I wrote about the problem of penal substitution as the answer for how Christ’s death forgives our sins in previous posts here and here. I just came across a great summary of the problem of “Jesus dying in your place” at the blog, Exploring Our Matrix.
James McGrath writes:
Another key focus in the Sunday school class was on what theologians call the “penal substitution” view of atonement. It is problematic for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it is based on a view of justice that no one would otherwise accept. If the U.S., failing to apprehend Osama bin Laden, claimed that it had nonetheless accomplished its mission because they executed some other innocent individual in his place, I doubt if anyone would be happy with this as a resolution of the matter.
It is also a view of the cross that is not found in the Bible. Sure, it can be read into it, but it cannot be found there unless one is already looking for it. For Paul, the key meaning of Jesus’ death is summed up well in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15: “one died for all, and therefore all died”. That’s almost the exact opposite of the popular Evangelical message, “one died instead of all, so that they might not have to die“. Even if we conclude that Paul’s language of “dying with Christ” is just another way of talking metaphorically about denying ourselves and self-sacrifice, it nevertheless makes clear that the Christian view of “salvation” expressed here is not about Jesus doing something instead of us, but of something that involves us and happens to us and in us. Ironically, while some feel they are glorifying God by making atonement something that involves no action or effort on our part, they’ve also radically departed from a central component of early Christian belief.
Well said, James. I wish more people would hear this message that it is not possible that Jesus took our place on the cross. We were not destined to die on the cross. No scripture teaches Jesus acting as my substitute or taking my place. The concept must be read into the scriptures.