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Featured 2 Corinthians 5:21 doesn't support penal substitution (reposted)

Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by Arthur King, Aug 28, 2023.

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  1. Arthur King

    Arthur King Active Member

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    “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

    Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

    And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain—for He says,

    “At the acceptable time I listened to you,
    And on the day of salvation I helped you.”
    Behold, now is “the acceptable time,” behold, now is “the day of salvation”


    Penal substitution advocates use 2 Corinthians 5:21, that “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in HIm,” to support the concept of double imputation, that our sin was imputed to Jesus so that his righteousness could be imputed to us. They want the verse to say something like, “He made him who knew no sin to be sinful on our behalf so that we might receive the righteousness of Christ from him (modifications in italics),” but this is not what the text says.

    NT Wright’s commentary on this verse is very helpful (I am not a person who always agrees with NT Wright, but here he is spot on). In the second part of the verse, the phrase “the righteousness of God” does not mean “the righteousness of Christ,” which would refer to the Messiah/Son’s legal status of righteousness. If Paul meant "righteousness of Christ" then he would have said that, as he does elsewhere in his letters. So any penal substitution advocate must answer the question of why Paul does not use the phrase "righteousness of Christ" here. If you can't answer that question, the charge sticks that you are simply putting words in Paul's mouth.

    The “righteousness of God” refers to God’s covenant faithfulness to bless all nations through Abraham's offspring (Genesis 12). When Paul says, “we become the righteousness of God,” he is saying that the people of God, the Church in Christ, has become an outworking, demonstration, manifestation, and glory of God’s faithfulness to His covenant promises. Paul is not talking here about the imputation of Christ’s legal status of righteousness to us.

    If Paul is talking about a demonstration or manifestation rather than an imputation in this second part of the verse, it follows that he is doing the same thing in the preceding half of the verse, in which he says “God made him who knew no sin to be sin”. Paul is not saying that our sin or guilt was imputed to Jesus, but that the sinless man Jesus was made into an outworking, demonstration, and manifestation of our sin. This certainly describes the cross. The cross is the greatest sin in human history, in which all sin against God and all sin against Man are inflicted upon the God-Man Jesus Christ. No sin that any of us has ever committed is greater than the sin we committed when we crucified Jesus. The worst aspect of any one of our sins is that it contributed to the death of God’s Son. No one can fully understand what sin is unless and until they look at what we did to Jesus on the cross. On the cross, Jesus was made my sin. He was made into a demonstration of every human’s sin. Why? So that through Jesus’ resurrection, God would show His faithfulness to his covenantal promises to restore the earth from sin’s destruction.

    If Jesus actually became sinful, that means he himself would need saving. He would also no longer qualify to make an effective sacrifice. Furthermore, he would cease to be God, so there is also that serious problem (to make an understatement!).

    Think of the famous photo of Gordon, most commonly known as "Whipped Peter," showing the horrifically scarred back of a former slave (see attached). This photo was spread far and wide in newspapers in the late 19th century and changed minds on slavery. Gordon became America's sin. When people looked at that photo, they saw the sin of slavery. Think of Emmet Til, the young black boy who was tortured and murdered, but whose mother demanded that his casket remain open so pictures could be spread far and wide. Emmett Til became America's sin. To understand the sins of slavery and of racism, you would look at the photos of Gordon or Emmett.

    So here is a paraphrase of the verse: God made Jesus, who knew no sin, to be made a manifestation of sin on our behalf, so that we sinners could, in Christ, become the manifestation of God’s covenant faithfulness. As NT Wright says, “God made [the Messiah] to be sin on our behalf, so that in him we might embody God’s faithfulness to the covenant.”

    Remember the question that is always in the back of Paul’s mind, as well as his Jewish audience: “God, how are you going to prove yourself faithful to your promise to bless all nations through Israel, given that Israel is a nation of sinful human beings?” Paul’s answer here is that, just as God used a sinless person to demonstrate the sinfulness of humanity, so also God uses sinful human beings (in this case the church as the new Israel) to demonstrate His covenant faithfulness.” Humanity’s sin was proved through the cross, and God’s faithfulness is proven through the church.

    Finally, we also need to look at Paul’s reference to Isaiah 49, the second of Isaiah’s four Servant Songs. It is clear that Paul has more than just the two quoted verses in mind as he is writing his letter. He is saying that now is the time that Isaiah 49 is fulfilled. The subject of his discourse is the fulfillment of Isaiah 49. Isaiah 49 is the backbone for 2 Corinthians 5 and 6. Keep in mind that verses 1-6 are the words of Jesus himself.

