personally didn't do (e.g., co-signing for an embezzler). I can understand how people can save my life by pushing me away from an approaching automobile--only to lose theirs. I can understand a soldier drawing enemy fire 'unto death' to allow his comrades to escape. I can understand how a blood donor can share life (almost literally) with me, and how a live organ donor can literally 'take' half my risk and half my deficiency into their own bodies.

In fact, much of the drama life seems to point in this direction, making the notion very 'basic'. Dabney can point out in his Systematic Theology (in the mid-19th century!) this reality:

"When reason looks into the analogies presented (tn: analogies in human experience, suggesting hope for redemption)...she sees that there are certain evils consequent upon certain faults--e.g., sickness on intemperance, want on idleness, bodily death on reckless imprudence; but she also sees that there are certain remedial provisions made in nature, by availing themselves of which men may sever the connection between the fault and the natural penalty. This fact would seem to hint that in God's eternal government there may be a way of mercy provided...But the most interesting fact to be noticed in this feeble analogy is, that these partial releases from the natural consequences of our faults, are most often received through a mediatorial agency, and that this agency is usually exerted for us by our friends at some cost to themselves, often at the cost of suffering the whole or a part of the very evils our faults naturally incurred. A man is guilty of intemperance; its natural consequence is sickness and death, and without mediatorial intervention this consequence would become certain, for the foolish wretch is too sick to minister to himself. But Providence permits a faithful wife, or parent, or friend, to intervene with those remedies and cares which save his life. Now, at what cost does this friendly mediator save it? Obviously, at the cost of many of the very pains which the sick man had brought upon himself-the confinement, the watching, the loss of time, the anxieties of the sick room. Or, a prodigal wastes his substance, and the result is want; a result, so far as his means are concerned, inevitable. But his friend steps in with his wealth, pays his debts and relieves his necessities. Yet the cost at which he does it is in part the very same incurred by the guilty man's prodigality: decrease of his substance and consequent want. We may say, yet more generally, that the larger part of all the reliefs which Providence administers to the miseries of man's sinful condition, from the cradle to the grave, from the maternal love which shields and blesses his infancy, down to the friendship which receives his dying sighs, are administered through others, and that at the cost of sacrifice or effort on their part for him. Here, then, we have a general analogy pointing to a vicarious method of rescuing man from his guilt, and to sacrifice by a Mediator for him... The revealed idea of a satisfaction for sin, or vicarious arrangement to deliver man from guilt, has been made the butt of rationalistic objections. The value of this analogy is to silence these objections, by showing that the idea, however mysterious, is not unnatural." (p.500f)

None of these many images and terms and conceptual frameworks can be pushed to extreme precision level even in this life (e.g. witness the difficulty in determination of degrees of guilt in the legal practice!), so I don't expect it to be much better when applied on the theological plane. Even the sacrificial system in the OT/Tanaach--the dominant interpretive grid for the Suffering Servant/Messiah Jesus--is only adequate at an operational level, most of the time. It makes wonderful hints about the work of the messiah, teaches us much about the power/prevalence of sin (Paul and Romans 8!), and confronts us with the practical difficulties of relating to a good-but-pure God. But again, we only have the what/that, and very little how/why of the metaphysical substrate.

I understand the operational-level concepts perfectly (but not 'exhaustively')--I do not have the slightest difficulty 'visualizing' God the Father and God the Son 'going over the legal ledger', transferring my records of crimes onto Jesus' own ledger, before the Sentencing at the Cross, in quietness and sobriety, but in love for little Glenn. I can 'understand' my Substitute/Sacrifice on the Cross, bearing my sins, suffering some 'equivalent' pain to that which I would have to bear eventually, had I not availed myself of His offer of reconciliation and forgiveness. I can 'feel' peace in my heart before God, because I know (at an operational level) that God's moral outrage toward sin (including mine) has somehow been 'calmed'. When God assures me that "as far as the East is from the West, so has He removed my transgressions from me", I don't 'lose the force' of that expression because it is 'imprecise' (in a hundred different ways!). I understand the what/that, but not the how/why.

For me, there's enough 'content' in each of the images, terms, perspectives that I can piece together an operational understanding [almost a rough analogy to a 'cumulative case argument', in which each piece can be shattered--with enough pressure--but at a less-intense level, it can contribute to the force of the argument]. I can push each image or term until it 'breaks', of course, but I can do that with ANYTHING under the sun--as ANY good philosopher, apologist, or theologian should be able to do. At the edges of the Linguistic Bubble, we just can't push any further. But this doesn't mean the lower-precision level is inadequate, wrong, or un-usable. Quite the contrary. When God tells me to pray, if I try to figure out theologically the how/why prayer 'works', I will never get around to praying! The problems are simply too great, because the precision level of our conceptual 'apparatus' is just too coarse and our tools too dull. "Measure with calipers, mark with chalk, cut with an axe..."

At this precision level, this makes sense to me. I cannot specify what sin 'really is', nor how it 'attaches' or 'pervades' me. I have no metaphysical sense of what 'forgiveness' really does to the consequences of past sins. I cannot even define punishment or evil or righteousness beyond some operational level. I simply run out of 'precision' ability in these areas--just like we do with these terms in human contexts, I hasten to add--and I have to live in constant fear of 'arbitrary-ness' (smile). God, incarnation, Shekinah Glory, consciousness, morality--we live in the linguistic bubble, remember...

Okay--back to my point (hopefully). This operational understanding of 'penal substitution' is --to me--significantly more 'useable' than are most of the other 'theories' (or even 'representations') of the Atonement. All of them make sense--don't get me wrong--but the one which does the best practical job of explaining how my relationship with God is repaired, and how my confidence in my on-going relationship can be steady and fear-free, and why I should STILL be quite appalled at personal sin, is still 'penal sub'. Redemption is great, but it's more focused on the 'mess I am in'. Expiation is great, but it sorta leaves 'God out' of the deal...etc. The one view that highlights in full BOTH the seriousness of sin AND the lengths to which God's love will go to rescue me from it, we are discussing herein...

Let me also note that this is NOT an issue of 'figurative versus literal' language, but of 'more precise versus less precise'. The images may be analogical in application, but this doesn't stop us from knowing what "God loves me" or "Souls survive physical death" or "Heaven is a wonderful place" mean (at a true-but-not-technically-precise level). This is recognized by all--consider these two statements by E. A. Litton [Introduction to Dogmatic Theology, topic 55]:

"But He voluntarily underwent death for our sakes, and thereby rendered to God the 'something' which is of greater value than everything else except God. The value of the death is to be measured by the preciousness of the life, than which nothing was more precious. God could not justly demand a life from Christ ; therefore the free-will offering in our stead redounds to our advantage. In Christ man is sinless, overcomes Satan, is obedient unto death, gives up his spotless life to God ; here is what we have been seeking for-full satisfaction for sin. For the sinless sufferer justly claims a reward for what He thus, in obedience to the will of God, undeservedly underwent, and the reward which He receives is the salvation of the elect (bk. ii)....Such in substance is the argument of the Cur Deus Homo ? and such in substance must be every theory on the subject which aims at being Scriptural. Not that any theory can be pronounced quite satisfactory, for the atonement is one of those subjects which human reason must ever fail fully to fathom. The key-note of Anselm's doctrine is the idea of ' satisfaction,' and against the idea expressed by this word it is that Socinian and rationalist objections are principally directed. The word itself does not occur in Scripture, and appears to have been first used by Tertullian and not in connection with the work of Christ ; but the terms 'ransom,' ' price,' 'redemption,' and the like, involve the idea, and cannot be supposed to have been adopted without reason. When a slave was bought out of captivity, the price paid was a satisfaction to the owner for his loss ; when sin, in consequence of what Christ did and suffered, was remitted, satisfaction may be said to have been made to Divine justice. All such terms are analogical : they do not pretend to explain the mystery as it is in itself, but so far as it can be explained to us, by figures with which we are familiar. No price, or ransom, was really paid to God, but something analogous to what we understand by such a transaction took place when Christ died. In like manner anger finds no place in God, but He is said to view sin in a manner analogous to what we feel when we receive an injury or insult ; and He is propitiated as we should be if due reparation were made. If the deep things of God, which only the Spirit of God knows as they are (I Cor. ii. 11), are to be in some measure brought down to our comprehension it can only be by analogical language, which, however differs from merely figurative in that it expresses facts in the Divine economy."

"Now the whole tenor of Scripture is to the effect that through the vicarious sacrifice of Christ a change was wrought in God Himself of this nature, that whereas previously He could not, consistently with the perfection of His attributes, grant forgiveness on repentance, now He can [TN: this is a very concise/clear statement of what problem was solved by the penal substitution aspect of the Work of Christ on the Cross. There were many, many other problems solved by the Cross--e.g., the 'cleansing of the heavens'--but PenalSub addressed the 'roadblock to forgiveness' issue for us and for God.]. The blood of the sin-offering, covering the sin of Israel, symbolically represented this change, the blood of Christ effects the reality. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, i.e. expiating its sin (2 Cor. v. 19) ; and not until this was done could there be any preaching of an atonement or invitation to men to be reconciled to God (ibid. v. 20). What men needed to be told was not that they should repent and turn to God, but that if they did so, God could be just and yet forgive. Here, too, the language is analogical. How the Atonement could have affected the mind of God towards man is a profound mystery ; but we know thus much, that if an offender against us has expiated his offense by great suffering, this is a consideration which changes wrath into pity, and paves the way for our favourably receiving his overtures of reconciliation. It was the sufferings of the prodigal son no less than his repentance that moved the father to grant forgiveness. Something analogous to this Scripture declares to have been produced in the attitude of God towards man by the sacrifice of Christ. It is true that redemption, in its full sense, involves the sinner's also being reconciled to God ; but the accepted expiation of the Redeemer, ' while we were yet sinners ' (Rom. v. 8), is the necessary condition of Christ's saving work in us. This is substantially what Anselm means by the term' satisfaction,' and the figure of a debt which has been paid. And surely it is nothing more than the doctrine of the Apostle when he declares that the 'handwriting of ordinances that was against us' i.e. the law with its demands, was taken out of the way being nailed to the cross, nailed in token of the debt's having been canceled (Col. ii. 14). In the case of the believer, the eyes of God cannot rest on the requirements of the law without at the same time resting on the cross, which is the evidence of their having been satisfied."

Given this precision limitation (to the 'useful' and/or 'operational' level), what alternative constructions would be necessary--if the position were rejected on those grounds? That is, if the position is rejected as being 'unintelligible' because of its precision level, then the 'rejector' would need to come up with an alternative 'system' which makes at least as much operational sense, has the same systematic 'reach' (i.e., explains/interacts with the same scope of terminology and concepts), yet has greater precision.

Off the top of my head, there would/could be two approaches to constructing an alternative view of Atonement/Redemption (for the Christian, that is):

(1) one could select a different biblical motif (e.g. Christ as Suffering Love, The Cross as ultimate symbol of the irrationality of evil,?) and reinterpret and re-weight all the other biblical terminology into/around that conceptual nexus. [This, btw, is the approach some non-conservative theologians take. They reject the 'barbarism' of the sacrificial models, throw out the terminology as being 'pagan intrusions' or 'anachronistic glosses', etc., and then exalt some other biblical image as being the 'real one'. This is a problem in exegesis and presuppositions, of course, and it would be slightly different in method than what we are talking about here.] The problem I see here is that the one trying this would face the same (or greater) problems. They would still have to explain all the 'substitution', 'sacrifice', 'transfer of guilt' passages--into a different conceptional framework or figure--but without any additional 'help' with the precision problem. In other words, these sub/sacra-words are used to 'ground' the other images, and not vice versa. To conceptually 'reduce' (for reasons of precision) 'substitution' concepts down, would require finer-granularity of concepts as the foundation. You have to basically 'dissect' substitution into simpler components, and then find those components in the biblical/theological record--to complete the mapping/reduction. And herein is the problem--the biblical motifs flow in the other direction: substitution and sacrifice (and possibly, 'ransom') are used as foundational components to 'assemble' into the higher-level images (e.g. High Priest who cleanses Heaven with His blood, Victor over the Powers because He bears the curse of the law--the Powers' chief weapon). Consequently, I don't think the venture would gain any precision with this approach.

(2) one could abandon biblical motifs as the starting points, and 'substitute' (smile) a philosophical underpinning. This is, of course, a perennial project of (some) theologically-interested philosophers (and philosophical theologians), who seem to be constantly trying to 'de-mythologize' biblical terms onto, or 'correlate' theological terms with, philosophical terms (because they are allegedly more precise...yeah, right)...Classic examples might include the theologies of Bultmann (mapping theological concepts onto Heideggerian existentialism), Tillich (using existential ontology), John Cobb (using Whiteheadian Process philosophy), or Liberation Theology (using essentially Marxist categories). The reader can probably anticipate my problems with this approach(!): (a) the grand metaphysical schemes employed are generally no more precise, and arguably less-operationally useful than the biblical terms they are trying to explain to begin with; and (b) the next generation of philosophers inevitably and irreparably destroy the previous generation's 'grand scheme'...Can't you hear them singing it now? "How Firm a Foundation, ye saints of the laid for your Zeit und Sein"...(smile)

Okay, enough excursus--the point being that this doctrine is NOT on the periphery of the faith, and that to judge it as being 'wrong' or even 'evil' would truly require a rejection of the whole system.

And, I should point out, that alternative non-Christian religions are going to end up having very similar problems (e.g., some buddha's can 'intercept' your bad karma for you [a close analogy to penal sub, if there ever WAS one]; all traditions that involve notions of sacrifice--physical or not--will have a similar theme [e.g. a good Rabbi can atone for a group]; and even 'balance scales for judgment' religions like Islam have the natural analog: the 'good deeds' absorb the 'consequences' of the bad deeds (on the other side of the 'balance scales'), so the good/innocent deeds 'bear' or 'absorb' the evil impacts of the bad deeds, in order to neutralize the bad deeds. The notion doesn't involve personality, of course, but you still have guilt and you still have the goodness-is-unjustly-clobbered-by-evil element as a means of salvation for the Muslim...)

End of Excursus for the Forgiven...


[what a lot of prolegomena!!!!!]

As we have noted, the NT used 'substitution' themes in many different ways, only one of which is strictly 'penal'.

The term 'penal substitution' has at its core the following sense and flow:

"Penal" means "punishment" (both come from an old word for 'pain'). In our context, this "punishment" is a 'legal' word (punishment for legal guilt for statute violation, before a Judge). Specifically, the Law in this case is the Mosaic Law (the 'curse of the law' terminology indicates this).

