Sunday, November 1, 2009

Penalty Plays

In my recent post And Vicarious Punishment Is Not Forgiveness, I wrote, “In a penal theory of Atonement, it is specifically US God is punishing in Christ, not the Innocent One Himself. God is not lifting our penalty; He is explicitly inflicting yours and mine upon the only One Who doesn’t deserve it.” I do realize that sounds harsh, but it’s the sober truth. The Penal Substitution Theory of Atonement (as well as the Satisfaction Theory) not only does this, but also actually requires the Victim to be spotless, without sin. Otherwise, so the theory goes, all his suffering and then some would be needed to pay for his own sins and ours would remain unpunished or unpaid for.

To punish an innocent person (or even a not-so-innocent one) in the place of the convicted criminal would never work in any human court of law. Just imagine trying to persuade a court to let a rapist go free and punish someone else instead. Just imagine trying to persuade the victim or her family. Everybody would be outraged at the injustice and the immorality of such a proposal.

It isn’t biblical, either. There is no provision anywhere in the Bible for punishing the innocent. In fact, the opposite: blessings are promised for the righteous. Promised.

There is nowhere in the Law any provision for reckoning someone else guilty and punishing him instead of the actual perpetrator of the capital offense. In fact, to do this is specifically illegal.

The person who sins will die.
The son will not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity,
nor will the father bear the punishment for the son's iniquity;
the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself,
and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.
(Ezekiel 18:20; see also Deuteronomy 24:16; Jeremiah 31:30)

The idea of shifting instead of lifting the penalty not only does not satisfy the Law, but actually violates it. It isn't biblical. So where is it coming from?