    Isaiah 49

    Listen to Me, O islands,
    And pay attention, you peoples from afar.
    The Lord called Me from the womb;
    From the body of My mother He named Me.
    He has made My mouth like a sharp sword,
    In the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me;
    And He has also made Me a select arrow,
    He has hidden Me in His quiver.
    He said to Me, “You are My Servant, Israel,
    In Whom I will show My glory.”
    But I said, “I have toiled in vain,
    I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity;
    Yet surely the justice due to Me is with the Lord,
    And My reward with My God.”


    Paul precedes his direct quotation in 2 Corinthians with the urge not to “receive the grace of God in vain.” I believe this is a reference to the words of the Suffering Servant in verse 4. “I have toiled in vain, I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity.” Paul is telling the Corinthians, when tempted to think that their efforts are in vain and circumstances are too difficult, to remember how Jesus overcame such feelings. When was Jesus most strongly tempted to think that he had spent his strength for nothing and vanity? The cross, of course. The cross is when Jesus even feels that he is forsaken of God, as he cries out the words of Psalm 22, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” And yet, just as in Psalm 22, in Isaiah 49 Jesus overcomes his feelings of despair by taking comfort in God’s unshakeable covenant faithfulness. “Yet surely the justice due to me is with the Lord, and My reward with my God.” This justice is Jesus’ resurrection. This reward is Jesus’ resurrection. The resurrection is the fulfillment and satisfaction of God’s justice—this truth comes directly out of the mouth of Jesus himself.
     

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  2. Marooncat79

    Marooncat79 Well-Known Member
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    NT Wright is not helpful, he has deceived many
     
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  3. Salty

    Salty 20,000 Posts Club
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    Lets keep this thread under control - will be monitored closely
     
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  4. Arthur King

    Arthur King Active Member

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    I have disagreements with Wright, but I wouldn't say that overall he is "not helpful." I think he is correct on many things, especially when it comes to biblical narrative and resurrection. He can be confusing on justification.

    And sometimes people I strongly disagree with are still helpful. John Stott's Cross of Christ I have deep disagreements with, but I find it very helpful in articulating the exact position that I would oppose when it comes to the atonement.
     
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  5. timtofly

    timtofly Well-Known Member

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    "And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together."

    Seems Abraham taught Isaac that God was the substitute. Jesus was God in the flesh the Lamb slain before Abraham told Isaac who the Lamb was.

    What was the test that day? Was it to see if Abraham had his theology down correctly? Or is Abraham the only theologian with the correct view?

    I doubt the point was merely that there was a substitute for Isaac. The test was mentioned by Paul.

    "Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure."

    How did Abraham know that there was a resurrection of the dead? Abraham had already met the resurrected Christ. That was who told him Isaac would be born. Abraham was so in tune with God, that this test was the figure of what God Himself already did, even though Abraham lived several thousand years before the Cross even happened.

    The type and figure was the death, burial, and resurrection. Abraham knew Isaac would live, even if he died. So only God can be that sacrifice necessary.

    Not only a type and figure. Isaac was the only human of that generation that would be in the family tree that Jesus came from. No Isaac, no birth of Jesus.
     
  6. Arthur King

    Arthur King Active Member

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    Some good observations here on the Abraham and Isaac story, and I will do a future post on why that story does not support penal substitution.

    I am not sure how this relates to 2 Corinthians 5:21 though.
     
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  7. 37818

    37818 Well-Known Member

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    A long rant. And denial. How does 2 Corinthians 5:21 not allow the notion of penal substituion? ". . . Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. . . ."
     
  8. 37818

    37818 Well-Known Member

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    That God Himself was the substitute? How? He Himself provided a substitute. Genesis 22:13, ". . . a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: . . ." was not God.
     
    #8 37818, Aug 29, 2023
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2023
  9. Piper

    Piper Active Member
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    You will probably say that nothing supports it, won't you?
     
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  10. Arthur King

    Arthur King Active Member

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    I feel like I thoroughly explained this in the OP. I didn't rant - I gave substantial arguments based on the language of the text and the context for Paul, as while as the Old Testament background.

    "How does 2 Corinthians 5:21 not allow the notion of penal substituion?"

    l don't think this is quite a fair question. The burden of proof is on the person who seeks to show how it does support penal substitution.

    I can see a dead body and there may be a remote possibility that a person is murdered. But if the evidence is slim, and there are far more likely explanations of how the person died that fit better with all the other evidence, a murder charge is not going to be brought.

    But here is the answer to your question biblically:

    In the second part of the verse, the phrase “the righteousness of God” does not mean “the righteousness of Christ,” which would refer to the Messiah/Son’s legal status of righteousness. If Paul meant "righteousness of Christ" then he would have said that, as he does elsewhere in his letters. So any penal substitution advocate must answer the question of why Paul does not use the phrase "righteousness of Christ" here. If you can't answer that question, the charge sticks that you are simply putting words in Paul's mouth.