And it might be represented by the following narrative flow:

  1. I, Glenn, start off as a moral good-doer.

  2. I subsequently commit an immoral act, and am no longer a moral good-doer.

  3. As a wrong-doer, I immediately begin to experience negative effects of this (in my life, and of those around me)--'natural consequences' types of things.

  4. Since this wrong is likely in violation to some actual LAW of God (e.g., "love your neighbor", "love God"), I am not only a wrong-doer, but am also a Law-breaker.

  5. However, as an un-tried (so far) person, I am only "potentially legally guilty" (even though I am already morally culpable, to some moral law principles or something).

  6. As a Law-breaker, I immediately become liable to being charged with a transgression and might become liable to arrest by Law Authorities (in this case, God), and then would become liable to being legally tried for the 'alleged-at-this-point' crime.


  8. Eventually, I will be apprehended by a Representative of the Law, and have to appear before the Court/Judge to answer for this act.

  9. After some court-interaction ("What hast thou done"?), God will either indict or acquit me (generally, indict--in the cases we are talking about).

  10. At that point, I am 'actually legally guilty' (before now, I was only 'potentially legally guilty'). In biblical terms, my crime is now 'written in the legal ledger' (that "Permanent Record" the High School Principal was always trying to scare me with, I, and the legal term for this is 'imputation'. [cf: "Imputation: Charging to an account, used in the Bible with legal reference to sin and salvation being recorded by God. The biblical teaching on imputation represents one of the principal doctrines of the Christian faith. Although the noun form is not found in Scripture, the verb “to impute” occurs frequently in the OT and NT. The basic meaning of the biblical word “impute” is, “to set down in a record or a ledger.” In relation to the doctrine of salvation the word is consistently used in a legal sense. Philemon 18, which affirms that the apostle Paul assumed the debt of Onesimus, aptly illustrates the predominant theological usage of the word: 'if he … owes you anything, charge that to my account.' Hence when Scripture speaks of the imputation of good or evil, it in no wise suggests that any change of moral character is involved. Scripture does affirm that, from God’s perspective, righteousness or sin is charged to an individual’s account. In the broadest sense, Scripture teaches that God participates in the process of imputing (Ps 32:2) as do people (1 Sm 22:15). Good deeds were commonly imputed for reward (Ps 106:30, 31), and evil deeds were imputed for punishment (Lv 17:3, 4).", Baker Ency of the Bible, s.v. "imputation"]

  11. My crime is now 'imputed to me'--meaning I am formally indicted, now have a criminal record ('ledger'), and now, liable to sentencing to punishment.

  12. Based upon the type/intensity/etc. of the crime, the Judge/God now assigns to ('sentences') me to bear some appropriately deserved, delineated by statute, and proportionate punishment.

  13. At some subsequent point, this punishment will have to be 'borne' by me (e.g., whippings, fines, imprisonment, execution, ridicule, exile, 'alternative sentences', etc.)

  14. Once I have borne the punishment (assuming it is not death, and I get through it intact and as myself), I am at that point still a wrong-doer, still an indicted felon/criminal, but now I am free of punishment--my 'debt to the Law' has been 'paid'.

  15. I still have a criminal record (crime is still imputed to me),but I am no longer technically 'guilty', because I am no longer liable to punishment (you cannot punish people twice for the same crime, essentially).

  16. [In some countries, I can have the actual record erased ("pardoned" or "expunged")--after a long period of exemplary life and upon demonstration of need (e.g. to get a job!)]

In Biblical "Penal Substitution", though, this process is interrupted at Step 7--

If at Step 7, I realize the wrongness of what I have done, the damage done to others, the affrontery to goodness/truth/beauty, the danger I have placed myself in relative to Legal Justice/Punishment, and my true "deservedness" of that punishment, I may--in an effort to correct my mistake and heal the damage--'turn myself in' (in a prayer of confession, of admission and abhorrence of guilt, appeal for mercy/rescue, etc.) to a Representative of the Divine Law.

Let me use a fictional, semi-parable, storyline to draw out the elements involved:

The Representative of the Divine Law (Jesus) hears my confession 'at the station', in the "Intake" room, takes down the details--commenting about how serious a crime it is and how severe the legitimate punishment for it is, and then moves me to a "meeting room". The room is fairly plain, with an large table and several chairs around it, a coffee machine and water cooler in the corner, a big picture window (but not one-way mirror thing I was sorta expecting, from the movie stereotypes), and an unusual, but stunningly vivid, colorful, beautiful, full-length Abstract Art Mural along one wall--complete with a set of oil paints, brushes, on a little table. Jesus leaves the meeting room, and talks with the Divine Judge out in the hall. When they both return to the room, the following dialogue begins:


"I've talked your crime over with Jesus, and we've decided not to charge you with this crime, and therefore, not to put it on your record at all. That means, of course, that you will not be indicted, sentenced, or punished in any way. However, you DO have to go back down to the Human court system and go through THEIR procedures. Down there, you will likely have to bear many consequences for your crime, but I can assure you that none of them are as severe or exacting as what you would have to endure in the Divine sphere of Law. You will also have to go out of your way to apologize and make it up to the victims (beyond the human court system), live such a life that contributes more-good-than-bad, and tell others about how you sought/found mercy in the Divine Court. And, you should manifest the same gentleness and forgiving spirit to your fellows, which you have seen here already from Jesus. Also, FYI, we have a Divine Victim Assistance team, which will be taking steps to help the victims, in our special ways too. But you are legally free to go."

Glenn (after receiving CPR from Jesus) gets up and responds:

"But I totally deserve that horrible punishment--don't you up HERE legally HAVE TO punish me for that crime????"


"Actually, we WOULD have to punish you for that crime, but ONLY IF you were convicted of that crime. And, since we are not even CHARGING you with that crime, you obviously cannot be convicted, and therefore not legally punished. The law of crime-gets-punished up here is inviolate, but in your case, it's irrelevant because your act will not even be recorded on your legal ledger."

Glenn (still a little numb from all this):

"Thanks, Thanks, Thanks--and I will do WHATEVER YOU SAY, because of this amazing relief. But I don't understand this at all--You Folks up here are KNOWN for your omniscience, your fidelity to law, and your absolute truthfulness. How in the world (or in heaven) can you 'ignore' the divine justice implications of my crime??? I know I personally will never forget my wrong-doing. Of course, I can clearly see that you are not ignoring the HUMAN implications, because you are requiring me to submit to human law on this, but how can you honestly, morally, and legally keep this act off my personal record? It obviously occurred, and can't be swept under the rug (or under the cloud, I guess).?"

Jesus turns to the Judge and asks:

"You want to tell him, or shall I?"

The Judge steals the briefest of glances at Jesus' hands on the table, and responds:

"I'll tell him--especially since I am setting some situations up for him in his future, in which he will have to manifest the same kind of heart..."

Judge (to an attentive, but puzzled little Glenn):

"You see, it's like this. Jesus and I don't really like this legal job--we only do it on an 'as-needed basis'. We actually call this judgment stuff "our strange work". We're actually artists. We sculpt, paint, make music, create flowers and worlds and laughter, etch beauty into things which replicate this beauty elsewhere, create dances in hearts, and neat stuff like that (Glenn notices that Their faces are literally beaming with joy at this point). But all these works of delightful art have structure, form, interconnections, and harmony. And this means that there was order involved, required, honored, and unfortunately, vulnerable to harm. (Their faces sadden.)

"Some of our living dances decided to 'break things', and some of our greatest breathing sculptures decided to start un-making our thinking flowers. And we had to go into the "Law and Order" business to deal with these atrocities. Hence this court, these proceedings, and this ledger/justice system. But, remember, it is only because we love our creatures with a fierce and protective love--we simply love too much to sit by and watch anti-love sprout, grow, distort, destroy, and create fear...

"But we really hate this stuff--and so we decided a long time ago on a plan whereby we could take people like you and re-direct them into becoming beauty-makers instead of beauty-breakers. Due to some of the effects of our more public artistic works, we sometimes get people like you through here. People who are wrong-doers, but who KNOW and BEMOAN the fact that they are wrong-doers--and at varying levels of atrocity and destruction.

"Of course, some that come through here simply shake their fists at us in anger, hatred-of-artists, and other irrationalities...! And so, We treat them impartially--just as We would want to be/should be treated in a similar legal situation, receiving the exactly fair amount/type of punishment. But some arrive here already broken-hearted, already empathetic toward their victims, already hopeless and crushed by guilt and despair. They are aware they have no defense against legitimate judgment, no past goodness that can possibly 'counter-balance' their crime, and can only plead for undeserved mercy, and with promises (actually, hopes) of eternal change in their character toward re-innocence.

"For these later cases, we would LOVE to simply 'ignore the crime', change their lives with 'aggressive forgiveness', and send them back out to help us with our Artists' work! But, alas, as you have pointed out, we cannot 'ignore a crime' without damaging the same order/beauty/transparency we defend here. And so, 'cheap forgiveness' (in this case, 'turning a blind eye to evil'--something we REALLY hate down there!) was not an option.

(At this point, the Judge stops for minute, closes He eyes for a second, and takes a deep, slow breath, as if He is trying to control His voice or something. Jesus, on the other hand, is looking straight at little Glenn--not sternly, not intensely, not uncomfortably, but perhaps 'patiently' is the right word? and maybe with a hint of sadness in His gentle and understated smile. Glenn gets really still and quiet at this point, sensing/suspecting that something very life-changing and very awesome is about to be revealed.)

The Judge continues:

"It was clear that what we needed was an 'extra ledger'--without any crime of its own--to which we could somehow assign the crimes of people like you. We needed to find Some Other Willing Person with a perfectly clear ledger that would let Us use their untainted ledger to get you off the hook. Or perhaps more precisely, to keep you from getting ON the hook."

Glenn blurts out at this point:

"But wouldn't that mean that this individual would then have to suffer the punishment for all those crimes--because of your justice/order rules??!

Jesus speaks up here and says:

"Absolutely. And I think you see what the real constraint is. We cannot punish the innocent--we can only visit punishment upon the guilty. In order to visit, for example, the punishment you would have gotten had we imputed your crime to you, upon somebody else, that 'somebody else' has to be legally guilty of 'your crime' first. Once the guilt is somehow assigned to that person, then the rest of the system is perfectly legal, moral, and intelligible. We are at that point punishing the guilty (not the innocent), and you are free to go be a grace-maker."

Glenn, something dawning on him, asks:

"So I take it that--since I am at this very minute, according to what you said a minute ago about me not being charged, the beneficiary of such a plan-- You obviously (1) found a way to transfer legal guilt legally; and (2) you found someone to take all the punishment, and therefore satisfy your legal processes to closure; and (3) this has already been done in the past (at least in my past)...and that I am forever and ever and ever--and 'infinitely deeply'--in somebody's debt...

The Judge says:

"'Yes' on #2 and #3, but 'No' on #1"

Glenn (barely restraining himself from blurting something out about that scene in Buckaroo Banzai...) says:

"What do you mean 'No' on #1--I thought it had to work that way?"

The Judge says:

"Just a technicality--you used the word 'transfer' and that's not exactly what happens. It's not that your guilt was already imputed to you (i.e., on your record) and we un-imputed it from your ledger and "re-imputed it" to someone else's. I suppose, you could, sort of, think of it in that 'transfer' mode, if you want to--we have used 'blot out transgressions' before to refer to it, but that was before the ink was really, really dry (he turns to Jesus and smiles)... Because if it had already been on YOUR ledger, and you had already arrived here, you would have already been in the punishment phase...Rather, the crime never was imputed to you--it was only imputed once, and that once was to this Other Willing Person's ledger."

Jesus adds:

"And you can see what happens when we get those 'I am my own Law' angry, arrogant, art-hater types through here--they could care less about our Plan, and they don't want any part of our solution, so they simply get their crimes imputed to their own ledger (when they are convicted), and the punishment system kicks in."

Glenn, squeezing his eyes shut in an obvious attempt to climb above his standard Pooh-level thinking ("I haven't thought of anything yet, have you?") tries to put this together:

"Okay, let me get this straight. First, You obviously are perfectly legal in punishing the Plan-rejecters for their crimes, right?

[Jesus and the Judge both nod in assent.]

"Secondly, I can only assume that You could NOT do this legally if the Other Willing Person wouldn't agree to your Plan, right? In other words, You couldn't legally force an innocent, empty-ledgered, hugely-generous, incredibly moral Person to suddenly 'become guilty', right?

[Jesus and Judge both nod vigorously.]

"Third, you obviously are perfectly legal in punishing this Other Willing Person, but only because they are technically and "ledger-ly" guilty, right?

[Jesus and the Judge both nod in assent again, obviously pleased at Glenn's progress.]

"Well, that leaves me with two very puzzling questions: one legal and one medi-fiscal...

(The Judge winces, as Glenn struggles to remember his philosophy terminology, and obviously 'misses the mark'...sigh).

"The legal one is the most puzzling--let's start with that: How could you legally assign my un-assigned crime to this Other Person--whether this Other Willing Person was part of, excited about, or joyously committed to the fortunate-for-Glenn plan or not? Isn't that, like, dishonest or something? Sorta like saying "Joe has righteously and heroically agreed to lie that he did the crime we know Glenn actually did"?

The Judge turns to Jesus and whispers:

"A little slow, but at least he's starting to ask moral questions for a change--"

[Jesus nods in agreement]

The Judge begins to explain:

"We sincerely commend your concern about honesty, Glenn,
-----(the Judge and Jesus wink at one another with a quick smile)-----
and We are quite impressed with your obvious lack of fear at suggesting We might be unethical or untruthful for the first time in our Eternal Existence
-----(they both barely suppress a chuckle at this)-----
--and especially so in our venture to make others more ethical and truthful through this Plan-- didn't you philosophy types call that 'Traves-try' or 'Cashew-histry"? or was it "Casuistry"?
-----(They barely restrain their guffaws, as Glenn begins to suspect that They are poking fun at him...)-----

"But the Plan ended up being very simple...but very costly

(They immediately sober at this remark, and continue in more serious and grave tones)...

"There were three legal constructs we wove together to make this a morally beautiful work.

"First, the Original Art Designs for history involved/involves a Final Judgment day, in which all unrequited evil will be punished, and this Final Day is directed to the entire world (actually universe, but let's just focus on your patch for this discussion--it will be easier for you to understand). Our residual wrath will be poured out--not on individuals (that's a different judgment), but upon the world-as-a-whole. We are judging the world-system, and everybody in it at the time--innocent individually or not--will suffer some consequences of this judgment. Are you familiar with the Bowls of Revelation, Glenn?

Glenn: "No, is that some kind of cosmetic line?

The Judge pauses for just a second in disbelief, takes a deep breath, then continues:

"No, it's a pre-announcement of plagues and disasters that will come upon the world at the End of Time. These various judgments are expressions of Our judicial wrath, and they fall upon the whole world. They do NOT discriminate between the good and the bad (just like how We made our sun to shine on the good and the bad, in better times), and so punishment falls upon some innocent souls in this process. They are part--but not contributors to--of the target of our wrath. Guilt for sin is aggregated in that outpouring, and not 'assigned' individually. Rather, wrath-as-a-whole would be poured out upon the world-as-a-whole, for guilt-as-a-whole [which would normally include your 'would-be contribution']. But when that is done, a special (and majority) part of our wrath is finished (Rev 15.1). Whoever suffers during that time, suffers (partly) for your would-be sin, without taking individual responsibility for your would-be sin, understand? [Glenn nods slowly, and really means it.]

"So, the first part of our plan was to schedule an early and 'private' version of this. [We have a lot of flexibility with time, btw]. We scheduled a Final Judgment day a couple of millennia before you were born, and made sure it was LONG BEFORE we do a lot of the 'final crime imputations'. In other words, there was a lot of unassigned guilt and a lot of humans who didn't even show up in the legal records yet (as offenders--though they would be when they reached the Public Final Judgment Day).

"Now, this Other Willing Person became a full-fledged member of the world at that time, and so we scheduled this event around His schedule. On a very specific day, We had our Private Judgment Day, and We poured our wrath-as-a-whole, on the world-as-a-whole, for sin-as-a-whole. But the thing special about this was that we allowed only the Other Willing Person into that middle-of-time 'Judgment Day Event'--everything else stayed on schedule. In other words, this Other Person had requested (as part of the Plan) that He go ahead and face the End Times early. And this we did. We did a Full, End-time Final Judgment on this One Willing Person (at His request), pouring our wrath-in-aggregate upon Him (as the only person there from the world-as-a-whole). He was therefore, in this specific judgment event, 'the whole world'! The end result was that we had 'emptied out' a VAST amount of residual, aggregate wrath, upon an aggregate "sin-as-a-whole". This created the flexibility to recognize, 'as needed', YOUR sin as part of that 'sin-as-a-whole', and therefore as something already 'punished', without having to make any spurious 'assignments' to specific individuals.

"This Other Person had a rough time of this experience--and I suspect you will grow in sober appreciation for this over the years ahead--but because of the beauty of His heart to do this for others, He was honored almost immediately thereafter.

[Tanknote: See my comments about the Isaiah53 Servant's suffering as 'all Israel' above, and note N.T. Wright's observation: "The significance of Jesus' resurrection, for Saul of Tarsus as he lay blinded and perhaps bruised on the road to Damascus, was this. The one true God had done for Jesus of Nazareth, in the middle of time, what Saul had thought He was going to do for Israel at the end of time. Saul had imagined that YHWH would vindicate Israel after her suffering at the hand of the pagans. Instead, he had vindicated Jesus after his suffering at the hands of the pagans. Saul had imagined that the great reversal, the great apocalyptic event, would take place all at once, inaugurating the kingdom of God with a flourish of trumpets, setting all wrongs to right, defeating evil once and for all, and ushering in the age to come. Instead, the great reversal, the great resurrection, had happened to one man, all by himself. What could this mean?...But if Jesus really was the Messiah, and if his death and resurrection really were the decisive heaven-sent defeat of sin and vindication of the people of YHWH, then this means that the Age to Come had already begun, had already been inaugurated, even though the Present Age, the time of sin, rebellion and wickedness, was still proceeding apace...The death and resurrection of Jesus were themselves the great eschatological event, revealing God's covenant faithfulness, his way of putting the world to rights...Saul was already living in the time of the end, even though the previous dimension of time was still carrying on all around him. The Present Age and the Age to Come overlapped, and he was caught in the middle, or rather, liberated in the middle..." [NT:WSPRS, 36f]

Glenn looks 'partially puzzled', and asks:

"I guess You were making some kind of penal 'slush fund' or 'pre-paid punishment card' this way? to apply to my later crime, when it was needed?"

The Judge, winces a bit again, and slowly shakes His head:

"No, no...not quite...we couldn't invent some imaginary sins for the Other One to be punished for (to create this 'slush' fund thing)--we had to use 'real sins' to stay morally truthful and just. We simply took advantage of the horrible fact that, in the complex metaphysics of Our reality, all sins are actually the same sin, at the core. There really is only one base-level sin: when someone, in an act of will, "destroys God, good, and the good effects that have flowed from those" by "creating" themselves as the only "god, good, and effects which will flow from that". This is the essence of sin (a sort of angry, self-obsessed repudiation of reality, oddly enough), and this generic component is present in every individual instance of evil.

"Now, without getting too "META-PHYSICAL" here
-----(He looks over at little Glenn to see if he caught the subtle pedagogy in that terminology)-----
there's a another 'reality' just 'below, beyond, or above' the one you live it. In that reality (where We live), all the individual acts of evil in your human reality are connected, as are all the acts of goodness and artistry. You might could visualize it like the spokes on a bicycle wheel. The spokes all connect at the tire at different and individual points, but they converge onto only one point at the center of the wheel. Hmmm...maybe a circle and radii would have been a better example--how well did you do at geometry, Glenn?


"Well enough to get your point, I think--the individual radii all shared the exact same endpoint in the center of the circle. They all had exactly and numerically the same starting point, but every other point--on the way out to the edge of the circle was different from its counterparts in other spokes, right?

The Judge beams with pleasure, and smiles (with obvious relief):

"Perfectly! Good thinking!

"So, in Our case, all individual acts of human goodness have a common/shared endpoint (in Our reality), but are manifested as separate acts in yours...and the same thing obtains with sin/evil.

"Your early philosophers, especially Plato and Aristotle argued about this all the time--Forms, Ideas, kinds, individuals, genus, accidents, essences, species, etc.--but they were all basically 'correct in what they affirmed, but wrong in what they denied'. They were both right, but couldn't put the two together--due simply to the complexity of the interactions between Our reality and your derivative reality. And there was no way WE could explain it to them, since we BUILT the relationships/realities in such a way. It was a beautiful artistic design, but like so many great works of art, you cannot 'describe' all of it in words and language. But sometimes music seems to convey the relationship between the heavenly and the derivative quite well, don't you think?" (turning to Jesus, who smiles enthusiastically).

The Judge pauses for second, while Glenn is obviously trying to remember his philosophy education--especially who this 'Harry Stottle' character was--but continues when Glenn seems to mentally shrug and give up:

"So, in this Private Judgment, we actually used the metaphysical 'core' of sin as our target, so to speak. We punished this shared-component, the defining essence of the generic category of every sin--past, present, future--and in the process, obviously, punished what would eventually show up as 'your sin'...

"Sometimes we refer to it by its 'individual manifestations'--as in 'suffered for sins' (1 Pet 3.18) and 'bore our sins in His own body' (1 Peter 2.24)--and sometimes by this generic, class, single core nature--as in "...made Him to be sin for us" (2 Cor 5.21) and "Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1.29)

"So, when this Other Willing One was punished for the "metaphysically prior" and "essential core" of all sin, your individual sins--even that stunt from last October (He drops his chin slightly and looks at Glenn like a reproving sixth-grade teacher might, for a second) were in there legal fiction involved or required...

"In the extreme reality of that Private Final Judgment event, all Our wrath (i.e., merited sentences against convicted crimes), against all human Sin, was perfectly satisfied, and reached complete closure. You might say we have 'run out of punishment' in Our reality (Judge and Jesus look at each other for a moment, with the deepest smiles, and deepest expressions of relief I have ever seen on anybody's face).

Glenn (obviously impressed by the depth of this act), quickly runs to the next question:

"Amazing...but wait a minute...then why do You even have this court here? Why isn't everybody just 'un-convicted' like I am? Does nobody have to be punished, since that Act?...or for that matter, before that Act even?...and I had heard rumors of people being punished for their crimes in some really horrible ways...I saw pictures of it in museums and everything, presumably from escapees or all that bogus?

The Judge and Jesus have lost their smiles to expressions of deep sadness at this point, and Jesus explains:

"First of all, the art in the pictures is some good stuff artistically, but their ideas of what it's like 'inside punishment' are....("how shall I say this, graciously...?")...not to be trusted, Glenn. I wouldn't put too much stock in human 'conceptions' of punishment states, and let's leave it at that for now...

"But your first question is very perceptive, and its answer is a very sad one...

The Judge takes over from here and says:

"Remember, how I mentioned that we get folk through here who HATE us, refuse to cooperate with us, and even refuse to admit that what they did was actually a crime/sin? They live in their own constructed (and constricted) reality--which is neither yours nor Ours, amazingly. We try to explain to them about this liberating Private Final Judgment, but they will not 'step into that reality' with Us. They won't even 'look into it' , to see what's there for them. Only 'inside that Judgment event' is their crime actually present and punished already! In 'normal' time/space, there are different issues, and in THEIR made-up universe, even We don't exist--much less our work on their behalf. So, they literally (or better, metaphysically) detach themselves from us, from the Judgment Event, from the benefits thereof, and from participation with anything we have to offer. They actually want to claim their crime as their own act of freedom and power--since they don't believe it was wrong at all! As self-created gods and moral-grounds (Glenn looks puzzled by this last phrase and looks briefly over at the coffee machine in the corner of the room, whereupon the Judge tries again...)...I mean, as self-created gods and as the self-appointed people who DEFINE and DECIDE what is 'good' and what is 'bad', they are proud of their 'authentic'(!) actions--as being the actions of a god! Can you believe that????

"Anyway, (He calms down from his obvious frustration), so they refuse to go into the space where their crime is present-and-punished, and they choose to live inside the universe of their own creation (where their individual crime is real, but not a crime by their standards). Unfortunately, this is EXACTLY what our standard legal sentence is--to be forced to live in the universe of your choosing and making. In the law codes, this legal sentence is technically called 'death'--irreversible separation from the real "God, good, and all that flows...", etc. (The Judge notices that Glenn raises an eyebrow at this comment about 'the universe of your choosing', and proceeds to clarify.) And believe you me--you do NOT want to live in a universe of your own making, if you are not really God-as-artist and not really good-as-order-lover...Such universes are devoid of the things which flow from our love of beauty, warmth, laughter, pleasure, joys, order, predictability, community, friendship, and even satisfactions and closure...can you imagine a universe in which you can do anything you want, but in which nothing ever produces the desired benefits and pleasures you thought they would--or they even produce the opposite effects?! But let's not go there--it's a sad state of affairs by our standards, and most who go there never really 'get it'...

"Okay--does that make sense now, Glenn? Do you see how the Other Willing Person can suffer for sin, without it being a legal 'fiction' or illegal 'cooking the books'?

Glenn has grown a bit subdued at this point, and asks, timidly:

"You mean that I got the full benefit of this Other Willing Person's punishment --what I might operationally view as a full 'pardon'--by simply 'walking into that truth-space'?! By simply being honest about my crime, my deserved punishment, and about the story You have just told me?? That's all it took?

The Judge--with moistness in His eyes-- looks at Jesus, who is gazing thoughtfully at something in the middle of His right hand, and then looks back at Glenn:

"That's all it took from your side, Glenn..."

Glenn catches the emphasis on 'your' in the Judge's voice, look back and forth between the Judge and Jesus (who are now looking at one another in soft-solemn-silence), and about five seconds later (he's a slow thinker) realizes that the 'other' side must have been pretty bad...

Glenn thinks about this for about five, eternal minutes...recognizes the personal implications of this act...and then asks

"When we're through here, sirs, can I go and express my thanks to the Other Willing Person before I go out free?"

... at this moment, and for only a brief moment, Glenn suddenly senses some kind of 'change' in the room, or in time, or in his perception of color, or in his balance...then the Judge gets up--looking like He's about to cry--and walks over to the Art supply table, picks up a brush, dabs it in the Teal oil vial. Before removing it, He turns to Jesus and asks

"Teal's good, don't you think?"

Jesus quietly--and looking like He's about to cry, too--simply whispers


The Judge takes the brush (with the teal oil) and hands it to Jesus, who gets up, walks over to the mural, and paints a short, slightly-wavy line into the existing painting. The stroke seems to fit, and its edges tend to merge/blur with the other strokes around it, but it definitely adds a little something to the overall piece. Jesus returns the brush to the table, gives the Judge a slight hug (?!), and they both sit down--without speaking a word to Glenn about any of this.

At this point, in the deep quiet that has fallen upon the room, Jesus softly speaks up and says to the Judge:

"Let me cover the next part of the Plan--You always do a better job on Point 3".

[The Judge nods in assent and listens attentively to Jesus.]

Jesus turns and addresses Glenn:

"The first part of the Plan would probably have been adequate to meet our freedom-loving desires for you folks, but there were some other/related issues which had to be addressed at the same time. Point Two of the plan was directed at these other issues, but it also had another legal/moral aspect which added to the purity and moral beauty of the act of the Other Willing Party. And, I might add, it will eventually have MASSIVELY wonderful benefits for many, many people like you!

"Point Two of the plan was necessitated by the fact of 'semi-enemies' against your people (not actually full-members of your reality, but one-foot-there and one-foot-here types), and by the need to create some kind of community in which sin's in-time effects could be challenged, overcome, and perhaps exceeded by good. This led to the creation of a new 'trans-national' nation, with its own laws, systems, values, etc.--a new community of humanity 'by art design'. Of course, it was populated by 'normal' folks, which is a nice way of saying 'sinners' of every shape and stripe.

"So, the Planners got together and created a new organizational unit/nation-state named "ROSA" (Republic of the Second Adam--although the citizens called it 'Redeemed of the Second Adam'), and found a rag-tag group of people willing to emigrate to the new country/state, and willing to honor and obey the President/Leader. Most of them were actually convicted criminals who had been through here, and had gone back out and created great beauty and freedom subsequently. The Other Willing One was selected to be the President, King, Leader, Lord, Shepherd, whatever you want to call it, but all authority and responsibility for the nation/people rested with Him (there was no need for 'checks and balances' like you have to have with 'regular folk' institutions). I suspect you have already figured out that the Other Willing One was considered by all his new subjects (who had all been through this very room that you are in, by the way) to be a rare individual of unsurpassed love, faithfulness, moral purity, compassion, strength, commitment to your kind, truthfulness, and reliability--would I be right that you have already figured that out?

Glenn nods his head, very slowly, very seriously, and with just a trace of mist in his eyes for the first time...

Jesus looks over at the Judge solemnly and gives him a very slight nod, which is returned by the Judge. Jesus continues:

"We'll skip some of the preliminary information...unlike SOME people I know who will NOT do so in the future...