    The “righteousness of God” refers to God’s covenant faithfulness to bless all nations through Abraham's offspring (Genesis 12). When Paul says, “we become the righteousness of God,” he is saying that the people of God, the Church in Christ, has become an outworking, demonstration, manifestation, and glory of God’s faithfulness to His covenant promises. Paul is not talking here about the imputation of Christ’s legal status of righteousness to us.


    And here is the answer to your question theologically:

    If Jesus actually became sinful, that means he himself would need saving. He would also no longer qualify to make an effective sacrifice. Furthermore, he would cease to be God, so there is also that serious problem (to make an understatement!).
     
  11. Arthur King

    Arthur King Active Member

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    Yes - unless I hear good arguments otherwise.

    I certainly think there are verses—if ripped out of context and isolated from all the other biblical data—that make penal substitution sound like what the Bible teaches. But you could do that with lots of texts to make the Bible say whatever you want it to say.
     
  12. JonC

    JonC Moderator
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    Nothing in the Bible supports the Penal Substitution Theory of Atonement. That doesn't mean Penal Substitution theorists can't find support. The difference is where one starts.
     
  13. DaveXR650

    DaveXR650 Well-Known Member

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    You are going back and forth yourself on the idea of the imputation of sin. Your paragraph above is fine with me but in it you clearly have penal substitution. The idea that God was judging sin on the cross as well as making it possible for him to forgive us sinners and yet still be just is also illustrated above and is fine. It is true that we don't have any way to truly know what exactly went on between the Father and the Son at the crucifixion. This is apparently private and we were not involved. We are told the results and we are given illustrations which help us understand. One thing no one has said except critics of penal substitution is that Jesus actually became sinful. You cannot say that unless you believe in imputation. Some theologians who are fairly sound do say that but if you read them in context they are talking about the identification with Christ and of Christ with us. That and that only is the way that Christ can become sin.
    That is correct, which is why penal substitution advocates also recognize imputation. The idea of Jesus ceasing to be God is also brought up, but penal substitution does not require that. All this to me just shows how we should realize that we are outsiders in this, looking on this and marveling at what happened. The bottom line though is that at some level there is a point where the Triune God actually dealt with our sin directly. And no matter how you try to side step this and not matter how much you wish to bring out other, neglected aspects of what Christ's death accomplished, individually and cosmically, you still are left with that fact. The book I have by Torrance brings this out. He is not one of the guys I would normally read, and likes to bring out the cosmic and collective aspects of the atonement, yet if you really read him he does not neglect the penal and substitutionary aspects of the atonement.
     
  14. DaveXR650

    DaveXR650 Well-Known Member

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    I think what is really going on here is that there is the aspect that a lot of theologians don't like the idea of Jesus specifically dying and specifically suffering a certain amount of wrath for the individual sins of every individual or at least every elect individual, and then the subsequent conclusion that that is the sum total of what is involved in the possibility or of the certainty of our salvation. They feel it becomes too much of a commercial transaction, pulled apart from God's actual forgiveness of us based on the fact that he wants to.

    Maybe there's a point there. I can certainly see the attractiveness of refuting this because it gives an opening to refute Owen in "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ" and thus the idea of limited atonement.
     
  15. 37818

    37818 Well-Known Member

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    The proof is in the text, 2 Corinthians 5:21.

    ". . . For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. . . ."
     
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  16. 37818

    37818 Well-Known Member

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    Has nothing to do with the penal substitution. Only His victory over death.
     
  17. Arthur King

    Arthur King Active Member

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    This example has to do with how we treat evidence - and where a burden of proof lies.
     
  18. Piper

    Piper Active Member
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    The entire Bible supports Penal Substitutionary Atonement.
     
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  19. Piper

    Piper Active Member
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    Exactly. It is the pinnacle verse.

    Jesus died for us.

    We were owed the wrath of God.

    Jesus took it for us.

    In our place, as our substitute.
     
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  20. Arthur King

    Arthur King Active Member

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    But this is the genetic fallacy, right? You are trying to falsify a claim (penal substitution is wrong) by assuming a motive of the person that is making the claim (certain people don't like it because of reason XYZ).

    I said penal substitution was not supported by 2 Corinthians 5:21 because of biblical and theological reasons. My motives are irrelevant to the reasoning provided and the truth of the claim. I think penal substitution has all sorts of harmful effects - but that is downstream from biblical and theological reasons for why it is unsupported in Scripture.
     
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