[Jesus looks at Glenn with the same school-teacher look the Judge gave him earlier, then softens when Glenn obviously has no clue as to his reference...and continues]:

"One day early in His presidency, a delegation from the foreign--and actually slightly hostile--country (i.e., the 'semi-enemies' mentioned earlier) arrives and demands an audience with Him. Of course, He greets them warmly, welcomes them, wines and dines them, inquires as to the health of all their friends and family, (actually even offers them free citizenship), and extends every courtesy and honor to them. He is aware, of course, that many of His new subjects had fled that nation, since it was known for its strict (but fair) legal laws and swift justice. Not necessarily a bad place, but a little 'low' on beauty, arts, learning, and second-chances. And The President suspects they will approach Him in the morning with issues about some of His new subjects/citizens.

"He is right, and in the first diplomatic meeting the next day, the lead delegate requests the extradition of a number of His subjects to them for capital punishment in their country. As they documented quite exhaustively, this group of individuals had all been convicted of serious crimes in their country, had all been sentenced to death--for legitimate reasons of justice, and then had apparently fled and been given asylum in the land of ROSA. Accordingly, even though no extradition treaties were in force between ROSA and the requesting country, the delegation firmly insisted that justice must be served, and that these men and women must return with them and be put to death.

"The President began reading the names on the list out loud"

[At this point Jesus closes His eyes, as if remembering or visualizing the scene..]

"commenting to the delegates that some of these people were the most beautiful, love-weaving, and soaring souls He had ever met"

[At this point Jesus opens His eyes and looks at the Judge, eyes moist, and says something to the Judgle like

"they had Lauren the Sunrise's name on that list, remember!--can you believe that?! And Bret the Barnabbas-souled?!... and Norm the Jonathan-willed! and ..."

[He stops in frustration, and bows His head.)

Jesus takes a deep breath, composing Himself and continues:

"The President finishes reading the list, and puts it down. The room is silent as He ponders the matter for a few minutes, and then He announces His intention. 'I am sorry but I cannot comply with this request, for a number of reasons. I greatly respect your laws, your zeal, and your pursuit of justice--all things we share in common spirit--but in the current situation, I am afraid I will have to respectfully decline your request. So, let's move on to the next order of business, shall we, and see if I can perhaps be more useful to you in that matter."

"The leader of the foreign delegation stands up at this point and says 'There IS no next order of business--we are only here to satisfy our country's need for justice. Surely you cannot impede justice, Sir?'

"And then the dialogue starts--here's a condensed version:

President: It is not my remotest intention to impede true justice, Sir; it is just that this particular request for this particular type of justice is something that is not in my actual power to comply with, nor am I legally obligated to do so--under even HUMAN international extradition law.

Delegate: These are odd words, Sir--please explain.

President: Gladly. First of all, we do not have capital punishment in my country, and even under HUMAN international extradition law, I am not legally obligated to hand them over to face capital sentences. You did say you were going to execute them, right?

Delegate: Yes. Without exception, without delay, without further considerations. They have been tried, convicted, sentenced to death.

President: That's what I thought. So, you can see my obvious legal posture--I am not legally obligated to give them over.

Delegate: Hmmm...I see your 'technical' reason for denying us justice, but I would think that your commitment to justice would go beyond mere 'obligation' and that you would be eager to hand them over to satisfy the demands of our nation's legal system of justice. So, I can only assume that you will not because--in some odd fashion--you CAN NOT? But are you not the Sovereign of this country? And if so, what could you possibly mean by it not being in your 'actual power' to hand them over to us?

President: Yes, I am the 'Sovereign' (Although I prefer terms like 'Most Tasked Servant Leader' or 'The one with most resources assigned to help his people', but we'll go with 'Sovereign' for this discussion), and, under our ROSA Charter, I have accepted full responsibility for the actions of my citizens relative to extra-national matters of the past. The nation's people had its obligations, legal liabilities, and debts to other countries when I took over the Presidency, and I fully shouldered those liabilities as the Official Leader and Representative of my people. I have made good on many of their debts and contracts with foreign governments out of my own personal resources, labor, and time. Accordingly, as their official Representative, I have assumed international responsibility/blame for their past actions, and, at the same time, I have sworn to protect them 'with all possible means' from pursuit by those countries for those past actions (that I assumed as their Sovereign). That means that I personally have become liable -- due to my legal role as their representative (as authorized by our internal Law Code)--for their 'guilt' relative to you...And, in this case, it would (He pauses thoughtfully) require me to turn myself over to you, for transport and execution in your country. Hmmm, this way, as their authorized representative, your justice needs should be satisfied by MY death (which I CAN order/allow, and am obligated to do under ROSA legal statutes), instead of THEIR deaths (which I am not obligated to order, and which I am sworn otherwise in the ROSA Charter to 'fight to the death to prevent' and to do so 'with all available means')....[The President turns then to one of his attendants and tells them to go tell the Vice President to prepare for immediate Transfer of Authority.]

As the attendant is about to leave the room, the Delegate objects loudly to the attendant: "Wait--don't go yet. This is not settled that easily!" and then responds to the President: "I truly admire your heroic dedication to your people. Our history is also filled with stories of great-hearted leaders who sacrificed their lives for their soldiers, their families, their country. But we have never let an innocent hero die in place of a convicted criminal--it just isn't right.

President: I couldn't agree more--and I don't do it either. In our internal law courts, we NEVER allow substitutes either! But perhaps I wasn't clear in my explanation. This matter is NOT in my law court, NOR in your law court--it is 'between' our law courts, for lack of a better term. According to my laws, when I accepted my Presidency, I became a suit of armor around my people. I stand between them and the outside world. When the world looks at them--it sees me. When the world sees me--it sees them. I and my people are one, we are united--legally--before the outside world. Going back to the 'suit of armor' image, when they 'put me on', their underlying 'dirt' (i.e. guilt, problems, etc.) spread to me (or in most cases, rubbed off onto me). The image is not the best, but you get the idea: when I wrapped myself 'around this nation', I BECAME the nation to the outside world. I am no longer just the "President of ROSA", but I AM "ROSA" the corporate entity. So, according to my law--the only law I am under, I remind you--when you execute me in your country, you have executed them. So, wouldn't that solve your 'justice' problem, since you would NOT be executing an 'innocent' party, but actually a 'guilty' party?

Delegate: Well, I can see the force of the logic of your law, and the inherent 'shared responsibility/guilt' of your position as Representative. But it wouldn't be just to execute just one man (no matter HOW well-known you are) in the place of the 60 people on that Condemned list? One for 60--? That's not justice.

The President looks at the Delegate like he's crazy for a second, and sardonically remarks: Huh? Where'd you get your law degree from--one of those $25 email/spam specials? You KNOW it doesn't work that way, friend. If sixty people conspire and kill one person, don't you still condemn all sixty to capital punishment? Of course you do! That's a 60-to-1 deal! How just is that?! Or the opposite case: a serial killer murders 60 people--is it justice to only be able to kill him 'only once'?! Seriously, now--can you think of any solid reason why this would not satisfy your needs for justice? I am willing to help here, friend, but we need to move forward on this.

Delegate: Actually (holding his nose up in the air briefly), I graduated from that XYZ University mentioned so many times on the Christian Thinktank, figuring that it MUST be a good school if so many people went to it...(he he). But I think I must agree with you. Since all your citizens are basically rejects from other 'metaphysical law-abiding countries' like ours, Your ROSA nation is not esteemed very highly anywhere. So, I strongly suspect that my people might even be more pleased with your death than with the specific criminals. They might see You as suffering the consequences for your people--and for all they stand for now. Interesting concept...But still, even though I can see how it's legal now--given that you are You-the-Nation, instead of You-the-Individual, I know some of the people back in my country wanted these criminals to be made examples of, for reasons of deterrence. Not sure your death would accomplish the same result.

President: Whoa, Whoa, Whoa--this deal is COMPLETELY OFF, if you are talking about non-justice issues, dude! I will go to help you satisfy retributive justice ONLY--not for utilitarian, community, pedagogical reasons (as good and as important as they are)...I am a fair man, and deeply committed to moral equalization, reciprocity, and pure-and-simple retributive justice...for that I will die for...But I am not obligated under my law to assume your responsibilities to your people, to influence your community behavior for the good. I have to do that HERE, with my folks. That stuff is YOUR responsibility, and I am sure you have an abundance of internal cases you can use for your social engineering needs! I can give you advice, and maybe even some marketing support, but your intentions (however noble, practical, and wise) to use my people for your internal needs other than justice, are beyond the scope of my charter to help you with. And, my sworn obligations to protect my people from these 'good intentions' means I will resist you with all my means (and I have some new weapons that will really do some damage in your space, pal)...

The Delegate, realizing that his only option is to take the President up on his offer, agrees to the deal and asks whether a contract is needed. The President indicates that one IS needed, and that it specify three conditions: (1) that the type of execution He is to bear is of adequate 'extremity' as to reasonably satisfy the justice needs proportionate to the crimes of the sixty [in other words, probably the most severe and painful type of death will be required] ; (2) that the governing body of the country pre-sign a document admitting, before the laws of BOTH countries, that said death will be the complete and final satisfaction of all justice claims against the sixty subjects on the list, for all crimes known and unknown up to that point; and (3) that the dead body of the President be shipped back to ROSA within three days.

After the document is written and signed, with departure and execution dates specified, the Delegate's curiosity is too much to bear, and he, embarrassed, asks the President: "I have just got to know--are you at liberty to describe any of these new weapons??"

The President smiles and says: "Yes, I can. My favorite is the "PVA Equalizer". When you set the Polarity to "P" and aim it at objects, it sucks the Forms out of the object, so, for example, all dogs lose their 'dogness', turning them all into piles of undifferentiated aggregates of accidents. If you reverse the polarity and set it to "A", it sucks the Accidents out of the objects. So, for example, if you aim it at all dogs, all the differentiating characteristics between the dogs disappear, and what you end up with are piles of objects which MIGHT be dogs, but you really can't see them that well--they are out-of-focus, and look essentially like piles of undifferentiated substances...pretty awesome, eh?

The Delegate--a cat owner--blanches, because he has drawn the obvious implication of what happens if the PVA Equalizer is turned on cats AND dogs at the same time...All he can say is "How soon can we leave for my country?"

Jesus stops for a second at this point in the story, gets a drink of water, and asks Glenn:

"So, was it un-just for the President to die for the 'sins' of His people in that case?"


"No, I don't think so. His official role/responsibility as Representative included that function--under that special legal arrangement--so He truly could 'assume the guilt' of His people (even though they had committed those crimes BEFORE He had any accountability or control over them)--for the purpose of satisfying justice. It didn't remove the actual 'sin' from them, I guess, but sorted 'stretched it over him" too, with the international legal guilt becoming His. But once He had been justly executed, its 'residual presence' on them would have had no legal consequences, relative to those justice-seekers, right? Essentially the same result as a 'pardon', right? Am I getting it?

Jesus closes His eyes, smiles, and then smiles at the Judge, and simply says:


At this point, there is visual disturbance in the room. Jesus' pager--which had been on the table all this time--generates a noticeable flash of light, as the word 'HELP' briefly appeared on the display. The flash intensity was about the level of an indoor camera flash, lighting up the whole room, causing them to blink for a second.

The Judge says to Jesus:

"that was pretty bright--You better jump on that one."

Jesus picks up His pager, pushes a few buttons and starts to rush from the room. He then turns to Glenn and says:

"I have to rush out to take care of this, but I'll see you again in the Releasing Room, when you are picking up your Allowance stipend and Going Away presents--see you then"

and then He rushes out of the room.

[Glenn's disappointment at Jesus' leaving--he suddenly realizes that he has grown to actually experience 'comfort' from this Jesus, instead of being afraid of Him-- is quickly overshadowed by his confusion and curiosity about Jesus' last remark--which makes NO SENSE to Glenn at all.

Glenn looks at the Judge, hoping for some kind of explanation, but all the Judge says is:

"Don't worry about what Jesus just said-- yet--most people don't understand that for 5 to 10 years after release.... Let's move on to the last Point of our Plan.

The Judge begins:

"First, see if you can summarize the first two points--specifically, the legality aspects.

Glenn responds:

"Okay, first Point One. In that case, the Other Willing One suffered as the-world-as-a-whole for sin-as-a-whole (which included the 'generic' core of my crime). This is going to happen legally at the End of Time anyway (under some kind of 'aggregate punishment' and 'aggregate sin' law and/or principle). So, all that was different about this Special, Early instance of that was the world-as-a-whole was 'less populated' than expected. So the legality and appropriateness of the principle for the Final, Final Judgment was just as valid for the Private, Early, "Final Judgment". And, as a result, my sin--which was included in 'sin-as-a-whole' by its very defining nature--was punished, Check?"

Judge: "Right"

Glenn (frowning a bit at the Judge's response) continues:

"In Point Two--which I think I understand a little better--the President is authorized by law to assume any responsibilities or obligations I have to laws outside His nation. In this case, I bore legal guilt for a crime I had done in another nation, but the President--without being the actual perp for that past act--had the legal responsibility (voluntarily assumed and accepted by Him at this inauguration) to represent me (as one of His citizens) before international law. That means that he could 'bear my international legal liability to punishment', even though I personally still carried the more general 'moral wrongness' of my act. So, the legality and appropriateness in this Point is due to the fact that the President was authorized by the law of our nation to represent me ('present himself as being me, judicially') before external tribunals. He was my external representative, but, of course, I would still be responsible for any illegal acts done within our country. He wasn't authorized to 'be me' in internal law demands, only external law demands. Right?

Judge: "Check"

[Glenn, frowning again at the Judge's response, cannot help but ponder--for a microsecond--if the Judge is somehow an old Trekkie, but quickly dismisses the thought.]

Glenn adds a quick question:

"One quick question about this story: if the Other Willing Person died in Point 1, how could He also die again in Point 2?"


"Good question--shows you're thinking...The answer is that we scheduled those events a long time before. This problem came up early, and we desperately wanted to be able to salvage as much freedom and beauty and hope as possible, so we planned this out way in advance. So both of the deaths happened at the same time, in the same moment of time, in the same death-event."

Judge continues:

"Now, I have to test your knowledge on something before we move to Point Three, so bear with me...Have you ever had any surgery involving any type of anesthetic?


"Sure--several. Dental work, root canals, extracted teeth. One tumor removed from a foot, and an au-tho-ro-so-co-- some kind of knee surgery. Oh, and I had some kind of fluid bubble removed from my hand once.

Judge: "You're right--

[He smiles, omnisciently...Glenn realizes that he fell for THAT one good)... and the Judge continues:

"Good--we have a base concept I can work with here. Let's take the foot surgery case, since that involved a large tumor and tons of residual, internal scar tissue. Did it hurt you?


"Of course not--I was knocked out under General Aunt Thesia (Glenn smiles expectantly, but when he sees the Judge is in 'we are not amused' mode, he goes back to being serious again). No, I felt not a thing.


"Do you mean to say they didn't do massive damage to your foot, cutting, slicing, stitching it up with needles and wire? That you suffered no blood loss from the foot? That your foot was 'unchanged' except for the tumor at the end of the operation?!


"Noooooooooooo...that's not what I said...I said that it didn't hurt me, that I didn't feel anything. I am sure that if the foot could talk, it would have been screaming all the time through! As in 'real pain'.


"But isn't your foot a part of YOU? Didn't YOU sustain the damage to the foot? Wasn't it YOUR foot that was wounded, but without you being subjected to the obvious damage/sensations to the nerve endings down there? Would it be technically correct, even, to say that 'YOU were cut, sliced, etc.' (even though you didn't FEEL it)?


"Sure, I guess...but where is this going, Judge? ...are you hinting at some kind of surgical removal of my sin or something now?!

[Glenn winces and "holds the wince", waiting for the Judge's response.


"Oh, no, no, no--don't worry about that At ALL..."

Glenn audibly sighs and relaxes before the Judge says:

"This is about your death."

[Glenn jumps up in the chair again--"DEFCON 4,345,112" level--and then slowly slumps back down in it, in a movement of practiced resignation.]

Glenn (with a face older than the world), says to himself:

"I knew there had to be a catch...there's always been a catch..."

The Judge, knowing Glenn's heart, says softly:

"It's already happened, little Glenn, and you never felt a thing, did you?"

Glenn, settled now in the familiar comfort of his hopelessness, says tiredly:

"No, I didn't--but that doesn't change a thing. I am dead now, trapped (he looks around) in this dream-state, cut off from anything real. Any minute now some kid is gonna walk up, look at me, and say 'I see dead people'...and to think I have been fantasizing about and inventing--all this time-- a beautiful story of hope and life and generosity and forgiveness and acceptance for little ME, only to find out it's a make-believe, never-would-happen-to-me, lie--the ravings of a dead mind in a dead typical..."

[He slumps down again, face older than the world, looks at the table, and closes his mouth, ears, and heart.]

The Judge has watched all this, with a face now grown older than Glenn's, moves around the table close to Glenn and says softy:

"Actually, you are the ONLY part of you that IS alive, now..."

That remark is puzzling enough in its use of personal pronouns that even Glenn-in-his-despair-night cannot help but be confused enough to awaken:


The Judge continues, in a more normal tone:

"Yes, that's right--a different part of you died under Aunt Thesia

[He smiles warmly, as He gently coaxes a weak little smile out of Glenn)

"while you-in-that-chair-now is the part that (a) was untouched; (b) stayed alive; and (c) didn't feel a thing...Would you like to know more about this 'operation'? Blink Once for YES, Twice for NO, Three Times for 'Repeat the Question" (He smiles)...

Glenn-- noticing for the first time that the Judge's gentle, warm manner reminds him of Jesus-- grudgingly responds:

"Okay, okay--what's the deal? I came through Intake here for help--to avoid being condemned to death for my crime--and now I find out it didn't work,--in spite of all this malarky you have been feeding me about this beautiful and hope-creating 'substitution' stuff(!)-- but rather that you really DID kill me, or at least a part of me"...

[It dawns on Glenn--being a way-too-literal person--that some 'part' of him must now be MISSING, and he frantically starts checking body parts, looking in the mirror, wondering if maybe they killed his sense of humor, his 'keen fashion sense', his conciseness of prose writing, his grammatical gymnastic skills, etc.)...]



"Calm down, little guy! Nothing in you is really gone (physically OR metaphysically, at this point)--we have just 'isolated' an old part of your personality/character (a part you never liked anyway) so it no longer connects to the real 'life' in you anymore. The old 'part' of you (if you want to use material terms) which was the main influence in motivating you to commit your crime (and all your OTHER sins, too) we 'separated' from the rest of you, the you-in-that-chair. We just 'cut' the main connections between your 'old sin self' and the You-as-you-experience-yourself-now. Remember, how sometimes you would 'argue with yourself' about doing right or wrong? We just 'did a little work' on that self that argued for the wrong the most.

"You really should feel much better, much more alive, much more creative going forward because of this...


Well, okay, that doesn't really sound too bad (yet), but what does this have to do with Point 3 and 'legality'?

The Judge, glad to finally be back on track, starts to explain:

"Well, actually it IS point 3. Remember, how in Point 2 you 'shared your guilt' with the president because of your legal union with Him?

Glenn: "Yes.


"Well, in Point 3 we effect a metaphysical/spiritual union between you and the Other Willing One, so that He 'shares His death' with YOU. It sort of like a contagious disease, maybe, to conceptualize it. The Other Willing One -- in that Special Final Judgment--took death-for-sin 'into Himself', and everybody who unites with Him (by a sort metaphysical 'blood transfusion', or maybe 'spirit transfusion' is more like it), 'catches' this death-disease, which only attacks/affects this 'old bad self' inside you. Thus, the judicial death HE died, is shared (not exclusively, since there are LOTS and LOTS of little Glenns out there) with YOU, and you carry around in your body now, a 'judged component'--that has 'has died' under Our justice/wrath.

"This is beyond legal union (Point 2)--this is metaphysical/spiritual union. The actual pain of the death was borne by Him, so long ago (sorta like your foot), but --after the union is created--you participate in/share His residual 'death-status' of that, by it being 'injected' into your 'old sinful selfness'. He took the painful death-act-for-sin, and gave you the pain-less (from your CURRENT perspective) death-status-for-sin. See?

"If you want to know the mechanism behind this, go surf to this link when you get back into regular life again--it will try to explain this in more detail for you (i_died.html).

Glenn sees this even more clearly than the other two points, and realizes the legality problem is not even present here (at least not in the same way). To test his understanding, he tries to feed his understanding back to the Judge:

"Let's see if I have this right. In Point 1, He experienced the painful wrath/justice for my sin (as part of 'all sin'). In Point 2, He experienced the painful execution of the claims of external justice upon me for my crime/sin specifically/individually, by being my legal/authorized Representative in that act of execution. And now, In Point 3, He shares his 'executed for sin' status with me, but does so through 'grafting me into' His life/standing, AFTER His painful experience of Points 1 & 2. He shares it with me--after the union--like my hand shares its blood with my foot, or my head shares its 'identity' with my heart. Close?

Judge: "Dead on-- pardon the pun" (He smiles).

Glenn: "But I obviously still have a question--

Judge (patiently): "Obviously...


"I don't remember ever even MEETING this Other Willing One, much less ever Uniting with Him--how/when/where did THAT happen?


"Well, it happened when we were talking at the end of Point One. Do you remember anything 'odd' happening between the time you asked if you could say 'Thank You' to the Other Willing One, and the time I handed the paint brush to Jesus?


"Yes, I do. I think I had a moment of inner-ear trouble or something (like when I blow my nose real hard with a bad cold), because the room seemed to 'shift' or 'change' or 'wobble' or something...but just for a second, that was all."


"That's when your 'old self died'. At the instant before that, you were pondering my explanation about 'stepping into the truth of that event'. Remember me explaining about how I couldn't get some people to even look into that event, much less admit that their sin was there? Well, you didn't have that problem. When you thought about it, you became convinced that it was true--that the Other Willing One had actually done that for you, and had cleared your future for you. At that moment, you 'stepped into that event' (we call it 'faith', sometimes) and began living in that 'combined' reality. Immediately thereafter, your spirit was supernaturally united... [Judge puts up his hands and quickly says: "don't ask--you wouldn't understand"]...with the Spirit of the Other Willing One. And the second you united with this Righteous One, the old-sin-self in you died because it was also united with the sin-as-a-whole being killed back then. It died 'back then', by being united with that act 'now'.

Glenn, feeling a little woozy, but taking a strange liking to such terse and barely-comprehensible prose, asks:

"But how in the world did I (and my old-sin-self) get back to the past to somehow 'be there' two-thousand years ago??? That's a time travel thing, and I've never understood that stuff.


"Strangely enough, that's the simple part to explain. The Other Willing One is an Eternal being, in both directions of Time. If you get united with him at, say 533 AD, then you are connected with Him 'eternally'. He carries all His past and future 'inside Him' (like I do), and so, when you got united with Him, you united with His past--and, presto, you 'touched' 33 AD, when this event occurred.

"As you have obviously surmised, the Other Willing One did not STAY dead, and so His past is 'accessible' to anyone who unites with Him now, by this faith-act you did.

"So, when you mentally/volitionally 'stepped into the truth of that event', you also 'stepped into the metaphysical/spiritual reality of that event' (sorta like you do in prayer or worship, sometimes). Your old-sin-self therefore was linked-via-union with the 'sin-as-a-whole' package' back then, and was judged' and 'punished' back then...that part of you really was--spiritually speaking--at the Cross, dying. You-in-the-chair-now , which we call the "new Glenn", just didn't feel the pain--the Other Willing One did.

"But remember, the old-sin-self's death in this case is not non-existence (yet). It will still argue with you till your body changes for the last time. But it will no longer have any life of its own, no power, just a future of fading...

Glenn, slowly speaks:

"So, in some real way, something in me DID legally die for my sin, but because of this Plan, someone Else bore the actual pain for the 'new' me?

Judge (sitting back in His chair):

"Yes, but we couldn't do just Point 3 for some of the considerations in Points 1 and there are other issues that had to be addressed that you can learn about later--we just wanted to answer your questions about the legality of the process, remember?"

Glenn, sighs deeply, and speaks very slowly and deliberately:

"Yes, I what's the next step, and when do I get to thank this incredible Other Willing One?"

Judge smiles warmly and answers:

"Well, the next and final step is the Releasing Room--the staff calls it 'Jubilee Junction'"

[Judge shakes his head, but still with a smile]

"and you'll see Him there."

They get up and go into another room down the hall, equally plain and windowed, but with a pleasant lady clerk and desk there. The Judge introduces little Glenn to her ('Flo'), and she smiles and digs out a file folder. She asks Glenn to be seated, while she gets out what she calls his "going away presents".

Glenn is obviously confused by this, but doesn't want to irritate anyone with his constant questions...besides, his little heart is beginning to sense the intensity of the 'generosity'--is the only word he can come up with for it--in the air.

The details of this Other Willing One's sacrificial yet loyal and courageous life, the obvious love and earnest hope that went into this Plan, the almost unbelievable 'good fortune' he has stumbled into--are all starting to whisper peace to his soul.

While the sweet lady is packing a cardboard box with various things from a supply cabinet, little Glenn notices a tall man with a medical blindfold-bandage over his eyes walking by in the hall. The gentlemen stops suddenly, as if he has smelled/sensed something odd, and proceeds to enter the room and walk toward the Judge and Glenn. Glenn notices that he doesn't seem to have a problem knowing where to walk, though, so he is not sure what the eye-bandages might mean.

"Is this little Glenn?"

the fellow asks the Judge.

"Yes, it is, Uri--and I am so glad you got to meet him before he left,"

says the Judge.

"Glenn, meet Uri--he works here in Intake, and helps scramble emergency teams for Jesus".

Glenn and Uri shake hands, and Uri laughs and hugs Glenn and says to him

"I am so glad you made it, little friend--it's an encouragement to us all..."

and then he leaves quickly, obviously in silent tears.

Glenn turns to the Judge, mystified, and asks the first question on his mind:

"What happened to his eyes?"

The Judge looks at Glenn, and pauses, trying to decide whether to tell Glenn about it or not...and decides Glenn might be able to encourage someone else to call in, if he understands the story...

Glenn watches the Judge look at sweet Flo, who looks back at the Judge with the wisest look, deepest eyes, and slightest nod he has ever seen. Then she 'lightens back up' and goes back to packing the box, ignoring the two other people in the room.

The Judge slowly starts, still hesitant:

"Remember when Jesus' pager went off during our meeting, and he had to rush out to Intake? That bright flash of light, with the word 'HELP' on the read-out?

Glenn: "Yes"


"Well, that's a signal that somebody is headed for Intake, asking for our help--like you did. Well, the pager Jesus carries is a special-build model, the light intensity varies based on the urgency or criticality of the need. The greater the need or lower the chances of being able to help them in time, the brighter the light flash. The flash you saw was fairly bright, and that's why Jesus had to rush out. Make sense?


"I think so...the more sinful the person is who calls in, the greater the flash--I guess, right?"

Judge, obviously wrestling with Himself as to how to tell this story to Glenn, for some reason:

"No, it's not based on that--its based more on need and loss of hope."

Glenn jumps in:

"Oh, I get it! The more intense the personal pain or anguish the caller is in, the brighter the flash, right?"

Judge, slowly:

"No...unfortunately, it's sort of the reverse..."

[He steals a glance at Flo, who gives Him that 'sage' look again)...]

"You see, the more a person feels the pain, the earlier they are in the process long as they are feeling the pain so intensely, they are still likely to call in for help eventually, and the 'volume level' of their cry for help will be fairly LOUD...

But if...if (He swallows hard)...if someone has somehow gotten used to the pain, and has become convinced--by their experience or by other people (even by religious people sometimes [shaking His head])--that there is no real hope (they are 'too sinful' or 'too far gone' or their 'sin is too big' or something, or that they are 'too little', 'too unimportant' or 'of too little upside'), or that no one really wants to help them anyway, or even sometimes that 'help' is never really free and always costs more than they have, so that they might as well be quiet, hide, and endure it, then so many of them don't ever call...and you can see why, obviously...

"But every now and then, someone like that gets to the very end of that long and worn-down rope, and yet there is still a tiny spark of child left in them--and so, without any real hope and still expecting another disappointment, they call anyway"

(He is struggling with controlling His voice here)

"and the heart-fatigue of carrying the burden of guilt or isolation or fear or despair for so long is so great that their message only comes into our system as a tiny, weak little whisper...that's our highest risk case, and the flash on the pager is at maximum brightness, alerting us that we have a 'high risk' case coming through the door...

"Well, Uri was in a meeting with Jesus, when we got a case like that--and the flash from the pager was so bright, it flash-burned his eyes. He'll be okay in a couple of weeks, though...but he had to scramble the care team with Jesus--while blinded--to help in the Emergency Intake room.

Glenn is deeply moved by this:

"Wow--that's long has he been that way--when did this happen to him?

The Judge looks at Flo, who seems to be struggling herself at this point (making little Glenn a little uncomfortable here, as if he is really missing something), and then He looks back at him and says softly:

'yesterday morning'.

Glenn--obviously trying to even remember where he was earlier this week--finally asks:

"Wait a minute--I came into Intake yesterday morning, and I didn't see anybody else there--"

The Judge just looks at Glenn wordlessly for about ten seconds, until he notices little Glenn's face start to change with understanding...He watches Glenn's face age 20 years in ten seconds of insight, and then He, mercifully, stands up and walks over to the window and looks out. The room is as quiet as death, as Flo and the Judge allow little Glenn some 'privacy' to begin to ponder the depths of love, and power of good, and freedom of beauty he has crawled into...

A minute passes this way, then two...but the Judge is watching Glenn's reflection in the glass, and when he notices the aging process start to reverse, He turns back to Flo and asks, cheerfully:

"Well, what going away presents do you have for little Glenn today, Flo?!"

They give little Glenn all sorts of gifts and tools and allowance and treasures--but he's not as surprised by it now as he would have been a week earlier. He has already come to understand 'how these People work'--their whole lives and hearts are nothing but generosity and love and grace and outpouring and Pain-Intaking and freeing... he is delighted and thankful for the box (he only hoped for freedom, not gifts and support on top of it!), but not shocked by it...he realizes, though, that the first time he does this to someone else--they will be shocked too.

But the judge notices that Glenn has changed--like they all do--and his heart is new, yet old...and that his 'new love self' is starting to influence his thought patterns...and He wonders how long it will be before Glenn 'connects the dots' and ...

"It's Jesus, isn't it---?"

Glenn quietly asks

"The marks in the hands...the memories in the stories...the care in His eyes...the tenderness in His manner...and I'm the teal brushstroke on the painting, aren't I?...and YOU carried the pager on THAT day, HIS day of pain, didn't you? and how bright was the flash on the pager that day Your precious Son--He is your son, isn't he??-- Jesus cried out, as He took the sin of the world on His heart? What was that flash-from-love, but flash-of-pain LIKE?

The Judge, eyes red with the tears only parents bereaved of children have, simply says:

"The dark after-image alone was three hours long..."

And Jesus walks into the room--and the world begins anew, with a fresh, warm, dancing sunrise-- to escort little Glenn into his new life of hope and healing, love and laughter, warmth and wonder...and of encouraging other little Glenns to try one last whisper for help.


Okay, that dialogue-scenario was intended to illustrate some of the other 'variables' which might affect our judgment of legality in the case of Jesus as our Substitute on the Cross, and to suggest that the very 'intersection' of legal structures and jurisdictions create flexibility in assignment of responsibility and/or sharing of responsibility (or status).

It is, of course, a simplified story, and one with simplifications and assumptions, which can be pushed and pressured. But I think it at least demonstrates the plausibility of a view in which various theological, biblical, and philosophical elements can intersect in a way that supports the full 'legality' of penal substitution.

[Point 3, however, is more along the lines of 'Penal Union', and depends on the substitution elements of either Point 1 or Point 2.]


Now, let's focus our comments on the original objection.

The objection can be broken into two separate parts: one legal, and one (perhaps) metaphysical.

The legal one runs like this: "It would be illegal for a human judge to let James suffer punishment (e.g., execution, community service, incarceration) for a convict John, regardless of James' willingness, purity, kinship, or love for John; therefore, it would be illegal for God-the-judge to let Jesus suffer punishment for a convict Glenn, regardless of Jesus' willingness, purity, kinship, or love for John. Sometimes, as we noted in the beginning of the article, this is even worded as being 'immoral'. [Note: this is the essential objection in Statements Two and Three at the beginning of the article.]

The metaphysical one runs like this: "Guilt is an attribute attached permanently to a criminal agent, because of their indissoluble historical attachment with a specific criminal act. Such guilt cannot be detached from said agent, because the agent cannot be detached from the historicity of their criminal act. And, consequently, if the guilt cannot be detached, then it cannot be re-attached to someone else, who does not have a historical attachment with the criminal act which creates and sustains the 'guilt' associated with the act." [Note: this is the essential objection in Statement One at the beginning of the article.]


Comments/Observations on the Legal Issue:

One. The first thing to notice is that God agrees strongly with the first part of the statement: His OT/Tanaach law explicit forbade Penal Substitution by judges, and is His own stated policy too:

"Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin. (Deut 24.16)

The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’ iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’ iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself. (Ezek 18.20)

"But everyone will die for his own iniquity; each man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge. (Jer 31.30)

Two . The second thing to notice is that this no-substitution law applied (in many cases) IF the sacrifice-as-substitution process was not used.

In 'normal level' crimes, the perp would avail himself of the sacrificial system (with its 'penal substitution' embedded in it). If the perp did NOT avail himself/herself of the legally-sanctioned sacrificial process, THEN this law of 'no human substitutes' applied, and he was subject to capital punishment. The substitution/sacrificial system worked only in the relationship with God, and was not used in human-side. The perp could not be 'forgiven' for a theft by the court--they HAD to enforce restitution, punitive damages, etc. The perp could thus be cleansed by God (via the sacrifice), and still bear the human-plane consequences. This means that we are probably mixing apples and oranges in this objection.

When God does PenalSub for us--to unite us with Him-- it does NOT exempt us from subsequently facing non-substitution legal codes down here. In fact, the one who is pardoned by God (via the Cross), is morally obligated to 'turn himself in' to the earthly authorities, so that the human/community influences can be created (both retributive AND utilitarian). What this means for our argument here is that the analogy of human legal processes and God's legal processes might be too 'fuzzy' to apply in this case.

Three. Similarly, the derivative/restrictive character of the human legal system cannot be used to draw implications about a higher court, with any confidence. Consider Dabney's example:

"But the sophism of the first is contained in the false assumption that because a given moral prerogative is improper for men, it must, therefore, be improper for God. I shall not take the harsh position that because God is sovereign and omnipotent, therefore his will is not regulated by, or responsible to, those fundamental principles of morality which he has enjoined on his creatures. I shall never argue that God's "might makes his right," as our opponents charge strict Calvinists with arguing. But it is a very different thing, and a perfectly plain and reasonable thing, to say that the infinite sovereignty, wisdom, and holiness of God may condition, and may limit his moral rights in a manner very different from what is proper for us men. The principles of righteousness for the two rulers, God and a human magistrate, are the same; the details of prerogative for the two may differ greatly, while directed by the same holy principles. How simple is this! How ready and facile the instances! Thus, a father entrusts his boy to a distant teacher, and tells him to consider himself as in loco parentis to the child. Does this authorize the pedagogue to inflict any kind of punishment for the boy's faults which would be righteous for the father, as, for instance, disinheritance? By no means. This plain view makes the inference of our opponents worthless, that because God has told his servants they must not do a certain thing, therefore it is immoral for him to do it....And the reasons limiting the two cases differently are plain and strong. The first is: "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." The prerogative of retribution is God's alone; magistrates only possess a small fraction of it by delegation from him. Hence, they are properly bound by such restrictions as he chooses to impose upon their judicial functions. Next, men lack the wisdom and infinite serenity of moral judgment which are requisite for these exalted and far-reaching acts of retribution...When we add to this that the human judge might wickedly pervert the power of substitution to wreak his malice upon some innocent person, or to gratify a general rage for slaughter, we have the true reason which prompted God to prohibit the power summarily to the magistrate. But how worthless is the inference that he will never exercise it himself under conditions which he knows to be wise, just, and beneficial? " [Christ Our Penal Substitute, Chapter 3]

Four . The biblical statements indicate that Penal Substitution is used to preclude us even getting to the courtroom situation, so the situations seem totally unparallel.

We noted in the discussion above that the 'forgiveness initiatives' (of Points 1,2,3) were used to AVOID anything ever reaching the courtroom, much less ever 'requiring' such a transaction supposed in our objection. In other words, God's initiatives made sure that it was never a JUDGE who had to consider this legal issue. I never have to ask to have my sentence transferred to a substitute--because the salvation process works BEFORE any legal arguments have to occur. This means that it is never a JUDGE in a COURT who has to make the judgment about the legality/illegality of Jesus dying on the Cross in my place. That process is pre-legal in a real sense, and precludes the legal objection ever coming up. It was, in a meaningful way, a pre-emptive strike against this legal dilemma.

The extended "Sorry-Cratic" Dialogue above was intended to show how theological realities and options were (or could be) woven together to completely satisfy the legal requirements, with Glenn's sin BOTH being judged and YET him not having to stand before the Judge in sentencing.

I used only 3 (there are other avenues to approach this issue, actually) approaches: (1) How sin was judged in the aggregate/generic, so Glenn himself didn't get to sentencing AT ALL; (2) where Glenn was sentenced, but the legal/national construct allowed a non-peer Representative to assume the guilt; (3) How sin WAS actually judged, without substitution, but without pain for the little one. In all three of these cases, the scenario in the objection NEVER COMES UP.

The objection simply doesn't actually 'close'--the Divine Courtroom scenario it draws simply doesn't exist--thanks to Cross (oddly enough!)...

Five . Also, I am increasingly uneasy about seeing the parallel here. Theologians are quick to point out that this 'transaction' is a God-to-God contract/covenant (almost a civil law deal, in which substitution is common [e.g., assignability, co-signers, successors, power of attorney, etc.]). It's almost like the sinner human is not even there. There's enough 'oddness' about the structure of God/Jesus/sinner/sin relationships that I can't really grant much weight to arguments from analogy in this case. Consider these theological statements:

"Finally, we must repudiate that version of the satisfactionist theory which sees the atoning sacrifice as made exclusively or primarily by Jesus Christ as man and as intending to appease the wrath of a vengeful God who otherwise would not or could not love sinful mankind. This smacks of the pagan idea of trying to force the hand of the gods or alter their disposition through ritual offerings. This also leads to tritheism, since it separates the Son, who is pure love, from the Father, who is depicted as holiness and wrath. Our contention is that the atoning sacrifice was made by the Son of God in the form of the human Jesus to the Father and that his wrath is the counterpart of his love. God's attitude toward man does change in the light of the sacrifice of Christ, but this change was already apparent in his own eternal decision to identify himself with the sins of man and to bear the penalty of these sins. The cross in human history is a consequence and not the precondition of the cross in the heart of God (cf, 1 Pet. 1:20; 2 Tim. 1:9; Rev. 13:8). God was already forgiving and loving before the sacrifice on Calvary, but his forgiveness had to be realized and manifested on the plane of history in the momentous event of the crucifixion. His love could not be made available to his children until his holiness had been satisfied concretely in history. The cross, therefore, signifies both the judgment of God on sin and the love of God for the sinner. The holy God makes himself the object of his own wrath in the person of his Son Jesus Christ. The sacrifice must be made from the side of man and by a representative of mankind, but this role can only be fulfilled by the Son of God incarnate in human flesh. Luther declared that God's wrath "is so great that no creature can carry it nor effect atonement except the Son of God alone through His own sacrifice and death." The Son Jesus Christ had to die so that God could treat us as sons and no longer as transgressors. But the deeper meaning is that God in the person of his Son experiences the death and hell which humankind deserves, and in this identification his holy love is both demonstrated and satisfied...Forsyth is absolutely right when he says: "The sinner's reconciliation to a God of holy love could not take place if guilt were not destroyed, if judgment did not take place on due scale, if the wrath of God did not somehow take real effect." Yet Forsyth and Barth as well are also right in reminding us that the deepest meaning of the cross is not that God's wrath was poured out on a perfect or innocent man, a scapegoat for human sin, but that God turned his wrath upon himself in the person of his Son. The offering was not made to a God who stood apart waiting to receive it. Rather it was an offering that fully expressed God's love and righteousness. It was an offering made not simply by man to God but by God to God, "the self-sacrifice of the perfectly holy Son to the perfect holiness of the Father."" [Bloesch, Essentials of Evangelical Theology, pp.160f]

"The Reformed divines are also accustomed to make a distinction between penal and moral satisfaction, on the one hand, and pecuniary payment, on the other. In a mere pecuniary debt, the claim is on the money owed, not on the person owing. The amount is numerically estimated. Hence, the surety, in making vicarious payment, must pay the exact number of coins due. And when he has done that, he has, ipso facto, satisfied the debt. His offer of such payment in full is a legal tender which leaves the creditor no discretion of assent or refusal. If he refuses, his claim is canceled for once and all. But the legal claim on us for obedience and penalty is personal. It regards not only the quid solvatur (what is paid), but the quis solvat (who pays). The satisfaction of Christ is not idem facer; to do the identical thing required of the sinner, but satis facere; to do enough to be a just moral equivalent for what is due from the sinner. Hence, two consequences: Christ's satisfaction cannot be forced on the divine Creditor as a legal tender; it does not free us ipso facto. And God, the Creditor, has an optional discretion to decline the proffer, if He chooses (before He is bound by His own covenant), or to accept it. Hence, the extent to which, and the terms on which, Christ's vicarious actions shall actually satisfy the law, depend, simply on the stipulations made between the Father and Son, in the covenant of redemption." (Robert Dabney, Systematic Theology, p.504)

Six. This God-to-God, or 'within God' nature of this HUGELY transcendental act, reminds us that Forgiveness (NOT a function of law, and NOT in view in the objection) does involve some forms of 'substitution' in the act. Consider for moment Thomas' statement (The Principles of Theology: An Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles, p58):

"The Foundation of Divine Pardon.-It is sometimes urged that as human forgiveness does not need an atonement, God's pardon should be regarded as equally independent of any such sacrifice as is now being considered. But this is to overlook the essential feature of all forgiveness, which means that the one who pardons really accepts the results of the wrong done to him in order that he may exempt the other from any punishment. Thus, as it has been well illustrated, when a man cancels a debt, he, of necessity, loses the amount, and if he pardons an insult or a blow, he accepts in his own person the injury done in either case. So that human pardon may be said to cancel at its own expense any wrong done, and this principle of the innocent suffering for the guilty is the fundamental truth of the Atonement. It is, therefore, urged with great force that every act of forgiveness is really an Act of Atonement, and thus human forgiveness, so far from obviating the necessity of Divine Atonement, really illuminates, vindicates and necessitates the Divine pardon, for " forgiveness is mercy which has first satisfied the principle of justice." It is on this ground we hold that Christ's Death made it possible for God to forgive sin. What His justice demanded His love provided. This fact of the Death of Jesus Christ as the foundation of pardon is unchallengeable in the New Testament. Repentance cannot undo the past; it can only affect the future, and any religion which does not begin with deliverance can never be a success as a discipline. Christ spoke of and dealt with the fact of deformity as well as of growth. " That we being delivered . . . might serve."

Now, in our case, we have something that runs like this:

  1. I created a justice-imbalance by my unpunished sins (separate, btw, from the damage caused by my sins--past consequences are not part of this) ;

  2. God can punish me fully for those sins (clearing out the moral imbalance)--with no cost to Himself in the process (mostly).

  3. Or, God can forgive me--and not punish me for those sins--and 'absorb' the imbalance [since He cannot let it stand forever, due to the Justice issue of the moral imbalance]

  4. Once 'absorbed' into God's private sphere, He must somehow "punish" Himself, to clear out the now-'internal' justice imbalance and release the justice.

  5. This "necessitates" an act of justice/punishment 'inside God' (since He took the imbalance 'into Himself', and 'out of the universe/human sphere', in the act of forgiveness).

  6. This 'inside' act of punishment was done at the Cross, intra-God, and moral-balance within God is restored too.

  7. Forgiveness, then, created the God-within-God 'cost' of the Cross.

Seven . All in all, I think there are too many discontinuities between the two 'parallel situations' in the objection to let it stand. It's mixing apples and oranges. There are plenty of things illegal for my local municipal court to do, that the county, state, or federal courts could do. And those are "linear" functions (smile). But even the case of International Law is so complex, that to reason from a national legal situation to an international legal situation in such a straightforward manner as embodied in the objection would meet with very little acceptance by those familiar with the differences between those bodies of law.

--------------------- ADDED FEB 1 ------------------------------------------------

The net effect of my Responses 1-7 is to shift the burden of proof to the objector, for them to show that the hidden middle term is true. The objection is, of course, an argument from analogy, from a human courtroom to the Divine courtroom. As such, the logical structure of the argument runs thus:

  • Modern human legal systems can not morally/legally allow penal substitution.

  • (The divine legal system is identical to modern human legal systems, in ALL the details relevant to penal substitution, and ALL differences between them are irrelevant to such cases.)

  • Therefore, the divine legal system cannot morally/legally allow penal substitution.

For this argument to stand, the middle term, obviously, has to be rock-sold. And this places the burden of proof on the one making the affirmation.

In our case, this means the objector has to have grounds for believing that the analogy holds, and must present them as a warrant for such belief.

I have surfaced several points of (plausible) discontinuity between the two legal systems above, so we already have some contrary data for the objector to deal with. But How could they make an initial strong case that the analog is rock-solid?

If it were me, I suppose, I would start out with some kind of ‘it cannot be worse than ours’ approach. In other words, I would agree that God’s legal system might be different from ours, but that it would be at-least-as-moral as ours (and not LESS SO). I would then argue that this would carry the entailment that no matter what the other differences might be, the morality aspect would be continuous (and therefore, unchanged). Accordingly, to allow penal substitution in the Higher Court might be MORE immoral, but it could never be LESS immoral than in ours.

Theologically, this line of argument about God’s qualities is probably correct (i.e., He is more ‘good’ than us, on every axis), but it makes the assumption that ‘penal substitution’ is already immoral in all theoretically possible cases. It therefore begs the question, and has no force.

For all we know, it might be MORE MORAL to allow penal substitution in cases of the rescue and salvaging of broken/lost humans. But the objector has to prove the opposite, in order to make the middle term stand. And—without begging the question—I don’t see how this can be sustained.

One immediate problem the syllogism has is that we KNOW of a class of punitive cases in which something approximating the Atonement is accepted on earth—the case of punitive fines.

In criminal (not civil) law, many courts assign sentencing based on (or at least they start the process with) a point system. The lower the points (given for various factors of the perp, situation, victim, etc) the more the punishment tends to be a monetary fine. The more ‘serious’ the offense (i.e., the higher the point count), the more the punishment (in the West) tends to be incarceration. In the middle of this spectrum, are crimes which merit both a fine and imprisonment. These fines are PUNITIVE, not DAMAGES or RESTITUTION to the victims. These are ‘penal’ in the truest sense of the work: they are supposed to HURT. They are large fines. For a normal citizen, such fines would equate to YEARS of their life forfeited. They would have to borrow the money, and work the rest of their life for someone else, as punishment for their crime. They would be ‘non-imprisoned’, but they would not be ‘free’ in the sense of having relative sovereignty over their hours-of-life and fruits-of-labor.

In a prison, their years and hours are similarly not their own. In a punitive fine situation, their years and their hours belong to someone else (their source of funds).

We actually—contrary to the example suggested in the passage about Quinn—DO NOT allow substitution in such fines. My mother CANNOT pay my fine—I have to do it. I may borrow the resources from my mom, but she cannot pay it directly to the court. There is no substitution allowed in such cases.

If I am wealthy, and I get a ‘light and easily bearable’ fine, the public outcry might be great—it didn’t ‘hurt’ (i.e., wasn’t really 'penal'), but that would not matter to the judge. The fine was X—I came up with X—where I got it (assuming I got it legally!) is not his/her concern IN THE LEAST. Justice has been served, and I have borne my punishment. [That’s partially why the fines ‘scale’, with the judge being able to take into consideration the resource base (somewhat) of the perp.]

This looks suspiciously like penal substitution, but notice the ‘substitute’ never actually appears in court and is never legally 'punished'. The transaction between the mom and the kid (or the banker and the adult) is invisible to the justice/legal system. The fine was levied, the kid showed up with the money, he paid the fine, he was released. No substitution was visible to the judge at all (technically).

Now, if the transaction between the mom and the kid was a loan (and the mom is a better parent than I was/am!), the kid still actually has to pay the penalty, by paying back the loan. But the mom might accept payment in other forms—all invisible to the court. Then again, the mom might find reason to simply ‘forgive’ the son, and bear the financial loss herself. This is outside the legal system.

Tricky Question: Would such a transaction be ‘penal substitution’, even though the substitution could not be seen by the legal system, and the perp never actually ‘felt any pain’ while “paying his punishment”?

[Remember, the fine was supposed to ‘take some life from me’. It was to create an ‘earlier death’ for me, sorta. The years of my life were supposed to be taken away from me and given to whoever loaned me the money. If, for example, I had a life expectancy of 20 more years, but the fine was of such magnitude that 'ten years of 24x7x365' of that life would be ‘spent for another’s life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness’, wouldn’t I ‘die’ ten years earlier this way? (That is, wasn’t my ‘net life’ shortened by ten years, even though the physical aspect didn’t change? The decade was 'ripped' out of the middle) And this would be so, even though this forfeited decade was BEFORE my physical life was forfeited? This fine is an "Equivalent"--it is supposed to be an 'equivalent' or 'substitute'(?, for years of my life.]

Now, how the objector answers the "Tricky Question" reveals how this objection actually fails:

  • If they "YES, that would be 'penal substitution' in our sense," then they have essentially admitted that it is legal (since it is done all the time, without qualms, by human courts). The objection fails, because Premise One is incorrect.

  • If they "No, that would NOT be penal substitution in our sense," then the objection is against a 'straw man', since we are arguing that THIS TYPE of 'INVISIBLE' SUBSTITUION is what we mean (theologically) by 'penal substitution'. The objection fails, because it is irrelevant to the argument--it is attacking a position we are NOT asserting.

In either case, the objector would have to reformulate the objection--to avoid these problems--and resubmit the objection to us. (This is in addition to the problem with the Middle Term, of course.)

Now my point here (at least the first point…I have a more subtle one coming right up…smile) is this:

If this form of ‘penal substitution’ can stand (indeed, is not even SEEN, RELEVANT, QUESTIONED, or REBUKED when noticed!) in human legal systems, then how in the world could we EVER substantiate a claim that ‘penal substitution’ is ALWAYS wrong in ALL cases?

And, if we cannot substantiate THAT, how could we-the-objectors possibly argue from a now-compromised-analogy?! We are now worse-off than just ‘begging the question’—we now have problems with our FIRST PREMISE, and not just with the MIDDLE TERM!!

The argument vaporizes before we can even get it off the ground...

You see, when a judge takes that fine from my hand, my ‘privation’ is LEGALLY embodied in that fine. My life, my years, my labors, my privations, my lost opportunities are IN that FINE—legally. EVEN IF someone handed me the money—without any requirements for payback from me—that would NOT change the legal ‘assumption’ that MY LIFE was in that FINE. Whether the judge was privy to my ‘invisible substitution’ or not, would make NO DIFFERENCE to him, legally—he would still be legally forced to accept the fine from my hand, as the satisfaction of justice. He might think it ‘wrong’ if my ‘fans’ had a bake sale and raised the money for my fine (instead of me working for the money myself), but he couldn’t refuse the money, nor refuse to release me (for that crime of course—he could presumably bust me for something else).

The justice principle is clear: “The soul that sinneth, it shall forfeit some/all of its life (in the form of fines, imprisonment, exile, or execution)’. Regardless of where the money came from for the fine, it is ‘mine’ when I hand it over to the court.

We need to be really clear on that: the legal structure says that the fine I hand over IS MINE and represents MY LIFE—irrespective of where it really came from.


Okay. Now, the next line of objection-response to my point here is to try to differentiate between fines and incarceration (or certainly, execution or exile) in the legal system, and to argue that ‘invisible substitution’ in the fine-punishment is legally (and structurally) different than it would be in the prison-punishment or execution-punishment. But, on the contrary, the sentencing rules for criminals make these a matter of gradation and degree, not of substance and kind. There is nothing STRUCTURALLY different about such sentences, legal processes, courtroom protocols, or anything. The objector would have to come up with a legal distinction between them—merely gradations in degree are not going to carry the weight needed to count against my point.

So, let’s probe the non-fine punishments for a second, applying this legal precept that ‘what I hand over to the court as punishment is MINE and MY LIFE’ (legally).

The problem with the non-fine punishments, of course, is that there is no way to come into possession of these (in our world) so that we could hand them over to a judge. Every example we could think of in human courts would involve visible substitution in the courtroom (e.g., Garry offers to take my whipping for me; Bret offers to go to jail for me; Nap offers to die in my place in the Chair), and would NOT be an example of 'invisible' substitution. So, every example we could think of like these might all be 'illegal', but they would also NOT COUNT in our argument one way or the other (they are irrelevant), since they are not 'fine-like' in their structures.

But let's play with this for a moment...a little "fool-osophy", if you will...

Let’s imagine for a moment that I am a perp and am sentenced to 25 years hard labor in prison, for my serial grammatical crimes. And, let’s imagine for a moment that I (thought experiment here) could step into a ‘incarceration experience equivalence distiller’ booth, and this machine would ‘drain out of me’ a sum of life-vitality and joy, equivalent to the losses I would experience during 25 years of prison. The machine would ‘liquefy’ that and put it into a jar. So, during the 90 seconds I was in the distillation booth, the “amount” of life-energy I would have lost with the aging of 25 hard years, and with all the privations of prison life, would be drained from me and put into a portable container.

When I step out of the booth, I am (and look) by that amount less-alive (like I would be after working X years to pay off a loan for a large fine-punishment). And this bottle contains the portion of my life-vitality what was supposed to be drained off by the punishment.

I then go to the judge, hand him the bottle containing my ‘loss of life’, and say “paid in full, right?” He then inserts the container in a ‘testing machine’, which verifies that it indeed contains the equivalent to 25 years of hard labor in prison (just like he would have counted the money for the fine-punishment). He then (under the model seen in the fine-punishment process) would have to say “Yes, paid in full”. He would not (just like in the fine process) be legally interested in ‘where the life-force’ came from because it is LEGALLY ASSUMED to have been from me (just like in the fine case). It was in my possession when I handed it to him, and that’s that.

But then, after adjournment, as we are getting up to leave the courtroom, an old woman comes up to me with a similar container and hands it to me. She says (in plain hearing of the judge):

Sonny, I have been following your case, and I wanted to do something to help you, now that you have repented, reformed, recompensed, and re-committed to helping others. So, I bought a used “Equivalence Distiller” off eBay, and used it on myself. I set the parameters for the exact punishment you were sentenced to, and drained that same amount of life-juice out of me. It’s here in this bottle. If you drink it, you will get the equivalent life-energy back into your life, and you can use that restored life to help others.”

I drink the life-force and am restored to health/heart/hope (at the obvious expense of the precious lady).

Question: Can the Judge somehow nullify my completed sentence, and require me to be re-drained? Of course not! Nobody can be tried/punished for a crime they have already been fully punished/fined for! In other words, my condition AT THE END OF MY PUNISHMENT ‘EVENT’, is irrelevant to the legal process. If I went into prison at age 60, and miraculously aged backward while there, and came out at age 35—vibrant, happy, refreshed—could they throw me back into prison because I obviously didn’t hurt enough? Of course not (just like in a fine that didn’t ‘hurt’ too much)!

Let’s make another quick step before going back into the courtroom.

Let’s say I am condemned to die by lethal injection. I die—according to procedure—and my survivors are given the death certificate, and my dead body is frozen. If somebody raised me from the dead two months later, then what—can they execute me again, because it didn’t ‘take’?! Of course not—it DID take, and the Death Certificate is legal proof of it. They may check, and re-check, and cross-check, but if they find no process-problem reason to “revoke my death certificate”, then guess who is free???? My post-punishment-event condition is NOT part of the sentence.

Okay. One theological point and then we can move to the (probably) obvious conclusion…

The theological point (and this might be another, MASSIVE discontinuity between the human/divine legal situations) is that a death-event is NOT (biblically speaking) immediate and final cessation of consciousness (like it would be in a human court and execution). In biblical theology, someone could (physically) die/be executed, then be aware (in some kind of intermediate post-mortem, pre-judgment state) that they were (physically) dead [cf. Luke 16], and then be raised to (physical) life again (and in some cases, die yet again—at the Second Death). Death is both an event (‘he died yesterday at 3pm’) and a state-for-a-time (‘Lazarus was dead for three days before being raised by Jesus’). Biblical death can be seen as formally analogous to incarceration. They both are events (“he died”, “he was imprisoned on Tuesday”) and as states-for-a-time (“he was dead for three days”, “he was in prison for three years”). A death-for-three years, in a hypothetical scenario, would involve privations of life, love, happiness, freedom—like incarceration, like fines, like exile…just a difference (biblically) of degree or intensity.

Now, if we put a biblical Glenn into a ‘experience equivalence distiller’ and drain ‘all his life-vitality’ into a bottle (i.e., the equivalent of death), leaving only some Greek/ANE ‘shade’ or ‘phantom’ of his mind to carry the bottle to the judge, then we are closer (conceptually) to the biblical model of death as “non-cessation”.

And, after I have handed the bottle to the judge and he verifies that it contains a death, then I-the-shade can leave the room and continue my 'lifeless' existence.

But let’s say the precious lady comes in again—but this time SHE’s a shade and she hands me that bottle. I drink and am restored to life and love and laughter again—at her precious expense. Can the judge re-drain me, because I am no longer a shade? Nah—same principles apply. “Paid in Full”, no “double indemnity”.

Okay. Last Point…a simple point of timing

The judge sentences me to (a biblical type of ) death. I am headed to the ‘death extraction distiller’, and the precious lady intercepts me in the hall, before I make it to the booth. She is already a shade, and hands me the bottle. She says the same encouraging things she said in the earlier scenario, and tells me to use HER bottle when I hand my death to the judge. I take her bottle, skip the Distillation Booth, and go back to the courtroom.

The judge is a bit surprised to see me, all non-shady, but doesn’t say anything before starting the proceedings. I am called forward, told to surrender my life/death/punishment, and I hand the judge the bottle the lady gave me. According to standard procedure, he puts it in the authentication machine—which verifies that it is indeed a human death—and then says “Paid in Full”. The books are closed and when we are getting up to leave, the judge starts this brief dialog with me:

Judge: “I have two questions for you.”

Me: “Fire away”.

Judge: “how is it you are not a shade?”

Me: “Is it relevant to the legal process?”

Judge: “No, your post-judgment condition is not a matter for the Law”.

Me: “And your second question?”

Judge (not happy that I didn’t satisfy his curiosity, but aware that I am right about the matter): “Where did you get that life/death-bottle? What it from your own resources or from someone else’s?”

Me: “You didn’t ask me that about that $250K fine I had to pay last year—is it somehow legally relevant to the legal process in this case?”

Judge: “No, we assume when you hand it over, that it has somehow become yours…I was just curious…”

Me: “Have a nice weekend—I know I will be lost in tears and thanksgiving all weekend…Gotta run”

And I think we are done here…The nature of punishment in our human system is that of life-loss of various types. If we DID have a way to drain ‘vitality’ and ‘transfer’ vitality from one soul to another down here, the legal process would probably have to recognize it—under the existing structure of fine-punishments (not, btw, fines as compensatory damages—that is COMPLETELY different, and we are talking PUNITIVE fines only for our case).

In the theological world of the bible (filled with equivalents, sacrifices, various types of substitution), when I “present” the death of Jesus on the Cross to the Judge as my punishment, the Judge is ‘legally and formally required’ (by His own deliberate laws, of course) to accept that as being my own [when I offered a sacrifice in the OT, it might have been a 'loaner' but it still was accepted as mine, after I 'laid my hands on it'--just like in our law courts, in this example], and His ‘Paid in Full’ becomes my never-ending “Jesus paid it all”… And, as in human courts, there is nothing illegal, immoral, or questionable about this… the substitution was invisible/ to the courts...

------------ end of material added Feb 1 ----------------------------

Finally, let me make a comment about the 'immoral' allegation. Morality includes love and forgiveness, which are essentially forbidden to the legal system. Courts can only indict, acquit, or refuse to hear the case. They can wiggle some on sentencing (but less so every day with 'sentence equalization' movements). But they simply cannot forgive sin. The love a judge might have for a defendant cannot in the least allow him to 'influence the outcomes' of the judicial process. Morality is a super-set of Law, and Penal Substitution is a wonderfully elegant endorsement of both the importance of the moral law, the urgency of divine love to forgive, and the zeal with which these were pursued by God. Consider the 'moral' outcomes of this (Dabney again, Christ our Penal Substitute, Part 8 and 11):

"The reasonableness and righteousness of this plan of vicarious redemption may be very shortly proved by pressing this plain question: Whom does it injure? God, the lawgiver, is not injured, for the plan is his own, and he gains in this way a nobler satisfaction to the penal claims of law and to his own holiness, truth, and justice, than he would gain by the punishment of the puny creatures themselves. The Messiah is not injured, because he gave his own free consent, and because the plan will result in the infinite enhancement of his own glory. Certainly, ransomed sinners are not injured, because they gain infinite blessedness, and the plan works moral influences upon them incomparably more noble and blessed. The unsaved are not injured, for in bearing their due punishment personally they receive exactly what they deserve and precisely what they obstinately preferred to redemption in Christ. None of the innocent subjects of God's moral judgment on earth or in all the heavens are injured, because this vicarious redemption of believing men originated a grand system of moral influences far sweeter, more noble, more pure, and more efficacious than those which they would have felt without it. But how can there be injustice when nobody is injured'?

"When we discard the ethics of expediency, place the disciplinary results of chastisement in their subordinate rank amidst God's purposes, and when we recognize the truth that his supreme end in punishing is the impartial satisfaction of eternal justice, all reasonable difficulties concerning the transfer of guilt and penalty, the proper conditions being present, vanish away. Towards guilty but pardoned men God does pursue in the infliction of pains a remedial and disciplinary purpose; but when he comes to deal in justice with men and angels who are finally reprobate, these ends are absent; the only one which remains is the retributive one. To secure this end, the punishment of a substitute may be as truly relevant as of the guilty principal, provided the adequate substitute be found, and his own free consent obviates all charge of injustice against him personally; for now law is satisfied, guilt is duly punished, though the guilty man be pardoned. The penal debt is paid, as truly and fairly paid as is the bond of the insolvent debtor when his independent surety brings to the creditor the full tale of money. But let us suppose that the wisdom and power of God the Father and the infinite majesty and love of the Son combine to effect a substitution by which impartial justice and law are more gloriously satisfied than by the condign punishment of the guilty themselves. Then is a result obtained unspeakably more honorable, not only to justice, but to the divine love and every other attribute. God is revealed full-orbed in his righteousness, no longer wrenched out of true moral symmetry by man's poor utilitarian ethics. Impartial justice appears even more adorable than in the punishment of the personally guilty. When God pours out his retributive justice upon the guilt of men and angels who have insulted him, caviling creatures, in their blindness and enmity, might charge that he was indulging, at least in part, a personal resentment inflamed by their outrages; but when they see him visit this justice upon his only begotten Son, infinitely holy in his eyes, notwithstanding his eternal and divine love, men and devils are obliged to admit that this is the action of nothing but pure, impersonal equity, as absolutely free from the taint of malice as it is majestic and awful. When we see that while, on the one hand, immutable righteousness restrains the Father from setting aside his penal law at the prompting of mere pity, infinite love makes him incapable of consenting to the deserved perdition of sinners, and makes him willing to sacrifice the object worthier and dearer in his eyes than all the worlds rather than endure the spectacle of this immense woe; we gain a revelation of God's love more glorious and tender than any other doctrine can teach. Our opponents charge that we obscure the delightful attribute of benevolence in God in order to exaggerate the awful attribute of vengeance. In truth we do just the opposite. It is our doctrine as taught by the gospel, which reveals depths and heights of the divine tenderness and love, which neither men nor angels could have otherwise imagined. The Socinian says that God's love is such an attribute as prompts him to forgive sin at the expense at once of the order of his great kingdom and of the glory of his own consistency. A very deep pity this! but a pity equally weak and unwise. The gospel teaches us that there is in God a pity infinitely deep, and equally wise and holy...Let us suppose a human brother most gracious and virtuous who should speak thus; "I cannot sacrifice principle and honor to save my erring younger brother; but I am willing to sacrifice myself. I cannot lie to save him, but I will die to save him." This declaration would excite in every just mind glowing admiration. Such an elder brother would be a feeble type, in his combined integrity and pitying love, of the God-man; and he answers us that in these exalted affections he represents exactly the attributes of the whole Trinity.

So, I think the LEGAL objection is either 'misplaced' or unrepresentative of the real situation, and that it certainly has a number of problems to overcome (with its First Premise and Middle Term) before it should be entertained again, in a revised form.


The Metaphysical One is a horse of a different color...[But not TEAL, because forgiven-little-Glenn is the Teal--thanks to HIM--YES!!!]

This argument is a bit off-center for us, since it has a problem with equivocation, relative to Penal Substitution. In Penal Substitution, "guilt" is legal guilt--that is, liability to punishment. This is NOT the same as 'moral blameworthiness' (which is unrelated to statutes of law...there can be 'sin' without 'crime'--done in Laws of War all the time, as when the Law simply cannot change as fast as our sinful cleverness.

If we add the adjective 'legal' in front of the word 'guilt' in the objection, we get a manifest falsehood:

"[Legal] Guilt is an attribute attached permanently to a criminal agent, because of their indissoluble historical attachment with a specific criminal act. Such [legal] guilt cannot be detached from said agent, because the agent cannot be detached from the historicity of their criminal act. And, consequently, if the [legal] guilt cannot be detached, then it cannot be re-attached to someone else, who does not have a historical attachment with the criminal act which creates and sustains the 'legal' 'guilt' associated with the act."

Legal guilt is "liability" to legal punishment. So, from some online dictionary: "1. The criminality and consequent exposure to punishment resulting from willful disobedience of law, or from morally wrong action; the state of one who has broken a moral or political law; crime; criminality; offense against right. 2. Exposure to any legal penalty or forfeiture."

Legally, when the criminal has served their sentence, they are no longer 'liable to punishment' and hence are no longer guilty. So, Legal guilt is NOT "attached permanently" to a criminal agent. They still are a felon; they still have a criminal record; but they are no longer 'guilty' in the sense we use in "Penal Substitution" discussion. The objection misses the mark. Theologians readily admit that my 'unworthiness' continues on after forgiveness, that 'demerit' doesn't transfer per se (only the legal liability to punishment), and that the perp is forever 'indicted' (even after justice has been served). The objection is just a little too fuzzy and too thin to bear the weight it is trying to. In the case of 'legal' guilt, it is manifestly false. In the case of 'historical guilt' ("it is a permanent attribute of yours that you committed 14 first-degree grammatical atrocities over the past eight pages"), it is trivially true. In the case of 'morally blameworthy for having done such a thing', it is banally true (and accepted by all)--but legally irrelevant, once the punishment has been inflicted. Essentially, the objection 'needs work'...

Theologically, of course, our Points 2 and Points 3 above (in the little Glenn story) would be a suitable reply to this, anyway.

That being said, I would suggest that there are additional ways to defeat this objection, based on equally 'refined' metaphysics (smile), which perhaps I can develop some other time. For starters, I think I would zero in on the 'personal-moral continuity' level, and probe there first. For example, the original crime was so because of intent/motive (part of our standard definitions of crime) on the part of an agent. If, after 5 years of not being caught and suffering the pangs of conscience, the perp internally repudiates his actions, motives, intents, and begins to live a completely different/superlative moral life, is this person really the 'same person' that the guilt was originally attached to, at-point-of-crime? Of course, if the perp had stayed 'perp-ing', the moral continuity of the personality was 'unbroken' and so THAT modern 'instance' of the perp WAS STILL the same dude (e.g., in motive and intent). But I suspect that if one digs just under the surface of the metaphysics of a contrite, changed-life post-perp perp, one might find some points where the legal guilt 'stays in the past' with the past-self (and is not shared-by-personal-contact with all post-event 'similar selves'). This is a philosophically heavy point here, and I hope to develop it in a different context, but 'uncleanness' spread by 'contact' in the OT/Tanaach, so what happens if the Glenn-of-11:59pm no longer has any moral 'contact' (through radical repudiation, self-loathing, moral distancing, etc.) from the Glenn-of-11:58? Does the 'moral uncleanness' spread? (heavy stuff, but unnecessary for our point Does not the theological "dying to self" mean some true/radical discontinuity between the guilty/old and the forgiven/free, centered around abject repudiation of the old self--especially if death really is 'separation'?

[This, btw, becomes a problem for our Lord, because unrequited sin (and this would be impossible to specifically requite--because that person no longer actually existed, due to the discontinuity, under my suggestion here) requires a sacrifice in Deut 21.1-9, where they never find the murderer, but a sacrifice is required anyway...I wonder, and tremble in thinking about this, how many unrequited crimes had their ONLY judicial consequences on the Person of our Lord on that Cross...]

There are other problems with the objection, concerning how attributes relate to one another. One of my attributes is that I am a "Southerner" (because of where I was born), but when I lived in California, I was also a 'Californian' (because of where I paid utility bills). At a 'flat level', there is a 'contradiction', but once you dive into the nature and causes of the attribution (birth, residence), the difficulty goes away.

In our case, I suspect one can make a case that I can be guilty and no-longer-guilty at the same time, because the grounding bases are different (moral-legal, personal-judicial, etc). Not sure I can be 'innocent' again (until I get my new name...yes!). And, there's the 'attachment point' issue: legal guilt 'attached' (as an attribute, in this objection) on a self, but this self had to have had the "intent" and "motive" to make the action a crime. If somewhere between 'crime' and 'punishment', I lose the 'intent' (e.g., through a radical reformation of character and values), where does the attribute 'attach' now? The me-with-intent is gone, and only exists in the past. With the intent attribute gone, I am no longer the "immoral person" who did the crime--not that that will stop the justice system (but it DOES tend to make the courts/judges more lenient in sentencing--perhaps an indication of this 'change'). The 'attribute' model seems too 'flat' or simplistic a framework to discuss this. [Theologians note that 'guilt' is a relationship between a law and a perp, so the objection might best be restated in terms of relationships, somehow--but I'll leave that to the]

Again, the metaphysical issue is not very 'forceful', and certainly too 'simplistic' (at least in the form I have stated it--I will look for a stronger form and deal with it later), and I think our theological and legal arguments are sufficient to send this objection "back to committee" for refinement and rework...


I do want to quote one last time from Dabney, at the point where he is drawing from Penal Substitution an implication about the love of God:

"These are the essential points of our defense of God's providence: First, The restoration of Adam's apostate race was in no sense necessary to God's personal interest, glory, or selfish welfare. He is all-sufficient unto himself. He was infinitely blessed end happy in himself before Adam's race existed. When it fell, he could have vindicated his own glory, as he did in the case of Satan and his angels, by the condign punishment of all men. He could have created another world and another race, fairer than ours, to fill the chasm made by our fall. Second, The price which he paid in order to avoid this just result of sin in our fallen race was the death of the God-man. Since the co-equal Son was incarnate in him, he was a person dearer and greater in God's eyes than any world, or all the worlds together. Being infinite, God-Messiah bulks more largely in the dimensions of his being than all the creatures aggregated. He was more worthy and lovely in the Father's view than any holy creature, "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." This great fact may not open to us the deep secret of the permission of evil -- perhaps no finite mind could fully comprehend it were its revelation attempted -- but the glorious sacrifice of love does prove that no defect of divine benevolence can have had part in this secret. Had there been in God's heart the least lack of infinite mercy, had there been a single fibre of indifference to the misery of his creatures, Christ would never have been given to die for the guilt of men.


Well, it's ( start...and a trail of wonderment and worship for me, unlike probably any Tank article before...I have wept more tears of gratitude and been swept away by more visions of "This Grand Love" in this article, than any other I can remember...perhaps that point made by someone about this view being the most 'effective' at stirring the heart to love, thankfulness, worship, and commitment to holiness is what I am feeling right now...

But I must stop now (it's 12.40am, and I still have to SPELLCHECK this sucker...sigh/smile)...the grammar, of course, is irreparable...but I'm the teal ...and a Little Drummer Boy tonight for the One who Came to Die...

Quiet at the foot of the Cross,

Glenn Miller (Jan 21/2005)

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